Lunch at the Library is an outcomes-based program. The California Library Association helps libraries plan, present, and evaluate their summer meal programs using outcomes-based methods, as well as collecting quantitative data such as the number of meals served each day and the number of people who participate in library programs.

Outcomes-based programs show meaningful results that demonstrate the value and impact of your work. They are relevant to the community, cost-effective, and contribute to improved management decision-making.

CLA provides California libraries with tools they can use to collect outcomes-based and quantitative data, report their results to CLA, and help us gather and publicize a full picture of public library summer meal programs in the state. Libraries outside California are very welcome to use our tools and we would love to hear about your results.

Lunch at the Library Outcomes

Two Lunch at the Library outcomes have been developed by California librarians:

  1. Families know that they can get help and essential resources at the library
  2. Families feel healthy, happy, and safe

A recent study from the Pew Research Center states that while most Americans know where their local library is, many are unfamiliar with the services libraries offer. Lunch at the Library is a great opportunity to introduce families to the library’s services and resources, as well as help them feel and become healthier. It is a priority for us to help summer meal programs reach their potential by achieving these outcomes as well as providing children and teens with meals during the summer.

Planning and Presenting an Outcomes-Based Summer Meal Program

Outcomes evaluation is most effective when it is part of a systematic planning process and we recommend you read Dynamic Youth Services through Outcome-Based Planning and Evaluation (American Library Association, 2006), by Eliza T. Dresang, Melissa Gross, and Leslie Edmonds Holt, before getting started. This book will guide you through the four step planning process for outcomes-based planning and evaluation.

Planning an outcomes-based summer meals program is simple, and your program will have greater impact than one that is planned with no outcomes in mind.

Start by reviewing the program outcomes to be sure that they will work for your library and community. Once you have adopted the outcomes, work with staff and volunteers to plan a lunch program that is designed to ensure that the outcomes are achieved.

To achieve outcome one, library staff and volunteers should promote library services and resources to families who participate in the meal program. This might include some or all of the following activities:

  • hand out summer reading information, program schedules, and flyers;
  • sign-up families for summer reading;
  • hand out brochures, bookmarks and other materials containing information about the library, its programs, and resources;
  • talk one-on-one with families about library resources;
  • create a resource table full of library and community information;
  • engage families in literacy programs that are accompanying the meal service; and
  • issue personal invitations to families to come back for library storytimes and other programs.

To achieve outcome two, library staff and volunteers should focus on helping families feel healthy physically and emotionally during the program. Examples include the following:

  • create welcoming environments and ensure that staff and volunteers are friendly and helpful, for example, greet families as they arrive, say goodbye as they leave, and thank kids who throw away their trash;
  • display kids’ art on the wall;
  • talk with families about what they like and don’t like about the program;
  • engage families in programs and participate with them in sporting activities such as basketball and jump rope;
  • present programs focusing on healthy behaviors; and
  • train volunteers in being polite towards families.

Gathering and Reporting Your Outcomes Data

Our data collection and collation methods have been designed by librarians to be streamlined and easy to implement during the busy summer months.

  1. Hand out our brief Lunch at the Library outcomes surveys to participating summer meal families — children, teens, and the adults who accompany them. The surveys should be distributed weekly, beginning midway through the program. In the later weeks, library staff and volunteers should ask participants if they have already completed the survey before handing it out, to help ensure that no one completes it twice.
  2. Enter the data captured on the survey forms into a Survey Monkey survey that has been created for you by CLA staff. Data entry is another great job for teen volunteers.
  3. CLA staff will export the data from SurveyMonkey in the fall and will send you a personalized report summarizing your library’s results.
  4. CLA will maintain a record of the volume and impact of public library summer meal programs in California.

Gathering and Reporting Your Output Data

We ask all California libraries who offer public library summer meal programs to please complete CLA’s statewide participation survey at the end of the summer. Your data (on how many meals were served, programming you offered, etc.) help us report to the California State Library and other funding agencies, help us demonstrate the value and impact of public library summer meal programs, and help us provide better support to your programs in the future.

Survey questions, for reference, are below. We will send a SurveyMonkey link to collect your data toward the end of summer and we ask for one person from each participating library jurisdiction to respond on behalf of all participating branch libraries.

Data Collection and Reporting Tools (outcomes and output data)

Outcomes Data: Surveys to Issue to Children, Teens, and Adults, 2019




Output Data: Statewide Participation Survey for Library Staff, 2019

Lunch at the Library Statewide Participation Survey

Please plan to submit your results to CLA so that we can maintain a full picture of California’s public library summer meal programs.

Using Your Data to Publicize Your Summer Meals Program

The California Library Association uses Lunch at the Library outcomes and quantitative data to generate interest and support for public library summer meal programs, and we encourage you to do the same.

  • Customize the Infographic template by including your local data to highlight the impact of your summer meal program.
  • Include information about your summer meals programs in your annual report, and reports to your library foundation, your friends group, and to city council.
  • Promote your summer meal successes on the library’s website, in the library, in local media, and to local partners to make sure the whole community knows about it.
  • Let library staff know about your successes and work with staff to improve those parts of the program that were less successful.