For the third consecutive year, the Tacoma Public Library is bringing the Extreme Reader Challenge to the greater Tacoma community. With over 50 categories to choose from, the library is striving to bring together a community of bibliophiles, new readers, or anyone aiming to broaden their literary horizons. The Ledger recently spoke with Tracy Cornelius, a library associate at the main branch, to garner more information regarding the challenge.

How many years has this challenge been in operation?

“Extreme Reader was introduced in 2019. While the program is still quite new for us, it was wildly — and unexpectedly — popular with our patrons straight away. We guessed that maybe 50–60 people would sign up but in fact ended up with over 400! Extreme Reader is sticking around for the foreseeable future and year two for the challenge just kicked off a few months ago in early January.”

What prompted you to provide this challenge for our community?

“Extreme Reader is modeled after a similar challenge put on by Idaho Falls Public Library. One of our staff members learned about it while visiting their library during a conference in the area. The concept was universally loved by our library’s programming team and leadership. Other than our all-ages Summer Reading Club, we don’t really offer anything quite like this for our adult and teen patrons. 

Blessings were given by Idaho Falls to utilize the foundation of their program — thanks Idaho Falls, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, yes?!— we got to work developing our own spin on it, and Extreme Reader was launched quickly thereafter.”

Is there a set “winner” of the challenge? Is this the person who reads the most? If so, what happens if there’s a tie — or a three-way tie, etc. —?

“Extreme Reader is an individual based reading challenge. Participants don’t compete against each other, but instead attempt to meet the requirements of the challenge on their own. To complete the challenge, participants must read 50 books,25 books for teens, in 50 weeks — the requirement will be lowered due to our unexpected COVID-19 closure — using the yearly category list we create. With 55 categories to choose from there is a bit of wiggle room. Categories run the gamut from fun and easy, [such as]  a book with a number in the title,  to quite specific [such as]  a book written by an LGBTQIA+ author, with even a ‘freebie’ thrown in —  a book of your own choosing!

Essentially, anyone that signs up has the opportunity to ‘win’ if they are able to read enough books. Last year we even had several participants read a book from all 55 categories, just for the fun of it.”  

What has been/is your goal in providing the Extreme Reader Challenge?

“Initially, our two aims for this program were to provide a fun, engaging way for folks to not only read more books, but to read more diversely. It’s easy and comfortable to habitually pick up the same authors and genres. And there’s definitely nothing wrong with that; you know what you like and you know what works, right?! The intent is such that by reading to fulfill a wide range of categories, participants will find something enjoyable that they might never have picked up otherwise. To push the boundaries and extend beyond our comfort zones a bit. 

This challenge has also managed to create an amazing sense of community, for patrons and staff alike. A great example of that is our dedicated Facebook group, of which about half of the participants are members. It is a fabulous way for participants and staff to engage and connect over the challenge. The group lends itself to fast friendships, frequent laughs, and more reading recommendations than anyone knows what to do with.”

How many applicants usually participate? Have you seen growth over the years?

“We had 439 patrons participate in 2019, our first year. Currently, we are just about to break 500, with several months still remaining in the registration period. Last year there was an influx of sign ups in the weeks prior to registration closing at the end of July. We anticipate a similar trend this year and fully expect Extreme Reader to continue growing.”

What can participants expect regarding rewards?

“Those that completed the challenge last year received a special edition Extreme Reader library card — it’s gold and glittery! —, Extreme Reader vinyl sticker, certificate of completion, and a book generously provided by publishers. There was also a party held to recognize and celebrate those that finished. Rewards will most likely differ from year to year and we’ve not yet announced the incentive for this year’s challenge. Personally, I think everyone wins just by participating but I’m a nerd like that.”

Is there anything else you like our community of readers to know about?

“There’s no reason to not sign up! Even if it seems unlikely that you’ll be able to complete the challenge, you’ll still find plenty of value and fun in the attempt alone. Staff-created book lists are provided for almost all categories, which helps take the guesswork out of finding books that fit the parameters when you need it.

The Extreme Reader staff team is dedicated and enthusiastic about all things related to this program! Whether it’s chatting up a storm with everyone at our popular Overbooked meetups — come hang out and talk about what you’re reading! —, recommending a fabulous new read, or launching into cheerleading mode for the final days and weeks, while covertly handing over a list of books under 100 pages;  we’re excited and here for all of it!”

If you’re interested in more information or you want to participate you can register online at tacomalibrary.org/extreme-reader until July 31.

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