Ask a Storytime Ninja: Increasing SRP Completion

Ah, yes, Summer Reading statistics.  The numbers we all love to hate that are necessary for funding and other support for many of us. I’m just glad this question is about completion rate, rather than sign up (insert personal rant about those stats here). Do you have any more ideas for our asker? Please share!!

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The Question: 

I have been asked to increase our SRP completion rate from 35% to 60% (and somehow sign up 50% of the population, but that’s a whole nother problem). Do you have any suggestions on how to motivate people to finish SRP? We aren’t allowed to do a party/activity where only finishers are invited b/c admin policy.

 

The Answers:

 

From Polly:

 

Since I don’t have details about how you currently run your SRP, nor do I know the circumstances that have led to these requests, I can only give general type suggestions from my own experience, but here goes:

 

Basically, you can make your prizes better, make finishing easier, and/or get a lot more buy-in from the adults who look after the kids in the summer.

 

If you have lots of money (which is unlikely) or really good business community partnerships, making the prizes better is probably the most straightforward thing to do. Depending on the general economic state of your municipality, something like entry in a draw for a piece of technology (ipad or whatever) for kids who finish the program could be a huge incentive. Or something like a new bike. Another thing you can do is involve schools, and try and make it a competition between schools; I know several libraries where that has worked well, especially if the winning school gets a decent prize (will your admin policy allow you to give a finishing party to/in a school? Or you can give something concrete to the school as a whole, like a donation of books for their library, a nice picture for their walls or a tree for their yard—you’ll know best what will work with your schools). I know a lot of libraries find that having some visual, in-library way of tracking reading helps too—have them add a sticker to a paper-covered wall in the library when they finish, or something along those lines, add a piece to a crazy monster or something like that, so the monster gets crazier for every kid that finishes; I know I saw tons of great ideas for that kind of thing last summer on various blogs.

 

If you want to make finishing easier, it’s key that you change how you define finishing, not just say “read fewer books” (unless you require a very high number to finish already, in which case that could be what you need!). Some options could be: making things other than reading count (coming to programs, visiting the library, learning-type activities completed at home, visits to museums or whatever you have where you are), tracking time spent reading instead of number of books (or vice versa). Personally I have found # of books is the most straightforward in the places I’ve worked, but I know many other libraries prefer time spent reading, and if you have the time and staff to allow everyone to set their own goal, that can certainly increase finishing, because it means not only the good readers can finish.

 

As far as adults, we’ve had a lot of success when we can get teachers involved. At one of the schools we visited to promote summer reading last year, a teacher volunteered to give any child from the school who finished the SRP an extra prize when they went back to school in September, and that really helped completion rates for that school! Parent buy-in is of course huge, we usually try to talk to parents about summer slide and things, and we try to have a draw for finishers for something parents approve of, usually a bookstore gift card. I’ve also worked with day camps and preschools who would sign up all their kids and makes sure all the group or independent reading done at camp/school went into that log, which was a guaranteed finisher for all of those kids. And if you can swing it so your story time regulars can count all of what you read to them in story time, that’s another easy one. If you require reporting on the books they’ve read in order to make them count, just introduce a little discussion after each story in story time (remember that discussion if you’re a preschooler is saying anything about what you just had read to you), and ask the preschool teachers to do the same if they want to sign their classes up. The key if you do reporting can be to get more flexible about it. Allow parents and nannies and so on to vouch that their kids have talked about a book. Yes, you’ll get the odd cheater, but it means even really shy kids can take part and finish. We allow early talkers to report if they can look at a book they’ve had read to them, point to a red truck and say “red” or “truck”—that’s reporting, if you’re two!

 

For older kids, getting an online SRP can help, they mostly enjoy watching the number of books they’ve read grow online, and if you can give online badges, they tend to like that a lot.

 

I hope that helps some, you’ll probably find you have to do several different things to really make a difference; good luck!

 


 

From Karen:

 

Wow! That’s a huge increase being asked for in one summer! This year will only be my third year that I’ve actually helped plan our SRP, but I have two questions for you:

 

1: How complicated is your program? We totally revamped our program for last summer with the help of our new Youth Services supervisor. We created fewer handouts and made the process to sign up, track time, etc. a million times easier, for both the patrons and for us as well. This summer was the most relaxed of any summer reading program that I’ve been through! Of course, we had pushback from some of our families who liked the old system, but most families found the changes to work much better for them. We talked with patrons in the months leading up to summer reading about how much more simple the program was going to be, which I think created a lot of excitement, or at least more interest than in previous years. We held an all-day registration event on the first day, complete with refreshments and a chance to win tickets to either a theme park or a baseball game, which were generously donated to us, just for signing up on the first day. We had more than 700 children and teens sign up throughout the summer (we had been holding steady at about 400 for several years previously), and we also had record completions.

