The town I grew up in absolutely loved its parades (still does, but as I don’t live there anymore, we’re using past tense for the purposes of this post). We had a Fantasy of Lights parade every year the Friday after Thanksgiving to kick off the December holiday season. We had a Memorial Day parade every in the spring. And we had a Melon Festival complete with a parade every early-August (yes, we people from Howell enjoy our cantaloupe enough to have a festival in their honor (and make ice cream out of it). Don’t judge; I just recently went to camp in an area that has an onion festival every year). As a high school student in the marching band, I was privileged enough to have to march in at least two of them every year. As you might imagine, it loses its splendor after a while.
But as a younger member of the town (we’re talking early Elementary school now), getting a chance to walk in the parade was exciting and rare. Unless you were associated with one of the few young-people organizations that walked, you had no options but to sit on the side of the road and watch. Getting to join in on the parade was a rare treat that served as some pretty decent motivation. And our local library knew it.
Growing up, I always participated in our library’s Summer Reading Program. You worked with a librarian to set reading goals for the summer—there were recommended goals from the library for each age group, and you could adjust them according to your actual reading level, types of books you were reading, etc. For example: I was at a higher reading level than most of my peers, so I had goals to read more than most of my age group, but I was also reading more challenging books (long chapter books like I read now instead of the 100ish page paperback novellas), so I ended up with a lower book count anyway.
The Program was about giving kids incentives to read even when school wasn’t dictating it (hence, the Summer Reading Program). They aimed to make reading fun from a very young age by hosting arts and crafts activities paired with reading sessions for the really young kids (I don’t remember ever doing that myself, but I remember taking my brother to them while Mom wandered around the adult book area upstairs). For the older kids (we’re talking 4th and 5th grade here), there were prizes that could be won—some were guaranteed and some were raffle-based with entries determined by your goal progress throughout the summer. My last year with the program I won some oddly flavoured Jones sodas that I’m fairly certain are still sitting in my parents’ garage a decade or so later.
But the biggest prize of them all was the parade. I honestly can’t for the life of me remember how you earned a spot with the Library in the Melon Fest Parade, but you could. And if you were extra special, you got to secure a spot under the library’s bookworm. That’s right ladies and gents: we had a Chinese-dragon style gigantic caterpillar representing the library in the parade (I tried to find a picture online, but failed miserably; instead you just get to see my lovely library building). Every kid who reached the right goal-post got to walk in the group, but only a select few were able to actually be part of the bookworm.
My home town is made up primarily of adults who don’t care to read. We have a fairly low percentage of our population with any kind of college-education—which is fine, but there’s some correlation between education and interest in reading. I think our library did a great job of breaking through that barrier and getting young people interested in reading—I’m confident that most of the avid readers in our high school only became avid readers because of the library’s efforts early on in our reading careers. Well, that and Harry Potter.
I don’t think that library still has the parade, but the Summer Reading Program is still going strong. They’ve made it a little more targeted toward encouraging parents to sign up their kids based on the online promo I’ve managed to find for it. They’ve built up a recommendation program for setting goals based on research regarding how many books should be read over the summer to prevent “summer slide” (return to school in the fall without having lost any ground). And they’ve expanded the Program to include adults too. I personally don’t know how I feel about the changes, but since I’m not there to experience them first-hand, I can’t really comment.
Libraries hold a certain kind of power in a community, particularly in smaller towns with no book stores (something that’s also changed in relatively recent years). They not only have the ability to influence the reading culture in the area, but in my opinion also have a responsibility to put programs in place to encourage the development of our young readers. My library did that exceptionally well—what did/does yours do?
Felicia Here: I grew up in a small town (less than 1200 people) with no bookstore and can attest that the library was such a big part of the community. Most of the books were donated by people in the town and it was more of a swap than the library system in bigger towns. I loved this post because it made the small town girl in me smile!