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Summer Reading at SC Libraries: Investment in Summer Reading

A program that entices children and young adults to read throughout the summer in order to keep up the skills they learned during the school year, and encouraging them to become lifelong library users.

Investment in Summer Reading by the State Library

For many years, the State Library has supported summer reading programming with funds and staff resources. Basic support consisted in early years of an investment of LSTA funding at approximately $25,000 annually, for materials and membership in the national collaborative program. Since 2010, the amount invested in summer reading statewide through materials provided, membership in the collaborative, minigrants to libraries, participation in the collaborative annual meeting, the StoryfestSC kickoff event, SCSL staff time, and cash-supported partnerships with public school libraries, has more than tripled the State Library’s investment in summer reading.

Libraries may not be aware of the extent to which we are also supporting related summer reading programs such as the nationwide Teen Lock In, CSLP video projects and early literacy trainings that will provide guidance on creating summer reading programs geared at the preschool age.

The State Library’s goals for supporting summer reading are clearly included in the current LSTA Five Year Plan:

  • Advance literacy and academic performance by engaging children and teens in reading and reading-related activities during the summer months. Involve parents and all family members in the library summer reading experience. Increase participation by all ages in public library summer reading programs.
  • Foster a love of reading through public library programs and services. Increase successful reading experiences through librarian-supported, self-selected, voluntary reading.
  • Improve children’s access to library materials and activities, which will encourage them to become lifelong library users.
  • Provide tools and resources for the public libraries to implement summer reading programs by engaging in partnerships that will benefit the libraries and expand resources.

Evaluation and Data Collection

The State just completed the 2003-2007 five-year LSTA cycle and underwent an evaluation of that cycle. In that evaluation process the State Library was made aware of the lack of true evaluation being done as compared to the amount of funds invested. In order to justify such a large expenditure of Federal funds and meet the rigorous evaluation process mandated by IMLS, we need to attend to the ways in which we evaluate projects, gather data, and determine the accuracy of that data. It is the State Library’s ongoing responsibility to administer Federal funds wisely and continually seek ways to achieve the goals we have set.

Libraries and other service organizations have been automating manual processes for many years now, including the collection of data about library programs and services. About three years ago we began to look for a tool that would allow us to cost effectively collect, analyze and report the data that leads to better evaluation of our investment in specific services. There is increasing pressure nationally produce data about services and programs that enables libraries to show the effectiveness of programs at the local level.

Additional data collection goals are outlined in the current LSTA Five Year Plan:

  • Collect more information and data about conditions in the state, and review regularly for accuracy and currency;
  • Look for new research and studies and include findings in ongoing project and service planning;
  • Incorporate evaluative steps in every stage of the planning and implementation of every project, with documentation of findings to be understood as each project manager’s serious responsibility;
  • Develop channels for sharing findings, and make data easily accessible;
  • Develop simple tools for project managers to use in collecting and reporting data, and require their use;
  • Conduct as much pre-implementation data gathering as possible (raw data as well as survey data);
  • Incorporate financial metrics as much as possible, for resulting hard data on how cost effective and efficient library services and programming really are;

Automation and the Data Tool Choice

After learning that the nationwide summer reading collaborative (CSLP) would not be purchasing an evaluation tool for all member states, vendors were recommended to contact states directly about the data collection tools they offer. With eight states having purchased a statewide contract and a dozen more states looking into similar options, South Carolina decided to take advantage of a vendor offer that would allow us to provide an online summer reading registration and data gathering tool to the public libraries at a significantly reduced rate for a three-year trial period.

Prior to this purchase, our internal IT staff discussed the possibility of creating such a tool in-house, but it was decided that with the limited staff, expertise, and time needed to create it from scratch including all capacity and security issues, the outside option was the better choice for us. An ideal product would be designed specifically for library summer reading programs as opposed to a general data collection tool, and the product would be supported by a team of experts for training and assistance. The options would need to be customizable and offer a variety of different features because libraries operate their summer reading activities in different ways. Evanced’s Summer Reader fit all of these specifications.

We learned from other states’ experiences that more and more operations are being automated and staff need to continuously adapt to change. Summer reading registration and reporting is no exception. Other states report that the first year with the Evanced system was a struggle for some libraries, but that after the first year, libraries concluded that the Summer Reader product was easier to use overall and if used fully, could provide useful data to funders and library administration.

Previous practices: Data collection in the past, for a variety of reasons, has not been consistent. Libraries have submitted information in a variety of ways with no real backup or documentation as to how that data came about. Libraries do not all measure participation and progress in the same way, so it became increasingly difficult to pull together the data that shows progress and justifies funding. With no dedicated youth services consultant at the State Library and increasing demands on the Library Development team’s time and resources, it is increasingly challenging to administer a comprehensive and successful summer reading program at the statewide level.

