July 3, 2019

A Record Number of Readers At Princeton Public Library

EARNING THEIR STARS: These proud participants in the Princeton Public Library’s Youth Summer Reading Program know that reading every day earns them special stars as well as ice cream, free books, and other prizes. The initiative for kids and teens is run alongside adult-oriented programs which have a “Summer of ’69” theme through Labor Day.

By Anne Levin

The summer season is in full swing at Princeton Public Library, where more readers than ever, young and not-so-young, have signed on to programs that challenge them to keep reading and reward them for doing so.

The children and young adults who meet their marks — at least 20 minutes of reading every day for 20 days — can win books and certificates for ice cream from Thomas Sweet, as well as other prizes. Reaching into an old-fashioned gumball machine, to grab balls of different colors revealing prizes, is a popular activity. And earning a star, to be tacked onto a bulletin board, is another incentive.

Parents, or anyone enrolled in the library’s Adult Summer Reading Program, might end up with a $150 gift card to Witherspoon Grill, or a individual pass for a year of visits to Grounds For Sculpture. The theme of this year’s program is “A Universe of Stories,” which comes from a consortium of libraries across the country called The Collaborative Summer Library Program.

So far, 300 have signed up for adult summer reading, while a record 1,628 are enrolled in kids’ programs. “I think the thing that changed this year is the fact that the Adult Services staff worked side by side with Youth Services on the first day of sign-up,” said Kristin Friberg, readers service librarian and head of the Adult Summer Reading initiative. “It was a great moment to capture parents as they were signing up their kids.”

Youth Service Librarian Susan Conlon credits a visit to jaZam’s toy store on Palmer Square, as well as significant outreach to local schools, as sparking interest in the kids’ programs. “We went out to the schools to talk about the programs in the weeks leading up to summer,” she said. “We visited every first through fifth grade class at all of the elementary schools and the Princeton Charter School, and we went to the middle school. The kindergarten classes came here. It really made a difference.”

The largest block of readers this summer are those in kindergarten through fifth grade. “It has been really steady,”  said Conlon. “One thing that is important is the fact that while we advise readers about what they might like to read during the year, we really step it up dramatically during the summer. We do book lists by grade, and we provide access to all of the schools’ reading lists. We want to connect kids with the books they want to read and the books they have to read.”

Running alongside reading programs this summer are several special events, many focused on a “Summer of 1969” theme. On Wednesday, July 10, author Charles Fishman will talk about his book One Giant Leap: The Impossible Mission that Flew Us to the Moon. The documentary Apollo 11 and feature film First Man, which is based on the book First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong, will be shown July 22 and 29, respectively, to mark the 50th anniversary of the moon walk.

Additional programming on the astronomy theme includes “Apollo 50: The Next Giant Leap,” on Tuesday, July 9, featuring NASA Solar System Ambassador Tom Timko; “Discover Life in Space” with scientists from The Franklin Institute on July 12; “Stargazing Night at Mountain Lakes House” on August 7; and an adventure for kids where aliens take over the Community Room on July 25.

“Let’s not forget Woodstock,” said Janie Hermann, public programming librarian. “That was another key event from the summer of ’69, and we will recognize it by showing the film Woodstock on August 15, and hosting local bands and singers at Community Park North on August 17. That is the same weekend of the original concert 50 years ago.”

It’s not too late to sign up for reading programs at the library. To be eligible for prizes, enroll by early August. It all finishes up just after Labor Day.

The library is busy all year round, but summer has a unique energy. “It’s a different kind of busy,” said Hermann. “It’s not just that there are more people, and more kids in the building. There is just a certain feeling. It’s hard to describe.”