Summer lull is a myth. People in academia so want to believe that we can spend June, July and August catching up on the craziness from the spring semester. Once again, the season has flown by without warning. One of the biggest projects we’ve been working on at MPOW is revamping our freshman orientation programs. Don’t get me wrong–we’re still going to give the standard library tour and introduction to resources this September, but we’re doing things a little more systematically and creating content with our audience in mind.
In the past our tours had always been a reflection of the librarian leading them. With no standardized route or formal agenda, we weren’t all singing from the same sheet—some of us weren’t even singing the same song! So with the opening of the learning commons this month, we had the opportunity to establish a more structured walk-through for our new users. We’re even switching to a peer-to-peer learning model by inviting grad students from the Info Desk to lead the tours. That way they can have a candid exchange with the group and share real insight about how the spaces are used.
Writing the script was truly challenging. I worked closely with our fabulous User Experience Director, Steven, to get a sense of how freshmen are using the library. The data shows that underclassmen view us as a social space where they can work on homework alongside their friends. We certainly want to encourage and facilitate that behavior, so we’re skipping over all the quiet study zones and instead leading them through the talking levels, group study areas and our brand new café. We’re also highlighting the fluffier areas of our collections like the popular fiction and nonfiction shelves and our extensive AV collection. Meanwhile my fabulous colleague, Heidi, is working on creating a scavenger hunt to familiarize freshmen with the library functions they will most need, such as lockers and printing. It will be more fun than it sounds, promise!
Librarians live to be helpful and often try to cram every little bit of information possible in the 45 minutes we have with groups; after all, you never know if or when you’ll ever see them again. Our goal is to avoid information overload. We aren’t expecting freshmen to learn all our library resources forever; this is actually a PR opportunity. As Cynthia Hart from Virginia Beach Public Library explained at Computers in Libraries 2011, the library’s brand is about more than a logo or even books–ultimately it is about the emotional response we elicit from consumers. Take Coke, for example, and their Happiness Machine. They’re not demonstrating how to quench your thirst, they’re trying to make you smile. Along those same lines, we want people to leave this tour thinking of the library as a fun, welcoming place and equip them with just enough information that when they are ready to delve into more complex research, they know where to go to ask those questions.