Annoyed Librarian
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Not one but two Kind Readers sent the link to this article. It seems more appropriate for the Onion, but it’s all too real.

The library director in Hudson Falls, NY wants to change the rules of the summer reading club. That’s almost understandable. Even major sports sometimes change their rules.

The kicker is why she wants to change the rules and what she wants to change them to.

First, the why. She’s apparently tired of the same little boy winning the reading club every year. It seems he’s won five years in a row.

Normally, the librarian instinct would be to celebrate such a fact. The kid read 63 books in six weeks this summer. He should be celebrated as a champion of literacy.

Instead, he’s make the librarian want to change the rules. Supposedly, “other kids quit because they can’t keep up.” The poor little babies.

So she wanted to change the rules so that the winner isn’t the person who reads the most books, because that would be too fair or something. Instead, she wanted the winner to be a name that she drew out of a hat, because everyone should feel above average.

Based on the article, she doesn’t seem to regret wanting to destroy the whole dynamic of reading clubs, which is to get people reading by rewarding the people who read the most books. No, she’s only refraining from the rule change because the kid’s mom went public with the scandal, which we should now call Readingclubgate.

I’m still trying to figure out the logic behind the attempted rule change. Okay, so some kids drop out because they can’t keep up. If they can’t keep up, maybe they should just read more books, and if they can’t read more books, they need to learn to accept that there’s someone who’s a faster reader than they are.

It’s called life. There’s always someone who’s better than you at something. They only need to read 10 books to be invited to the party. If they can’t do that in 6 weeks, then maybe they should drop out.

Where else would anyone expect this attitude that reward should be randomized?

Certainly not in school. Do kids drop out of school because they’re getting much worse grades than other kids? Actually, they do. Is the remedy just to give As to random students?

The reading club is a competition. It’s a competition for geeks, and who better to understand that than librarians. We librarians probably read more books on average during our youth than the rest of the youths combined. Aren’t geeks allowed to have competitions, too?

Athletic children get to compete at things. Schools don’t just randomly assign children to play quarterback or shortstop. Children compete for these slots.

Besides the reading club, what have the geeks got? Science fairs? Maybe some schools give everyone a participation ribbon so they don’t feel like the scientific losers that they are, but only the best projects get the top honors.

And after all, the kid’s entering fifth grade. He’s not going to be competing in these much longer. The next champion will be his little brother, who has won second place the last two years. But after a few more years, those kids will be all grown and the lesser mortals can get the chance to compete again.

With all the ruckus, at the very least the kid should feel good about himself. He’s a kid who was so outstanding at something, who was so much better at something than everyone else, that he caused someone to want to change the law of fairness itself so that the losers way behind him wouldn’t feel bad about themselves.

That’s quite an accomplishment for a 9-year-old.



  1. Actually, some schools do randomize some reinforcement. At a Minnesota school where I volunteer, kids earn “blue tickets” in their classrooms, supposedly for “good behavior.” These tickets are collected until the monthly “awards program,” when they are dumped into a grade level bucket. Then a dozen or so tickets are drawn, and those kids get prizes ranging from footballs to *gasp* books. The principal, who presides over this event each month, noticed that the books seemed to be chosen last. She was overheard saying “We need to have fewer books, the kids don’t want them.”

    • You’re comparing apples to oranges. The school is attempting to promote good behavior in all its students not just one which is why it uses the earned ticket model. This is just a contest at who can read the most.

      Anyways, the library director is an idiot. She could have just assigned books and then had a trivia contest so that way the kids are actually reading to absorb information rather than speed read to win a contest.

    • Librarian in Texas says:

      Maybe they need better books!

  2. I don’t think this is quite so “apples to oranges” as you suggest. Maybe Macintosh to Golden Delicious. I was responding specifically to “Where else would anyone expect this attitude that reward should be randomized?” The rewards at the school are not given to “who behaves the best.” Rather, they are based on “How generous is your teacher with blue tickets?” since that determines how many chances you have. Also, it’s pretty obvious that the principal stacks the deck, pulling a blue ticket, saying “I can’t even read the room number on this one,” and putting it aside to pull another.
    However, you are officially an Annoyed Librarian, and I am merely a parttime library page and school volunteer; you outrank me, and it’s your blog, so I will sit down and be quiet and work on my own blog.

