How Kendallville Public Library Reinvigorated Their Summer Program

Kendallville Public Library Summer Adventure LogoFour years ago, Beth Munk, Children’s Services Manager at Kendallville Public Library (KPL) in Indiana, was attending an ALA conference session about summer programs when the conversation became focused on how to do incentives and tracking differently. Session participants, including Munk, wanted to make it more meaningful for patrons and less work for staff. Everyone was having problems figuring out how to make their processes for logging, tracking, and recognition easier and more cost effective and how to integrate intrinsic motivators into their programs. On top of that, they wanted to make sure all of their efforts served a purpose. 

Munk returned home to Indiana thinking that there must be a better way to run a summer program and make it accessible to everyone in the community. And then it hit her — why not get rid of tracking, logging, and tchotchke incentives completely? 

KPL’s New Summer Learning Program

This probably sounds like a major upheaval, but Munk and the KPL team found a way to turn summer at Kendallville Public Library into a program with simple steps and fun activities while freeing up staff time and energy for other things, such as developing and running new programs and performing community outreach.

Like many libraries though, Kendallville still uses the number of participants and their circulation as key measures of success. However, rather than registering each individual and assigning and tracking progress toward their goals, they have a community reading goal. Everyone who participates in the summer reading program helps to reach the community goal. This way parents are not obligated to keep track of what their kids read and slower readers are not pressured to try to read faster. And patrons who can’t get to the library due to mobility and other issues can still participate because the library will deliver their reading materials to them through the Doorstep Delivery program. Everyone is a winner in the end. 

Voting sticker wall.You might be wondering how progress toward the goal is tracked. The answer is simple — through circulation. Every item that is checked out from the library counts toward the community goal. If the community reaches the goal, KPL adds something to their collection that patrons have been requesting. In 2016 it was a permanent story walk, in 2017 it was a video game collection for circulation, and in 2018 it was oversized lawn games that can be borrowed. 

While the new structure worked well right off the bat, library staff noticed that patrons were making fewer trips into the library. Without the need to check off a weekly goal, some only came once a month to get another stack of reading materials for the next four weeks. To solve this issue, the librarians came up with weekly challenges to display in the library and encouraged people to come in and try them. The challenges include crafts, STEM projects, or other passive activities. Sometimes the challenges are broken down by age group, but everyone is encouraged to participate at whichever level they prefer. The challenges have become so popular that the staff has started to offer them throughout the year.

Acrobats performing at the library.Now that the staff isn’t spending their time managing registration, tracking, and incentives, they’ve been able to focus more time on programming, outreach, and collections management. Munk has been able to bring in performers and program partners who can provide experiences that members of her community might not otherwise get, such as African drummers or the opportunity to see a sloth and bearcat. She sometimes runs programs multiple times in order for as many people as possible to have the ability to participate.

What Does Success Look Like?

KPL’s goal for their new program was to meet the community “where they’re at” and remove as many barriers as possible to engaging with the library in summer. And while an increase in participation and circulation numbers tell some of the story, there are other things Beth has noticed that tell her she’s on the right track. First, parents are sharing images and videos of their kids continuing to pursue the topics that they learned about at the library. Kids are talking about books, sharing information about programming, and asking for the library to come to their summer camps and programs. Community organizations and local schools are inviting library staff to show up at their events. The library has become a visible, valued organization in the community. 

What’s Next for Kendallville?

In 2019, Munk is planning to offer pop-up libraries at off-site events and locations around town, starting with evening ballgames. She is also looking for a way to count and display the progress toward the community reading goal in real time. Paper and digital logging might also be made available again for  patrons who really liked using them, but the logging won’t be tracked or connected to prizes like in the past. 

What do you have planned for the future of summer programming at your library? Connect with us on Twitter to share your library’s story.

Make a Bigger Impact with Your Summer Programming

Learn how your library can boost excitement and reach a wider audience by making the switch to a summer learning program.

The Kendallville Public Library serves about 16,500 residents in the northeast and north-central part of Noble County, Indiana. They are an Evergreen Indiana library, part of a consortium of more than 115 other libraries that share resources. Their mission is to provide access to information — for life. They have vision beyond their walls — investing in outreach, developing community collaborations, and working every day toward a more fulfilling life for those in their community. They proactively provide services and items that they expect to be needed or know are wanted in the community. They work to break down barriers to service that prevent some people from effectively using the library and all the educational resources it has to offer.


Erin Hoag

Erin Hoag

Erin Hoag is the Learning Content Manager at Demco. She has a master’s in library and information studies with a focus on child and youth services. For over 10 years, she has worked in informal education, developing and running programs in museums, libraries, and community centers.