The creators of Beanstack, an innovative software program for managing reading initiatives, recently teamed up with investor and ABC-TV’s Shark Tank judge Mark Cuban to sponsor the Beanstack Winter Reading Challenge for Libraries—with remarkable success.
Cuban challenged adult and youth library communities to meet a collective goal of reading at least one million minutes and 50,000 books during the month of January, offering a donation of $35,000 if the goal was met. More than 100 libraries nationwide, plus two in South Korea and one in Japan, signed on to participate, and their patrons rose to the occasion, surpassing the minutes-read target in week two and the books-read target in the final week of the month.
Ultimately, challenge participants logged seven million minutes of reading time and read 84,002 books. The challenge’s most-read title overall was A Wrinkle in Time, with Goodnight Moon, the Harry Potter series, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Dan Brown’s Origin registering strong showings in their respective genres.
Cuban became an investor in Zoobean, Beanstack’s Va.-based parent company, after its founders, Jordan Lloyd Bookey and Felix Brandon Lloyd, impressed him with their vision and product on Shark Tank in 2013. With Beanstack, Zoobean offers its 600-plus public library and school customers an online platform for use in reading programs, early literacy initiatives, and book clubs. The service provides tools for readers to track their progress and earn incentives, as well as to send personalized emails or text messages recommending a book or upcoming event.
Cuban approached Bookey and Lloyd about his interest in funding a reading challenge utilizing the Beanstalk software. “Mark Cuban is one of our more active investors. He is a passionate literacy advocate, and he was very motivated to do something with us to encourage reading,” explained Bookey. “He talks about how his mother used to give him her spare change whenever he finished a book as a child, and he believes that reading led to his success.”
Of Cuban’s prize money, $25,000 was donated to First Book, and the remaining $10,000 (plus an additional $1,500 donated by Zoobean) was distributed among the initiative’s seven top-performing, “Special Honor” libraries. The funds will be used for community programs or donated to local nonprofit organizations.
One of the library systems earning that designation was Lincoln Cities Libraries in Lincoln, Neb., where staffers spread word of the challenge by making posters and bookmarks, and by posting information on the system’s website and Facebook page.
Vicki Wood, the libraries’ youth services supervisor, was extremely pleased with her community’s response. “In general, our library system is very well-loved and used, but we were overwhelmed with the positive spirit of our participants,” she said. “The timing was perfect, because many people had made New Year’s resolutions to read more. Our public schools weren’t in session until January 8, and we had a batch of wintry weather, keeping people inside. All these factors, and a bit of competitive spirit, boosted participation, and time spent reading.”
She expressed gratitude to Cuban for “making this all possible,” adding that the reading challenge’s philanthropic angle provided extra incentive for librarians and their patrons alike. “I think this is especially true since the main beneficiary was First Book, an organization that supports children’s literacy,” she noted. “Our prize money will go to a program we call Begin with Books, which provides low-income children with a new book when they visit their doctor for a well-child check or to receive an immunization. And, since we purchase our books for this program through First Book, it truly is a win for everyone.”