Tuesday, September 27, 2011

“what does it profit them if they read many books and love none?”

So the day after I present at OLIS and make all these declarations about how summer reading programs have changed little from the 1970s, I learn that they have actually changed little since the 1900s! While putting together the powerpoint for the presentation, I stumble upon this blog post from NYPL describing the evolution of the online component of their summer reading program. Sort of interesting.

But the blog post links to this master's thesis: A History of Youth Summer Reading Programs in Public Libraries! Fascinating! In the early literature, some librarians accuse other librarians of doing summer reading programs just to increase circulation. How funny, when these days I don't think anyone would be abashed about trying to get their numbers up.

But what really got me were the excerpts from an attack on summer reading programs written by one librarian Latimer (his or her first name isn't mentioned) in 1923. That's where the title of this post comes from. According to the thesis:
This was the first negative response encountered to summer reading programs. It raises the issue of incentives used for reading, one that is still debated. It is critical of creating an atmosphere similar to school during the vacation, when children should be on a break, and creating a negative connection with the library and reading by forcing children to read. In the article the first mention is made of a private company, Gaylord, publishing materials, available for purchase, to support summer reading programs in public libraries.
I can't decide if it's encouraging or discouraging that people have questioned the distribution of prizes and the emphasis on quantity of summer reading for almost 90 years. It's encouraging that other librarians (dead librarians, probably, but whatever), agree with me. It's discouraging that these questions have been raised for so long, but still prizes and logs are default parts of summer reading. Prizes and logs can be used to support specific goals, but I feel like in some cases, they have replaced the goals.

Some questions I think everyone could ask while planning their summer reading program:
  • How does this fit into my year-round relationship with children and schools?
  • How can I bring new people into the library community this summer?
  • What is necessary for children to have positive reading experiences? (Think really basic, like a place and a time to read.)

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