by Mary J. Soucie
Each year, the North Dakota State Library partners with the Bismarck Veterans Memorial Public Library, the Morton Mandan Public Library, the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and Midcontinent Communications to host a Summer Reading Celebration at the North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum on the State Capitol grounds. This event is designed to encourage children to sign up for the summer reading program at their local library. By working together, the public libraries are able to better leverage resources to put on an event with a much wider reach than they would be able to achieve on their own.
The Summer Reading Celebration is attended by over 3,000 people each year. The event is primarily aimed at school-aged children, but children of all ages attend with their families, as well as with summer camps and day care groups. In 2015, 18 local community organizations collaborated to make this an attractive event to children and their families. Cash Wise Foods provides a low-cost meal so attendees have a healthy option for lunch. Community organizations staff booths with activities for the children. The North Dakota Council on the Arts provides funding for a featured entertainer. Community groups are invited to participate, but due to the success of the event, the libraries often get asked by people if their organization can take part in the day.
New organizations are invited to participate if the focus of their organization is a good fit for the summer reading theme that year. However, many of our community partners enjoy participating so much that they want to attend year after year, regardless of the summer reading theme. Each year we reliably have representation from the Bismarck and Mandan police and fire departments, as well as the Burleigh and Morton County sheriff’s departments. Many state agencies participate, including the State Water Commission, the Forest Service, and the Parks and Recreation department. The paleontologists at the Geological Survey always provide entertaining and educational opportunities for the kids to learn about fossils and dinosaurs.
Each year local dignitaries are invited to the Summer Reading Celebration to host story times for the children. For the last few years, First Lady Betsy Dalrymple has kicked off the event with a special story time. Lieutenant Governor Drew Wrigley, Secretary of State Al Jaeger, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, and Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle have all read regularly over the years.
The Summer Reading Celebration has been an excellent way to not only encourage children to participate in a summer reading program, but also to foster a life-long love of reading. None of the libraries could stage such an impressively wide-reaching event on our own, and we all have benefitted greatly from collaborating with each other and by partnering with other community organizations to reach so many children