Adult Reading Program at the New Milford Public Library
by Sarah E. Tornow, MLS Candidate, Southern Connecticut State University
This paper describes an adult reading program similar to summer reading programs for children developed in the New Milford Public Library. The program’s main objective was for the adults to enjoy themselves in the library as much as the children do, but it had several ulterior purposes as well. It was hoped that circulation would increase and that new patrons might be found, that if children saw their parents reading they would read more themselves, and that it would foster closer relationships with the business community. Certainly, the main objective was met. If circulation increased, it was too minimal to be counted, but a few new patrons were lured in because of the program. Parents commented on their children noticing their reading, and closer ties to the business community were developed. Initially, this program requires a great deal of time and effort, but, once it is set up, it can be used again with only minor changes.
Like many public libraries, the New Milford Public Library runs a summer reading program for children under the age of twelve. This summer program is very popular, averaging 600-700 participants each year, because it is fun for the children. Its real purpose, however, is to keep children reading over their long summer break. Several times, parents have commented to me, somewhat facetiously, that they wished there was a similar program for adults. As I was searching for ideas for adult programs, those comments came back to me and it seemed to me an idea of merit. After consulting with the Children’s Services Librarian, (S. Ford, personal communication, February 8, 2005) about what is involved in organizing the children’s program, I approached the Public Services Librarian, (L. Putnam, personal communication, February 10, 2005), who is responsible for all adult programming. To “sell” the idea to her, I enumerated what I saw as the possible positive aspects of such a program:
My supervisor felt that the library had nothing to lose by trying such a program and gave me free rein to develop it.
The Reading Program
The children’s reading program runs as a game. Each book read advances the player along a game board with small prizes awarded at various points. I felt that an adult program should have a more adult theme, so instead of a game I ran the program as a raffle. Every book read would earn a raffle ticket to various prizes.
The prizes were donated by our local businesses. I was amazed at their generosity and eagerness to participate. I visited seventeen different merchants (mostly chosen because I knew their contributions would be popular) and was rebuffed by only three stores. The fourteen businesses participating chose to donate either one large prize, several coupons for services, or several small items that could be distributed during the course of the program. It is interesting to note that two merchants who had not been approached for a donation, came forward during the program and asked to be included if the program was repeated. The library ended up with six major prizes:
The other seven businesses donated:
With prizes in hand, the ground rules for the program had to be established. It was decided that any book, any format (no children’s books, although we made an exception for Harry Potter at the request of one patron) would earn a raffle ticket. We did not require that the books be from the library, which was a deliberate decision in order to gain goodwill. The program would run for the month of March (one week longer than our loan period) and the patron would be responsible for keeping track of their reading list. Finally, the library trusted the patrons to be honest.
The program was named Make Your Own Spring Break – READ!!! We advertised with a press release to the local papers, within the library with posters, and staff members promoted the program to patrons beforehand. I designed a poster, a combination brochure/reading list form, the raffle tickets, and a sign-up sheet. All, except for the sign-up sheet, were produced with a consistent theme in Microsoft Publisher. The raffle tickets were hand-numbered; however, with more time available for access to the software, they could easily be numbered in Publisher. They were printed on sheets of three, perforated, and then cut out with a paper cutter. The sign-up sheet was a simple Microsoft Word document with ten names to a sheet for ease of numeration. An example of each can be found at the Web site http://angelfire.com/super2/taffypaffy.
Some of the small gifts were placed in an attractive small basket that was replenished as needed. The six big prizes were available for viewing in our display case. A small area at the circulation desk held the sign-up sheets on a clipboard, the basket of small prizes, a stack of brochures, a stack of raffle tickets, and the library initial stamp used to validate the reading lists. While there were no requirements as to what patrons read, we did supply copies of the article, “Librarians Choose a Century of Good Books,” from the November 15, 1998 issue of Library Journal for those individuals who wanted guidance.
Each patron who participated received the brochure that described the program and included the reading list form. At their convenience, throughout the month, they could present their reading list to any circulation staff member to be validated, receive a small prize from the basket, and a raffle ticket for each title on their list. They kept one half of the ticket, the other half (with their name and phone number) was placed in a sealed box with a slotted lid. 232 patrons signed up for the program. By the end of the month, 812 books had been read. On the first of April, six raffle tickets were drawn and the patrons notified of their winnings.
