At the beginning of April, we hosted our first Beanstack User Group Town Hall Meeting to discuss Summer Reading 2020. Thanks to the 600+ librarians and staff members that joined us to discuss how to forge ahead in these uncertain times.
With all of the COVID-19 related closures and regulations, many elements of Summer Reading may seem impossible to execute. The ins and outs of how Summer Reading works this year will look different at each library, but it can be done.
During the Town Hall, we provided our thesis on each of the core tenets of a successful Summer Reading Challenge: Design, Operations, Training and Marketing. Hundreds of librarians chimed in with over a thousand comments, full of thoughtful advice as well. If you weren’t able to attend the town hall, keep reading for an overview of what we discussed. We hope that these insights give you some inspiration as you’re planning!
Our overall advice is to keep it simple. Your program should be so simple that you can explain it to participants in one sentence. This approach works for any programming you do, but is especially relevant to Summer Reading 2020. Our research from past summer reading reports shows that the majority of our highest performing library systems had reading challenges that were similar across age groups.
Especially in the current climate, a simple Summer Reading Challenge will be a breath of fresh air for parents who need activities for their kids to do at home, and for adults who could use some structured break-time (and easier on your staff - more on that later!).
Insights from the User Group: All librarians agreed that now is the time to keep things simple, with many adding that they’ve seen success from simpler programs in years past.
What does simple look like in practice? Many suggest using the same program theme, messaging, and logging type for all ages. One librarian added that you could make the goal different by age group - for instance, a minutes challenge would require more minutes from adults than from elementary students. But you could even skip these details and just give everyone the same goal - for instance, a books challenge with a set number of books per reader across the board.
One format we always love to see is a community goal! Have everyone in the community working toward a big goal together, such as 10k books or 1million minutes.
Other Program Design Considerations: Once you’ve decided on the basic goal and format of your program, make sure to determine who can participate and what, if any, prizes you’ll give.
Most librarians stated that they already planned to offer Summer Reading for all ages. For the ones that didn’t, they were excited about how Beanstack’s web and mobile apps could help them expand to reach adults as well as students. If you don’t already offer an all-ages program, consider how this could allow you to simplify your planning and messaging. And we’ve found even in past years that teens and adults have a high adoption rate of summer reading when it's online, so now is the perfect time to make sure you have an offering for them too!
Another important consideration for program design around managing prizes. During the Town Hall, we discussed prizes in terms of two different scenarios: 1) Planning for prizes as if the library will be closed all summer and 2) planning for a partially-virtual summer, with the possibility of re-opening toward the end. The route you go will depend on your library, funds, and your comfort level. Read our blog post for a roundup of prize ideas from Beanstack librarians.
We recommend centering your operational planning around offering the best possible virtual experience for participants. Support will look different this year - people who are used to asking questions in person at the branch may need a little extra help getting started from home.
During the Town Hall, we discussed staffing your SRP, providing great user guides, and how to approach support channels. See what the group had to say.
Insights from User Group: If you’re leading the Summer Reading charge for your library, try to assemble a good team to help get it done. Some qualities to look for include good writers, people who are cool under pressure, and just all-around good customer service skills. Some librarians shared that their teams are already defined, because staff was small. But in this case, working with a small team can be an advantage! Having fewer people makes it easier to collaborate on program planning and management.
One of the best tips we can offer is to create a strong FAQ for challenge participants, and it turns out that many librarians agree with us. Your FAQ can help with some of the low-hanging fruit, and free your team up to help with some of the more complicated inquiries. You can add FAQs directly to your Beanstack landing page, using the defaults we provide or customize to fit your needs. You may also want to include them on your library site.
For questions your FAQ doesn’t cover, you’ll want to have a process in place for how to divide and conquer. Consider when you want to offer support - early data from our platform suggests that people are currently logging reading in the evening hours moreso than in previous years. Will you need to shift your service hours to meet their needs? Ideas from other librarians include setting up an auto-response during “closed” hours and making sure to check your social media inboxes in case questions come through those channels as well.
Other Operational Considerations: One topic we spent a lot of time discussing was when to launch Summer Reading. Once again, this decision will look different at every library but some insights from other librarians might help if you’re still figuring it out. Based on our research, there is no significant difference in engagement with start dates in May or June, but we see a drop off for programs starting in July. This is such a unique time that it’s hard to know, but the sooner you can start planning the better, especially given the need to prepare for various combinations of in-person and virtual support depending on how long closures persist.
Read our blog post to learn more about some considerations for changing your usual start date for Summer Reading.
Even in a virtual context, staff training is essential to a successful Summer Reading Program. You don’t have to overthink it. Our recommendations here are simple and intuitive: host virtual training sessions and be sure to record them so people can rewatch on demand. See below for training tips and favorite programs from other librarians.
Insights from User Group: Some of our favorite responses to this topic were from librarians who suggest providing easy guides for library staff and volunteers. For tech-enabled solutions like Beanstack, we love guides that are “graphic-heavy” rather than text based. One librarian shared that it also helps to provide a Q&A doc so that team members are prepared to field common participant concerns - almost like an internal version of your FAQ!
Resources like this are great to have, but shouldn’t replace a more formal training session! We prepared a more in-depth guide on hosting your virtual training - check it out here. There are many platforms out there that allow you to meet virtually. If your library doesn’t already pay for a platform, you might consider using a free option. Some of the favorites of the group were: Google Hangouts, Zoom, and Webex.
Additionally, you may want to pre-record some instructional videos for staff (or even for patrons!) to refer back to. Apps that allow screen and voice recording are great for this. Beanstack librarians have recommended the following: Screencastify, Screencast-o-matic, WeVideo, and Camtasia.
Finally, we had some great conversations about marketing during the Town Hall. It was helpful to hear some of the innovative ways you all are thinking about promoting Summer Reading this year, and we’re glad our recommendations have been useful.
Many Beanstack librarians are already experts at using social media for reading challenge promotion, and that will definitely come in handy this year. We recommend thinking about reaching your target audience in as many ways as possible, including a greater emphasis on digital marketing channels, to help fill in the gaps since people won’t be able to learn more about Summer Reading in person at the branch.
Do you have any recommendations to add that might help another library? Start a thread in the Beanstack User Group or sign up to be a Beanstack Buddy!