    • I’m not Annoyed Librarian! :)

      However, I do think the purpose of the programs is different. Again, the school program was created to entice the kids to behave but that isn’t the purpose of reading of program. Also the environments and missions of the entities are completely different. I would not say that a public library’s primary purpose is to educate children like a public school is.

      In that last part of your comment you are nitpicking what “good behavior” is, obviously what good behavior is in the eye of the beholder. One teacher may think class participation is good behavior while another may just be grateful that the kids don’t pass note during class. It is subjective, which is another good life lesson to learn. That not all people have the same standards and not all people will think you walk on water just because you raised your hand during class or refrained from sticking your gum underneath your desk.

  3. Actually, specially rewarding the reader of the most books is not neccessarily part of many Summer Reading Clubs. Many libraries just give out a reward for every week the child reads something, or give out progressive rewards for every 5 books read or whatever. As far as that goes, removing that grand-prize reward wasn’t such a departure.

    The problem I see is more with the indiscreet way this seems to have been handled, with the child signalled out, and the library director being quoted the way she was. That creates the appearance that the director has some kind of vendetta against this child, which does seem like something out of The Onion or a comedy movie.

    • “the school program was created to entice the kids to behave but that isn’t the purpose of reading of program” – actually I think it IS the purpose of the summer reading program – to entice kids to read. We don’t do reading competitions at our library and we have loads of kids participating. They read, they get to put their name up on the wall, they get to come to end-of-summer fun to get their reward (books) and a ribbon that proclaims them as a “2013 Name-of-Library Reader.” It’s not a competition where everyone wins, it simply ISN’T a competition. Kids compete all year in school. Give them the summer off from that! The library director mis-stepped – her WHY was a little off the mark, her lack of discretion was terrible, and her new plan may not yield the results she hopes for.

      (AL, geeks compete and win all the time. Every test they take in school is a competition, and they win by scoring highest. They win by being near the top of their class and having their choice of colleges. They compete in lots of UIL events. I don’t think geeks are short-changed by the end to summer reading competitions at the public library.)

    • The library I currently work at is similar to what Stephen says. Every book the child (and adult for the adult summer reading program) is given a raffle ticket that they can put into any number of prizes including gift cards, an i phone, I pod, Kindles… this is a little more fair for everyone, but obviously the child who reads the most, has the best chance of winning the major prizes, and after every three books read, the child earns a smaller prize, the more books you read, the better the next prize is. Not sure what the prizes are for children, but for adults they include reusable water containers, a tote bag…

    • @Mary Jo

      Reading equals good behavior? I read a ton as kid and misbehaved quite frequently. I will reiterate that the school program was created so that the school overall would have good behavior. The reading program was suppose to be fun contest to encourage reading and, again, I don’t think reading is good behavior.

      I don’t have an issue this the director changing the contest because it seems that the way that it is being run currently is creating a negative community dynamic. However, her choice of changing rules seems essentially a punishment for the kid who is reading a lot. I think that having an assigned book for the club with a trivia contest is better and the young man can be made reader of the month. And in this fix his picture can be put up and everyone can see how well he is doing yet the club is still encouraging involvement. The director lacks total imagination! I mean really, drawing a name out of a hat?

    • @Me Sorry, I wasn’t clear. The school was trying to entice the children to behave in a particular way, and similarly the summer reading program is trying to entice children toward positive reading behavior. I was not equating reading with good social behavior, only suggesting that both programs were trying to encourage particular positive behaviors, and as such, the structure of the two programs could be quite similar.

  4. I completely understand why the librarian in the article felt this way. Here at our library we have had one family cheat to win all the prizes (Our suspicions were confirmed last year). After discovering that this is what they are doing we had to change the rules because kids weren’t participating. What we did was reward children with prizes up to the 5th log and each of those 5 logs got a prize. Then at the end of the summer they could put their tickets into raffles for prizes. Everybody loved this system except the family who cheated. We had a 141% increase in participation over the previous year.

  5. No one should “win” at summer reading, not whoever reads the most books, not anyone whose name is drawn from a hat. That library is killing its own summer reading program by proclaiming a winner.

    • Forgot to add: thereby creating so many “losers.”

    • I think you are making a very good point. I can see that this child should definitely be congratulated on reading so many books, but summer reading programs are about encouraging kids to read, not winning.

