SIOUX CITY -- "Did you find some books already?" Deb Schutt asked a grandson Tuesday.
Sure enough, two minutes after walking into the Perry Creek branch of the Sioux City Public Library, Gavin had found three books he wanted to check out.
For seven years, Schutt has been bringing two grandsons, Gavin, now 8, and Tyler, 11, to the plentiful summer reading program options of the city library system. One was about to start, when 17 children accompanied by nine mothers or other young women attended the storytime session related to the topic of hats, as led by librarian Robin Wagner.
Some weeks the participation at storytime has been above 30 children, and Wagner on Tuesday showed a hat-related demonstration on a flannel board. A bit later, she led children in a song with a familiar refrain: "The more we read together, together, together, the more we read together, the happier we'll be."
"I love it," Schutt said. "I really feel reading is so important. I couldn't recommend the library higher."
However, Schutt fears such programs, designed by librarians and supported in concept by teachers to reduce a summer slide of knowledge over weeks away from school, are dropping in participation by young people in an age of rampant technology options.
"Sometimes I worry about the library. I worry about the kids with iPads ... I would like to see kids with less of the hand-helds. Kids want to be entertained. They don't want to finish books," Schutt said.
Throughout Siouxland, libraries in most towns operate some sort of summer reading program.
Adrienne Dunn, the youth services manager for the Sioux City Public Library since 2015, said the fare presented in the summer reading program is continually re-evaluated. Dunn said there are pieces related to various ages and interests.
For instance, the city program draws on an art-trained teacher to teach painting. For older Sioux City participants, there is a Teen Book Club for 90 minutes each Thursday at the downtown library, plus a Teen After Hours option, which one day drew 50 kids for an activity modeled on the "Amazing Race" television show. There are also free family movies most Fridays, with such fare as "Ralph Wrecks the Internet" and "The Incredibles 2."
Deb Leckband has worked for the Woodbury County Library in Moville for 22 years. She said the participation in the summer reading contest has "slightly dropped" over the years, but the longtime trend she's seen is that the main participants run from first through third grades.
"We realize there is swimming and ballgames and a lot to compete with," Leckband said.
Dunn said she doesn't feel the technological pull of smartphone applications and other options have dug too deeply into kids who might otherwise read more. However, Leckband feels differently, with the impression technology has lured away some kids who in prior years would have been open to reading programs.
Not all libraries still run a competitive reading program, where leaders get awards for the most reading. The Moville reading contest gives awards for those who read the most books, although a few years ago, that was measured by minutes.
Overall, Dunn said the city summer reading program gets the participation of about 2,500 children.
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In Moville, a town of 1,700 people, Leckband said about 30 to 40 children will get involved in the reading contest and chart their books, although higher numbers come for the weekly Thursday programming. In Moville over the years, that has included a visiting group of Sioux Falls Zoo animals, exhibits from the Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center in Sioux City and a family team that juggled while on unicycles.
"The nature ones, magic shows, definitely draw the most," Leckband said.
The time right after the Thursday shows is when the most Moville area children will check out books, although they still come in on other days, Leckband said.
The Sioux City summer program has run in recent years on a $10,000 budget, from money raised in a spring book sale. That money is turned into programming, plus prizes for participants, including free book bags for children who begin the program and a book for those who follow through by visiting a city library four times by August.
The Sioux City library reading program for children from pre-kindergarten through fifth grade includes a green card where they track reading in 15-minute chunks, for a total of three hours. Those aren't added up to track leaders over the weeks, but each completed three-hour card earns a kid one entry in the random drawing to win a telescope, Dunn said.
"It puts them over the edge (to participate), 'I want that,'" Dunn said.
A total of 1,593 cards were returned in 2018, equaling 4,779 hours, which was 132 more hours than 2017. Dunn said the 2018 participants in the summer challenge made a combined 5,587 visits to the city libraries over three months.
Dunn said the participation among children begins to wane after sixth grade, as they near teen years with jobs, sports camps and perhaps feeling they get enough required reading in the school months.
The summer reading programs have varying lengths, as the one in Moville ran six weeks through Thursday, or July 11, and the Sioux City version goes through Aug. 10.
In Kingsley, Iowa, the "summer reading challenge" is for to pre-kindergarten through sixth grade children, over two months through July 29. One of the two types of bingo-style competitions gives the biggest prizes to kids who complete a black-out of all the bingo card squares, covering a variety of themes of books read.
Interestingly, many Siouxland libraries share the same theme with each new summer, in branding nationally from the Collaborative Summer Library Program. This year, the theme is "A Universe of Stories," which Dunn said is designed in part to draw on the 50th anniversary later this month of the first man walking on the moon.
Dunn likes the uniformity of the national branding, so a child who visits the library of a grandparent or another relative in a different town will see familiar content. Several children carried their blue "A Universe of Stories" book bags to the Tuesday storytime. A few minutes after the 11 a.m. start time, a young mother went back outside to a truck, and returned with green reading cards to turn in.
That sort of parenting pleases Schutt, who said too many take the easy way out.
"It is easier to put a kid on a computer," Schutt said.