7 October 2012

Freshers' week ... and the not-so-fresh librarians

The door to our Library opens.  In comes a young lady, who gazes around our large ground floor room and says "Wow!  A real library with proper books.  All the other Universities I looked at just had desks and computers".

Welcome to Cambridge; and to Freshers' week, the information steeplechase for new undergraduate students and librarians alike. Someone could write a piece on the role alcohol plays for both groups during these days.

As far as I am concerned, the new students deserve abundant praise and respect.  Despite all the obstacles that starting at a university brings: getting lost, not knowing which day of the week it is, equipment not working, passwords not recognised, and last-minute changes to their timetable that send them haring off across a strange city, they remained calm and apparently capable of assimilating yet more information.  Or they were too shattered to resist.

Freshers at our College have two opportunities to engage with the Library: a 5 min talk as part of the general introduction, and then each attends a library visit (15 mins) as part of a subject group, with either myself or my Assistant Librarian, which covers the basic stuff. They have to survive this, plus introductions to their Faculty library and, if they want more, can attend a tour at the University Library (both of which I plug heftily in the general talk). And that's just the libraries.

From the librarians' point of view, it's a matter of re-igniting one's enthusiasm each year.  I agree with Libreaction's excellent post about the difficulties of motivating oneself. For those whose Library's activity rises and falls with the academic season, September is a month with an upward gear shift each week.  Tension mounts as the days pass, it's like getting ready for a show.  You have to write the script (website, leaflets, notices, talks), fix the props (new books, computers, printers), sell the tickets (student records on the system, invitations to tours sent out) and finally bring up the curtain on your services to a glazed, information-overloaded audience.

Ideas abound for improving the student experience of library "inductions" (awful word), I have to mention Kirsty Taylor's brilliant attention-grabbing addition to her Oxford College Library's registration form.

We considered livening things up a bit this year by offering incentives to attend the library visits, but ditched them.  The prize draw was too patronising, the treasure hunt too time-consuming and the bowl of sweets sent completely the wrong message as we don't allow food in the building.  So earnest scholarship it had to be ...  after all, why not?

And here's the thing. Changing our approach (see my previous post) to couch the library information in terms which clarified the Library's role in the transition from studying at school to studying at University, gave a better presentation of ourselves.  Consequently, I felt more confident about the introductory process. A win/win.  As an aside to this, bearing in mind the traditional nature of much of the communication at Cambridge, I was intrigued that when I mentioned the Library Facebook page in the general talk, heads went up around the room as if someone had, at last, mentioned something that was part of their real world.  We were making sense.

It could be co-incidence, or dire threats from the Senior Tutor, but I'm pleased to say we had the best turnout ever this year, with all but two students attending their visit in the first week.  And many have been back, got to grips with the catalogue or browsed the shelves, and left the building with armsful of books.  

So here's to the 2012 Freshers!

1 comment:

  1. Interesting post, Sarah, thanks for writing--and congratulations both on the very high turnout and the fact that it's over!

    I mentioned on Twitter that I thought our tours needed an overhaul, and your post gave me a good opportunity to think about that again. I still don't have any ideas about *how* it needs to be changed--though it was good to read your evaluation of the incentives. I agree that there's a difficult balance to achieve in these inductions so well done for getting your message across to the Freshers.

    Thanks again, and remind me in eleven months to try out a bit of the 'Taylor method', won't you? :)