Read-a-thons, Reading Goals, and Literacy Initiatives in Libraries

by Faye D. Fischer

At the heart of the library’s ever evolving role as community centric hubs of technology and information is the directive to promote literacy. The ability to read still remains one of the most important skills needed to assure successful participation in society. In addition to the hard skills needed to complete a job application, and secure proper healthcare, literacy and regular reading can lower stress, boost communication skills, and keep your brain sharp. This article explores some informal, and formal ways that libraries can encourage literacy in the communities they serve.


Some of my happiest grade school memories are from hours curled up on the floor reading my favorite books for hours during read-a-thons. Our school also held a jump-a-thon, and while I loved to jump rope, where I could really rake in the dough was in reading hours! A read-a-thon can serve a dual purpose as both a fundraiser and a way to get people reading a lot of books in a limited time, using your designated space.  

Read-a-thons have long been a staple of school fundraising, but is there a place for them in the public library? If your library governing structure allows fundraising this could be something worth exploring! Research shows that there is high participation for students during a fundraising period. Far higher than other fundraising events and even other reading incentive programs. Could this level of engagement translate into the public sector? A read-a-thon celebrates and monetizes the love for reading in your community. It’s a creative way to get even those reluctant readers to pick up a book for a cause and maybe a chance at some prizes. It is even something that could be done virtually.

There are plenty of internet resources out there to plan and run a successful read-at-thon. While the articles have wonderful information, they are often using a blog platform to advertise their donation software.

Reading Goals

Many public libraries help their patrons to become even more literate by encouraging them to participate in reading goals. Helping patrons set goals that extend beyond just a static quantitative figure of titles read improves them as readers and creates a better relationship with a wider variety of library services. In researching for this post I found many libraries who have blogged fresh new ideas for reading goals. The Kirtland Ohio Public Library suggests things like trying to read a certain amount of time daily, decluttering and donating books on your shelf, and trying audio books. The Frisco Public Library in Dallas, Texas suggest reading in the “fringes” like the time waiting for an appointment, while dinner is cooking, or when you are waiting for car pool.

Assisting the already literate to make reading goals, makes reading a habit for our patrons which in turn creates reliable library users. These don’t have to be formalized programs, but can help point those readers on the cusp to reap the benefits or reading.

Summer is a great time to get people thinking about creating some reading goals. How are adults involved in your summer reading programs? What can your library do to promote literacy by encouraging patrons to set and keep reading goals? I love to make personal reading goals, I set them on goodreads every January and track them through the year. I would eagerly participate in library programs to keep me connected with other readers and motivated to achieve my goals through the year!  

Literacy Initiatives

Formal programming is perhaps one of the most visible and quantifiable ways that libraries promote literacy. The Utah State Library has participated in many successful literacy projects across the state through the granting of LSTA funds. Recent projects include teaching digital literacy, English language courses and multilingual material, and outreach that takes programming to even more patrons.  If you are interested in increasing or creating these types of initiatives at your library, network with other libraries for solid ideas. Many successful programs across the country use replicable models that can be scaled and implemented to work in many demographics. Check out this list of programs from the American Library Association.  

The library setting is ideal for adult literacy programs for many reasons. According to a paper commissioned by the Education for All Global Monitoring Report a division of UNESCO, libraries are centrally located in our communities and are “friendly and hospitable places, ideally with service oriented opening hours and approachable staff.” The article also mentions that libraries lack the negative memories of schools and formal education that make them safe spaces where adults can also participate in non-reading activities that boost confidence.

What are you doing to promote literacy both formally and informally in your library? We want to hear from you! Email me at [email protected].