The program was a tremendous success. Of the “selling” points I had presented to my supervisor, four of the five were realized. The program had only cost the library my time, paper products, and ink. Patrons were thrilled to do something different in the library that did not require their presence on a specific date. Their comments validated the program’s intention of promoting reading among adults:
Considering the fact that two business owners who were not involved in this program requested to participate in a future program speaks well for the regard the business community has for the library. A strong public library draws people to a town and that is always good for the local businesses. This program provided an opportunity for the merchants to gain public good will for their generosity and some low-cost advertising. Two of the businesses made a point of telling me that new customers had been gained because of the program. Creating stronger connections between area business and the library is beneficial to the library because local business support is always necessary for budget approvals and possible expansion plans. The only “selling” point that was not realized concerned the increased circulation. Comparisons of the statistics for March 2004 (21,163) and March 2005 (21,667) show a marginal increase, but many other factors could have affected that increase. There wasn’t the time to develop a scientific basis on which an assessment of the impact on circulation could be determined and considering that the increase was so small it registered as 0%, it wouldn’t be worth it.
If I were to organize this program again, there are several things I would do differently. First of all, I was not prepared for the response we had. Adult programs in our library generally attract 25-30 people at most. Given that this was not tied to a specific date, I was hoping for 75 participants. 232 were far more than I anticipated and the number required much frantic printing of brochures. Perhaps contacting other libraries to see if they had run a similar program might have alleviated this problem. Since we had set the program to run for four weeks (one week longer than our loan period), I estimated two books per participant. Since over 800 books were read, this, too, engendered much last minute printing, perforating, cutting and numbering of raffle tickets. In the future, I would prepare much further ahead of time, since I now know the kind of response to expect. While the brochure stated when the program ended and at what time the ticket drawing would be held, several patrons did not read it and were disappointed at being too late. In a future program, I would advertise the last date to validate lists with posters in the library. Finally, four weeks was not long enough. We missed enrolling many patrons because they only come every three weeks and their visit was too late into the program for them to feel it worthwhile to sign up. In addition, to combat this problem, I would advertise within the library beginning two weeks in advance of the start of the program.
Overall, this was a valuable program. It garnered much good will for the library from patrons and businesses alike, while promoting adult reading. Unfortunately, public libraries constantly have to justify their existence and any program that presents the library in such a favorable light is well worth the minimal expense and rather extensive labor.
Copy of Press Release
The Adult Spring Reading Program will begin March 1st at the New Milford Public Library. Sign up at the Main Desk to keep track of the titles you read for the month of March. Each title will earn you a raffle ticket toward prizes donated by generous local merchants. So, come in, sign up, and read!
Copy of Letter to Local Papers
The New Milford Public Library’s Adult Spring Reading program was a resounding success. We are happy to report that in one month’s time, 262 patrons read 812 books! Six individuals were lucky enough to win prizes donated by our local businesses and all the participants enjoyed coupons and small products also contributed by various organizations. We would like to express our deep appreciation to the Bistro, Joe’s Salon, Ring’s End, KaBloom, the Hobby Store, and Nordica for supplying our big prizes. Special thanks go to the Bank Street Coffee House, Silver & Gould, Archway, H.H. Taylor, Joey’s Deli, the Firehouse, Grand Patisserie, The Bath Shop, and the Friends of New Milford Public Library for amusing and surprising our patrons with the enormous number of small gifts that they provided.
While the main purpose of this program was to have fun, it also served to show children that their parents read for pleasure, it reintroduced books to some who were stuck on the TV, and some adventurous people tried reading entirely new genres. We are fortunate to live in a community that supports programs like this one. Thank you all!
Sample of Appreciative Letter to Business Owner
To Whom It May Concern:
The Spring Reading Program was a resounding success and we wanted to express our deep appreciation for your generous support. Our patrons enjoyed your donations and expressed the hope that you might be willing to participate again next year.
Our community is fortunate to have such a good rapport between their public library and businesses such as the Firehouse. Again, thank you very much.
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