In today’s digital age, there is a plethora of entertainment options available to capture a child’s attention. Many children and youth are hooked on social media and technology, hence we recognise that it can be increasingly difficult for a child to pick up a book instead of their phone.

To encourage good reading habits in children, in 2016, the National Library Board (NLB), Singapore launched Book Bugs, a reading programme that utilises a collectible / trading card game concept to encourage children to read more and to find joy in reading.

Children can visit any participating public library to collect Book Bugs cards by borrowing library items, attending library programmes and completing book-related activities. A complete set comprises 60 basic and 20 shiny Book Bugs cards. To facilitate the collection of the cards, Book Bugs booths were set up across 23 public libraries during the weekends. Children just had to show their book borrowing receipt(s) at the booths to redeem a packet of 2 Book Bugs cards for every 8 books borrowed. They would also receive a shiny card for every library programme they attended or every book-related activity they completed. This reading promotion led to 4.1 million loans achieved during the 10-month period. Riding on the popularity of the initial launch, Book Bugs II was released in 2018 to further engage children.

For Book Bugs II, NLB decided to tap on technology to fully automate the redemption system process as well as develop online content to further appeal to children.


Creating digital content

For the development of online content, creative content was created and published through various digital mediums and platforms to market books to children in innovative ways. The bug characters in the collectible cards were recreated based on book characters and a villain was also created for a more engaging narrative involving conflicts and battles.

Scorpio Head, a collectible Book Bug from Singapore

Scorpio Head is one of the collectible Book Bugs

The villain’s back story was published through a 4-part series comic and released at certain months on NLB’s discoveReads, an online platform for children, as a form of publicity for Book Bugs II events. 

The bug characters were grouped into genres and the characters were used to promote genre characteristics to the children. These were marketed to children through digital posters which were downloadable on the discoveReads website as wallpapers for phones and computers. Reading was also made fun through an online Book Bugs II quiz. Children had to answer questions on the Book Bugs II characters and their stories. In turn, they would be rewarded with points that could be used to redeem more cards.

These digital engagement efforts led to an increase in visitorship to the discoveReads website. The website saw an increase of visitors from 529 in April 2019 to 16,034 visitors in August 2019. The digital engagement efforts had helped to garner a total of over 3 million participants.


Moving into a fully automated card redemption system

Other than creating online content to engage our patrons, NLB tapped on technology to make redemption easy for our patrons by changing it to a fully automated system. This automated card redemption system comprised of two components: the online point system and the card dispenser machine.

Using a gamification strategy, the point system was programmed to issue patrons one point for every book or eBook borrowed. Participants could check the points they accumulated when they log into their account and use their points to redeem a QR code, or a 8-digit PIN to redeem Book Bugs II cards. Every 4 points could be used to redeem 1 card. Participants could head to any of the 23 libraries island-wide to redeem their cards using the QR code or 8-digit PIN at the card dispenser. The card dispenser issued a random Book Bugs card for every successful transaction.

The automation proved to be a success as patrons were able to redeem cards on their own. Card stocktaking and calculation of library loans were fuss-free as the card dispenser system tracked the number of redemptions per day in each library. In addition, the automated system enabled daily card redemption, instead of just on the weekends. NLB also no longer had to allocate extra manpower to operate the redemption booths on weekends. Patrons were thoroughly engaged through the gamification strategy, with some parents sharing that they could see their children reading more books just to complete their Book Bugs II card collection.

“Just want to drop a note to say thank you for doing the Book Bugs II campaign. My two boys have started borrowing and reading a lot more books now, by the heaps! Our criterion was that they had to read through all the books once, before we can borrow again and my boys will spend the whole afternoon, sitting by the living room to read.” – Zara, Parent.

Book Bugs II achieved 11.7 million loans across all 23 libraries during the 10-month reading promotion and reached out to over 3 million patrons.


Shaping the redemption system

To ensure its success, NLB came up with a two-pronged user education strategy, one for its staff and the other for its patrons. Onsite card dispenser trainings were conducted for all library staff. A step-by-step user guide and video were created for staff to familiarise themselves with the programme mechanics. NLB also tapped on its technological service provider for troubleshooting minor card dispenser errors. More difficult issues were handled by the card dispenser vendor. NLB also ensured that service recovery was provided by the card dispenser vendor during library operating hours. NLB used various mediums to teach patrons how to redeem the Book Bugs II cards. These mediums included user education videos, step-by-step flyers and posters and engaging volunteers and secondary school students to teach children how to redeem the cards. These approaches contributed to the card redemption system going fully automated.

The implementation of the automated system came with its challenges. During the initial phase, there were a few technical hiccups. However, they were promptly resolved by tweaking the card dispensers and ensuring that staff were present to manage the issues if needed. Despite the challenges, the benefits of having a fully automated card dispenser system drastically outweighed its difficulties.

The success of this card dispenser system also led NLB to adopt the point system for other reading programmes targeting different age groups. Participants can save their remaining points from Book Bugs II for future similar reading programmes by NLB. Agencies from other statutory boards had also approached NLB for advice on implementing their own redemption systems. The success of the Book Bugs II card dispenser system had changed the landscape of how event promotions could be done in Singapore.

In a bid to create Readers for Life, Book Bugs II had cultivated a vibrant reading culture amongst children. The programme resulted in higher readership of books and an active participation in its reading activities. Children could often be seen huddled together at small corners of the libraries trading cards, battling one another in an intense card game or simply chatting about the books that they have read. It is heartening to see that Book Bugs had not merely cultivated a love of reading, but also forged meaningful reading communities, hopefully, for years to come.

Author: Ms Pearle Chua, kidsREAD Manager; Content and Services, National Library Board, Singapur