Gail Borden Library Redefines Summer Reading, Partners With Community

The Gail Borden Public Library outreach team with their 2016 Upstart Library Innovation Award. From left to right: Ben Bahl, Sherry Frey, Madeleine Villalobos, Carole Medal, Miriam Lytle, Ana Devine and Julia Langlois.

What if library summer reading programs reached more people? What if it were easier for kids to read wherever they spend most of their time in the summer? Could community partners help boost reading rates?

These are a few of the questions Gail Borden Public Library staff in Elgin, IL, started asking as they sought to reach more kids and families.

Their efforts culminated in a 2013 Gold Star Partners pilot, an off-site summer reading program with 25 community organizations. The pilot was so successful that it has been going strong ever since.

Three years later, more than 45% of Gail Borden Public Library summer reading participants finish the program at a partner site, rather than one of the library’s 3 locations. This speaks volumes to the uniqueness of the program, which won the 2016 Upstart Library Innovation Award, an award that honors a public library’s innovative or creative service program.

Miriam Lytle, Division Chief of Community Services & Program Development, graciously gathered her team together to share more of the program details with us.

  • Ben Bahl, Library on the Go Manager
  • Ana Devine, Director of Branch Services
  • Julia Langlois, Elementary Education Librarian, Library on the Go Team
  • Madeline Villalobos, Readership Library Associate & Library on the Go

Here are the highlights from our conversation.



Gail_Borden_Library_Gold_Star_Partners_logoHow did you come up with the idea for Gold Star Partners?

Ana: The seed of the idea for Gold Star Partners was planted in 2007 when I was doing a lot of preschool storytimes in the community, at parks and the local pool. There was a little boy at the pool who just stayed with me. He wouldn’t go back in the water. When I asked him why he didn’t want to go back into the pool and be with all the other kids, he said, “We go swimming every day, but we don’t get to read every day.”

It was at that moment that it occurred to me that there are probably hundreds if not thousands of kids in the community who are in day camp, summer school and various programs, and we were not reaching them!

What happened between 2007 and 2013, the first year of the Gold Star Partners pilot?

Ana: In 2007, I also visited a low-income housing community and decided to do a 7-week summer reading program. There were 6 kids and their grandma who finished. And that was it.

The year after, I added another location and then another location. Every year we grew. By 2012, we were up to 5 locations and had 150 kids finishing the program. But it was exhausting. An assistant and I were doing over 40 programs in the community in a summer. There was no way that was sustainable.

While it was extremely successful and it was wonderful for those 150 children, I knew there were thousands of kids out there in organized community programs that we still were not reaching. And I knew how exhausting it was just to go to 5 or 6 centers, so we needed a new way. As it turns out, we identified over 30 places we could work with. The following year, 2013, I was given the green light to establish Gold Star Partners, expanding our outreach into the community.

Miriam: We have a super innovative and energetic team, and fortunately, our board and executive director have empowered us to try new things. If we want to pilot something, we do. Sometimes it turns out to be something absolutely fabulous, sustainable and replicable like Gold Star Partners.

Community engagement is really at the core of it. It’s all about what the library can provide from a patron’s point of view. We’re continually evolving. We’re always listening. We’re always paying attention. We’re always inviting. We are either at the table or we create the table at the library for the community to come together.

How did you kick things off with Gold Star Partners in terms of funding, staffing, etc.?

Ana: I knew I had the green light and could do the outreach because I had my supervisor’s approval. She said, “Yep, go ahead and do it,” and of course, I gave her updates along the way. I did work closely with our children’s department, and I have a good relationship with the management there. I also had an assistant who helped throughout the summer.

When it came to the end of the summer, where we were going back to the facilities and rewarding the kids for their participation with their books, we were up to 4 staff members who helped. We also had volunteers who helped.

Tell me more about the volunteer aspect of Gold Star Partners.

Miriam: We have a very robust volunteer program at our library. Overall, we had 650 volunteers alone this year. They go through an application process and background check. If they are accepted and are a good fit for us, we have job descriptions for every volunteer position in our library, including Library On the Go and Gold Star Partners. It’s a well-organized process.

What has proved successful for you in reaching children in the community and helping your partners facilitate summer reading?

Ana: As I mentioned, we had identified a list of 30 potential community partners, including the school district, Boys and Girls Club, the park district, some faith-based organizations that have programs and free lunch programs. For preschools, instead of reading logs, we created a poster that classroom teachers could use to help children complete the summer reading program. We print 60–70 posters per summer. This way kids ages 2 through 5 are going through the program as a group with their teacher.

