Which U.S. cities boast the biggest bookworms? A new CardHub.com report offers a top 10 list, based on an analysis of data from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Among the factors weighed were number of libraries, visits per capita, and reference transactions per capita. The criteria not only indicate what services are available, “but that people are using them,” said John Kiernan, senior analyst for the credit card comparison and education website – and the son of a librarian. “You’re more likely to go to the library if it’s close to your home and you see other people doing it.”
Major metropolises dominate the list, and it all comes down to money – both having it, and not. Big cities “have more resources and are able to fund these libraries, which a lot of [smaller] cities and towns can’t,” said Kiernan. “[And] a lot of people in urban areas don’t have the luxury of having a computer at home or being able to buy the books.”
Circulation of children’s materials, which make up more than a third of everything circulated in public libraries, increased 28.3 percent over the past decade, with 2.46 billion materials circulating in 2010, according to IMLS data. Public libraries offered 3.75 million programs to the public, with 61.5 percent of them designed for children.
With these findings in mind, PW checked in with children’s librarians in cities on the top 10 list to see how their young patrons are spending summer vacation.
The Cleveland Public Library’s 28 branches are “in every single part of Cleveland,” often within walking distance of patrons’ homes, said children’s librarian Jen Rhodes.
Summer events: During Make Things Move week, kids tested how quickly a balloon on a string could fly, among other lighthearted experiments. The library system’s overarching seasonal theme is Make It a Great Summer. “Every program this summer was focused around making something,” said Rhodes, such as compiling scrapbooks.
Big reads: For the youngest children in Cleveland (and many other cities), Eric Litwin and James Dean’s Pete the Cat books have been standouts. “There’s a lot of good repetition,” said Rhodes, “so the kids can get really involved in the storytelling.” For teens, the winner was Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones – no surprise, with the forthcoming August 21 movie release. The summer’s “making” theme and accompanying craft-based projects meant sewing and crocheting books were big, too.
The 15-branch Orange County Library System, which includes Orlando and its surrounding cities, is taking advantage of the nationwide Dig Into Reading theme, and tying it into this year’s celebration of 500 years of Florida history.
Summer events: Over the course of the season, the system’s 15 branches are offering more than 500 programs. On August 9, JetBlue and Random House are partnering for the third annual Soar with Reading program. Jack and Annie from Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Tree House series will perform, and kids will get a free MTH book. Donations from Walt Disney World and Siemens Energy funded a hands-on program called Rumble, Crackle, Whoosh: Powerful Natural Disasters, with kids crafting phenomena including a tornado in a bottle. The library system gives 80,000 kids its summer reading newspaper – a major reason for the high attendance each summer.
Big reads: The kid-voted Sunshine State Award-winning titles are always summer hits, said Vera Gubnitskaia, youth services manager for Orange County Library System in Orlando. “They’re usually the ones we have waiting lists for.” This year the 15 third- through fifth-grade winners include Katherine Applegate’s TheOne and Only Ivan and Lisa Graff’s Double Dog Dare, and the 15 sixth- through eighth-grade winners include Carl Hiassen’s Chomp and Jennifer A. Nielsen’s The False Prince.
“Nearly any home in Cincinnati and Hamilton County is just a stone’s throw from a branch of the public library,” said Sam Bloom, senior children’s librarian at the Blue Ash branch of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. “We are loyal to our neighborhood branches here” – 40 of them in all, plus the main downtown library.
Summer events: The library teamed up with the Cincinnati Reds for Redlegs Reading Week at the end of July, with discount Reds tickets for people who showed their library cards. Another biggie: a visit from Kite Day author Will Hillenbrand, who lives in Cincinnati.
Big reads: Mo Willems’s Elephant & Piggie series and the Pinkalicious books by Victoria Kann are among the summer’s hits. Middle schoolers, who were treated to school visits last year by Betty G. Birney (the Humphrey series) and Gordon Korman (the Dive, Island, and Titanic series, among others) are checking out books by those authors. For teens, Veronica Roth’s Divergent series is still “crazy big,” said Bloom, as is The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.
The Windy City system boasts 80 branches and partners including the Macy’s Foundation, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Museum of Science and Industry. Every summer, Macy’s downtown devotes an entire window to the library and its books. Librarians see their dual summer roles: “It’s a combination of making it fun and preventing the summer slide – the knowledge that kids lose when they’re not in school over the summer,” said Andrew Medlar, assistant commissioner for collections for the Chicago Public Library and division councilor for the Association for Library Service to Children.
Summer events: This season’s theme is Full STEAM Ahead, promoting science, technology, engineering, art, and math with a steam-engine logo. “Steam trains are responsible for a big part of why Chicago developed into the major city in the Midwest,” said Medlar. Also this summer, library partner Goodman Theatre is bringing children to its production of The Jungle Book and is also sending representatives to library branches to talk about the science of theater, including lighting. “In the lobby [before one performance], there was a group of kids reading The Jungle Book,” Medlar said.
Big reads: The STEAM theme seems to be influencing kids’ reading choices this summer, according to Medlar. Robot books are popular – particularly the Ricky Ricotta Mighty Robot titles – as is the steampunk genre, especially among teens.
Residents can choose among the central library and 24 branches – one reason for the huge success of its summer reading program, with 40,000 children participating. “The city as a whole is really supportive,” said senior librarian Ann Schwab.
Summer events: Denver continued to make use of its popular “personalized reading list” service, with a web-based submission form that lets patrons tell librarians what books they liked – and then receive individualized recommendations for more titles.
