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Dare to explore: keeping Auckland's children reading and learning over summer.

Dare to explore is the Auckland Libraries summer reading adventure aimed at keeping 5-13 year olds reading and learning over the summer holidays. The program launched in December 2011, featuring six different challenges and reading adventure themes. Over 6000 children took part in the adventure in its first year. Developing this region wide program within the recently amalgamated Auckland required new thinking to achieve user centric design and a whole of staff focus for delivery. Verbatim feedback from parents and teachers indicated that sustained library engagement made a positive impact on reading fluency. Other measures of success included increased website visits and high page view rankings. As a result of the program, 600 children joined the library as personal members. What was learned from the first year is now informing the refresh of the program and the evaluation methodology for year two. Edited version of a paper presented at the conference 'Learning for all: public libraries in Australia and New Zealand Melbourne 13-14 September'.


Over the summer school holidays December 2011-January 2012, Auckland Libraries offered the children of Auckland the opportunity to participate in Dare to explore--a brand new summer reading adventure organised regionally now that eight local authorities had been merged to create the new Auckland. Developing a region wide program entailed a shift away from the previous approaches to encouraging children to keep reading and learning over their long holiday. Putting user experience at the centre of the program design enabled that mindset change. Dare to explore was conceived as a flagship program to run for three years, with a refresh in years two and three and a complete rethink after that.

The context of one city

Auckland Libraries came into existence on 1 November 2010, created from the integration of seven public library systems when the New Zealand government amalgamated eight local authorities into one Auckland council. Auckland's population has just reached 1.5 million and is very diverse. (1) It is home to the country's largest populations of Maori (137,133 in 2006) and of Pacific peoples (177,933 in 2006); at the last census there were 268,600 people of Asian origin. The median age is 34 (younger than the median age of New Zealand: 36). The 2006 census counted 288,573 children aged up to 14 years and 198,477 young people aged 15 to 24 years. On 2006 figures, one third of the children in New Zealand live in Auckland; people under 25 years of age make up almost 40% of the population. In June 2011, Statistics New Zealand estimated that the number of children and young people in Auckland had increased by over 25,000 since 2006.

In establishing the new Auckland, the New Zealand government legislated for the development of a long term 30 year strategic direction for it. The Auckland plan adopted by the council on 29 March 2012 is a strategy for how Auckland will become 'the world's most liveable city'.

It is important to note that the plan is not simply a council work list: its scope incorporates wide collaboration with central government, the private sector and community stakeholders. Plan directives have implications for how multisector stakeholders will, among other priorities, collaborate to 'put children and young people first'. The first of the transformational shifts identified is 'Dramatically accelerate the prospects of Auckland's children and young people'. From the very beginning of the consultation on the intended plan, it was apparent that the Auckland plan would give children and young people prominence in the agenda of the new city. (2)

One library network

Thanks to the experience of working together regionally for a number of years, the public libraries which merged to form Auckland Libraries were able to deliver a first day coup--anyone with a library card issued by any public library in the region could borrow anywhere, return anywhere at any of the 55 libraries and 4 mobile libraries that now opened their doors as Auckland Libraries. Following day one, the focus over the period of the long school holiday in December 2010-January 2011 was to provide continuity of service for users.

We did not in those early months try to create a single summer reading program--libraries that had previously delivered a local or wider area program continued to do so. However, staff did collect user feedback on those existing programs, and gave their own, to inform the planning of a region wide summer reading program for December 2011-January 2012. Initiating this was already on the work plan of the new service development unit.

One city--one library network: what would one summer reading adventure look like?

The youth service development team used a gathering of children's librarians in March 2011 to generate interest in the idea of a single summer reading program and there were follow up visits to children's services team meetings to elicit wide staff input to thinking how such a program could look. We then engaged an external facilitator to deliver a two day workshop focused on agreeing a vision for program outcomes and an action plan for the design of an Auckland Libraries summer reading adventure with the user experience at the centre.

In contemplating the outcomes for Dare to explore, staff had to be mindful of the feedback on the previous programs but not be bound by the thinking that had created them. All the earlier programs had been designed to address summer learning and reading loss as described by Barbara Heyns and others, but in some cases capped participant numbers in order to target children known to have reading difficulties and/or so that the program was deliverable within the resourcing available. The potential of a new program to deliver reading outcomes for children at any reading level and to increase the engagement of children and families with libraries across Auckland led us to decide that numbers should not be capped. This would mean asking staff other than children's librarians to play a part in delivering the reading adventure. Programs offered in New Zealand and overseas provided ideas, and within our own organisation we drew upon synergies between summer holiday programming and other inhouse initiatives that focused on delivering a consistently great user experience.

