Lois has dedicated support for more than two decades for Lee County Library System’s signature event, the Southwest Florida Reading Festival. The Southwest Florida Reading Festival is a family-friendly event that celebrates books and the written word. The Festival began in 1999 with the goals of emphasizing the importance of reading and bringing the finest literary talent to Southwest Florida. Now in its 22nd year, this free festival has grown in popularity and attracts thousands of book-loving attendees annually. Some of the past authors include Sue Monk Kidd, Susan Mallery, R.L. Stine, Janet Evanovich, Nelson DeMille, Jeff Kinney and hundreds more.

The Reading Festival’s objectives are to promote reading and literacy, increase awareness of the library’s programs and resources and foster partnerships between the Lee County Library System and the community. It is also an opportunity to share with the community the available resources and services at their local Lee County libraries with a library card. The Reading Festival aims to build a literate community by encouraging children to develop an interest in reading independently, which fosters an increase in vocabulary and improved writing skills.

Lois Thome has partnered with the Lee County Library System by serving as a founding member on the reading festival planning committee since the event’s inception over 20 years ago. WINK News is a longstanding sponsor of the event, providing in-kind support in the form of video PSAs and ad placement, however, Lois’s involvement has gone well beyond that of a typical sponsor. Lois attends each monthly planning meeting and annual wrap-up meeting personally, and this year, due to the pandemic she has gone to great lengths to help spread the word about the event to best communicate the new virtual format and changes. Due to the shift from in-person to virtual, we produced author video interviews this year. Lois stepped up to provide audio voiceovers for the intro and outro of these presentations. 

Over the past years, Lois has personally coordinated the production of numerous video PSAs. In addition to scripting and starring in these PSAs, which are aired on WINK and outlets such as Comcast and Century Link, she also helps coordinate and produce the video PSAs that air on the local school district channel. Several years ago, Lois also came up with the idea to create a marketing and promotional video that could be used on the festival’s website and also be included in the recruitment packet for publishers and authors. The execution of this project was all done by Lois, from idea to completion.

Another of Lois’s contributions is scheduling and coordinating up to three live TV author interviews each year for the Friday WINK News This Morning show. Lois schedules these interviews and also writes the interview questions that will be asked. This is an added value opportunity to have the featured festival authors talk about their new books and help promote the upcoming community event. She also facilitates featured author interviews for other WINK News broadcasts as well, such as last year when a lengthier feature story was given to author Jack Carr.

On festival day, Lois personally staffs a booth with other WINK news representatives, often providing live day-of-event coverage and interviewing authors in the early morning hours to draw more people to the festival grounds. Lois also has a special knack for drawing crowds to the author tents. She has routinely provided story times on festival day each year, reading picture books to the crowds to warm up the tent for a featured youth author. Lois is always willing to go above and beyond with whatever is needed, whether that is through planned youth programming or unexpected crowd control and assistance for popular authors.

Through Lois’s efforts and the visibility we receive through WINK News, the Southwest Florida Reading Festival has grown in reputation with publishers and reached well over 100,000 readers in the Lee County and surrounding communities over the years. A typical festival can bring in between 5,000-10,000 attendees for the day from all over Southwest Florida, helping us to achieve our goal of sharing the power of reading and making a positive impact on the lives of others through literacy. Other libraries throughout the state could replicate this collaboration by forming similar partnerships with their local news media as well. Even for those libraries without a large event to promote, having a strong partnership with the media can help build positive support for ongoing library programs and services, raising awareness about the importance of early literacy, reading, and access to technology that the library offers.

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