Big reads: “For younger kids, it’s still Eric Carle, Mo Willems, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” Schwab said. And beginning chapter-book readers still love the Magic Tree House and American Girl series. Other titles of note: Big Nate: Here Goes Nothing by Lincoln Peirce; The Boy Who Loved Math by Deborah Heiligman, illus. by LeUyen Pham; and The Fault in Our Stars, City of Bones, and Divergent. “And The Book Thief has a perennial hold here,” Schwab said.
In its five boroughs, New York City boasts 215 libraries, broken into three systems – Brooklyn; Queens; and Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island. “New York is the center of American publishing, if not world publishing,” said Judy Zuckerman, director of youth and family services for the Brooklyn Public Library. It’s an easy-to-read-in city, too. “So many people commute on public transportation. There’s a lot of reading time,” she says.
Summer events: Traditionally, the BPL’s most popular event is the summer reading kickoff day, when kids get the day off of school in early June. This year, the day’s entertainment included a 20-minute performance at the main library by cast members of the Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, who performed for about 20 minutes in the main library. Throughout the summer, kids post ratings and write reviews for the Brooklyn Library’s Web site, SummerReading.org.
Big reads: In addition to perennially popular Pete the Cat, Mo Willems’s recent picture book That Is NOT a Good Idea is getting a lot of attention. With older readers, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series is a winner, said Zuckerman, as is another graphics-heavy book, Stick Dog, and “anything by Rick Riordan.”
“Boston is a bookworm city because of its strong academic culture,” said Rachel Keeler, a children’s librarian at the Boston Public Library’s Parker Hill Branch, one of 25 branches in addition to the Copley Square main building. “There are so many universities, colleges, and research facilities in the city that any residents are readers, and they pass this love of reading on to their kids.”
Summer events: Keeler ran an engineering program that got children building with marshmallows and uncooked spaghetti. “The kids came up with really creative ways of reinforcing their structures so that they could hold items – cell phones, rolls of tape – and see how tall they could build before they would topple over,” she said. “They would try something, see how it failed, adapt their method and try again – all within 30 seconds or so.”
Big reads: Required titles for school are, of course, always among the most requested, with Rita Williams-Garcia’s One Crazy Summer a list topper this year. Also popular: the Lemonade War series by Jacqueline Davies, Rachel Renée Russell’s Dork Diaries books, and Bink & Gollie titles by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile. “I’ve also noticed an increased interest in fairy tales,” Keeler said, as well as, stoked by movie interest, requests for the Hunger Games and Divergent series.
The St. Louis Public Library –12 full-service branches, three mini-branches, and a newly renovated 100-year-old central library – serves a huge need since more than 80 percent of public school students in the city are eligible for the federal free or reduced lunch program. “They can’t just buy [a book] on Amazon. They don’t have the money,” said Patty Carleton, director of youth services. “We’re the free option.” Kids without computers at home can use their library cards to get online at a branch.
Summer events: For the fifth year, the library held a Super Smash Mario Brothers videogame tournament. “Then they’re in the library, and they’re surrounded by books and people who like to read books, and they find out there’s manga,” Carleton said. As part of a new program called Read Aloud, Read Along, more than 250 kids have shared books with trained volunteers throughout the summer. Also, over three nights, the library bussed 800 families to a suburban children’s museum called Magic House.
Big reads: What’s popular elsewhere is popular here, too: Pete the Cat, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments novels, and the Percy Jackson titles. In St. Louis, as in other cities, “Movies lately seem to be driving what’s popular and what kids know about,” Carleton said.
Kansas City, Mo.
Kansas City’s 10-branch system puts a lot of thought into the comfort of its youngest patrons. Its central library features parent-and-child-sized furniture – a large, overstuffed orange chair is paired with a smaller one, said children’s librarian Nancy Stegeman. Books are displayed so kids can see the covers “rather than just the spines,” so it’s not “Mommy walking along and pulling them all out by title,” she said.
Summer events: Local puppeteer Paul Mesner, who has a national following, is always the biggest summer hit. This year he retold Old Mother Hubbard at all of the Kansas City libraries, each event attracting 50 to 300 audience members. Serengeti Steve, another local, also did a popular show, this one with live reptiles.
Big reads: The 39 Clues and Diary of a Wimpy Kid series are winners, Stegeman said, along with “lots of nonfiction about nature and science” because of the Dig Into Reading theme, which spawned archeological and science activities at the library. Hundreds of teens (the final count isn’t in yet) wrote postcard-size book reviews, published on the library’s Web site, making them eligible for a forthcoming drawing with a tablet as grand prize.
Lurine Carter, coordinator of children’s and teen services for the Detroit Public Library, said the new Hyte Teen Center in the main library emulates the wishes of the boy in Elizabeth Starr Hill’s Evan’s Corner. “His whole idea was he wanted a place of his own,” she explained. Instead of conventional furniture, the youth section offers “these things called donuts – they are green and orange and purple,” she said.
Summer events: To take advantage of the summer’s Dig Into Reading theme – which many libraries across the country embraced – the Detroit Public Library partnered with the University of Michigan extension system and took kids on nature hikes in state parks. “They’re able to see thing they aren’t able to see in a cemented city,” Carter said. Also popular: the Exotic Zoo, which brings snakes and other live animals into the library. On August 12, about 125 second graders through teenagers from three branches are taking a field trip to the Edsel & Eleanor Ford House in Grosse Pointe Shores for its annual fairy tale festival; this year’s theme is Alice in Wonderland.
Big reads: “Anything that says ‘Wimpy Kid’ ” said Carter. “And Junie B. still rules.” The most popular titles are “usually funny,” she continued. “Life is very serious, not only in Detroit but all over. We try to relieve their minds. We want the library and the reading to be a pleasant getaway.”