Friday, May 24, 2013

Summer Reading Rallies: A Very Specific Type of School Visit

Summer reading is afoot, which means I've spent some time over the last few weeks visiting local elementary schools to whip up excitement for our annual summer reading program. This is my second year making these specialized school visits, and I've learned a few things along the way.

There are a handful of core things I always make sure to include in these summer reading rallies, which usually include a simple slideshow:

  • An image of my library -- Many kids don't know the name of the library they go to, but they recognize the building when they see it. Including a picture of my branch at the beginning of the rally helps kids make a personal connection with what I'm talking about.
  • A verbal listing of all the potential prizes for signing up and reading -- It can be hard for elementary-aged children to remember specifics about what prizes they could earn, but when I rattle off a rather impressive (if I do say so) list of lots of prizes, they are left with the impression that summer reading is very, very rewarding. My library district has a lot of local sports teams and restaurants that partner to provide vouchers and coupons, so lots of those prizes I get to tout don't cost the library anything but printing.
  • A slide with the next school year's age-appropriate book award nominees -- Schools in my area are really big on state book awards, and teachers regularly motivate their kids to read as many nominees as they can during the school year. That means more and more kids get ambitious and want to start reading award books "early." I've found that sharing some covers and very brief book talks of nominees is a surefire way to ignite interest in reading over the summer.
  • A reminder that audiobooks count for summer reading -- Lots of kids spend lots of time in the car over the summer; I like to remind them that they can listen to audiobooks from the library whenever they're in the car, and that time counts toward their final reading goal. Knowing that they can get some reading done via audiobook makes the program seem much more manageable to many kids.
  • Names of the kids who did the summer reading program last year -- My library district keeps track of the names and schools of kids who finish the program, and we report this info to the schools at the end of the summer. I hold onto the list to add a slide with the kids' names to my rallies, and I make sure to acknowledge their achievement and ask for their classmates' help in applauding them. Nothing like a bit of positive peer pressure and motivation through recognition.

I've found that these rally elements can do the most to drum up excitement and keep kids' attention.

Also, in the course of visiting schools for these summer reading rallies, I have noticed that the time I am formally alloted to speak and the time I actually have can be very different. There are two common scenarios for timing issues: 1) I'm told I'll have x amount of time, but then I end up speaking after the kids get seated, the principal talks, and the school librarian talks, which has essentially cut my time in half; and 2) I'm told I'll have x amount of time but then five (or even ten) more minutes get tacked on to better fit schedules.

When my time is suddenly shorter than I'd anticipated, I work really hard to just hit the basics. What's going to get the kids to pester their parents into driving them to the library? I only include that info, and I leave the details for when they come to the library to sign up.

When my time has unexpectedly expanded, I tell a story. Yes, I've become one of those librarians who always has a couple of stories in her back pocket, ready for any of those 3-10 minute lulls in the planned action. This past week, when teachers insisted they needed to stay in the assembly for another 5 minutes (reason still unknown to me), I told "The Old Woman Who Lived in a Vinegar Bottle." What could have been a chaotic 5 minutes with kindergarteners at the end of their ropes was instead a quiet room of kindergarteners rapt with attention. Crisis averted, literacy and stories affirmed.

I enjoy visiting elementary schools in the lead-up to summer reading. It helps me get all the details of our massive program straightened out, it's a way to introduce myself to tons of kids, and it promotes our program and the idea of leisure reading. It's a very specific type of outreach with very definite rewards.

Do you visit local schools to promote summer reading? How do you get the word out?


  1. I have some of my school visits today, I might quick try and pull together a list of the kids who finished last year and try a little peer pressure myself!

  2. Thank you for sharing. I am preparing myself for 2014 Summer Courses in Pittsburgh PA.

  3. Good morning! I was wondering if it would be possible to use the lovely picture within this blog. My name is Kelley Arnold and I am developing an Acadian Forest Field Guide for Youth..this would be a perfect image for the glossary page! Please feel free to reach me to discuss this. The image, of course, would be cited and referenced.


    1. Kelley, I did not create this image. It is one of the images created for the 2013 Collaborative Summer Library Program, and only libraries that participate in the program are licensed to use their images. My library participates in the CSLP, which is how I have access to it.

  4. This is a super late question, but I'm prepping to do a school rally/visit myself, and was thinking of doing the "positive peer pressure" as well, but I AM a bit worried about doing this because, privacy. Even though we asked all participants when they signed up last year if they (and their parents/guardians) were ok with having them display their names as having participated (and explained this as best they could) and won't include anyone who didn't sign that waiver, it still worries me a bit that this may scare some kids away, or some families who prefer to fly under the radar. I also worry it sets up the expectation in kids' heads that their library use isn't private, which is not a takeaway I want them to have going into adulthood! Thoughts?

    1. This is a great question, and I don’t think there’s a simple or standard answer—rather, there’s what’s best for each individual community given the concerns of your service population, your library’s policies, and your local laws. I encourage you to think about all three of these as you consider the best ways to incentivize your program as you make visits. Good luck!


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