Shaking Up SLP - Facing Down Fear

Change is in the air with SLP. More people are getting outside the box and re-examining the worn-out paradigms of how we engage kids in the summer. This series of posts (some from me, some from guests) looks at aspects of SLP and ask us to think bigger, deeper and wider - and share experiences along the continuum for change. 

For many of us, summer reading programs represent the most sacred of cows. When we started our jobs, we learned HOW.IT.IS.DONE. Even if our predecessor was no longer there, the director, the board, our co-workers and even our patrons had strong thoughts about HIID. It makes it tough not to feel like "Who am I to change things?" But really, when it gets right down to it, you ARE the one with the knowledge and ability to make change happen.

The pressure of HIID stifles creativity, innovation and truly answering the needs of our community. Rather than respond to the literacy needs of kids over summer vacation, the rigid lines of HIID keep many of us in narrow lines of expected service - reading records, genre straightjackets, incentives (that might be considered bribes), competition, and intensive active programming that wipes out energy and staff enthusiasm.

Time and again in my courses, my hallway conversations and my workshops, youth library staff express hesitation, concern and sometimes fear of the patron/co-worker/management reaction that might ensue if any changes are made.  I get that. I am not immune to that same feeling.


...what I have found is that our fear is often far worse than the reality of the reaction. I have been involved in massive change and evolution of the SLP for the past twenty years. Each small or large change (no more oral reports; no more writing of every title read; introducing weekly cards to bring in more visits; doing a tween SLP; developing a preschool only SLP; library use/program attendance considered equal to reading in importance; experiential activities tied to literacy/learning at home or at the library; going prizeless) has been embraced by the public and administration. I have seen the same at libraries everywhere.

The one or two voices of dismay are drowned out by the many, many voices of those who appreciate how much more engaged their kids are and how much more they are involved in reading/learning/literacy/books.

A little parenthetical story:
For years, a well-beloved colleague ran a reading program that handed out the same small incentive prize - and only that prize - year after year. Each year, she would buy a new design for this prize. She worked at the library 30 years. After she had been retired for a year, I asked the new children's librarian if she was still doing the same SLP. She said she had changed it immediately. The reaction from the public? They loved the new way SLP was done. Many expressed gratitude that a program they had done as children had finally evolved to a new more interesting way.

What are the key elements to making change successful and being mighty and fearless?
  • Due diligence - what change are you contemplating and how will it enrich/enhance the SLP experience for kids?
  • Ducks in order - what does the research say? What experiences have colleagues shared? 
  • Literacy and learning links - How does this support what is happening already in your schools and larger community in terms of literacy and learning?
  • Great communication - make sure your administration is on board. Talk to patrons and school colleagues about ideas well in advance of the change.
  • Standing shoulder to shoulder - create a culture of buy-in with co-workers and administration so that the messages you share with the public are positive and the same.
How about you? What have you been thinking about summer reading/library program? Join our conversation in the comments, on your blog or as a guest post writer (send guest posts to me lochwouters at gmail dot com). For additional thoughtful posts, stop by the Summer Reading Revolution Pinterest board or read other upcoming posts in this series

Shaking Up SLP - Questions
Shaking Up SLP - Research-iness
Shaking Up SLP - Workshop Power
Shaking Up SLP - School Power
Shaking Up SLP- Creating the Zen


  1. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. When we abandoned our "grand prize" drawings last year, my staff and I prepped for what we would tell the disappointed patrons. We brainstormed a script, we role-played. And then... we did not have ONE complaint. (We did have a few questions, but no disappointment.) The changes we've made to the SRC over the past couple of years have made it a MUCH easier program for our staff to run, have bolstered staff buy-in of the program (we're offering something we can all get behind), and our participation is about the same as it's been since I started there. Let go of fear! Make positive changes! Yes!!!!

  2. Has anyone gotten feedback (whether informal or formal) from the children and parents before the library made changes to the summer reading program?

  3. We talked alot on an informal basis with kids and parents ("Say, if we did x and y, what do you think - would it make you guys more likely to participate - or not participate?"). We also listen to comments parents make during the program itself - it really helps us work through changes and add new stuff or change-up old stuff. Alot of our innovation was driven by the patrons themselves!