  6. MedLibrarian says:

    If you read the article you’ll see that the library aide who quizzes the students on the books to make sure they really read them, also made calls to the children who had not met the minimum amount of books that need to be read. I find it unfair that a child that needs to be reminded to even finish the minimum number required could be proclaimed the winner over a child who read the most books.

    It also irks me that the librarian said the boy hogged the contest. What is the point of being in a contest if you aren’t trying to win? If anything I would think it would encourage the kids to read more.

    I do like the idea of progressive awards as the children reach another level or tier that way they are still being rewarded for going above and beyond the minimum number of books read but there isn’t one grand prize winner. There has to be a balance to reward those that are trying harder than others without making the others feel like there is no point in competing.

  7. So, now that there is no longer going to be a contest, does this mean Tyler is no longer going to read any books?

  8. Why does the summer reading program need to be a competition? Isn’t the purpose to encourage all children to read and supply them with incentive for doing so? The public library where I work removed the competitive aspect years ago by changing it to number of minutes spent reading instead of number of books read. The kids still compete to finish the program the fastest, but this change made it fairer for all readers and removed the motivation for cheating.

    • Not a Real Librarian says:

      It’s a good idea to reduce the competitive aspect of these programs. But reading shouldn’t be about competition at all. It should be about the excitement of discovery. Even if the “winners” really are reading, if they’re doing so *only* to get some prize, then you’re still not really promoting love of learning or literacy. You’re promoting a love of empty prizes. We have enough of that already.

  9. Free2read says:

    So, if somebody reads 100 graphic novels, does that count? Why have an overall winner at all if you are encouraging kids to read a specific number of books to receive acknowledgement, in this case a summer reading party. Why not have drawings for a number of prizes instead of just one, with readers earning tickets based on the number of books they read. There are lots of different ways to approach this which are both fair and level the playing field.

    • Have you read a graphic novel lately? They are quite challenging — often moreso than straight on print books. These aren’t comic books.

  10. For the record: I hate how this library is going about changing things. No one should EVER single out a child for any purpose like this.

    But my concern is for those kids who are struggling or reluctant readers, for whom the incentive of a potential prize might get them to crack open a book once or twice in a summer. If the prize goes only to the most prolific reader, then these kids will get discouraged and quit, knowing they can’t compete with kids to whom reading comes naturally. And then we’ve lost an opportunity to help a child learn to treat reading as something other than an obligation.

    My ideal summer reading program (i.e., not how my current system structures the program) would count *time* spent reading, rather than books. For every, say, two hours spent reading, you get an entry towards a major prize. That way slow readers AND readers who want to tackle longer or more challenging materials won’t be penalized for their reading choices.

    If the system wanted to have an *extra* prize to reward the most prolific reader, or the reader who spent the most time lost in a book, that would be great, too. But there has to be some kind of balance, or you’re going to lose kids at both ends of the spectrum.

  11. In my own discussions with others, I’ve suggested “retiring” Tyler. Buy a jersey with his name on it, hang it on the wall and acknowledge him as one of the greats of the game. Then ask him to help you with the program in future years, motivating others and helping organize activities and so forth.

    I certainly understand the librarian’s goal here – make sure kids aren’t feeling like there’s no point to the whole program – but her way of going about it was atrocious. There were ways to make this win win. She failed to do so.

    • And how are you encouraging Tyler to continuing to read by “retiring” him? That is almost punishing him for reading, which isn’t the point of the program at all. By changing the rules, and even having a tier level for prizes, children who read the most are still being rewarded, while at the same time rewarding the kids who may be struggling readers, or those that may have additional issues (there may be family issues for why the child doesn’t have as much time to read as others).
      However, the library director should have kept quiet about her disapproval and spoke with the children’s librarian about changing the rules after the summer reading program was completely over. When anyone complained next year they could have simply explained that they wanted to try something different. She definitely stuck her foot in her mouth over this!

    • I meant “retire” as in retiring a number of an athlete, not leaving a work force. Its not punishing him for reading, its celebrating him as one of the all time great readers, someone who comes along once a generation. The Ty Cobb, Shaq, or Wayne Gretzky of reading.

      As with most things, its all about how you handle it.

    • That’s a wonderful idea, however are you still allowing him to enter the competition and win? I understand that you mean retire as in sports, but if it doesn’t allow him to still win at the competition than it doesn’t really matter how you spin it. Encouraging him to participate in planning the program is a great idea, and he may have some very valuable insight.

