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Sunday Reflections: Rethinking Summer Reading

sundayreflectionsI have been having heretical thoughts.


They began like this. The school kept sending notice after notice about summer camps that you could send your kid to. Science camp. Drama camp. Sports camp. And of course there is also church camp. We signed up for exactly none of them because we opted instead to buy food and pay the mortgage. And I thought about every other kid of any age who will also never get to have the experience of going to camp this year. And for many kids they will never, ever get the experience of going to camp.

At the same time, I was putting the finishing touches on my teen summer reading program and getting that publicity out to the public.

And I had an AHA! moment: what if we changed the programming of SRC and made it a series of 1 week immersion camps on a variety of themes. For example, one week we could have a cooking camp (I work in a library with 2 full kitchens). Another week we could have a robot camp. Still another week we could have a craft camp.

So I called up my library assistant director and shared my thoughts with her. After she realized I didn’t mean doing it THIS year, which kind of gave her heart palpitations, she was intrigued by the idea.

The bonus, for me, is that The Tween heard me call and discuss the idea with her and she thought it was brilliant. In fact, later that night we went for a walk and she wanted to talk with me some more about it. She even began brainstorming additional themes for various weeks.

Here’s what I’m thinking. The basic shell of it would still be the same, you could do your reading slips or whatever it is you do to encourage summer reading in your area. Where we change things up is the programming. For example, our SRC lasts for 6 weeks. So we would have 6 weeks of “summer camp” with a different theme. Tweens and teens would register (cost is still free) for the week of their choice. Then that week you would have a program every day around that theme. You could do half days or whole days, either asking teens to bring a sack lunch or getting a local business maybe to donate lunches. Unless your library is well funded, in which case you can just buy lunch. There also might be grants out there.

Obviously, you may be looking at this idea and thinking there is a lot of time commitment involved here, and there is. But theoretically you would be able to use people in your community to help with the various weeks. I, as you may know, could not actually do a cooking camp because I don’t cook and I manage to mess up making macaroni and cheese every other time I make it (not an exaggeration). But I work in a town that has not 1 but 2 local colleges and we may be able to find some volunteers from here to help pull this off. Or maybe some local high school teachers. Or just community members who love to craft, run their own businesses, etc. The thing is, networking is a good goal and this is a way to do some and meet the needs of your community teens.

Obviously the planning would be intense. Especially the first year. We need to figure out a structure that will work, pin down six themes we feel are worthy of our time and attention that will also attract teens, etc. Then we have to begin the hard work of contact people, nailing down dates, etc. Then comes all the nitty gritty details: Do you have teens sign up? How do you have teens sign up? Can they sign up for multiple weeks? Do you need parental permissions? What about food and drinks? Times? Staffing? Publicity?

When I was thinking about suggesting this model, I also recalled Spring Break 2013. That year, Spring Break fell during March, which is National Craft Month. That year I scheduled a different craft activity every day for the week of Spring Break. It was hands down the most successful programming I have ever done. The teens loved it and wanted to continue. I’m not going to lie, it was exhausting, expensive, and time intensive. But I also never forgot how successful that week was and how it met a real need for those teens during that week. I have been batting the idea of week long “summer camps” at the library in the back of my mind ever since that time.

I’m not going to lie, when I think about what it would actually take to plan and execute something like this, it gets a little overwhelming. Especially since I have almost always been a YA department of 1. But I also think of the benefits versus doing a variety of weekly programs marginally related to the year’s SRC theme. With this intense immersion into something teens are more likely to actually learn something about a topic they like and have chosen to participate in.

Does your library do anything like this? I would love to hear from you if you do. I know that some local science centers do a version of this so I think it’s not completely farfetched.

Now I just have to convince library staff to try something new and different. Wish me luck.


  1. Aimee S. Goodson says

    This sounds so cool! My academic library doesn’t do summer reading, so I thinking over the couple of years I worked in a children’s events center. We did 10 or so weeks of summer camp. The first year, they were Tuesday-Thursday 9am-12pm. The next summer, we added 2pm-5pm as well. That year was fun but exhausting, even when we were fully staffed. For us, one of the critical things was not only making sure there were enough people to lead camps, but also getting enough time each day to set up, tear down, and plan curriculum for upcoming camps. That was usually quite difficult.

    • Karen Jensen, TLT Karen Jensen, TLT says

      Oh yes, I’m sure set up and clean up would be a bear. I have done VBS multiple years and I don’t see it being on that scale at all, but the daily set up and clean up can sometimes be the biggest portion of the work.

  2. Robin Willis Robin Willis says

    If I had access to two kitchens, I’d be doing cook into programs ALL THE TIME.

  3. This is a great idea. setting up camp in the library and adopting different themes. Its something I may want to try.

    • Karen Jensen, TLT Karen Jensen, TLT says

      If you do try I would love to hear what themes you are thinking of and how you might run yours. 2 brains are better than one 🙂

  4. chrysalis says

    I’ve worked in two separate museums that offered summer camps (never for free though). I also used to attend a camp each summer. I have seen many different formats. For the museums, it took a few summers of adjusting different aspects to find the best arrangement for the families we reached as well as our staffing and budget abilities.