 

2: Do you visit schools in May to advertise your program & to get kids excited about signing up? When I visit, I usually either read a story or do an activity that relates to the SRP theme, talk about the prizes the kids would/could possibly get, and give them some sort of reminder of my visit (last year we gave a Fizz! Boom! Read! bookmark with our summer programs/times printed on the back.

 

Best of luck to you as you plan for this summer, and keep us posted on your progress!

 


 

From Inma:

 
The joys of SRP…I am new to this whole process, this will be my third year participating from start to end in our SRP. I guess I have some questions and/or thoughts to ponder as I attempt to answer this question.

 

How do you measure completion?  What determines completion for your SRP? Do you look at kids who read and logged minutes/books whatever your measurement is throughout the entire program?  Do you give them a goal? This will be one way you can determine the success of your SRP. Last year we moved from logging books read to minutes read and gave the kids a goal of 800 minutes for the entire duration of the SRP.  We figured 100 minutes a week was a good amount ( 20 minutes x 5 days a week). Our program lasted 8 weeks.  We used an online system that allowed us to easily report totals by age groups/ patrons, so it was easy to determine which kids had completed 800 minutes.

 

We  held weekly raffles, in order to participate kids had had to log minutes that week to get a raffle ticket. This was our attempt at making sure kids were reading every week.  We were fortunate to receive quite a nice assortment of donations to create weekly raffle baskets.

 

I guess it is all relative to how you determine completion. Do you go by how many kids registered and how many actually logged books/minutes? We found out that since we moved to an online system for registration & logging our registration numbers went down.   However, we were able to report that more kids participated overall (logged books/minutes throughout the summer) when compared with the previous year. We had kids that registered, got freebee stuff, and never came back. We felt that even though our registration numbers were lower, the overall participation was higher and that was better. We have only been using the online system for a couple of years.   Is it better to have less kids total but more kids participating than high registration but little follow thru?

 

Hope this helps.

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4 thoughts on “Ask a Storytime Ninja: Increasing SRP Completion

  1. Profile photo of JenniJenni

    A couple of clarifications (which I know makes my question not anonymous anymore, but that’s fine by me):

    1. The grand prize is a $1,000 scholarship, and we have several smaller prizes in the form of themed baskets containing books and other goodies. I don’t know that our grand prize can get any grander. :)

    2. To finish, kids have to read for 30 blocks of time, each block being fifteen minutes. And they need to do six experiences – these can be coming to a library program, visiting a park, making a project, etc. It’s pretty open-ended. We are, however, limited by our county – I do not get to change SRP requirements. I’m sure a lot of kids already DO these things, but getting them to bring their handout back to the library so they can count as a finisher (and be entered in the raffle) is the hard part.

    3. Yes, we are visiting all public and private schools in May to do an assembly about summer reading; we will also broadcast this info on social media and on physical community announcement boards throughout the community. :)

    I love the idea of using online badges; I’m not sure how we’d make it work at our library, so it might be something for NEXT summer, but it’s a neat idea! :)

  2. Profile photo of Jennifer WJennifer W

    Hmm. I keep a spreadsheet of all srp participants – can you just mark them off on the spreadsheet when they say they’ve finished? That way you wouldn’t lose all the people who lose their materials (which is, it sometimes seems, EVERYONE). Do camps/daycares visit your library? Can you sign those kids up? I got them to come back at the end of summer, the teachers told me they all read, and I gave them all an ice cream coupon. Bang. 80 kids.
    Can you try unusual venues? One summer I set up a booth at a grocery store (they were doing a family fun event) but I got, like, 50 families signed up that I’d never seen at the library before.
    Also, pro tip, target your biggest families, 5+ kids at a pop – do you have a homeschool population? many of them have larger families (depending on the area/etc.) =D

  3. Profile photo of JenniJenni

    Last year we signed up over 2500 kids, so a spreadsheet might not be the easiest thing to work with; also, if a kid/family came in and said they had finished SRP, I’d definitely count them even if they didn’t have their form. I think our problem is getting people to actually return to the library and turn in their form or tell us they finished.

    I like the idea of signing people up at unusual places like the grocery store, though. That might work and would definitely be something different.

    I wish we had a homeschooling population to target, but the vast majority of our kids go to the public schools. We don’t even have that many private/parochial schools here.

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