A young middle school student pulled up outside the library on his dirt bike. Pulling his backpack off his shoulder, I watched as he tugged an orange paper from his bag. “Wait a minute,” I yelled opening my car door, “Can I ask you something?”
With a shrug of his shoulders he agreed I could. I climbed out of my car and smiled. “I see you have the Teen Summer Reading Sheet. Did you sign up for the Reading Challenge?”
“Yeah,” he replied.
“Why did you sign up?”
“I wanted to win the $75 gift card for the ‘Diversions’ store, so my mother told me to sign up. She checks off the books I read.”
“So, how are you doing?” I asked.
“Ok, I guess. I’m not done, I still have a few more to read. I’m here to get a couple of books.”
“What are you looking for?” I asked him.
“I was looking for number 8, 11, 20, or 22,” he answered looking over the well-worn paper.
“If there were no prize, would you have signed up anyway?”
“No,” he laughed, I wouldn’t have.”
“Well, good luck!” I replied.
Behavior motivations work, at least according to him. For the 120 other teens (grades 5th - 12th) who signed up for the reading program, the many possible prizes certainly offered an incentive. What we see here is a teenager at the library on a beautiful Cape day, with only a few days of summer vacation left, searching for a book to read, who readily admitted he would not have made the effort without the library reading program and the added prize as an incentive.
I also ran into a young woman at the library, carrying her green adult game sheet. While chatting with her, she explained to me that she has had a Cape library card since she was a little girl. She admitted she loved to read, reads a lot, but always favored the same types of books. She signed up because she spotted all the baskets of gifts displayed in back of the circulation desk. “Why not sign up?” she said, “I like to read and I would love to win a prize!” When I asked her if she was coming in to turn in her completed sheet, she told me no, she had a few more books to go to complete the board. Next, she was going to ask the librarian for help finding a book of poems, since she doesn’t usually read poetry. On the game sheet, however, number 20 states, “Read some poetry”. She also planned to ask how many “some” meant. No matter the number, she was off to read poetry!
She is not alone. She was one of the 164 adults at the Thomas Memorial Library who also jumped into reading this summer. While I was at the library, I checked in with the children’s room circulation desk. The number of little readers was even greater: 294 Pre-K to 4th graders signed up to read as part of the summer reading program.
A group of four, soon-to-be 2nd graders, told me that they all signed up because their mothers made them. However, all of them admitted that they had fun completing the sheet. “There is lots of stuff to do on it besides read,” one child told me. They explained that when they come into the library to claim their “spin to win” prize, they also can land on a mystery choice space. The Mystery Choice gives them a library mystery to solve, like “Go around the library looking for characters with sunglasses ”. The girls were excited about the mysteries and liked the prizes too. When I asked them if they were glad they signed up, they all answered, “Yes!” It was a great way to explore new places in the library.
The staff agreed that this was a wonderful response to the summer reading programs. Almost 600 patrons picked out new books, found new places to read, shared books with someone (or a pet or a stuffed pal) and asked for suggestions from the librarians as part of the summer reading programs. Lots of new faces have walked into the library searching for new books on travel, or trying an audiobook for the first time. The library staff hoped that these readers will continue exploring the library and its offerings all year, and that maybe now, after enjoying the summer challenge, they’d be more likely to join another library program during the year.
Clearly, the small investment in prizes by the Thomas Memorial Library Foundation yielded a large return in interest in the summer reading program reading by more patrons in Cape Elizabeth at every age group.
Mary Capobianco is a member of the Thomas Memorial Library Foundation, which made these incentives possible through the generous donations of many Cape residents.