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RANGELY | As the Rangely Library’s new director in 2005, Amorette Hawkins learned that part of her job was coordinating the summer reading program. August’s end-of-summer party was the culmination of the library’s participation in the Collaborative Summer Library Program, a multi-state effort that provides resources and incentives for readers during the summer months.
That first summer, the party was already arranged, and Hawkins was told to expect a maximum of 50 kids. The celebration went off well, bringing together 38 children who listened to a professional storyteller before taking home books as rewards.
Fast forward nine years to the Aug. 6 summer reading program party, which brought approximately 300 parents and children to the Rangely town square for bingo, cotton candy, horse rides, carnival games, prizes and more.
Some children emerged from the face-painting corner as butterflies or dragons before stopping by the balloon table to pick up an inflated sword or dachshund. Others grabbed a snow-cone before heading off to the ring toss or bottle pitch while waiting to hear their names called for prizes.
Tarrah and Josh Patch’s four girls, Abby, 5, Ella, 7, Norrah, 9, and Audrye, 11, had been looking forward to the reading party for months. Living two blocks away from the library means they end up there most weeks, and they knew the long summer of carefully logging books meant not only that their hard work would be rewarded; like other kids around town, they would be known and welcomed. Face painting, cotton candy, and games were especial favorites.
“This was our third year going, so the anticipation was so much for them,” Tarrah Patch said. “Once it was over, the girls were already looking forward to next year.”
The tradition established years ago, Hawkins said, is the foundation on which she and her staff have built the increasingly larger annual event. While the party is no longer overtly reading-focused, larger prizes—many of them books—go to the pool of attendees who have logged their reading throughout the summer.
That the program exists across several states also allows blended families to participate, even if children live elsewhere during the summer. And the multi-state collaborative effort means that Hawkins and her staff buy their supplies from vendors at discounted rates.
But improving the summer reading program each year, including incentives, rewards and an end-of-summer party that’s completely free to all participants means plenty of work goes into pulling it off.
Hawkins and the library staff begin planning months ahead of time, budgeting costs in the fall and ordering supplies and prizes as early as January. This year, library staff went into the elementary and junior-senior high schools in May to promote the program and sign people up. During the one-day push, 228 participants enrolled.
“I feel like we’ve gotten into our groove and we’d kind of like to stay there,” Hawkins said of the program and party. “Of course, we’re always open to suggestions or to anything anyone wants to contribute, whether it’s ideas for new booths or constructive criticism.”
Last week’s celebration saw its highest tallies ever, and the number of those who joined the “Dig Into Reading” program in May jumped by more than 55 percent above last summer. While 162 of the 552 Rangely participants were readers who joined the program’s first-ever adult component, the final number included approximately 90 more children than last year. Among those were 32 high school participants, a figure substantially higher than the four or five students Hawkins has seen in the past.
While free book bags, notebooks and T-shirts are a draw, many participants are more interested in reading for their own enjoyment or to reach personal goals, Hawkins said.
“A lot of people who signed up, didn’t want anything to do with the prizes or turning in log sheets,” she said. “They just wanted to be part of the program.”
While outcomes weren’t always tangible, Hawkins said there was plenty of evidence the program kept people on track with their reading.
“I’m going to guess probably 90 percent of (participants) did come in repeatedly all summer,” she said. “Some used their Nooks, Kindles or did audio books… We keep track of our door traffic, and in July we had 2,300 people. People are definitely coming in.”
Hawkins hopes those kinds of numbers are a testament to a larger culture the library staff promotes every time somebody walks in the door. Children in this library do not whisper or tiptoe down aisles, keeping close to their parents’ sides. Although staff emphasize respect for other readers, children are encouraged to sift through books, read them at tables and develop a love for the written word that they can carry into adulthood.
“I don’t want kids to feel like they can’t read in here, like parents have to tell kids to put the books back,” Hawkins said. “It’s not like the fancy formal dining room you can’t eat in. I want the kids to have a love for reading from an early age.”
Many middle school children who use the library regularly have been attending Storytime since they were young children, Hawkins said. That continuity, along with the library filling in gaps left by the elementary school library’s closing and offering accelerated reading books to students, may be factors in the library’s high traffic. It may also be an indicator that adolescents are developing and sticking to reading habits.
“I think we’ve done the groundwork to make people more aware of the library,” Hawkins said. “We have a great partnership with the school district. I think the Storytime program really works. Giant Step kids used to be the ones who came, and now we’re getting about 60 kids every week during the summer. We’re bursting, which is awesome.”
Other youths with longtime library connections came not as participants but as helpers at last week’s party. Approximately 20 Rangely Junior-Senior High School Student Council and 4-H students helped run the event while several 4-H parents and locals Connie Skelton, Anne Urie, and Julia Davis helped out. Giovanni’s Italian Grill, the Rangely Conoco and the Town of Rangely provided prizes and space for the party.
As Hawkins reflected on last week’s celebration, she was clear about why the library does what it does each summer.
“The most enjoyment is the end result,” she said. “You know when those kiddos come and they’re sweaty and tired, their little tongues are blue and they have horse hair on them and a big old bag of prizes, that’s the good stuff – and people are so appreciative.”