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The Summer Game

The Ann Arbor District Library is rethinking summer reading.

by Patrick Dunn

From the July, 2014 issue

Traditional library summer reading programs reward children for reading a prescribed number of books while school is out. The AADL has followed that model for decades and still does--children, teens, and adults can track books read in exchange for a prize. But since 2011, its online Summer Game adds library-related online puzzles, scavenger hunts, and more.

Deputy director Eli Neiburger says the AADL developed the game because librarians didn't want to limit participants to a simple reading list. Kids, he says, "would normally read a lot more than ten books in the summer, and the library was giving them the message that ten books was all you had to read."

Summer Game players pursue "badges," most of which are tied to the library's online catalog. Clues point to specific items in the catalog, each of which has a unique code hidden in its record. Each code is worth a certain number of points, redeemable online in AADL's Summer Game Shop for prizes. Codes are also hidden in each AADL location, at library events, and in parks and businesses around town. Players also receive points for every book, CD, or DVD they finish this summer beyond the ten required to complete the classic summer reading program.

"You make the library a game board, as opposed to attempting to gameify reading," Neiburger explains. "We've added a system of fun to incentivize exploring all the library's offerings and utilizing these services that everyone in town has already paid for."

AADL patron Nieka Apell says a series of badges last year sparked her nine-year-old son's interest in graphic novels. "As he was doing the badges, he was placing a lot of holds on things and having me go down there and get the books," Apell says. However, Apell admits she's the most dedicated Summer Game player in her household. The same goes for player Cheryl Orosz, a self-described "longtime board gamer." Her two children, twelve and fifteen, "also play, but not quite as avidly

...continued below...

as I do," Orosz laughs.

Last year, a code was hidden in the office of AADL director Josie Parker--and 600 people came to find it. "Everyone from four- or five-year-olds to seniors who play the game were visiting my office," Parker says. "If you judge how many people are going to the director's office for a couple of thousand points, the traffic is probably pretty high all throughout the system."

Last year, 3,700 players signed up and claimed 6,200 prizes online. (By comparison, 11,000 paper reading records were distributed, and 3,600 prize books were awarded to children and teens who completed the traditional program.) Donated by the Friends of the AADL and the Scott and Marcy Westerman Fund, the prizes include AADL-logo T-shirts, ball caps, tote bags, flying discs, and coffee mugs. The most coveted items include bags of Roos Roast coffee and chocolate bars custom imprinted with Summer Game artwork.

Players have participated from across the country and overseas, and Neiburger says other libraries often request information to help build their own games. The code that runs AADL's game is open source and available online.

While an online game may seem contrary to the traditional idea of a summer reading program, Orosz says it succeeds in encouraging real-world activity. "There are events that I've gotten my kids to go to for the last two summers because I'm like, 'There's a code,'" she says. "It's that extra little incentive. And sometimes that's the fingertip push you need to get them away from Netflix and out the door."

And just for Observer Readers, there's a code hidden in this issue. It's the word that conveys the number of times per year the Ann Arbor Observer is published. You can find it near the bottom of the masthead. Enter that word at for a 1,000-point bonus.    (end of article)

[Originally published in July, 2014.]


On June 26, 2014, wrote:
Looks like the code is only available in the print edition. Bummer.

On June 27, 2014, John Hilton wrote:
sorry about that--it's now findable online as well!

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