By Elizabeth Hess
If you’ve ever browsed Pinterest, scrolled through Facebook, or used any social media platforms, you’ve probably encountered “reading challenges.”
Reading challenges can serve a variety of purposes- from encouraging participants to simply read a greater number of books, to broadening their horizons by trying new genres, authors, or categories. Some reading challenges are focused on popular culture- like the Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge, developed by writer Patrick Lenton to include every book the popular bookworm character of the show “Gilmore Girls” was spotted reading, while other challenges are much broader in focus.
Conestoga High School English teacher Tricia Ebarvia created a beautiful infographic as a visual tool to accompany the reading challenge she created for her students, encouraging them to “grow their own reading tree” by choosing books to fulfill more open challenges. No matter their focus, reading challenges are a fun way to motivate readers.
There seem to be almost as many types of reading challenges as there are readers! As of this writing, 2,581,433 participants have signed up for Goodreads’ 2016 Reading Challenge, where you simply pledge how many books you’d like to read in a year, and track your progress with Goodreads. A quick search of “reading challenge” on Pinterest yields thousands of results- often “pinned” by libraries and educators! If you want to create your own challenge from scratch, you’ll find plenty of inspiration online.
Libraries around the country are using reading challenges to motivate kids, teens, and adults to read, often adding incentives to encourage participation. Some libraries have crafted reading challenges that ask readers to simply log a minimum number of minutes read each day. The Nashville Public Library recently awarded the 5 million minutes read by their patrons this summer with a fine forgiveness week and a visit from the Mayor to the school with the greatest number of student participants.
This past summer, my library, the Chester County and Henrietta Hankin Branch Libraries used a reading challenge as our theme for the Adult Summer Reading Club: the 16 in ’16 Reading Challenge. The 16 reading challenges covered a wide variety- from a book in a genre you don’t typically read, a book translated into English, to a book with bad reviews. Patrons who completed the whole challenge earned a chance to win the grand prize, an iPad, or other prize baskets donated from area businesses and organizations.
With such a wide range of challenges, we anticipated library patrons might need extra assistance finding titles that fulfill each category. To help library staff provide effective readers’ advisory service, we compiled a spreadsheet with a wide variety of titles that meet each challenge. From this list, we created several book displays with bookmarks indicating which challenge the particular title completes. We also pinned useful reading lists to a Pinterest board focused on the Adult Summer Reading Program. In addition, library staff compiled Goodreads lists to coincide with several challenges.
Our library has found that incorporating reading challenges into library service leads to many opportunities for readers’ advisory. Library patrons frequently asked for help finding titles to fulfill challenges. This offered us a chance to introduce patrons to library resources like NextReads, LibraryReads, OverDrive, staff picks, book displays, and more. Beyond the library website, staff can point patrons to helpful websites like Goodreads, reading lists, and more.
In my experience, I also found that including the 16 in ‘16 Reading Challenge in our Adult Summer Reading Program seemed to encourage customers who had never sought staff help before to approach us. The challenge gave us the opening to introduce them to our many library resources that would help them choose a book, and most importantly, teach them how to search and identify books that interested them, themselves. It was incredibly gratifying to watch someone like the patron working on the challenge “a book written the year you were born” who starts the conversation saying “I’m just not good at computers,” searching Goodreads popular titles by year and the library catalog like a pro a mere ten minutes later.
Libraries can use reading challenges all year, even tying them into special events. For example, libraries could help promote Banned Books Week with a Banned Books reading challenge. You could craft a science fiction reading challenge to coincide with National Science Fiction Day, (and Isaac Asimov’s birthday) or a translated fiction challenge to celebrate Women in Translation Month. Additionally, you’ll find a plethora of seasonally-themed reading challenges with a simple Google search. I’ve already got my eye on a “horror reads” list to coincide with a spooky display and special program about bats for October! A history-themed book list is helping me craft our own WWII-related reading challenge to bookend a Pearl Harbor program we’re planning.
Whether tapping into a patron’s competitive spirit, inviting a reluctant reader to try something new, or coinciding with a special event, reading challenges can serve a variety of purposes. Ultimately, reading challenges are a fun, popular way to highlight reading and promote your library’s offerings- from knowledgeable staff providing excellent readers’ advisory to online resources. Finally, make sure to include yourself in the fun! Encourage yourself and your fellow library co-workers to participate in reading challenges, as well- you might find a brand-new favorite, discover more about an unfamiliar genre, and improve your readers’ advisory skills and knowledge base in the process. Happy reading!