I’d like to brag about our orientation

I feel fortunate that our library is substantially included in our institution’s 3-day orientation weekend for incoming freshmen.  We get a one hour session each day with a new group of students and will, theoretically orient all incoming freshmen.  From what I’ve gathered, many other academic libraries take what they can get in terms of orientation time and often have less than an hour with new students.  Last year we created an orientation session that actually gets us excited and achieves several things: introduces library services, familiarizes them with the library space, begins a rapport with the librarians, allows the students to get hands-on with the collection, highlights interesting works from the collection, allows substantial interaction between students that helps build relationships, and gets students to creatively engage with the library collection in a fun way.

Here’s how the session plays out:

  1. Information literacy assessment quiz – 5 minutes
  2. Librarians lecture about library services – 20 minutes
  3. Students divided into two groups and begin activities – 15 minutes
    1. Group 1 is allowed to freely browse the library
    2. Group 2 begins project – illustrating a book cover
  4. Group 1 & 2 swap activities –15 minutes
  5. All groups return and share their projects – 5 minutes

Assessment quiz

Right now we are using a relatively simple pre and post-test model for assessing library instruction.  We’re exploring options for more substantial/useful methods, but for now we are still administering the test to all incoming freshman for baseline data.  So as students file in we have them take the one-page quiz and a pencil before they take their seat.  We ask them to take a few minutes to fill it out while reminding them that it’s a no-pressure quiz with no personally identifying elements – that the data will be used collectively.  I don’t like administering the quiz as part of orientation, and I really don’t like leading with it (who enjoys pop-quizzes first thing?), but, at least for now, it needs to be done and it only takes about 5 minutes.  I’m usually a combination of thankful and apologetic towards the students for taking the quiz, but they seem relatively unfazed by it and the rest of the session makes up for it, I think.

Lecture

This is the bread-and-butter library lecture that’s not unlike library orientation lectures at most colleges.  We introduce the concept of the academic library and talk specifically about our collections, services, and policies.  We try to keep this lecture short – it rarely goes over 20 minutes and in some cases only takes 10 minutes if we were delayed in starting for some reason.  We feel that too much detail is easily lost on incoming freshmen who are being deluged with new information throughout the orientation weekend.  For this section of the orientation, our goal is simply to impress upon the students a general awareness of the library and why they may want to use it.  Also, it’s a great way for the students to get to know one or both of their librarians, hopefully making them more approachable in the future.

Space, Necessity, and Invention

Sometimes limitations encourage creative thinking that leads to positive outcomes.  In our case, the big limitation is space. One of the key components of our orientation is allowing the students to experience the actual library space, but as incoming classes grew it became more difficult to accommodate so many students in the library.  Before our new format, our session consisted of a lecture followed by free browsing; however, 30-40 students browsing at the same time was becoming untenable. So, we never considered moving the orientation outside the library, but we knew we had to break up the group somehow.  We wanted students to separate into two groups and have each group browse separately, but we had to find something for the non-browsing group to do while they wait.  After much brainstorming for what was initially conceived as busy-work, we created an activity that adds immense value to the orientation experience and has become our and the students favorite part of library orientation – illustrating a book cover.

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Student illustration for “The Illusion of Life”

Illustrating a Book Cover

The goal of our activity is to have students illustrate a book cover based only on the title of the book they randomly draw from a cup.  The thing is, the titles are from books in our collection (and are relatively ambiguous).  Here are some examples from this year’s batch: (Have some fun, yourself: think of what the cover of each title might look like and click through to see the actual cover)

We ask the students to pair up and work collaboratively on their book cover (using pencils, colored pencils, and markers we provide).  This lets the students begin to establish working relationships with their peers, keeps the groups energy up, and makes it easier for us because we don’t need as many titles pre-chosen as we would if every individual got a title.  After 15 minutes or so they swap with the browsing group and after another 15 minutes everyone comes together and shares their drawn concept with the group.  Finally, we reveal the cover of the actual book from our collection for comparison.

We’ve been doing this activity since 2014 in a dozen or so individual sessions so far.  It’s apparent in the sessions themselves that the students genuinely enjoy it.  While they are working, they are energetic and engaged, and at two particular points during the session it’s clear that the students are into it – the payoffs.  The first is when students share their creations with the group.  There is occasionally some hesitancy in sharing, but we stress that the main concern is sharing the idea, and the group (along with the librarians) are positively receptive and give positive verbal feedback.  Then, the final reveal of the actual book cover receives, literally, ooh’s and ahh’s.  I don’t think you can ask for much more than ooh’s and ahh’s in a library orientation, of all things.

So we’ve crafted an orientation session that is actually fun and interesting for the students while allowing them to become comfortable with the library space, collections, and the librarians.  There’s certainly room for improvement (we’d like to make the browsing portion more meaningful), but, for now, we’re considering it a success.

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