The facilitated workshop developed these desired outcomes for the program

* children have fun, enjoy the program and find it easy and flexible

* children increase their love of books, reading and the library

* children maintain and improve their reading ability and are comfortable and confident library users

* children and their families want to continue their relationship with the library beyond the program and recommend libraries to others.

Delivering a summer reading adventure across Auckland Libraries meant thinking about the diversity and geographic spread of Auckland. Some children would be holidaying near a library other than their usual one or visiting a number of libraries and want to take part in reading adventure activities wherever they were spending time--at home, on holiday, hanging out at the library, at the beach or online. This meant that program elements had to be consistent across libraries, yet flexible and of course offered digitally as well as in physical libraries. An early response to the new Auckland was that some library users made an effort to see libraries they had not gone to before a couple of them even began blogging about their goal of visiting every library in the network. Anecdotally we heard that some parents and children had set themselves the target of exploring libraries new to them.

Feedback from past programs showed that children taking part would expect a celebration to acknowledge their participation. We debated whether to use prizes as incentives for taking part and decided against doing so in order to ensure that the program elements would directly build engagement. We saw that a successful region wide program would require high levels of staff commitment and buy in, including training to ensure that all the staff in a branch could help children to complete program challenges.

Designing Dare to explore

We established a number of working groups to handle design, content creation, digital creation, collections related aspects, marketing, staff communication and training. Training would focus on using program content in ways that would foster meaningful interaction between library staff and children. Internal communication would aim to reach every staff member and instil pride in helping to keep children engaged in reading and discovery. Planning commenced in August, content development was completed in September and work on collateral was under way in the same month. Children's specialists were trained in program elements during October and by then promotional material was ready for school visits to promote Dare to explore. By the end of November branch staff had been trained in the program and all collateral was in libraries for the program commencement in December.

The look of Dare to explore

Dare to explore needed to be visually appealing and engaging, in part because the number of children likely to participate would preclude incentives or rewards costing large amounts of money.

There were some local area sponsorships that were the legacy of past council arrangements but these could not be allowed to make the program look different eg localised collateral, incentives and prizes in some parts of Auckland from the rest. We therefore focused the sponsorships on the celebratory parties at the end of the program--the parties in any case needed to have a strong local flavour.

We believed that well produced artwork and collateral across all sites would attract children to the program and encourage enthusiastic participation. That proved to be the case librarians saw and heard how proud children were to receive the program materials and collateral and show them to family members and friends. Dare to explore was pitched as an adventure, and so the program challenges helped children to feel that they were doing something exciting and a little surprising. Explore is an apt word to have chosen for the title and dare is of course an anagram of read.


A series of dudes (male and female) were the face of the program, effectively attracting the attention of the target market. The striking Dare to explore tshirt worn by many staff proved popular and captured children's interest--staff reported that the 'very cool' tshirts drew questions from kids and led to animated conversations about the program.

We used large cardboard freestanding dudes to promote the program at service points and in library displays. Staff took photos of dudes 'doing challenges' and built a collection of images for further promotion.

Program delivery

Upon registration each child received a folder with a guidebook containing the first challenge set (Your library), information about Dare to explore as a whole and ideas for parents supporting their children with it. The folder also contained a passport which the children used to track their reading and progress through challenges--there was space in which to write favourite titles and get stamps for visiting different libraries around Auckland.

On completion of four or more challenges in the first set, children received a certificate and were eligible to attend a finale party. They could also continue the adventure with one or more of the five additional challenge sets designed around different themes relating to life in Auckland and the region's environment (Go aqua, The great outdoors, Our people, My past and Get active). Children reporting back to the library about their challenges had the opportunity to talk with staff about their reading.

Children could complete a minimum of 4 or as many as 62 challenges, which some did. Challenges were designed so that they could be completed independently or as part of an activity organised in or by a library. To ensure flexibility, children could join at any time during the six week program and were able to visit any branch of Auckland Libraries to check in--this catered well for those who shifted around the region for family holidays.

Challenges included book reviews, Dewey decimal activities, creating your dream library, making something from a recipe in a cookbook from the library, visiting local history spots, making a time capsule, talking to librarians about their hobbies, visiting a library in beachwear or national costume and visiting another library--one child visited 54 libraries with the help of her parents and grandparents.