The State Library’s summer reading administrative activities are all now electronic. Orders for materials are now placed online by public library youth services coordinators in a database created by the State Library. This reduces the amount of manual paper production by State Library departments. It also provides an electronic backup without someone from the State Library manually typing into a form, therefore eliminating the possibility of error. This process is continually being refined and simplified for cost effectiveness. Moving to an online system of registration and reporting such as Evanced’s Summer Reader provides the administrators of the program, and the State Library, the ability to access reports – data summaries – at given points in the summer. While paper manuals are still produced, they are also provided in electronic formats. The CSLP collaborative itself is moving to increasingly online and technologically advanced options.

Summer reading survey information (the end-of-program reporting) moved to an online format several years ago, with SurveyMonkey as the basis for gathering simple data from the libraries. However, there is no way to provide any kind of verification of the information entered. Additionally, the survey has changed from year to year—and this is an internal issue we have identified--so it has been difficult to measure change over time as well as spot trends. The amount of time expended obtaining this information from the libraries takes more than it should. Youth services coordinators and librarians were made aware of the move to more automated program coordination during the summer reading wrap-up program in Fall 2011.

School Library connection: A few years ago, a longtime Department of Education employee who coordinated a summer reading program for school libraries retired. As many of the school libraries’ funding has been reduced as well as the fact that school libraries are not open in the summer, the State Library created a partnership with public schools and the Association of School Librarians to help market the public library’s program into the schools. We requested that public libraries start to build partnerships with their local schools. We are looking to evaluate these results now that we are entering the second year of this partnership.

Research has shown that reading and literacy in youth and young adults is a strong predictor of educational achievement and career success. However, in South Carolina, we have heretofore not been able to provide data that will support that and other similar statements.

The State Library Goals for this three-year project:

  • Count number of participants in summer reading programs, by program level
  • Review date ranges to see length of programs
  • Method of measurement (pages, minutes)
  • Identify the age of participant. Birth year is preferred but grade level could also be accepted. Adult reading programs do not necessarily need to incorporate the feature however the library may be interested in the age ranges of adults who participate in their programs. For those who wish to use an anonymous registration, this can be used in the number generated for the participant.
  • Identify the zip code of the participant. While it is possible that branch zip codes could be used, it is more accurate to have the zip code of the participant. By mapping these zip codes over the state as a whole, we will be able to identify areas that are still in need of some kind of support. It is possible that the State Library may be able to provide statewide grant or other support that would assist us in using our resources to reach underserved populations, a longtime goal of LSTA funding.
  • Determine which libraries allow patrons to enter data.

Research shows that reading and literacy in children and teens is a strong predictor of educational achievement and career success. We are interested in the correlation between participating in summer reading programs and those who do not. We are able to compare from year to year whether participating increases or decreases, and for what age group this is occurring. We need data to be able to be more informed about the trends in summer programming and learning as well as a return on investment for all age groups.

Key benefits of using an online registration and data gathering/reporting tool include:

  • Having a more complete picture of the patron participating in summer reading
  • Identify areas of service need in the community
  • Reduces duplication especially among branches
  • Reduces waste and duplication of what is ordered from the State Library
  • Better statistics are produced without providing manual counting
  • Patrons are able to register themselves if the library permits therefore reducing staff and volunteer workload
  • Provides a variety of features that can be used by the library helpful for program administration
  • Allows the ability to market programs, communicating with the patron via email which is standard practice
  • Allow for greater participation from different age groups such as teens by using the book review feature
  • Build 21st century skills in your staff and even volunteers
  • Because there is flexibility for registration, if completion or participation is a key outcome, this information is able to be determined.
  • Data is not deleted unless done so manually by the library. Should a library not want start completely fresh each year, they can use this feature.
  • Templates are loaded by our vendor but are customizable.
  • Anonymous registration is possible in at least two different ways.
  • Online pre-registration helps to reduce some of the first week rush.
  • Online registration is also more legible than paper registration, making it easier for staff to find and update a participant’s record. There is also no question that the paper files are deleted in the proper way.

Conclusion

We have determined that libraries will continue to face challenges with staffing and funding as will the State Library. Better tools will, we believe, yield better information for us to justify Federal and state support. The Evanced tool provides the most flexibility for libraries and, so far, the richest and most reliable data available. We will actively evaluate its use over these three years and strongly encourage your critique of the product so that we can improve it from the field. We believe that the information collected will assure us better outcomes and long term sustainability of our public libraries.

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