How libraries increased reading program participation by 50-100% during Covid

2020 was a year unlike any other, in March of last year, we were just coming out of the final beta testing for Reader Zone, when library shut downs began. 

This was a trying time to say the least. Libraries all over the world were gearing up for spring programing and summer reading. The world was turned upside-down and libraries had to quickly figure out how to deliver programming to communities, while the library was closed or open only for very limited hours. 

Staring on March 13, 2020, our phones were inundated with libraries trying to figure out how they could quickly integrate Reader Zone so they could offer reading programs while the library was closed. The question was: “How will we run reading programs during Covid?”

The concern was for many libraries who have not used a digital reading program manager in the past were:

  • What was going to happen with the reading programs? 
  • Was the participation going to be way below what it has been in the past?
  • Where patrons going to adopt a new way of participating in reading programs? 

These worries were put to rest - for most of our library customers, 2020 turned out to be a year that had greater participation in their reading programs than they had in the past.

 The (potentially painful) benefit of disruption

Many of the libraries who reached out last spring had been using paper reading calendars for as long as they have been doing summer reading. Covid forced a choice: move to a digital reading program, or don't do summer reading at all.

Moving to a digital system was a leap for many libraries. It was stressful to learn a new system, develop programming and then hope patrons would be willing to go along. Of course, all this while trying to set up curbside pickup, keep staff healthy and the million other considerations Covid brought.

However, libraries quickly realized that a digital system allowed for real-time visibility into reading program participation. This new insight allowed libraries to see which programs, goals, and incentives were working and which were not. With this new-found data, libraries had the capacity to change reading programs--making them more interesting and relevant to participants.

It was great to see how libraries changed habits and built different reading programs based on the data they were seeing and how patrons were reacting.

For the most part, we saw that libraries experienced a 50 to 100 percent increase in participation in their reading programs in 2020 over 2019.

Getting the word out

While families were hunkered down at home last spring and summer, digital communication became vital. All the sudden, librarians became proficient in Facebook, Zoom conferences and creating videos for their communities.

We developed a folder with pre-built social media posts, press releases and more. Libraries quickly grabbed these, adapted them and then posted about their summer reading to social media. It was a lot of fun to see how libraries found new and more efficient ways to communicate the goals and benefits of summer reading programs.

With a new way of communicating, sign-ups into reading programs increased and better yet, completions of reading programs increased too.

Making the change permanent

For those who use Reader Zone and most of our customers, after the summer was through, saw the value in using Reader Zone so they continued using it through the winter and they and they are still customers today.

I think that highlights that change can sometimes be good for us. I saw many libraries that were initially reluctant, and had a hard time moving to a digital reading program management system,  within a few weeks they saw the value in it. They saw their participation in their programs increase, and then they wanted to continue with it. So a credit to our librarians who are very adaptive and willing to try new things and most importantly, have a strong desire to serve the populations that they live with.

For the 2021 summer reading season, about 85% of our libraries from 2020 are using Reader Zone again.

Would you like to try a digital reading program?

If you want to deliver quality reading programs to your patrons, we invite anybody who wants to try Reader Zone to create a free account and just test it as much as you would like. You can see  how it will work within your particular environment before you do anything. You can also get a focus group going and just see how it works. 

Click here to setup your free Reading Program Organizer account.