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Summer reading program wraps up for library system

By TIFFANY REPECKI - | Sep 9, 2020


Lee County Library System patrons, including those with the Captiva Memorial Library, were encouraged to explore their imagination through reading and learning adventures over the summer.

From June through early August, children, teens and adults were offered fun activities and an opportunity to win prizes through the annual Summer Reading Program. This year, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the countywide all-ages initiative transitioned to an all-online program.

“The goal is to prevent summer slide,” Youth Services Coordinator Amy-Jane McWilliam said, explaining that studies have shown when children do not read or participate in reading-related activities over the summertime, they actually lose some of their learning gains from the past school year.

She added that reading over the summer leads to better academic outcomes when school starts.

The theme for this year’s program was “Imagine Your Story.”

“We knew going in that parents were going to have a little bit of screen fatigue and so were kids,” McWilliam said, referring to families being home before summer even started due to school closures. “About 10 percent of our normal participants logged in and participated in our virtual program.”

The library system compared its numbers to others in the state and across the country.

“It seemed to be on par,” she said of the results.

In an effort to provide an “offline option,” the library system also offered free activity booklets to families, which were distributed to summer camps, recreation programs and YMCAs, as well.

“We had 23,000 of these booklets printed,” McWilliam said.

“We feel confident that children in Lee County were provided with some fun reading challenges that they could take home and do offline,” she added.

As far as the virtual program, those who participated had the opportunity to win a range of prizes. Systemwide grand prizes were handed out in four age categories based on accumulated points.

One patron at the East County Regional Library scored the pre-K prize of a Little Tikes Playhouse, while another took home a Nintendo Switch for the kids category. A Northwest Regional Library teen earned an Oculus Go VR, and a Kindle Fire HD 10 with Alexa went to one adult from East County.

Prizes were also handed out by each branch to the top point winners in each age category.

The pre-K prize was an early literacy basket filled with books and storytime props. The kids winner received a basket that included popular books and a Steve Spangler Science Kit. For the teens, it was a book basket that included popular titles and a Sphero mini robot. The adult winner scored a canvas tote bag filled with giveaways and popular titles, which included an autographed copy of “The Deserter.”

“Captiva had a winner for each one of those,” McWilliam said of the island branch.

She explained that the winning names were pulled on Aug. 4 and the winners and branches were notified afterward. The winners then came in to claim their prizes — and provided feedback.

“The most feedback that we’ve had has been for the early literacy baskets,” McWilliam said.

“And the kids were over the moon for the Steve Spangler Science Kit,” she added.

The library system also held systemwide prize drawings for book bags filled with books and other goodies at random upon completion of certain point badge levels in the reading program. Extra branch and grand prize drawings were also held for those meeting certain point thresholds in the program.

“We normally give over books at the beginning of every Summer Reading Program,” McWilliam said, explaining that library officials had anticipated on doing so when planning started back in October.

“Until COVID hit — so we had supplies available,” she said. “We wanted them to know that we recognize them and recognize their participation, even if they didn’t complete the program.”

Despite a lower than normal level of participation, there were some positives.

“There were a few takeaways that came out of doing the program virtually,” McWilliam said.

The library system saw an increase in participation among adults, meaning virtual may be a more convenient option for them and better way of connecting. There was an increased interest in ebooks.

“We also saw how important libraries are to communities,” she said.

McWilliam explained that the annual Summer Reading Program typically draws about 20,000 participants systemwide, of which approximately 17,000 are within the baby to teen range.

“We also took the opportunity to tighten our relationship with the school district,” she said.

While it was not the program initially planned, it seemed to work out.

“There were some good things that came out of a really tough situation,” McWilliam said.