We also work with a group of special needs children who have an extended school year. These groups also use the posters because it gives a visual reminder for the kids. The kids could color the posters and keep in step with finishing the program.

Julia: The principal said that Gold Star Partners was the first time these students were included in summer reading. Up until that point there was no easy way to include the students. Now about 200 new students are in the program.

For this partner, volunteers were a necessity, as the principal wanted a storytime for each class. We selected retired librarians, retired school teachers and social workers for this site. For 6 weeks, they came to the school and read all morning long for these kids. They built a great relationship. We all felt like they “owned” those children as much as we do too.

Have you pursued new, different or unexpected partnerships to encourage more reading in your community?

Julia: We continue to branch out, and are partnering with a community college to help English language learners, and we reach out to older adults in assisted living facilities.

Ben: For the college, it is a hybrid program created with Hispanic Services here at the library. It means taking summer reading to Elgin Community College’s (ECC) English language learners program. The average age is 45. We help those students who are beginning their English language literacy skills to complete summer reading at the community college. It is a really unique program and a nice expansion of Gold Star Partners’ mission.

For assisted living facilities, the program is based on the preschool poster. For every 15 minutes read, the person receives a check mark. In 2016, the first home services senior completed the program by listening to 8 books on CD. The volunteer in-home companion completed the log for this blind gentleman.

We’re also in the beginning planning phases of determining how to expand Gold Star Partners year round.

How do you convey the value of Gold Star Partners to your community?

Miriam: I believe the power of the program is really in many voices — not just librarians and teachers. Now you have summer mentors, counselors, police officers, free lunch workers, scout leaders and faith-based organizations all carrying a similar message: it is important to read in the summertime and important to read, period.

Gold Star Partners also comes at a time when two incomes are common and often needed in every household. These are very busy parents, and so when they are signing up their children at a camp program or daycare, there is now the added value of a reading program.

Ana: Gold Start Partners have also created an opportunity for community organizations that function independently to come together. They get to see each other, hear what others are doing and learn from their experiences.

How many partners did you start with? How many are you working with now?

Ana: In 2013, we had about 24 partners. It has inched up every year. We are up to about 30 now. Partners are now calling us to be part of the program and ask how they can get involved.

What are some of the results that you are the most proud of?

Ben: I’m particularly proud of the hybrid program with Elgin Community College (ECC), which is leading to an increased partnership with ECC that includes class visits throughout the school year. That wouldn’t have been possible without Hispanic Services Manager, Tina Viglucci. Tina was our primary connection with ECC, and it was her idea to formally reach out to an English language learner teacher and students regarding summer reading.

In 2015, Gold Star Partners helped nearly 48% of participants complete summer reading. In 2016, that number dropped slightly to 47% due to the U46 summer school changing its partnership status and lower participation at the Centre of Elgin, a community center near the library. We couldn’t have reached all of those readers without more than 30 community partners.

When do you start planning for your summer reading program and Gold Star Partners?

Ana: The strategy for summer reading starts in full force inside the library in January. However, the Library on the Go team has already been meeting with Gold Star Partners like Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts since September, as their programs run on a different timetable. We’re very much aligned with and a part of the summer reading program, and much of what we do would not be possible without strong internal partnerships across the organization.

Do you have requirements for your Gold Star Partners?

Ana: We have meetings with the partners and set expectations that are important to our shared success. Both organizations are responsible for providing resources, and we have a signed agreement. An essential part of the program is having access to books.

What has been an unexpected outcome from Gold Stars Partners?

Miriam: Earlier this year, our school district, who was a Gold Star Partner, asked if our library could be their summer school. For the past 3 years, we went to the summer school sites. This year it kind of got turned on its head. Because we had a good relationship with the school district, the summer school director approached us and asked, “Can we hold our enrichment program at the library?”

Every school was given the opportunity to send 25–50 students to the library for a total of 200 students per day. Four schools visited one of our branches, and 20 schools used the main library. The district bused kids to our library, and we held 4 classes every day for 6 weeks. Teachers were here to meet the buses and kids. We gave them library services and the kids got library cards.

I believe this partnership and this relationship is because of our Gold Star Partners program.


Angie Schoeneck

Angie Schoeneck

Growth Strategy Manager at Demco, Inc.
Angie is the Growth Strategy Manager at Demco. She focuses on the evolving needs and trends in education and library environments, their patrons and communities, and translating these into relevant products and services. She has an extensive background in new product development, product management and business process improvement.