By Alex Lippa
---- — While the unpredictable weather has put many summer activities on hold, at least program is busier — and more popular — than ever.
Local libraries are seeing big numbers in this year’s summer reading program. With an underground theme, kids and adults are flocking to libraries and participating in the events they have to offer.
“Our programs have been filled,” said Carl Heidenblad, director of Nesmith Library in Windham. “Several times, people haven’t been able to find a place to park because our programs are so full.”
The activities are designed around three themes, created by the Collective Summer Library Program, a national organization. The children’s program is called “Dig Into Reading,” teens participate in “Beneath the Surface” and adults enjoy “Groundbreaking Reads.”
“The biggest age groups we see are between 8 and 10,” said Ann Hoey, youth services director for New Hampshire State Library. “So far this year, libraries are reporting a high attendance.”
Hoey said more than 20,000 people participated in last year’s program in New Hampshire — and she expects more this year.
“Libraries are reporting very high attendance,” she said. “There has been some unattractive weather and people come to the library to get cool.”
Libraries track not only how many people are participating, but how much and how long they are reading. Last year, more than 221,000 books were read over 169 million minutes.
In Derry, readers who reach 100 books or 50 hours are entered into drawings for prizes.
“We’ve had about 300 of our 600 people registered reach that mark already, which is phenomenal,” said Evan Bush, head of children’s services at Derry Public Library.
Bush has taken the theme and put his own twist on it, narrowing it down to focus primarily on Egypt.
“We’ve created an Egyptian children’s museum,” he said. “Kids have made hieroglyphs, pyramids and reproduced a mummy.”
While not all the activities involve reading, getting people to open a book is the goal of all the activities.
“It’s all about getting people into the library,” said Kathy Watson, youth services director at Kimball Library in Atkinson. “Once we get them in here, they can see all of the things that we have.”
Watson said she collaborates with other libraries to come up with programs to fit the year’s theme. Their most popular program so far was Toad Abodes, where children designed a container garden for a mythical creature of their choice. The program was so popular the library held a second program for those who missed out on the first one.
New Hampshire’s summer reading program has been in place since 1990, but the state joined the national collaborative effort in 2010.
“I’d say we’ve gotten consistent numbers each year,” Hoey said. “I think numbers have been high in recent years because of the economy. People are always trying to take advantage of free activities.”
The majority of the activities are funded within an individual library’s budget. Grants are available for special performances. The state library provides a free manual to libraries with ideas to fit this year’s theme.
“All of our activities have been well received,” said Heidenblad of Windham, “from animal presentations to a fossil program we had.”
Most library activities are geared toward children, but others are getting the adults involved as well. Derry put its own spin on this year’s theme with “Digging Into Derry,” which focuses on the town’s history. The library hosted a genealogy program last night and plans a lecture about the history of Forest Hill Cemetery. While only 19 adults are participating in this year’s summer reading program, some of the events have drawn up to 40 people.
Gale Library in Newton has more than 100 residents signed up for the summer program, most of them children, according to director Theresa Caswell.
Next year’s theme already is being planned. The Collective Summer Library Program has chosen “Fizz, Boom, Read,” as the theme for 2014, which will focus on science experiments.