Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Q is for . . .

Quality vs Quantity

I have an internal debate (and often debated colleagues) about quality vs quantity with regards to Summer Reading. The debate goes as follows:

Our funding is based on proving the importance of our program by providing numbers. So is it more important to get more kids to sign up for the Summer Reading Program or have more kids complete the Summer Reading Program goal? As of yet, I have not come up with an answer and go back and forth with myself.

For those who are reading this post and are new to libraries or unfamiliar with Summer Reading Programs here is a quick description. Summer Reading Programs are held at almost all libraries during the summer break to encourage children (and now adults) to read. Research has found that if kids do not read over the summer they have what is called "Summer Reading Loss", which is a loss of reading skills and must spend time when they return to school regaining what they have lost over the summer. As libraries, we encourage children to read so that they do not have this "Summer Reading Loss" by providing incentives (usually little trinkets). Bookstores have also jumped on board offering books as reading incentives for kids.

So here are the arguments:

I am using the term quality, for the sake of this argument, as getting more kids to complete the Summer Reading and improve or maintain their reading level during the summer break. That would mean that the percentage of kids who complete the program is high (I don't have a definition of high exactly, but over 50% would be good). This is the goal of Summer Reading Programs, to be able to encourage kids to read with completion prizes or incentives and library events to draw families into the library, thus checking out books and reading!

This term I use to define having more kids participate in the Summer Reading Program without concern if they are reading or completing the goals. The goal of this approach is to increase the number of participants, many librarians sign kids up at schools and other community events or locations hoping they will come into the library. By signing up kids outside of the library and giving them reading logs, they are invested in reading and more likely to come to the library to get prizes.

So what is the best approach?
Some argue that the more kids who sign up = the more kids who are being encourage to read. While the percentage of kids who complete the goals or even read at all is low, but the number of kids who complete the goals is high, which is the goal of Summer Reading Program.

The opposite argument is that it might be better to encourage the kids who will read by giving them the information about the Summer Reading Program (at school or community events) and letting them come to the library to sign up for the program. This does not mean relying on only signing up regular library patrons, it still involves a lot of promotion. The hope then would be that the kids who are signing up are actually reading and thus the number of kids who complete the program is higher.

In the end, libraries who lean towards quality and those that lean towards quantity are encouraging kids to read. Getting more kids to sign up vs nurturing those who are signed up to finish the program will accomplish basically the same goal...getting more kids reading over the summer and avoiding "Summer Reading Loss". There is no right or wrong way of doing it, it just depends on the librarian.

I would love to hear how other libraries promote and encourage kids to read over the summer.


Kirby said...

Great post, Anna!

Arlee Bird said...

So glad to see your comment section now enabled. I will mention it on my next blog post to let your new A to Z followers know they can now leave comments.


Anna said...

Thanks Lee! Comments are always good to get a good conversation going.

Arlee Bird said...

When I read this I found it to be analogous to a debate that was raised by certain people about the A to Z Challenge. Some were concerned that so many people were signing up that blogs would get "lost" in the list and the quantity of blogs to visit would make it overwhelming. My argument was this is one of the things that made it a challenge.

I think any kind of public event like A to Z, a large marathon, or your Reading program is very related to marketing. Like a company selling product and advertising you want numbers. Not all will become customers, not all will stay customer, and not all will be good customers. However with numbers your odds of customers increase.

Keeping numbers low to try to maintain quality is limiting the scope of your program. For example if you have 100 sign ups and get a return of 90% it's not as good as getting 1000 sign ups with 10% return.

Besides word of mouth, media attention, and other factors related to larger quantity is creating a more memorable brand name that will help with programs in years to come and the quality combined with increased quantity should improve over time.

That's the way I look at it from a marketing perspective. Am I off base in my thinking as related to what you're trying to achieve? Or does it make sense?

Tossing It Out

Amanda said...

I like this post. Hopefully it will spark a healthy debate! I tend to be the librarian that goes out and signs kids up for Summer Reading outside the library. I think it's important, however, for parents to know its happening. What I've done in the past is visit the classrooms to tell them about summer reading. I also tell them I'll be at their open house and they can sign up them. The kids are excited to see me later that week and bring their parents over to sign up! The common reactions I heard from parents was "oh, yeah the library does summer reading. Where's the library again? Son/Daughter, you know this person?" It provided an excellent dialogue to get our word out. I think the "buy in" from the parents is essential.

The same issue arises if we do online summer reading programs. The kids may sign up outside the library and may or may not come in to get their completion prize.

If nothing else, hopefully my visit and my presence created an "imprint" of the library with the child and maybe the adult. I'll get 'em next year! ;)