Examples of Explore our people challenges were: Borrow a language kit or language book from the library and learn five new words in that language, Take a photo of your family reading. From the Aqua challenges: Take a photo of yourself reading by the water--it could be at the beach, by the pool, at the lake or creek, Write a lily pad poem or haiku. Ask your librarian for a worksheet you can use, Try a water experiment--you could make ice blocks, build a small dam, or check out one of the water experiment books in the library, Visit a seaside library OR tick the Auckland beaches you've been to or would like to go to. Ask your librarian for a map you can use--children then got an Auckland beaches worksheet: Use this map of Auckland to tick the beaches you've been to or would like to go to.

Libraries hosted a range of events and activities over the period of Dare to explore one branch offered an activity on every single day of the program. Activities included crafts, art, library tours, scavenger hunts, museum visits and guest entertainers. Finale parties were held for the children at the end of January, either at individual branches or with two or more libraries joining together to arrange a larger celebration. Activities delivered by libraries attracted over 9,000 attendees (children and adults). A strong feature of Dare to explore was the involvement of staff other

than children's librarians--this was a necessity given the hundreds of children participating in some branches and desirable in terms of using Dare to explore as a vehicle for helping more staff to establish meaningful interaction with children. The training delivered in the lead up to the program had shown that the summer reading adventure was not entirely up to children's specialists to deliver and that the program needed every staff member in a branch to be involved and confident about expectations.



A total of 6,265 children took part in Dare to explore, requiring additional print runs of collateral. Previously, about 2,500 children joined some type of legacy library summer reading program. By the end of the first week, 2,532 were signed up and over 4,000 had registered by Christmas. Fifty four per cent of the participants were girls and 46% boys. Dare to explore emphasised getting to know the library and what is possible through it--47.5% of the children completed the Your library module to gain their certificate and invitation to a finale party. As a result of Dare to explore, 600 children signed up for their very first library card, as did some parents and family members.


Participation online

Dare to explore had dedicated space on the Auckland Libraries website and there were prominently displayed links from other Auckland Libraries web pages. Much of the content was sourced from the Dare to explore program guidebook, children's librarians and the initial workshop process. The digital services team created additional content and made social media postings also. Pages on the Auckland Libraries website included a welcome to the program; instructions for parents and children; suggestions for parents to support children in their reading; a page of additional challenges for each of the six components including links to get started on some of the core challenges; brief booklists and downloadable comprehensive booklists; a how to section designed to familiarise children with library layout, using the catalogue and site search, writing and uploading reviews; downloadable event calendars for each of the 55 libraries; and a five part library quiz which required participants to search the Auckland Libraries website, the catalogue and eresources in the digital library for answers.

Over the period of Dare to explore, website visits rose an average of 13% compared to December-January the previous year; page views increased by 54.2%. The homepage was the third most viewed page on the Libraries website for December-January, behind only the library homepage and locations and hours. Visitors to the Dare to explore section stayed longer than the average library website visitor, and viewed more pages on average while visiting.

* the average time spent on the website for December 2011-January 2012 was 1 minute 42 seconds

* for user who first landed on the Dare to explore homepage, the average time spent on the website was 5 minutes 50 seconds.

Staff feedback

Upon its conclusion, managers and nonchildren's specialist branch library staff provided feedback on Dare to explore. They answered questions on the program objectives, staff impact, the modular structure of the program, collateral, publicity, training, communication, support and overall impressions of the program. Children's specialists answered the same questions and additional ones specific to program delivery.

Rating on a scale 1=low ... 5=high, there were variations in ratings between the respondent groups. Whereas 89% of children's specialists gave a 4 or 5 to the outcome statement that through Dare to explore 'Children have fun, enjoy the program, find it easy and flexible', 77% of managers and branch staff awarded a 4 or 5. Did 'Children increase their love of books, reading and the library?' A 4 or 5 was given by 56% of managers and branch staff; 66% of children's specialists gave a 4 or 5. In both groups, 99% gave a 3, 4 or 5. Did 'Children maintain and improve their reading ability and are comfortable and confident library users?' Children's specialists gave slightly more 4 or 5 ratings (68%) than managers and branch staff generally (63%). Answers were based on impression, not on formal assessment.

In terms of children and the families wanting to continue their relationship with the library and recommend it to others, 83% of children's specialists and 72% of managers and branch staff gave a 4 or 5. Yet whereas 67% of children's specialists gave a 4 or 5 when rating the 'success of Dare to explore for your library,' 79% of managers and branch staff thought 4 or 5. Rewards via passports, stamps, stars and certificates were awarded a 4 or 5 by 94% of children's specialists but by 81% of managers and branch staff. Training and staff communications clearly had the greatest impact on the staff closest to the action. Training was rated at 4 or 5 by 87% of children's specialists but by only 68% of managers and branch staff. Internal communication about the program received a 4 or 5 from 93% of children's specialists but by just 65% of managers and branch staff. Program support was awarded 4 or 5 by 90% of children's specialists and by 78% of managers and branch staff.