    • Good question. I’d want him to not be in the competition, yes, but its not really a case of “allow”. Its a case of convincing him to move on to do more amazing things. If he really had no interest in doing anything other than reading to win, well, that tells me something about his need for validation that I would find unpleasant and would clear my conscience of any attempts to change the system. But far more likely, he’d be excited about trying to share what he loves with others.

    • Again, its a good idea to encourage him to participate in other aspects of the program, but I still believe that him not participating in a program he may have helped create is wrong. I think it sends him the wrong message, and a more positive one should be instilled, some people are very competitive and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

  12. Captain Librarian says:

    So…they could just hand out two or three water bottles, and change the wording so the “top two” or “top three” readers get a prize. Seriously, whatever you’ve budgeted for the main prize, divide by three, get three main prizes, and go on with life. I’ve never seen anyone like librarians for complicating relatively simple situations. It’s like we’re in a profession where, in the grand scheme of things, there are few actual crises so we have to manufacture them. This is absolutely not something that requires any complex philosophizing or policy making.

  13. Sarah West says:

    OK I think everyone is missing the real point here…who runs a reading club like that? The way we run the club is that each child makes their own goal with the help of the librarian and their parents. They get rewarded for that goal. That way each child is able to possibly get something if they do well and feel motivated.

    • Julie Lauletta says:

      Sarah, Your idea of consultation and goal setting with each parent and child for reading goals is the ideal solution , but in a large public library setting just not feasible. Our library system tried that method for a year or two and then arrived at a more streamlined program that allowed parent and child to do the same thing w/o the intensive 1 on 1 consultations. In the current age of budget cuts and austerity, I doubt that many large public libraries have staff to support that method.

  14. We’ve gone from numbers to time spent reading. There are kids who read three books all summer, but they are challenging books and it’s a real accomplishment. This way it encourages reading at whatever speed and level.

    • Librarian in Texas says:

      40 years ago, my library SRC counted # of books read. I’m a slow reader so I didn’t particpate. In another library two kids, read as many Easy books they could until the deadline so they could count the highest # read & win the prize. These were 5th graders. About 30 years ago many libraries in Texas started counting time read. If you’re a slow reader you can still win! We also have Read to Me programs. A kid reads to his younger sibling, who hasn’t learned to read and they both get to count the Time. They even can read to their pet. If they don’t have a pet they can come to the library and read to one of ours. Reading is the main objective. Even so we have complaints about coupons that all participates get because some families can’t afford to buy the adult meal to get the kid’s freebie or their kid doesn’t like pizza or they can’t eat donuts….no matter what the incentive, award, or reward, someone is going to try to cheat or find something to complain about.

  15. Girl Liberriun says:

    Yikes! What a hot mess. This is what happens when librarians implement programs without first thinking about their purpose. If the purpose of the summer reading program is to encourage kids to read as many books as possible as quickly as possible, then count the # of books they are reading and how quickly they read them, and happily award prizes to the “winners.” But really? Is the purpose of summer reading programs to create fast readers? Please tell me no. Why do some librarians get so balled up at this stage of program implementation (and advertise to the world that they didn’t think things out in advance) vs planning ahead so they know what they are doing? I just don’t get it. I’ve been in this field for over 30 years and some things never change.

  16. Why don’t they just offer more than one prize? 1st, 2nd and 3rd is reasonable, right?

  17. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like the way they run their Summer Reading Program. The point of the story is that this director has decided that she doesn’t like one kid winning all the time. She has deemed it isn’t “fair” and has decided to change things so this poor kid can’t win anymore. What the heck?! Competition is a good thing, is sorely lacking in our public schools (have you been to a field day lately?) and it sends the wrong message. Yes, here are the rules but we didn’t expect one kid to always win so now we are going to change them to give someone else a shot. PLEASE! Grow-up!

  18. It should not be that the winner will be chosen by pulling a name out of a hat but that when someone has won after a certain number of years it will be another kid’s turn to win. If that kid who won five years in a row wins again, then give the prize to the 1st runner up. I think the lesson of “taking turns” should be put in place (especially for that kid who keeps winning).

    • Then the whole system is shot, if the program is set up as whoever reads the most books, that should be whoever reads the most books, not the runner up. If you want to make it fair, then you should either create the program on a tier, so the more books you win, the better the prize is. Or, pick a name from a hat. It is a lot better than saying, look sorry kid, you shouldn’t have been as fast a reader as you are.

