Reaching First-Year Students during Orientation Week

By Collins, Nancy; Dodsworth, Eva | Partnership : the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research, July 1, 2011 | Go to article overview
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Reaching First-Year Students during Orientation Week


Collins, Nancy, Dodsworth, Eva, Partnership : the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research


Abstract

Every fall, academic librarians are given a fresh opportunity to attract first-year students to the library and its services. Often having only one chance to 'wow' the students, University of Waterloo librarians have discovered a recipe for a successful outreach and promotion program for first-year students. Focusing on a student-centered approach, the librarians have amassed a collection of testimonials, stories, and projects that are shared during library outreach events. This, combined with an effective delivery style, has left first-year students not only enjoying the presentation, but likely to develop a positive connection to the library.

In this article, the authors outline the specific outreach approaches that Waterloo librarians are using in their communications and presentations to first-year students during orientation week.

Keywords

outreach; first-year students; academic libraries; orientation; frosh; library anxiety

Introduction

Orientation week is an exciting and high-energy time. To reach first-year students during this week requires an approach that matches this level of energy and excitement while also thoughtfully addressing the circumstances and emotions that students may be experiencing.

At the University of Waterloo, librarians have been expanding their outreach to first-year students during orientation week dramatically over the past few years, with efforts including involvement in department, faculty, and campus-wide orientation events. The goal of librarians during orientation events is to provide students with a positive introduction to the library that will elicit interest and encourage feelings of comfort and connection with the library. Doing so directly addresses students' emotional state by acknowledging the anxiety they might feel not only about orientation week in general but also, more specifically, about the library.

Literature Review

Library anxiety is not a new phenomenon. A study conducted over twenty-five years ago by Constance Mellon revealed that 75 to 85 percent of 6,000 undergraduate students expressed fear or anxiety about using the university library. Since this time, librarians have been developing strategies to help reduce students' library anxiety, mainly in the form of library instruction sessions.

Library instruction is generally offered in the form of orientation events, lectures, course- integrated instruction, video recordings, and guides. Studies have shown that providing students with multiple exposures to library instruction can reduce their anxiety (Jiao, Onwuegbuzie, and Lichtenstein), and that personal interactions with librarians are more effective at reducing anxiety than computer-assisted instruction (Van Scoyoc). The timing of library instruction appears to be relevant also, with studies showing that library introductory sessions that are offered before school work intensifies, such as during the first six weeks of the school year, will foster a calmer and more positive learning environment (Keefer).

Some libraries have taken a less formal approach to library instruction and have introduced the element of fun into library instruction events. Examples include offering information in the form of scavenger hunts (Brown, Weinhart, Johnson, and Dance), online games (Markey et al.), and using social networks such as QR codes and YouTube videos (McDonald). Introducing the library in such ways may help to put nervous or otherwise unsure students at ease. Students can learn that the academic library is not to be feared, and that it is staffed by friendly, casual, and approachable librarians.

An informal and enjoyable first impression of the library can be an ideal way to alleviate any fearful preconceptions or anxieties that new students may have. The first encounter, however, may need to be provided very early on in the new school year - before new students have the opportunity to experience the library on their own.

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