Christine Peters is currently a Project Officer with Public Libraries Victoria (PLV) three days a week and Children’s and Youth Program Lead with Maribyrnong Libraries two days a week. At PLV she provides support for statewide projects such as Big Summer Read, the Special Interest Groups and manage promotions and communication with stakeholders. At Maribyrnong she oversee the development and coordination of programs for young people and families and provide training and expertise for staff delivering those programs. We spoke with Christine about the importance of libraries and their various initiatives.   

We'd love to get some background on Big Summer Read. How did it come about? What would you be keen to see in the future? 

The idea of a collaborative statewide summer reading program came from the members of the Children’s and Youth Special Interest Group. We saw the opportunity to leverage the expertise, passion, and dedication of our members to create a grassroots campaign developed, managed and delivered by the staff who work with children and families every day. Big Summer Read is a statewide campaign that provides resources and support yet flexibility for every library service in Victoria to adapt to the unique needs of their respective diverse communities. It has united us in the goal of getting kids reading over summer – last year 11,500 kids participated and read over 133,000 books! We are aiming to smash those records each year. 

In addition to keeping literacy skills up, how are programs like the Big Summer Read important for how children connect with reading? What are the benefits that you see in your library when that happens? 

The campaign is designed to slow the ‘Summer Slide’ and spark the desire to read for pleasure. Reading for pleasure has benefits for overall personal wellbeing, including increasing empathy and understanding for others and reducing depression. We also know that children who read for pleasure make significant progress in language and literacy and do better overall in school. We want kids to read for pleasure, and summer school holidays is the perfect time to get this habit going. Through the campaign we see kids using the library more to borrow books and access our vast array of literacy-based activities and programs for fun! 

How do digital resources like Story Box Library enhance engagement with summer reading programs, and library engagement overall? 

Watching the storytelling videos and interacting with the content on Story Box Library is a great way for kids to be introduced to literature in a fun and interactive wayStory Box Library is the perfect partner for Big Summer Read, as it is also delivered on a digital platform. We have activity badges that link directly to the stories chosen, and kids seamlessly collect a digital badge when they watch the linked videos.

We'd love for you to share some of those success stories that libraries have had from previous years (either around library engagement and/or anecdotes from patrons)! 

Libraries say having a statewide campaign made it easy to deliver and engagement was high. Many took the campaign into schools before the end of term as a fantastic way to spark discussion about libraries and get young people all excited about the challenge and the terrific books they can borrow at the library. Quite a few parents said their children read many more books than they logged, which is great! One parent commented that “My son enjoyed the challenge of writing to his favourite author/illustrator who lives in the woods in the US, who sent him a beautiful handwritten letter back and even included a drawing!” There were comments that tweens particularly enjoyed using the app to keep track of their reading. The prize winners were so excited! One parent said the campaign gave their children a reason to read over the school holidays. One library service reported they had a patron write to the mayor to say that participating in Big Summer Read increased her child’s reading for school by 2 levels. 

For those families who are living outside VIC, what suggestions could you give that would help prevent that 'summer slide’? 

A summer reading challenge is a wonderful way to encourage kids to read for pleasure over summer, but it is not the only way. Kids love being read to, no matter how old they are. Connect with your local library and visit often over the school holidays. All the resources are free and accessible. Borrow books you can read together and books they can read themselves. If they gravitate to devices, download apps like Story Box Library and ebook platforms, listen to audiobooks together before going to bed. Model good reading habits and let them see you reading for pleasure yourself. Instil the idea that reading is not just for school but is a joy that can be accessed all year round.