Summer Reading Incentives: Love Them or Hate Them, Prizes Bring Kids In

Nearly  100 percent of public libraries use incentives in their summer reading programs, according to SLJ's survey. Still, respondents had a lot to say about prizes as well as what motivates kids to read over vacation.

With summer approaching, many public libraries are about to look like an annual school tricky tray. Prizes, baskets of books, coupons for local businesses, and more will be on display to draw in young patrons. It’s all part of their summer reading programs. According to SLJ’s Summer Reading/Summer Learning Survey, incentives are a huge part of summer reading programs.

Of the 773 public libraries that responded, 97 percent use prizes as incentives to motivate readers in their summer reading program. The process is standard: Log those minutes or count pages read, hit a goal or read more than others, and win a prize.

“For kids who already like reading, and who may not be athletically inclined, the prizes are a nice reward for a skill that often gets overlooked,” Keri Weston-Stoll, youth services librarian at Waukee (IA) Public Library. “For kids who don't already enjoy reading, I have had several parents tell me that having the prizes helped motivate their children and that their children are less reluctant to read by the end of the program. Some parents have even continued the program on their own with personal family goal incentives in their own homes.”

Weston-Stoll is among the 83 percent of respondents who said they believed incentive items motivate kids to read. Books were the most common prize offered, at 84 percent. The objection seems to come most toward the “junk” prizes, such as toys or stuffed animals. Even when libraries give away books, not everyone is happy to admit that incentive programs work.

“I wish it wasn't the case” that libraries feel obliged to use incentives, said Lee Dorsey Hope, head of children’s services at the Chattanooga (TN) Public Library.

Still, those who argue against offering prizes say they often work to bring families into the library to sign up for the summer program. They also get students who aren’t avid readers to participate. Drawing families to the library is clearly important.

As for getting students who normally don’t read to pick up a book to do so, well, librarian Molly Kane doesn’t believe that a reading log proves that is happening.

“I honestly think that everyone (but a very few select kids and families) lies on their reading logs,” said Kane, head of teen services and emerging technology at the Upper Dublin Public Library in Fort Washington, PA. “The prizes get the kids/families into the library where they participate in activities as well as check out items. The prizes do absolutely nothing to motivate them to read, because it's all on the honor system anyway.”

Of course, in the best-case scenario, the prizes are forgotten and the books will get read.

“I found at the end of the program, children found reading for themselves fun and didn't consider the prizes for reading,” Tammy Batschelet, children’s librarian in Dare County Library in Manteo, NC. “It was awesome!”

 

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Kara Yorio

Kara Yorio (kyorio@mediasourceinc.com, @karayorio) is news editor at School Library Journal.

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