Incentives for reading

Program: To attract teen-agers to books this summer, five library systems are offering tangible rewards.

June 18, 2000|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A teen-ager's summer schedule can be a librarian's nightmare. It's tough to compete with social engagements, outdoor activities and a long-awaited respite from the classroom.

But some local library systems are fighting back, joining to offer a Young Adult Summer Reading Club with locker mirrors, markers, Orioles tickets, compact discs and other incentives intended to overcome the distractions of summer.

"Teen-agers need to feel it is fun or uniquely about them," said Deborah Taylor, coordinator of school and student services at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore. "It needs to have some aspect of popular culture."

Under her guidance, the Pratt's Young Adult Summer Reading Program - around for about 20 years - has branched out.

Called Sound Bytes this year, the program for the first time will include Frederick County Public Library, Howard County Library, Prince George's Memorial Library System and Carroll County Public Library, which had a trial run at three branches last year.

The key, said Taylor, is a program with features that connect with teens who have outgrown the kind of reading clubs typically aimed at elementary school pupils.

"The younger children will reach up to participate in the teen-age activities, but the older ones will not reach back," said Taylor, noting that a reading club theme using the Ravens football team a few summers ago attracted elementary and middle school pupils.

Enticing teen-agers to read can be a challenge, librarians said.

The 1998 National Assessment of Educational Progress, the most recent available, shows that 28 percent of high school seniors in the country never read for fun.

"They are so busy," said Stacey Freedman, Carroll County's contact for the young adult reading program. "They've got a ton more homework to do, with sports and drama and all sorts of other after-school activities. Even if the heart is willing, there's not always time."

The Sound Bytes theme was chosen for this young adult summer program with teens in mind.

Participants will receive game boards that resemble compact disc liner notes packaged in a jewel case. With completion of each of eight books required in the game, he or she does a "track" on the liner notes, including title, author and a quick content question.

Anyone who completes the game will receive a locker mirror. Those who read four books will receive a multicolored marker.

Carroll County takes the program a step further, offering a weekly drawing at each branch that gives participants a chance to win CDs, savings bonds and Orioles tickets, depending on how many books they've read. The contest includes trivia that can be answered by using the Internet or reference books at branches.

"The computer is very attractive to teens," Taylor said, adding that the trivia game is to show that books and technology aren't mutually exclusive. "We wanted to show them that you can do both. They reinforce each other."

Parent involvement also is crucial, librarians say, noting that parental advocacy for library reading programs often stops when children reach middle and high school.

"With the younger kids, the parents take a more active role in their reading," Taylor said. "That doesn't happen all the time in middle school. It's a time when they like to start letting the kids make some of the decisions."

That's when reading as a family becomes more important, including taking turns reading chapters in books and talking about enjoyable novels - activities perfect for the leisure days of summer.

"Parents need to show reading as a recreational activity," said Blair Reid, media specialist at Oklahoma Road Middle School in Carroll County. "You need to get across to them that owning books is valuable. Reading is valuable."

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