Editor’s Note: This commentary by librarian Anna Call is part of our special focus on Summer Reading for the month of May.
There is a font of summer reading themes, including lists, bibliographical materials, and graphics. It is invaluable, essential even, to the holistic library planner and the collaborative department heads, to the joint YA and Children’s Department and the enthusiastic outreach coordinator alike.
I speak, of course, of the inimitable Collaborative Summer Library Program. God, I love these guys. The theme this year is Build a Better World, which I can hardly argue with. I particularly dig that the children’s resources are marked to indicate which books include diversity #WeFinallyGotAFewDiverseBooks (#NowLetsSeeSomeMore).
Themes are a great way to get Summer Reading off the ground, draw people in, even gamify the process with weekly prizes. One library where I used to work gave out $10 iTunes gift certificates every week during the summer. If you want to see teens scramble to read, let me give you a hint: bribe them.
This year, the CSLP is focused on useful, practical, real-world skills (hence Build a Better World,) which is amazing. What a great opportunity to integrate not only teens and kids, who are traditionally well-served by summer reading programs, but the much more pragmatically oriented adults, who are often left behind! And, indeed, CSLP includes a section on adult programming, including a summer reading list for the really big kids in your life.
However, here I must quibble. In a world where The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up shares shelf space with Welcome to the Farm: How-To Wisdom from the Elliott Homestead, this would-be summer reading list passes over the bestsellers in favor of Better Homes and Gardens’ Gardening Made Simple: The Complete Step-by-Step Guide to Gardening and Organize Your Home: Clutter Cures for Every Room. Uh….huh.
One of the places where libraries struggle is in the intersection of our muted, shelf-lined book rooms with the dirty drudgery of living. We offer high literature; adults mainly want to know how to do stuff. However, the publishing industry isn’t having a particularly large amount of trouble on this point. Case in point: cookbooks, whose popularity grows even when the economy tanks. Most libraries already have this wave as far as stock goes - mine features a cookbook section that rivals even Christian nonfiction in size—but we could do so much more.
Because like it or not, adults aren’t generally going to read something that doesn’t give them useful information. They have to work all day, take care of the family all evening, and meet general adult expectations for behavior, productivity and community engagement the rest of the time. A book list that really breaks into adult consciousness acknowledges this and takes it upon itself to engage on those levels. For example, my library runs an extremely successful cookbook book club that engages adults who otherwise can’t find time to slog through The Light Between Oceans.
This is where creativity points count. Might adults respond to a summer reading list paired with a program? Should you go all out with a community read? Might this be an opportunity to push garden-themed e-audiobooks? This year’s CSLP theme could not come at a better time. There’s a continuing enthusiasm for DIY, homesteading, and otherwise taking control of the home environment. Libraries can thrive by inserting themselves into a helpful role, and summer reading is a great place to start.
One thing is for sure: a summer reading program for adults won’t stand on its own. Kids can be bribed; adults need to be wooed. Consider what practical concerns would normally draw them to seek information—urban chickens? bicycle repair? continuing education?—and tailor your summer reading program to that. Even if you happen to also run a summer reading raffle or bookshelf bingo as well.
Anna Call is a reference librarian at the Nevins Memorial Library in Methuen, Massachusetts. Follow her on Twitter @evil_librarian.