Throughout the Brownwood Public Library’s Summer Reading Program children saw a variety of live acts, but the biggest takeaway this year was the dramatic uptick in participation.

Library Director Becky Isbell reported 472 participants this year, clocking in 2,652 reading hours with a record 135 students reaching their goal of 525 hours read — a 10-fold increase from 2017, which she attributes to the library’s recently implemented read and bead initiative.

“We’ve had a lot more reading this summer,” Isbell said. “It’s really exciting because we had a lot more kids complete the goal. The goal was 525 minutes, which is not that difficult for seven weeks in the summer. We had 135 kids reach the goal for the summer. I believe last year we had less than a dozen.”

As part of the program, participants received a bead for every 15 minutes spent reading. As students earned more beads, they could trade them for higher value beads such as metallic, glow in the dark or beads shaped like animals or other objects and once they reached 525 minutes they received a special “brag tag” for their accomplishment.

“It’s something a few libraries have started, but it’s been a successful program,” Isbell said. “We’ve always had ways of recording reading and giving the kids prizes, but I really like it because it’s intrinsic value to reading and the beads really connect a reward to reading. A lot of times, it might be read 15 hours and get a raffle ticket. This is more direct, you read 15 hours and you get a bead or trade them out for better beads. The kids really connect.”

Isbell said many children asked if they could continue reading, and accruing beads, after the program. She gave them the OK and hopes, similar to training wheels, the beads will become less important to participants and instead read for the love of literature.

“I always felt, compared to schools, libraries should help children enjoy reading,” Isbell said. “If they want to read a magazine or a picture book, or if they’re 15 and want to read a graphic novel, it should not matter. It should be fun for the kids. There is certainly a place for good literature, but there is also a place for enjoying what you’re reading. There are so many things to read. We just want them to find their place and go with it.”