Participants' feedback

At the end of the program, 368 parents and caregivers provided written or online feedback about the reading adventure (see the appendix). Of these, 54% had one child participating and 37% had two children in the program. Most (61%) had heard about the program in one of the libraries or had participated in a library summer reading program before (25%). Only 12% indicated that they had learnt about Dare to explore through their school, and lifting this percentage is an opportunity for growth in following years. (In their feedback, several staff noted not having sufficient time to promote the program in schools as much as they would have liked.)

The most popular reason parents reported for wanting their children to participate in Dare to explore was to maintain or increase their children's reading skills (84%). Wanting something for their children to do over the holidays (60%) was the next highest motivation (respondents could give more than one reason).

Of the respondents, 93% reported that the core module Dare to explore your library was completed by their child or children. Among the additional challenge sets, Go Aqua (51%) was most popular followed by The great outdoors, Get active, Your past and Our people. Just over half of the respondents (53%) reported using the Dare to explore web pages. Reasons for not using them included lack of computer access, insufficient time or not knowing about the web pages. Of the adults who provided feedback, 98% indicated that they would encourage their children to take part in Dare to explore again next year.

Of the children who participated in Dare to explore, 408 gave feedback via a survey. Why had they taken part? Again, those answering could choose more than one reason.

What did children like? The library challenge set (33%) was popular, followed by Go aqua (18%), Get active (16%) and The great outdoors (14%). Your past and Our people both scored in single figures. Most respondents (82%) said they would participate in Dare to explore again next year, mainly because it was 'fun.' Of the children who answered the survey, 80% gave Dare to explore 3 stars (for awesome) and 19% gave it 2 stars (for okay). Of the children who gave feedback, 54% used the Dare to explore web pages on the Auckland Libraries website and the online quiz was overwhelmingly their favourite thing there.

Verbatim comments, including some unsolicited, showed the value of the program as perceived by parents and teachers. Some parents commented on the success of Dare to explore as a reading program ('I wanted my daughter to enjoy reading and to encourage a love for books. The program was absolutely wonderful. It just did exactly what I wanted and more'), and as a program that appealed to boys as well as girls
   I loved the way the boys read the books, and wanted
   to read.

   Getting the boys to complete some structured project
   work over the holidays.

   It encouraged him to make book reports for the
   books he's read and therefore improving his writing
   skills as well.

One mother wrote
   I just wanted to congratulate you and your library
   team on the success of the Dare to explore program.
   My 7 and half year old son very enthusiastically
   joined up in December and loved the activities and
   library visits....

   While my son loves books and being read to every
   night, he has struggled with reading and was in a
   remedial reading class last year for two terms. At the
   end of the year his reading level was up to 8/8.5 but
   I was aware of the summer reading slump issue so it
   was great to have a program that kept him keen and
   motivated. His year 3 teacher has just finished
   testing his reading for placement this year and he has
   maintained and improved his reading level. She
   thinks his reading fluency is up at the 9 yr level and
   I am quite certain that Dare to explore can take the
   credit for this, and he is keen to keep doing the tasks
   even though the program has finished.

   Once again, many thanks for such a fun and
   challenging program--not only has my son become
   even more enthusiastic about his reading, I learnt a
   few things about the services that the library offers
   that I wasn't previously aware of.

Parents said that the program built independence and confidence. They also appreciated parents and children working at activities and visiting libraries together
   The way the program was set out was fun to follow
   and gave my older child a sense of independence as
   she could work through some of it on her own.

   My son was not progressing with reading and was
   falling behind, he had no interest. Now he loves
   reading and he has gone up three levels of reading
   since the end of school last year. His whole attitude
   to reading has changed and it has given him so much
   confidence. It's amazing, thank you.

   My son enjoys visiting the library and enjoys talking
   with the librarians and meeting his school friends
   there too. The activities allow him to use his
   imagination to create and design to the best of what
   he knows he can do. He enjoys that I am supporting
   him with his learning and creativity.

   ... the way the librarians engaged my daughter in
   conversation about her challenges she completed
   with such enthusiasm [four branches named] and my
   daughter's excitement filling out her passport and
   visiting other libraries.

We received positive feedback on the fresh approach of Dare to explore
   It was easy just having to read every day, rather than
   in past programs having to record the time spent
   reading (I always lost track!) and the titles of books
   read (too many for my bookworm child).

