Homer’s Great Reading Adventure, part 1

A few summers ago I went searching for a digital log that teens and adults could use to log their reading time during our all ages summer reading program. I needed a digital log that was free, well-designed, and easy to manage. Well, anything that met all of that criteria was hard to come by. I tried Survey Monkey forms, website forms, and a simple, free digital platform- all with limited success. I felt like I was in our Maker Club getting more and more frustrated with a design that wasn’t working. But surely multiple iterations of an idea had to yield something one day, right?

About a year ago, I heard about the Great Reading Adventure and the great summer reading work being done by the Maricopa County Library District (Arizona). I was thrilled to see a library-created, open source tool that just might be what I needed. I watched the demo, sat through a great presentation, and discussed the idea of using with my library’s director, the city’s IT director and a coworker. Just as we were all set to go for it, we discovered that we needed a new server. We didn’t have the money. Then we connected with some other libraries in the state and tried to make it work as a partnership, but that fell through. Summer moved on and I got distracted by endless programs and exhaustion. The idea was put to rest.

Photo credit: Homer Public Library

Photo credit: Homer Public Library

Earlier this year, the idea of using the Great Reading Adventure at our library came back to life thanks to my coworker @hollyfromhomer. We got to work setting up a customized version in time for Summer, using another library’s server, with the idea that we would pilot the platform for other libraries in the state. Holly is the mastermind behind making the platform user-friendly while I’ve been working on the program’s content. So far so good! Details about how the platform works for us will come in part 2.

One of the aspects I love about the Great Reading Adventure is perhaps one of the things that would give some pause; the log is digital. Up until now kids have used a small booklet filled with a place to track reading time, activity sheets and a calendar. I have wondered how families as a community would respond to an all digital log for kids specifically (as well as teens and adults). Wondering and questioning about technology isn’t a bad thing for a media mentor. It means that I am following my own advice and being intentional also. After careful consideration, as I recently discussed with a parent, using the digital log serves a few specific purposes:

  • It is a literacy tool that provides opportunities for families to talk about digital citizenship and how to use digital media in positive ways. Many families already have some kind of digital media plan and are using the digital log as a piece in the puzzle or as an example of digital media that supports learning. Intentional use of digital media is an important idea for kids and teens to learn. This tool has given me multiple opportunities to talk about digital media, kids and teens.
  • Unlike the expensive, multi-page, paper logs that we have created and printed in the past, the digital log platform is free and appeals to a broad range of ages. (We currently have over 400 kids, teens, and adults participating. Small by some standards, but a good size for our small budget and staff size.) The ultimate goal, while lofty, of the summer reading program is to encourage all kids to keep reading and prevent ‘summer slide’. We will be able to support more families each summer and, at the same time, save money to spend on the many free programs we offer.  This year, we will offer 50 programs in June and July including everything from storytime and puppet shows to author visits and the Maker Camp. These programs offer families, regardless of background and economic status, the chance to learn, play, and explore at the library. This is the first year we’ve used the digital platform and over time with families’ feedback, we will be able to further mold it to our community’s wants and needs.
  • Offering digital badges provides a way to recognize readers for their reading efforts as well as encourage kids to explore local parks or attend programs where they will find secret codes to redeem for specific badges. This piece has already been successful at connecting kids and their families with different parts of the community and offering no-cost incentives to stay active. Many families are looking for ways to support their children’s reading without focusing on the small incentives we gift for the first 10 hours of reading and the badges are a fun option. For families that spend at least some of the summer traveling or working remotely the digital log and badges provide a way for them to participate in our community’s program while they are out of town.
  • Over the past few years, families have asked us if we were going to offer a digital reading log. They were tired of losing the paper logs or trying to keep track of more than one in a house with multiple siblings. We are finally able to say yes, another way we remain responsive to community needs.

So far so good.

Details about the nuts and bolts of the Homer version of the Great Reading Adventure to follow in Part 2.

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