Online component of summer reading program shows mixed results


Riverside Library Branch Building

Rachel Evans, the children’s librarian at the Riverside library sees younger readers at the branch, many of whom participate in the summer reading program the library offers. Photo: Celine Hacobian.

The New York Public Library recently concluded its fifth year providing an online logging system to accompany its Summer Reading Challenge. The online method is an addition to the library’s long-standing reading program, which encourages students to keep track of the books they read and receive prizes for their efforts. This year, 40,000 children and teenagers participated in the summer reading program, according to Adenike Olanrewaju, a press representative for the library.

The option of logging books online, introduced in 2010, has increased readership, according to Rachel Evans, the children’s librarian at the Riverside branch, although the library does not have numbers for last year. With this system, readers create an online profile page where they can list the books they have read, receive suggestions, and create quiz questions for other readers about the books they have read.

The site consists of a list of badges readers can display on their online profiles, earned for reading a certain number of books, a certain genre of books, and by attending events at the library. Readers also have the option to share the badges they have earned on a number of social media networks, including Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, and even LinkedIn.

Amana Alam, 11, a student at Great Oaks Charter School who frequents the Columbus branch, prefers the online system to simply writing down the names of books. Alam also likes writing reviews of the books she reads, but did not receive any prizes other than the virtual badges.

“It makes you feel better about yourself,” Alam said. “It’s like your own shelf of trophies.”

Andrew Wilson is the manager of MyLibraryNYC, a Department of Education program that communicates with teachers, delivers books from the public libraries directly to schools and works with the website. He said that the addition of the online features is designed to make the program more accessible for young people.

“It’s the time that we live in,” he said. “Kids are spending time online, so we should try to engage them.”

Wilson said that the popularity of the online option varies year to year and that the library is still searching for the most effective way to encourage student participation. He believes that more of the registrations this year were on paper, however, and not through the online system.

“Many readers are very young kids, so they need parents or siblings to help them create [online accounts],” Wilson said.

Wilson explained that there should be little worry for safety concerns. Online users are anonymous, as they create identities that consist of a color, an animal and a number. Readers do not use any personal information to interact with other participants.

As soon as students post any books or quizzes or change anything on their profiles, a message appears that gives them the option to make whatever they posted private. Readers do not ever have to share the content they add and can elect to avoid posting comments or making lists public. They can go so far as to even make their name invisible to other users.

Prizes that the library awards to students include backpacks, water bottles, and pencils for younger readers, and flashlights and ear buds for older readers.  The more books children log, the more prizes they can collect.

According to The National Center for Education Statistics, the average eighth grade score in reading rose two points from 2011 to 2013, but did not increase for fourth grade students, based on the National Assessment of Education Progress report that the center issued.