Where Does the Time Go? Memories from the Last 34 Summer Reading Programs

The year was 1985.

The Coca-Cola Company introduced New Coke and the Nintendo Entertainment System was released in North America. Michael Jordon was named the NBA’s “Rookie of the Year.”

The first .com was registered and the first version of Windows was released.

Mikhail Gorbachev became the leader of the Soviet Union. “We Are the World” topped the music charts as Live Aid concerts around the world raised more than $50 million for famine relief in Africa.

And, the Fort Collins Public Library’s summer reading theme was “Summer of Discovery” and Vicky Hays had just been hired as a library aide at Main Library.

Fast forward to 2018 – Vicky is the early literacy and children’s librarian at Old Town Library (formerly Main Library) and is enjoying her 34th summer reading program!

Vicky Hays hosts 1st grade students from Laurel Elementary for the start of the 2015 Summer Reading Challenge: Discover Your Power.

She happily shared some of her favorite memories of summer reading over the years. Interestingly, as much as things change, many of the core parts of summer reading remain the same!

In 1985, Vicky’s main role as a library aide was to assist with registering children for the summer program.

“We did all the registration by hand and on paper forms,” she recalls. “It was just kids at this point, no teens or adults. Staff explained the program and recorded the amount of time each child spent reading in their reading log.”

For many years, kids (or their parents and caregivers) registered for summer reading using printed paper sign up sheets. (Summer Reading 1984)
A reading log, or “record,” from the 1995 summer reading program, “Find a Treasure – Read a Book.”
A summer reading activities calendar from 1995 features storytimes, puppet shows, and animal programs.
A reading log, or record, from 1999 challenged readers to reach 10 hours of reading. Then, they could read more to participate in “Readers to the Rescue.”

That summer, thousands of children signed up to participate! “Families really saw the importance of reading during the summer, so we saw a lot of children join summer reading,” Vicky says.

Reading prizes were small trinkets and plastic toys and the larger reading milestone prizes included a children’s book and coupons from local businesses like Gulley Greenhouse and ice cream shops.  While the process for signing up for summer reading today has evolved from pen and paper to PCs and iPads, the program still has support from Gulley Greenhouse!

“Many years ago we also used to have ‘Clean Air Prizes’ where the kids would be rewarded for riding their bike to the library or taking the bus,” Vicky recalls. “After a certain number of visits to the library using these alternative rides, they would receive a prize.”

Summer reading has always been about having fun, reading books, and enjoying the community.

Just like the prizes and reading requirements, Summer Reading programs and events have changed over the years to reflect the popular trends and the community’s interests. But, many of the most popular activities – like the outdoor performances, visits from animals and library mascots, storytimes, and the Pals program – have remained a core part of the summer reading experience.

The Pals program began in 1994 as way for local teens to volunteer time at the library and help out during summer reading. The groups would frequently read with kids; dress up as the Library mascot, Annie the Railroad Dog; and perform puppet shows. This program continues today as the newly-named Voluntween program. And, while the Library has added two more mascots since the 1990s, this all-volunteer group is still an essential part of summer reading at the libraries.

A Pals group photo from 1995. Twenty teens volunteer to support summer reading activities like puppet shows and mascot appearances.
Puppet shows, put on by librarians and Pals volunteers, were popular events during past summer reading programs.

For Vicky, one of her fondest memories of summer reading was having Ginger, a beautiful rescue horse, visit Library Park. During the “So Many Pets, So Many Books” summer program in 1999, children were treated to a visit with local animals like llamas, exotic birds, ferrets, reptiles, and dogs. Of course, Ginger was the main attraction. That summer, for every hour that kids read beyond the reading goal, the Library and other organizations donated $1 to help the local horse rescue charity and help Ginger become a therapy animal to work with children.

“Readers to the Rescue” became a regular part of summer reading over the next few years with other charities like the World Wildlife Foundation, Larimer Humane Society, and Project Heifer benefiting from children reading. Money for the donation match came from Poudre River Library Trust fundraising.

1999 Summer Reading Program registration was completed by hand. The “So Many Pets…So Many Books!” theme included a challenge to read additional hours and help support a horse rescue organization.
Kids and adults got a chance to meet Ginger, a rescue horse who was being trained to become a therapy animal. (Summer Reading 1999)
Animals have always been a popular part of summer reading and year-round library programs. In 1999, exotic birds visited Library Park as part of the “So Many Pets…So Many Books” theme.
“So Many Pets…So Many Books” brought unique local animals to Library Park. Here, a young girl meets a llama. (Summer Reading 1999)

As the Library’s summer reading challenge continued to expand over the years – and the libraries themselves continued to multiply – Vicky noted that the enthusiasm among library staff each year around the program also swelled.

“We look for many ways to provide authentic experiences for kids and for ways to support  families,” she explains. “It’s a constant process of seeking out new and better.”

Vicky Hays has been part of the last 34 summer reading programs at the library!

The 2018 Summer Reading Challenge, Rock On!, has Vicky particularly excited.

“The music theme offers very creative opportunities and is great for early childhood literacy,” she says. “Music is an important part of development and is one of the aspects of learning that we focus on in our storytimes and children’s activities all year long.”

There is still time to sign up to participate in the reading challenge. Stop by any of the three library locations or visit our webpage to get yourself and your family registered. Be sure to also check out all of our summer programs and activities on the online events calendar.