As children return to school this week, we can look back on another great summer of reading.
Summer is always one of my favourite times in a public library – the place is hopping with happy summer readers of all ages! Every week, thousands of children come in for stickers, stamps, encouragement – and more books.
Don’t get me wrong. Children frequent the library throughout the school year, when they are attending story times and other programs, visiting with their classes, seeking help with homework, meeting friends, using the computers, and picking up books to read or videos to watch. Families and children account for about one third of our use, and we consider children’s services, programs and collections a vital and exciting aspect of our work.
When the kids are on summer break, we know the schools and parents trust us to help fight the “summer learning loss”. Research shows that students experience significant learning losses over the summer, most notably in reading and math, and that these losses create a significant learning gap. As reported in a literature review by Library and Archives Canada, according to Harris Cooper: “Studies estimate that summer loss for all students equals about one month on a grade-level equivalent scale”.
Public libraries are well positioned to address this problem by providing children with the opportunity and the inspiration to read more over the summer months, and to enhance their enjoyment of reading.
So as this beautiful summer in BC winds down, NVDPL staff members are analyzing Summer Reading Club (SRC) statistics to ensure program effectiveness and continuous improvement.
Those stats bring good news. Once again, we exceeded last year’s registrations. More than 4,000 children participated in BC’s Summer Reading Club at NVDPL this year, a whopping 28.5 per cent of residents 14 years of age or young in our catchment area. Considering the decline in birth rates over the past 20 years, the fact that our registrations continue to increase is a significant accomplishment. North Vancouver truly is an inspiring community of eager readers.
We also track which elementary school each child attends. Of the 4,000 SRC registrants, 2,500 are registered in local public elementary schools. That’s 36 per cent of the public elementary school population in our service area.
(Interestingly, we learned that the closer the school is situated to one of our libraries, the higher the participation rate from the school. In two schools, both very close to a library, more than 50 per cent of the school population registered. At a further six schools, also located close to a library, the number was more than 40 per cent. That means that half the elementary schools in our catchment area had more than 40 per cent of their students enrolled at the library over the summer – great news for teachers and parents concerned about summer learning loss.)
The made-in-BC SRC, building on 25 years of success, continues to grow bigger and better across the province. In 2015, more than 84,500 BC kids participated in the SRC through public libraries. Statistics Canada estimates that there are 682,300 kids 14 or younger in BC, so that means 12.3 per cent of the BC population in that age group was in a summer reading club. (And since kids at the bottom and top ends of that age range don’t tend to participate in the SRC, that means the actual numbers for the key ages are even higher.)
How does BC compare to the rest of Canada? I ran the same StatsCan data set through the statistics provided for SRCs outside of BC. The TD Bank produces the TD-SRC for eight provinces and two territories; Library and Archives Canada compiles the statistical data.
Just as I did with the BC data, I compared the 2015 registrants with the estimated 0-14 population age groups for the various jurisdictions. And the results were surprising when you compare it to BC’s 12.3 per cent participation rate: on average, the TD-SRC reaches 6.1 per cent of the population it serves. See for yourself:
Summer Reading Club Stats for 2015
|TD Summer Reading Club||0 to 14 (1)||TD-SRC reg (2)||% of 0-14 pop|
|Newfoundland and Labrador||75,600||2,453||3.2%|
|Prince Edward Island||23,300||1,787||7.7%|
|TOTAL (excludes BC, NB, NV)||4,946,600||308,555||6.2%|
|BC Summer Reading Club||0 to 14 (1)||BC-SRC reg (3)||% of 0-14 pop|
(1) Source: Statistics Canada, CANSIM, table 051-0001
(3) Source: 2015 BC Public Libraries Annual Survey Results
More than double the participation rate of most of the rest of Canada?! Holy moly, BC sure is doing something right! Given that the goal of a summer reading club is to get as many people reading as possible, it’s easy to see that participation rates are an important success indicator. BC public libraries and BC SRC funders and supporters have good reason to be very proud of the significant impact of the BC Summer Reading Club.
My theory about the success of BC’s SRC? Staff engagement.
The Barrett Values Centre, an organization dedicated to improving workplace engagement, describes it this way: “Employee engagement is a measure of the degree of emotional and intellectual involvement that employees have with an organization. This has a direct impact on the amount of enthusiasm and commitment they bring to their work. Engaged employees devote a high level of discretionary energy to whatever they are doing. They are willing to go the extra mile to get a job done on time and frequently put forward suggestions about how to improve performance.“
When I was the coordinator of the BC Summer Reading Club, I witnessed the high level of engagement by children’s librarians with the SRC program. The program is clearly a public library initiative – an important point in leveraging the trusted brand of public libraries, that essential neutral public space. There is an unparalleled sense of ownership of the program by the BC library community.
BC children’s librarians are involved at all stages of the development and implementation of the program. Over the years, I would bet most libraries in BC have had a hand in picking the theme, selecting the children’s book illustrator, and producing content and materials. Each library implements the program in their own way, using the materials in a way that makes sense for them, giving their own local spin.
I’ve seen fabulous SRC displays and programs, and unbridled enthusiasm, encouragement and inspiration for young readers. As a by-product, the energy and buzz surely inspires plenty of adults to pick up a book too!
And it’s a major bonus that a different BC illustrator is showcased every year. This means that the illustrator is often available to present in person at libraries.
We promote what we feel strongly about.
Cynthia Ford, the BC SRC Coordinator, reports that in 2015, BC children’s librarians reached more than 150,000 children through school visits, community events, and in-house library events. That means that through the BC SRC program, engaged library staff actively reached 22 per cent of BC children, which resulted in the program participation rate of 12.3 per cent.
As well, I’ve always considered the sale of BC SRC t-shirts to be an important indicator of engagement. Every year, the BC Library Association sells 500-800 SRC-themed t-shirts to the BC library community. It may sound silly, but think about it: Those people care so much about the SRC, they will wear their involvement for all to see.
Again: the BC SRC is so successful because the people who deliver the program are deeply engaged with the program. Librarians have direct influence, and libraries take ownership, and put the effort into implementing the program in their communities. That sense of ownership and engagement drives librarians to make one more school visit, to book one more event, to encourage one more kid. To bring their most enthusiastic and committed professional selves to work every day. To reach as many children as possible to inspire and nurture a summer of reading.
And that’s the whole point – to reach as many children as possible and support their learning success.
The Province of British Columbia, the Royal Bank of Canada and individual libraries, all of whom fund the program, clearly understand the value of collaboration and shared ownership to support the success of the BC SRC. We owe them all our huge gratitude. And thanks to a deeply engaged library community, the BC SRC is fuelled by staff members who bring passion and purpose to their work, who are enthusiastically committed to the reading success of children in BC. There’s no doubt the BC Summer Reading Club leads the country in its impact on children, promotion of provincial intellectual content, and its strengthening of a library network.
And it’s great to know that our public libraries have done their best to keep young readers engaged and moving forward in their learning.