March 8, 2019 by
Photography by Sarah Lemke

Julie Humphrey started her career path at age 14 in South Dakota. “I had to volunteer as an assignment for a class. I figured I loved libraries and I loved reading, so I volunteered at the library.”

Humphrey once thought she might like to be a teacher, and both her parents were educators, but she discovered she does not have the patience required for teaching. And the lure of the library proved too compelling.

She became a library aide while studying at the University of South Dakota-Vermillion, and, by the time she applied to the University of Missouri-Columbia, the choice seemed clear. Humphrey moved to Columbia to earn her master’s degree in library science.

“After that,” she admits, “I just kept going.” Today she is the Youth and Family Services Manager for the Omaha Public Library, and is also the person in charge of putting together the popular Summer Reading Program. With thousands of registered participants (34,154 in 2018), coordinating this annual program is a large task.

“There’s no way we could do all the great things we do if it was just me,” Humphrey says. “It is a whole team effort.” Her team consists of seven other library professionals who assist to “find prizes, find coupon sponsors, and select free books.” Each program at the library’s 12 branches differs based on what the staff thinks will be most appealing and useful to their participants. Humphrey likes to “encourage the team to think outside the box—we’re not the same through the entire city.”

And there’s another part of the team that Humphrey says is involved with this project. “We couldn’t do the program without the wonderful support of the Omaha Public Library Foundation and the Friends of Omaha Public Library.”

Still, Humphrey leads this busy team by example. She loves planning activities and particularly enjoys organizing programming for kids and teens. “I also love supporting my team in different endeavors,” she adds, listing gaming, crafting, and STEM among her favorite activities her team has offered to young library visitors. “It all depends on the interests of the community,” she explains. “Each branch does what they want; we give them free rein.”

The summer reading program awards prizes to both children and adults for time spent reading or listening to audio books. The program is open to everyone, whether they reside within the city limits of Omaha or not. It also includes special events. “Story time, adult gardening programs—there is a little bit of everything,” says Humphrey.

Humphrey believes that anyone who thinks they do not like to read simply has not found a book that hooks them. “We’ll help them find the perfect book,” she promises, adding that just about any book counts for the program. She points out that a book of jokes counts just as much as a thick novel.

The first mention of the Summer Reading Program for the Omaha Public Library was in 1909. The 110-year-old program continues to impact residents in the present day. Alexis Conaway, 6, of La Vista is already wondering when this favorite activity of hers will begin this year, adding, “I can’t wait! I wonder what prizes they will have this year?”

Mom Sarah Conaway reveals that Alexis participates in the summer reading program with her best friend. “They race to see who can read the most books. It’s healthy competition. She looks forward to it each summer.”

Beyond being a healthy competition, the program is valuable to student’s retention of information.

“The Summer Reading Program helps prevent the ‘summer slide,’” Humphrey says. She suggests that 15 minutes a day of reading is possible, even for the busiest people. “How many minutes a day do you spend checking your phone? It’s probably more than 15 minutes.”

The program also helps students learn life skills. Sarah says that the book Have You Filled a Bucket Today? was a summer read that helped Alexis better understand the feelings of others and changed the way Sarah and husband Daniel help Alexis verbalize her feelings.   

The Omaha Public Library Summer Reading Program begins June 1 and goes through July 31. Participants can register online or at a library branch. And when perusing the shelves for the next summer book, patrons may spy Humphrey standing nearby, beaming about another successful year of summer reading. She probably won’t stand there for long, though; she will need to move to another program or project.


Visit omahalibrary.org/browse_program/summer-reading-program for more information.

This article was printed in the 2019 Summer Camp Edition of Family Guide. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.