   They continued to read over the school holidays and
   loved having the challenges in the passport to

   We really enjoyed going to the events at the library
   such as the going on a bear hunt evening. It was
   good to keep my son reading although being the
   holidays with many nights out or away it wasn't
   always possible to read daily so was glad that there
   was no 'you don't pass if you don't read x amount.'
   Liked the different challenges to choose from.

However, some found the number of challenges hard to follow. Others told us that although library staff were generally friendly and welcoming, some staff needed to be more sure of the program content. For example
   We visited several other libraries so our son could
   get his passport stamped as that was an easy,
   achievable and tangible activity for a 5 year old.
   However some of the library staff we spoke to did
   not know about stamping the passport and were a bit
   taken aback by a young child politely asking for his
   passport to be stamped!

   There seemed to be one librarian [at our branch]
   who knew the program well, and others knew a bit
   or a lot about it. All were really great with their
   interactions with the children--discussions,
   questioning, etc. The children were happy to see any
   librarian to share their reading.


Creating and delivering Dare to explore entailed learning to think regionally and from the perspective of children and their families. That mindset change enabled us to offer an uncapped program which supported reading outcomes, increased library awareness and engaged participants in the joy of discovery.

Feedback from participants is being used to refresh the program in year two. What does it teach us?

1 That we need to convey clearly that this is both a reading program and a fun filled discovery initiative which aims to increase children's familiarity with and comfort in learning new things through libraries. Program content needs to be more straightforward in its presentation and easier to select by age and reading level ('Lessen the number of pieces of paper! There were booklets and cards and extra handouts--a lot of 'stuff' to sort through'). The number of challenges will be reviewed this year.

2 That we were right to develop the vision that staff generally--not just children's specialists--are key to the success of the summer reading adventure. Verbatim comments on the importance of library staff to the success of the program are further borne out by our annual user satisfaction research which shows that the quality of service received from library staff is the core driver of overall satisfaction with Auckland Libraries. We will continue to focus on building staff familiarity with Dare to explore outcomes and components as one way to increase meaningful interaction with Auckland Libraries for the children of Auckland. The staff feedback provides useful pointers to how we can strengthen internal communication around the program.

3 That we have more to understand about user segmentation and the differing expectations and preferences among the parents and children across the city who participate in our summer reading adventure (in the words of one parent 'The kids see the library as a fun place to visit; I see it as an opportunity to instil in them a love of reading and learning'). This includes examining more closely in year two the patterns of involvement at the branch level and regionally and identifying success factors in terms of promotion, engagement with schools and the mix of activities provided in particular libraries and online. (One of our staff studied Dare to explore at her branch as a library school assignment and developed survey questions used locally that could be applied to a bigger group of Dare to explore participants.)

4 That we need to capture the evidence of maintained and improved reading levels in the form of irrefutable measures. A free text evaluation survey is simple to administer and user friendly but does not yield proof of impact ---in the evaluation used we did not specifically ask about reading maintenance or improvement. Staff were asked, and answered from impression. Although verbatim comments and anecdotal feedback are gratifying indicators of success, we should look to obtaining hard evidence of the difference the summer reading adventure makes. This will assist Auckland Libraries to show a strong contribution towards the transformative shifts envisaged in the Auckland plan. This is an area for pre and post evaluation that could usefully be undertaken with a research partner.


Dare to explore is the collaborative creation of many staff in Auckland Libraries. I particularly acknowledge Anne Dickson, Jolene West and Pip Henderson.

References and notes

(1) The figures that follow are from the 2006 census and are outdated; the census New Zealand should have held in 2011 was delayed because of the second Christchurch earthquake--the census will take place in 2013

(2) For the Auckland plan, see http://www.auckland See also for population estimates

(3) Heyns, B Summer learning and the effects of schooling New York, Academic Press 1978

Greg Morgan Manager Service Development, Auckland Libraries New Zealand

Dr Greg Morgan is manager Service Development, Auckland Libraries. His team focuses on service innovation and enhancement, staff training and professional development and marketing services. Greg has worked in public libraries since 2005. He was previously manager of the national talking book and braille library at the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind, and before that managed the law and then the medical library at the University of Auckland. Greg has a strong interest in overcoming information disadvantage, and holds a certificate in New Zealand Sign Language and a braille proficiency certificate. Address: Auckland City Libraries PO Box 4138 Shortland Street Auckland 1140 New Zealand email
Another reason (please write this here)      18%
My family made me                            19%
It looked cool                               44%
I want to get better at reading              46%
I like to come into the library              60%
I wanted something to do over the holidays   66%
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Title Annotation:Auckland, New Zealand
Author:Morgan, Greg
Publication:Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:8NEWZ
Date:Dec 1, 2012
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