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In August 2017, the folks behind the software company Beanstack announced the concept of a reading contest. Shark Tank personality (and Beanstack investor) Mark Cuban threw his support behind the project. Goals were nebulous, but the upshot was that there would be prize money for a literacy organization – and possibly for top-performing libraries. Any interest? Beanstack clients responded with a resounding yes! The stage was set for the inaugural Winter Reading Challenge.

Keene Memorial Library was one of over 100 libraries who joined the challenge. Having used Beanstack for the past three years of Summer Reading Program, we had hopes that people would get on board with us and log a few hours of reading. We started planning around a January launch date and worked on configuring our site to track minutes read. Our hope was to register 150 readers, each of whom would read 15 minutes a day for 31 days (465 minutes per person).

The overall goals for all participating libraries were 50,000 books and 1.3 million minutes read. (Some libraries tracked numbers of books read instead of minutes spent reading.)

Registration opened the month of December and we held our breath. Would Fremont get behind us? Slowly but surely, numbers began to climb on the leaderboard. By the second of January, over 200 people had signed up and they kept on coming. At the end, we topped 750 readers.

The readers began logging. Would we meet our ambitious goal of 69,750 minutes? Yes. In fact, it was shattered in the first 10 days. So we upped the goal to 200,000 minutes. Fremont met that new goal less than a week later. We decided to let the reading continue and just sit back and watch. 300,000 minutes, 500,000 minutes, then one million. That’s almost the entire program goal in just one city! We started looking at our neighbor to the southwest, Lincoln City Libraries, and wondering if we could match their pace.

In the end, our numbers swelled to more than 1.6 million minutes and we eclipsed Lincoln by 100,000 minutes. We owe much of our success to the participation from students at Linden Elementary. They made it a challenge to see which class could read the most. Mrs. Rasmussen’s Third Grade class took top honors with 225,093 minutes.

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The final numbers for the Winter Reading Challenge are impressive: 84,002 books and 7,000,000 minutes read. Mark Cuban will donate $25,000 to First Book, the literacy agency selected to receive the prize money. Seven libraries will also receive $1,500 each for being top performers in their chosen category. The funds can be used for community programs or donated to nonprofit organizations in the library’s service area. The seven libraries are Bud Werner Library, CO; Keene Memorial Library; Lincoln City Libraries; MacDonald Public Library, MI; Menasha Joint School District, WI; Paramus Public Library, NJ; and Suffolk Public Library, VA.

Keene Memorial Library will donate our $1,500 to the Friends of Keene Memorial Library, where the funds will continue to support library programming.

Tina Walker is Director of Keene Memorial Library in Fremont.


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