Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Library Outreach to Students

Old wooden fencepost, in the woods

Recently, the library held a well-attended student advisory meeting. Led by a designated librarian, we all recruited students, sat them down in a conference room with an internet projector, and asked them questions about the college library. A point that came up repeatedly was that students did not know about many of the great services the library provides. Since then, I have been wondering how we could fix this.

Here are some of the obstacles:
  • There is currently no mandatory orientation to the college for incoming students. 
  • There is a constant influx of new students, and many enroll for only one semester.
  • The campus is not residential students must commute to classes.
  • The library does not have a spare staff member to devote full attention to outreach to students.
At present, when the library debuts a service or resource we try to publicize it as much as possible, but sustaining that level of energy to constant new batches of students is not feasible. Also, for many students each semester the entire library is new, and the point of a new library service is lost except on those returning. 

Here are some of ideas for what we could be doing:
  • Work more closely with the Student Activities office. For many of the same reasons mentioned above, however, there is usually a shortage of students participating in activities.
  • Try to use low-tech methods of communication as well as high-tech. The college has such a variety of students that in some cases it may be easier to reach students using bulletin boards and word of mouth than through anything involving a computer.
  • Create a packet of information explaining the library's student services. A librarian could be in charge of updating this once per year and distributing it to students. As a starting place we could send it to their college email, but it could also be available at service desks throughout the campus. In addition we could make it readily available to instructors so they could distribute it when needed. 
  • Perform further outreach to instructors? I wonder if in many cases the instructors are the only human interface students have at the college. There are a variety of factors that regularly make comprehensive outreach to instructors difficult, not least of which are the communication habits of the instructors and their feelings toward the college administration, which the library is part of according to the organizational chart. 
Although I'm not certain what has already been tried in the past, I think these ideas are worth pursuing if we're going to take student criticism seriously.


  1. What about getting an information sheet stapled to the syllabus of freshmen/sophomore classes? It doesn't have to be anything overly advanced, just some basics and a list of services.

    Over at the Library Society of the World (, other academic librarians were talking about their bibliographic instruction sessions being more of a "here's a few things to get you started, here's a teaser for advanced stuff, and here is where you go/call/email/text/chat for further help."

  2. Interesting idea, thanks Andy. The trick would be to get departments to agree to it. But it's worth a try!

    Right now the only bibliographic instruction we do is tied directly to assignments. We would be unable to support something bigger.