Small Steps to Summer Learning Your Library Can Make Today

I can't do everything today, but I can take one small step.For years now, it seems like everyone has been talking about summer reading versus summer learning, whether or not to make the switch, and how best to do it. It might seem overwhelming and maybe a little frightening to think about making the change to a summer learning program when your existing summer reading program is working. You might be asking yourself the following questions:

  • Where am I supposed to find the time to research what to do?
  • I’m not a teacher, so how am I supposed to handle the learning part?
  • How do I even track learning?

If you feel unsure about what to do, it can derail things before you even get started. But don’t feel like you have to change your entire program all at once. Instead, you can start with a few simple moves this summer and build on them over time.

Summer is supposed to be fun and engaging, and a summer learning program can be both those things. With some small changes and a good communication plan, you can get patrons as excited about the new opportunities in your library as you are.

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.

Ways to Make Summer a Learning Experience at Your Library

  1. Change the Way You Talk About Summer in the Library: Start by talking to patrons about the experiences that will be happening in programs, rather than the objects they are creating. Focus on how it will feel to participate with their friends and family rather than on what they might learn. It does take a little effort and some practice to get comfortable with talking about summer learning as an experience rather than a result, so be patient and don’t worry if it doesn’t come naturally at first. It will be important for all staff to talk about summer learning the same way, so offer some training and talking points, and put strategically placed reminders in staff spaces.
  2. Update Your Tracking Logs: Next, update your tracking logs to include summer learning experiences and programs. If you are going to be talking about the experience of summer, you should make sure that people can record that kind of participation. Include squares on the tracking logs for coming to a workshop or program. Add some free spaces for people to record adventures they go on themselves, such as hiking at a local park or visiting a museum. Be sure to ask participants about those activities when they bring in their logs for incentives.
  3. Students and teacher at discovery center.Partner with Popular Attractions: Work with some of the more popular attractions in your area to offer passes for checkout or as incentives. This will help your patrons see through your actions that you value their summer experiences as much as you say you do. If you’re afraid transportation might exclude some of your patrons, work with local attractions to set up special days for library patrons to visit, and see if you can work out a shuttle just for those days. Even offering one opportunity like this over the summer will create lasting memories for kids and families.
  4. Offer Incentives That Match Your Summer Learning Program Goals: For example, if one of your summer program goals is to expose kids to science in fun ways, have passes available to science and natural history sites. Offer a hands-on science program series, and tell patrons that if they attend three or more, they will get a ticket to participate in an open science lab at the end of the season.

    If your goal is to get more participants in your summer learning program, have a few bring-a-friend or refer-a-friend incentives that change every couple of weeks. Encourage your regular patrons to bring people who have never come to the library or who are not regular library visitors.

These relatively small changes can lay the groundwork for bigger moves in the future. Maybe next year you’ll make the switch from individual logging to family or community reading goals. If you plan to track your progress toward collaborative goals through circulation, you can free up staff time and energy to offer more programs and experiences. Or maybe you’ll be able to eliminate tchotchkes as extrinsic motivators for participation, freeing up monetary resources for more performers, nicer program materials, and experience-based incentives. In just a few years of small changes, your summer program could transform to a summer learning program that supports a wide variety of learning experiences for your community.


Erin Hoag

Erin Hoag

Erin Hoag is the former 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 ten years, she worked in informal education, developing and running programs in museums, libraries, and community centers.