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13 September 2012

A fresh look for freshers



While at the CILIP ARLG Conference in June, I attended a workshop by Kay Grieves and Jan Dodshon from the University of Sunderland on their Seven Step Toolkit for creating strategic marketing plans which really work.  Despite their being obliged to cram a lot of information into a short session, it inspired me to rethink what we do.

My first task was to apply their methodology, so I spent an afternoon working through their seven steps.  I found it very helpful to break down our Library membership into different, cross-cutting segments, looking at what we offered to, and how we communicated with, each one.

I decided to focus on the critical period when students first arrive at the College because, if we get it wrong then, we risk losing their interest for the rest of their studies.  I asked myself What do I want when I go somewhere new?  What makes me feel at home?  What can, and perhaps more importantly what can't, library staff do to make this work?  Coming to Cambridge is a huge learning curve for most, we need to make it as easy and straightforward as possible, and not overload bewildered newcomers.

Each year the College sends out a Guide for Undergraduates, in which the Library has about a page of information.  However, as I’d already written our piece for this year’s edition it was too late to make any changes to it this time.  Not a major problem as I am assured that most students never read it (although I doubt this).

So I moved on to the leaflet which is included in the Freshers' welcome pack.  In the past this has been a straightforward account of catalogue searching, how to borrow books and where to find electronic resources.   This I decided to change completely.  I designed an A4 folded leaflet.  (We don’t have a budget for professionally printed glossy covered guides).  The front shows photos taken earlier this year of students happily working in the Library and a picture of the building from the outside so there is no mistaking it when you see it.

For the inside pages, inspired by Sunderland’s Quality Promises, I split the two pages into What you can expect us to do for you and What we expect you to do.  This was a very useful exercise as it made me think about, and write down, what exactly we could commit to providing, rather than offering vague promises.  I realised that we assume students know what is "normal" library behaviour here.  Writing down what we expected of them, eg managing their borrowing, taking note of signs and messages, following H & S rules, rather than just listing instructions, made things much clearer.  I ran these past the Mongoose Librarian (thank you!) to double check the tone and content.  The back page was then given to basic information – opening hours, staff names and contact details, with our web address.    

On their first day our Freshers attend a series of talks by College Fellows and staff.  I use our 5 min slot to describe the roles of the different libraries at Cambridge and, I hope, fill my audience with enthusiasm to discover them.   On the following two days we welcome our Freshers to the Library in subject groups, show them around and how to search for and find books using the catalogue, and how to borrow and return stuff.  Most importantly, we get to meet each other.  

A meeting with the Undergraduate Tutorial Assistant allowed us to rewrite both the timetable for these visits, spreading the tours over two days so they will be less tiring for us and more flexible for the students, and the invitation email so that it explained the purpose of the visit more clearly.   

Next, the Library web pages.  I tried setting up a blog page in WordPress, but after an afternoon familiarising myself with how it worked I realised it would take me too long to be able to produce what I wanted.  So I returned to our basic web editor.  I checked around some of the other Cambridge College Library websites for ideas and was surprised to notice that they contain less information than ours; I’m not sure what this signifies.  I put out a plea on Facebook to our students for suggestions, unsurprisingly at this time of year


there was little response.  Anyway, I rearranged, updated and rewrote much of the information on ours so that it should, I hope, be easier to read and understand.  I then collected together a few guidance video clips and slides in a new “Libraries and study help” page.  It will be interesting to see how much use this page attracts. 

Lastly, I am planning a few informal sessions for Freshers next term.  These will be held in the office as I don't imagine we will get more than a maximum of 10 or 12, probably less.  The aim  will be to develop the key student skill of

Eating Cake, but may digress into other topics, eg deciphering reading lists, finding electronic resources and using ebooks.  These will be promoted via email and our Facebook page. 

We will review these changes before we start the next academic year, it will be interesting to see what comments the students have. 

So, thanks to Kay and Jan.  In the time available, and with limited resources, I am conscious that this is but a superficial application of their technique and I haven't followed their advice very strictly, but it made me rethink our approach and, hopefully, this will bring benefits to our students.

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