Summer Reading Online

This ALA 2009 session started with Carole D. Fiore, the moderator, showing the efficacy of Summer Reading programs. Most telling was slide #8:
There is a marked acheivement gap in reading for low-income students who do not attend Summer school
SRPs play a vital role in communities, providing literacy achievement while school is not in session. It is not surprising, then, that 95.2% of public libraries have some form of Summer Reading.

You can find the slides, handout, and follow-up Q&A at the ALA Presentations page.

All of the panelists touched on some common themes:

  • Tracking – Electronic data is easier to manage and parse for usage statistics. Even if registration or logging isn’t in the cards, a small database or even spreadsheet is a big help for keeping staff administrative tasks organized. Well-structured data is a great way to glean statistics for LSTA justifications and the like
  • Apprehension– whether it be staff with doubts about difficulty and usefulness, or a perception that patrons would not buy into an online component as much as hoped. The consensus was that online registration/tracking was easy-to-use and productive, and that staff bought in after a short while
  • Paper – It is possible to eliminate paper registration and logs altogether with an all-online program; however, the panelists still had varying degrees of paper usage. In this sense, online programs are additive to the traditional SRP. As Irmgarde Brown said:

    It’s not about either/or, it’s about ‘and.’

    Paper provides access to those without computers or computer skills, and log printouts are a simple way to manage redeeming prizes

  • Scale – commercial products can be a poor organizational fit for both small and large applications. Small libraries cannot afford the software, while consortia may have needs greater than the scale of some commercial designs. Luckily, homebrew systems proved possible and capable in both scenarios, though with sacrifices of features or support

Altogether, the introduction of online components correlated to increased participation at all four panelists’ libraries/systems. Among the many benefits:

  • Resource sharing – one or more libraries can invest in an online Summer Reading Program and spread the benefit to other libraries
  • Less paper and other overhead
  • Simplicity lends to choice in programming language and DBMS. Choices ranged from ColdFusion to PHP, and from Access to MySQL
  • Ease and incentive for increased community partnership (ie. Maureen Ambrosino’s example of cooperating with the Boston Bruins to the satisfaction of all)

I was surprised by one positive side-effect of the efficient online systems: possible non-summer programs:
Short video explaining Winter Reading Program

This was an excellent session, and the supplemental materials are great. I’m grateful that
Carole D. Fiore of Training and Library Consulting
Eric Sisler from Westminster Public Library
Maureen Ambrosino of Central Massachusetts Regional Library System
Rosanne Cerny from Queens Library
Irmgarde Brown of Harford County Public Library
put such effort into informing us about their impressive successes.

I will follow up with an Online Summer Reading round-up for those interested in the various software packages available. In the mean time, I’d be happy to track down answers to any questions in the comments. Likewise, if you know of some great free or commercial OSRP software packages, please also make note of them in the comments as well. Thanks!