Sunday Reflections: Rethinking Summer Reading
I 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.
Filed under: Summer Reading, Sunday Reflections
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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