    Themed weeks are great and allow for time to follow up on projects that can’t be fit into 1 day. I’ve also seen camps where they did a mini-theme each day of the week and offered the same camp on different weeks so families could sign up for the week that worked for them (great for busy families). Another had the same set up but each week but each week was offered to different grade ranges (k-1 week 1, 2-3 week 2, 4-5 week 3, middle grade week 4, high school week 5) allowing the same activities to be adapted to fit different ages and abilities (great for bulk buying supplies). The camp I attended as a kid was offered as either half or whole day. Which worked great because the younger kids or the ones who weren’t quite ready for a whole day commitment tended to leave at lunch allowing for more in-depth activities in the afternoon.
    Food-wise there are many options too. I used to bring snacks and lunch to camp as a kid but I’ve heard that camp has since started a mini concessions stand allowing kids to buy small snacks there to accompany their sack lunches. I also worked a camp one summer where we had donated food which came with a lot of regulations on how it could be distributed.

    You have so many great ideas for starting out! Good Luck!

    • Karen Jensen, TLT Karen Jensen, TLT says

      This is some good information for us to think about, especially the age ranges idea. Thank you so much!


  5. My library has been offering one week of free day camp programming for the past few years (I think this year will be our third summer). We aim the camp to kids ages 7-12 and we have a limited registration based on the number of kids we can accommodate in our space (usually around 15 for a full day program like this). Currently we register on a first-come-first-served basis but we only open the registration a few weeks before the program (ie: this year registration will start July 13 for a program the first week in August). We do have a registration form that covers contact information, health information/allergies etc. as well as a waiver form and a photo release form. We usually only have time to put the information in our monthly newsletter and on our social media before the slots are full, so we’ve never really done a ton of promotion for the day camp.

    We’ve done a variety of partnerships/donations/grants that have allowed us to offer the program for free. The only thing the children are required to bring is a bagged lunch (we provide juice and snacks during the day which have been funded through a local community fund). We usually have our student employees helping out that week, as well as volunteers (here in Ontario high school students are required to complete 40 hours of volunteering to graduate from high school, so we often have teens in who want to get some hours). We don’t really have the funding or staffing to offer the program for the whole summer, but even just the one week has been a huge success.

    This year there are a few other science day camps going on in our area so we’ve decided to try a Travel/Around the World theme. Keep us blog readers posted on your plans! Sounds like you have some awesome ideas!

    • Karen Jensen, TLT Karen Jensen, TLT says

      Thank you so much for all this information, it sounds like you are doing great things and I appreciate the info. I love the idea of an around the world theme.

  6. My dream job as a Teen Librarian was cut very short (just 9 months!) when my husband was transferred to another state and we had to move, but fortunately it did include one summer of programming. The library system I was at offered a combination of one-off programs and week-long series programs for teens; the series programs at my branch included a creative-writing class, etiquette classes, and sign language classes. We hired local teachers to run each series (though a library staff member was always in the room too), so the staff prep time was minimal. Each day’s program lasted only a couple of hours, not a whole or even half-day like most camps, but they were very popular and the teens enjoyed coming each day and building upon things they had learned or done in previous sessions. I could definitely see expanding to a half-day format by offering a staff-led program immediately following the one led by the outside presenter and maybe also adding a lunch component (which is also a bonus for teens for whom food security may be an issue). My current library is in its first summer of offering free lunches for kids ages 0-18 through a partnership with a community food network (and there is a similar program open to some libraries via the USDA). If you have a supportive staff to help you, I would say, “go for it”!

    • Karen Jensen, TLT Karen Jensen, TLT says

      Thanks for this comment and can I just say – Sign Language classes are a brilliant idea!

  7. We did a five day Writing Camp as part of our Book Camp program last summer. It was open to school age and tweens but we ended up with mostly younger kids. We had it from 9:30 each morning to 12:00 pm every day and they brought a snack for our break in the middle. It was run by me and a local author and we focused on creating one project as a group, in this case our own magazine featuring a variety of writing projects. The camp was a big success and we had a party on the last day so parents could come and collect the finished magazine and see what the kids had worked on all week. I could never have done it alone though, having help was crucial so that one of us could move around to work with kids who were shy and unsure or those who were easily distracted. We had parents register kids beforehand though it was free.

  8. Susan Person says

    Hi Karen,

    The Estes Valley Library in Estes Park, CO does something along these lines for kids each summer. The camps are half day for a week and each focuses on a different country. They do crafts, games, have speakers (volunteers from the community), eat ethnic foods, etc. There is a cost, but it’s minimal. I recently attended a presentation on the camps and was inspired yet intimidated. It’s a lot of work for the staff, but wonderful in that people from all over the community get involved in helping. You might want to reach out to their Children’s staff for more info.

  9. Yes! This is exactly what we do at our library! In fact in the past few years we’ve wondered if we should stop and go to the more common once a week programs, because they could accomodate more kids, fit more schedules, and probably require less planning. But we haven’t. And it’s true it’s a so much more affordable alternative to most of the day camps in the area. A few years ago we strted charging $5 a week, to take a little edge off the budget and, maybe even more so, as a kind of insurance so people who signed up would be less likely to brush it off and not come. For some people this is still too expensive– just last week I had a family miss sign-ups because they didn’t have the money together on time– luckily we had other programs beside the camp that they could sign up for. But then I look at what other places are charging for day camps and boy are we the best deal!

  10. Shamika L. says

    This is awesome and this is what our library has been doing for years. I work with inner city youth that for the most part participate in free camps activities and events. There isn’t a charge for any programming that we do. I try to the best of my ability to offer different activities for the children in this community because they practically live here in the summer and are unsupervised. My daily themes are: “Make Something Monday, Lego Tuesday, Wii Wednesday etc. Everyday is something different, sometimes we have visiting artist, arts and crafts, outdoor gardening and special events. We do our best to keep kids entertained and our library staff sane!

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