Harris County (TX) Builds a Reader Nation
A couple of weeks ago I interviewed Linda Stevens (Coordinator of Marketing and Programming), Elaine Plotkin (Adult Specialist and Coordinator of the Adult Summer Reading Program), and Grace Lillevig (eBranch Manager) of the Harris County Public Library (Houston, Texas) to ask them about their adult summer reading program. Harris County uses Summer Reader to manage their reading programs, but in the last year has seen an impressive leap in their summer reading program for adults – an 81% leap in participation. With over 3500 adults participating in this year’s program, I had to ask how they reached such great participation levels.
Here are some of their top recommendations:
Make every interaction a Summer Reading marketing opportunity
Summer Reader allows libraries to use RSS feeds and widgets to incorporate elements of Summer Reader, such as patron book reviews, into library web pages and blogs. Widgets allowed HCPL to incorporate Summer Reader directly into their website, creating a seamless look and feel. Using these technologies correctly allows libraries to develop consistent branding and also allows summer reading content to be integrated across the library website – creating marketing opportunities every time a page is clicked.
HCPL took their marketing efforts one step further and integrated their summer reading theme into pins, buttons, lanyards, and even signage for their book delivery vans. Library staff members at all branches wear magnetic buttons with the summer reading theme and encourage community members to sign up during every day interactions. Promotional signs providing details about summer reading were posted on the sides of book delivery vans, turning drives down the street into marketing opportunities.
Train your staff well and get staff “buy in”
For HCPL, training library staff about Summer Reader during staff meetings and training sessions is key. Educating staff about the prizes patrons might win and encouraging the active participation of staff in promoting the summer reading program helps the program to grow. This training starts early – sometimes in January of the new summer reading year. Part of the training development and staff buy-in process involves bringing together those involved with summer reading which brings us to…
Create a committee that brings your key players together.
A committee made up of Stevens, Plotkin and Lillevig plus representatives from various library branches helped to lead the way for summer reading. Together the group planned themes, discussed prizes, and exchanged other ideas. HCPL encouraged branches that had not had particularly active summer reading programs to join the committee. The hope was to build staff buy-in by bringing branches into the program development process and to get their feedback about the overall program. This approach has worked for HCPL and they attribute much of the growth in their summer reading programs to the work of the committee.
Use Summer Reader to help you manage summer reading and to build your library collection.
Summer Reader allows library patrons the chance to write reviews about materials they are counting towards their summer reading log and also lets them comment on other patrons’ reviews. Because patrons sometimes count reading from materials not found at the library, HCPL has a guideline stating it will only make reviews public if the item reviewed can be found within the library system. For library staff members, this provides a chance for them to see the types of books and media patrons are interested in and helps them make collection development decisions. In June 2010 alone, the library system purchased more than 25 items that patrons reviewed but the library didn’t have. As adult specialist and Adult Summer Reading Coordinator Elaine Plotkin explained, “If it’s a recent title and a patron writes a good review and we don’t own it, then it makes me take a second look and find out more to see if we should get the book.”
No budget? No problem. Start planning now to find resources and make the most of what you have.
The staff at HCPL stressed that they didn’t have a big budget for their summer reading program, but through small grants and help from their Friends of the Library organization, they were able to run ads in local newspapers, purchase the promotional magnetic buttons worn by staff, and purchase the Amazon gift cards they use as prizes.
They know that patrons are far more likely to participate in summer reading when they have an incentive or gift of some sort, but don’t believe that the items must be “big ticket” things to win over patrons. One branch steadily collected freebies they were given at community fairs, conferences and by booksellers. When summer approached, they had enough items collected to give a prize to patrons every time they logged a new item on their summer reading log.
If something doesn’t work, keep moving forward.
The success of the HCPL “Reader Nation” Summer Reading program and their usage of Evanced Solutions’ Summer Reader software came through testing new ideas, planning ahead, and working with their staff and community to get program feedback. As Grace Lillevig, eBranch Manager said, “We build off of our mistakes. If something doesn’t work for us, we learn from it and move on and try something new. We continually learn from our mistakes and move forward.”
We’ll be posting more about Harris County, including a white paper about their usage of Summer Reader, very soon. Stay tuned! If you have additional questions, please contact me or Support at firstname.lastname@example.org
Christine Ayar Illichmann
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