  19. Sarah West says:

    Julie – I think it depends on the system. Admittedly my system is only 4 branches but the system I grew up in has 18 branches and still uses this method. My former home branch had 7000 children register at that branch this year and they did this.

    • Julie Lauletta says:

      Sarah, I’m guessing that you have a deeper well of youthful enthusiasm than I have to draw on these days. I totally agree that the program should be designed to be flexible and rewarding to each child that participates, but I’d much rather talk to kids about books they’re reading or activities they’re enjoying than setting goals to meet. That could be just me ;->

  20. I wholeheartedly agree with you. I love the annoyed tone of your post. :)

  21. Yea, yea, the kid passed an easy single question test on the book he just read. Call me a cynic, but I am not buying it. I don’t exactly know how (but I know why), but I say the kid is cheating.

    Jaded? Yea, a little. But still, if I had to bet….. my money is on cheating.

    We had the same sorta thing happen at our library.

    But hey, let’s assume, as everyone seems to, the the kid is legit. Let me spell out how having an overachiever in the system can gunk up the works. It is quite simple really. Nobody ‘wins’.

    Now, how many of you would enter into an contest where winning was not possible? (like say a rigged lottery?)


    So, how do you fix this situation. Well, there are actually lots of ways. You could make it so a person can only win once, ever. …or once every 3 years. Or you could have multiple winners. You could have multiple winners based on the top readers or you could have multiple winners based on a random drawing. One random winner seems like a non-ideal solution admittedly. The only thing worse is the same winner every time!

    Everybody has to have a chance to win without cheating.

    And, if you want to get all political, what about the prize donors? I don’t know about you, but I am quite certain I would not want all of my donated prizes going to the same kid over and over and over and over again. Shoot, I might think he was cheating or something. …and the donations will stop.

    How about just Reading for the fun of it?! Now, making it so the there are no winners might also seem like a good idea. Why should it be a contest? Pfft, the kids should read for the fun of it by golly!! Well, ok, but, umm, would they still participate without incentives? …or would they read regardless? If if they did read regardless, why have the Summer Reading program at all? The fact is, incentivising reading (or anything really) works. Period. You can argue the contrary all you want, but we all know, even you, that it works.

    The library had a problem. The had the king of summer reading club destroying their participation levels. Something had to be done.

    I am glad the king has been dethroned.

    • Jeez, well you are a ray of sunshine! Yes, certain incentives can work very well, but there really is no need to make the program a competition. As you said, a drawing may not be the best bet, but you can alter the rules so that every book a child reads can be an entry for a drawing. This way, the child that reads the most, has the best chances of winning the prize. Again, you can also have a tier system, but to assume that the child is cheating is really wrong. Innocent until proven guilty should be the way to look at it, in my opinion. As for the donors, I personally would never accept donations with a bunch of strings attached. (Here is a 20 doillar gift card to Barnes & Noble to the winner, but only if the kid who won is the last 4 years doesn’t win it!) Completely ridiculous! We should be celebrating this child as a reader, not punishing him for it, especially when there is not evidence to support his cheating. By the way, not all incentives are really effective,

    • C,

      There are no strings attached from the Donors. It just looks bad to always have the same winner. The donors avoid fishy stuff on their own. We are not turning them away. I agree, no prizes with strings attached.

      “We should be celebrating this child as a reader”…. While that sentence out of context is 100% correct, what is being forgotten is all the other kids are NOT being celebrated as readers because of this one kid… year after year after year.

      Again, my point being, having only one winner over and over again is a bad thing and needs fixing. Certainly not celebrating the monopoly on the winnings. …well earned or not.

    • You make a really good point, but accusing the child of cheating is wrong. While the tone of your post was extremely snarky, I do agree that the other children should be celebrated as a reader, completely., and that the program rules need to change. However, most donors do not pay attention to which child wins the 25 dollar gift card (or whatever gift) they donated, they have more important things to worry about. The real question is not really whether the program needs to change, because clearly it does, the real issue is that the library director was a dip sh*t who should of congratulated the kid, and then quietly spoke to the members of her staff that organize the program and said that the rules need to change. That way the only issue would have been a few parents and children who were upset that the rules had changed the following year. Congratulate the kid, and keep your mouth shut until layer. It does not take a political genius to figure that out, only a little bit of tact.


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