Boost Reading Challenge Participation with 6 Research-Backed Tips

Ideas to keep your students and patrons reading

March 16, 2022

Figure with stack of books with Beanstack logo in bottom corner.

Is it time to revisit your approach to summer reading? With a wide range of reading challenge customization options, it can be difficult to know what choices will help boost participation and sustain engagement in your community. That’s where Beanstack’s 2021 Summer Reading Report comes in. We looked at data from thousands of diverse libraries and users around the globe to create six evidence-based reading challenge tips to keep your community reading.

1. Be mindful of what you track

There are several different reading metrics, or log types, you can track during a challenge: minutes spent reading, days logged, pages read, or books completed. While it may seem arbitrary, how you track reading matters. Logging the number of books completed is great for young readers up to age 5, for example, because books for this age group are short and digestible, but that logging type doesn’t work as well for older readers

Based on our research, tracking the number of minutes students and patrons read is the most successful method for all age groups. Rewarding users for minutes spent reading helps even out the playing field by recognizing effort instead of speed or reading level.

2. The more goals, the better

Everyone loves the feeling of achieving a goal, and our research proves it. The more badges (or mini goals) you build into your reading challenge, the more likely students and patrons are to participate. Our data shows that boosting the number of badges in your challenge from five to 10 can improve participation rates by 7%.

We recommend including 10 or more badges in your reading challenge, which readers can earn for hitting logging milestones, completing activities, attending library events, and more. Beanstack’s pre-made reading challenge templates include between 11 and 29 badges; on average, our library partners included 25 badges in their summer 2021 challenges.

3. Activities increase participation

Many librarians use Beanstack’s activities to promote their library’s resources and events. Adding activities can improve reading challenge participation and showcase the incredible assets libraries have to offer. A librarian in southern California reported that use of library tools highlighted in a recent summer reading challenge increased 200%.

Some popular activities that librarians can build into their challenges include reading a staff-picked book, completing a craft kit, tuning in to virtual storytime, and checking out a resource from the library’s digital media collection.

4. Make it a family affair 

To boost childhood literacy and reading comprehension, reading challenges sometimes focus exclusively on elementary-aged students—but such a narrow focus can be a mistake. Libraries can improve participation and engagement by designing programs that include the whole family. Our research shows that 88% of the top-performing Beanstack library partners offered summer reading challenges for all ages.

Some libraries create two or three reading challenges that appeal to various age groups, but many opt for a single, all-ages challenge. Regardless of the chosen strategy, our librarians reported that families loved the incentive to read together.

5. Small prizes beat big rewards

Many libraries don’t have the budget to lure readers in with big rewards like bikes or school-wide pizza parties. But our research shows that a few smaller rewards doled out throughout summer reading support sustained engagement. We recommend at least four rewards, but you don’t need to go overboard—the data didn’t show an increase in engagement with more than four rewards.

Not all prizes have to be physical. Community recognition, like listing participant milestones in a newsletter, is also a powerful reward for many readers.

6. Don’t forget your staff

As Oklahoma-based teen services coordinator Leah Weyand notes: “Our amazing librarians … will wear animal ear headbands all summer and ring bells in the library when kids complete the challenge … Our secret sauce with Beanstack is steady incremental progress in community adoption, along with consistency.”

Well-trained and knowledgeable staff can improve enrollment by helping readers sign up and sharing details about rewards and badges. To prepare your team, consider creating a staff training challenge, hosting live trainings, and posting how-to guides at your busiest desks and anywhere you promote summer reading.

As librarians, you know that reading challenges are more than just fun programs. Summer reading challenges help improve literacy, connect librarians to their communities, and foster a lifelong love of reading. With these evidence-backed tips in your toolbelt, you can guarantee your next challenge will be your most successful one yet.

Want more support for your next reading challenge? Beanstack’s reading challenge templates are designed to keep readers of all ages engaged. Contact us to learn more and check out more insights and tips on our blog.


Tweens at Evergreen Community Library in Metamora, Ohio, covered librarian Debbie Henricks in balloons to celebrate a 2017 summer reading milestone. Photo: Courtesy of Evergreen Community Library

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