5 Common Summer Reading Mistakes

5 Common Summer Reading Mistakes

The time is here for public libraries to prepare summer reading for summer reading programs (SRP).

Every year, public librarians spend countless hours carefully planning programs for patrons. This is no easy task. Librarians must take myriad considerations into account as they plan for SRP. Once a program is built, however, the real work begins.

Librarians must enroll readers, monitor progress, deliver incentives and, enforce the rules. All this to hopefully achieve the true goal of summer reading: help patrons build positive reading habits.

I have observed reading programs all over the world. fun facts: Australia begins summer reading right after Christmas. Our friends in Spain and the Netherlands begin summer reading in mid-July.

The definition for SRP success can vary greatly from place to place. However, there is a set of easily avoidable pitfalls for any SRP. This article will touch on the five most common mistakes that public libraries make in summer reading programs.


It’s a shame that libraries spend great effort building thoughtful programs and enrolling participants. Then, passively wait for participants to return when the program is through.

We know that when a patron joins an SRP, the intention to participate and finish a program is high. HOWEVER, that enthusiasm can diminish quickly.

If you're not communicating with program participants on a regular basis, throughout the program, they will fade away.

When a library sends even a small number of reminders to readers, participation increases and is more consistent. This doesn’t have to be a big production. An email or in-app notification like “Don’t forget to log reading over the long weekend!”, or “Come to the library for a great program this Saturday at 10:00 AM.” will do wonders.

How often do you communicate with your participants through the program? Do you have a way to email or send push notifications to participants? If the answers to these questions are: unknown and no, you’re missing an important element of success.


New reading program software makes it a breeze to build beautifully layered programs that are a librarian's dream, but a patron's struggle.

Resist the temptation to build a program that has a long list of requirements. An example is one that involves multiple unrelated activities or too many "required" elements. If it takes more than one minute for staff to explain the entirety of the program to a patron, it's too complicated.

I often see web pages that contain dense paragraphs with a lot of information about SRP parameters. Patrons don't read these pages. Your SRP instructions should be fewer than 200 words.

What does your SRP description look like and how much effort does it take to explain your SRP? If you have an instructional web page, bump up the font and reduce the copy. Most importantly, simplify the program so that it can be understood in one minute.


Today's parents are millennials. They have zero patience for cumbersome forms. If the sign-up process for your programs occurs with a sheet of paper, or a multi-page online form, you're losing participants before you even begin.

The sign-up process for your programs should take less than three minutes. Anything longer and patrons will simply abandon the form.

Once in a program, it should take less than ten seconds to make a reading entry. If you ask patrons to login to an app or website every time they want to make an entry, they won't last long in the program.

How long does it take a patron to sign-up the whole family in your SRP? What does the reading entry action look like? If you see it taking more than three minutes to join, or more than ten seconds to make an entry, it's time to make some changes.


I've never seen an act of Congress that stipulates the parameters of an SRP. Yet, many libraries will launch a program, quickly see that it's not working for the intended audience--then proceed to not change a thing.

If you release a program and participation is weak and participants are confused, change it. Nobody is going to break down the door and haul you away because you altared the SRP.

Example: A program asks fourth graders to read 600 minutes per month. After month one, only 10% of participants are on track with the goal. Change the goal to 400 minutes per month. Doing so will encourage participation and renew interest in the program.

Keep a close eye during the first fifteen days of your SRP. If you see something not working, make adjustments, lean into success and avoid failure. Patrons will love seeing you being proactive with the program and will react positively to changes.

Can you make quick adjustments to your SRP? If not, review how you roll out the program and be OK with making changes.


There are two elements to building any culture: practices and information.

Public libraries are very good at step 1: building the practice, i.e. the SRP. However, most do not share reading data outside of the building. This is a HUGE missed opportunity.

The second step in building a culture of reading is sharing your SRP data. Tell your readers and stakeholders how you’re doing. Share cumulative reading data and challenge your community to improve. The old adage is that you cannot improve what you cannot measure.

What does this look like? What if on Monday of each week, you put a post on social media that says “Last week, our readers finished 6,300 books and logged 27,398 minutes! Great job all! Let’s see if we can do even more this week.”

When you share reading data you put everyone on the same team and invite engagement. Don’t be selfish with reading data!

Do you have a simple/automated way to aggregate and share reading data? If not, see how this can be done and watch a culture of reading develop.

We know that SRPs can be an amazing tool for families of all kinds, from all communities and across the socio-economic spectrum.

Done right, summer reading can transform from a (possibly) dreadful task to a point of pride for your library or school. And it just takes the right tools and tactics.

At Reader Zone, we’re 100% dedicated to helping schools and libraries do just that. Please reach out to us via phone or email anytime to see how the Reader Zone platform asks and answers the questions above.