It Takes a Village to Raise a Tent: A Case Study in Pitching the Academic Library to Incoming Undergraduate Students

Article excerpt

Abstract

Rather than continuing to pursue formal inclusion in the University of Western Ontario's O-Week program, Western Libraries shifted its approach to library orientation for incoming undergraduate students by launching its very own orientation campaign in the fall of 2005. The following article details the planning process and subsequent launch of Western Libraries' inaugural system-wide library orientation initiative, the aim of which was to position Western Libraries strategically as a key contributor to 'the best student experience' at Western. The overall impact of the campaign, as well as its influence on future orientation initiatives at the University of Western Ontario are also considered here.

Keywords

academic libraries, first-year students, marketing, orientation, outreach

Introduction

With an FTE population of approximately thirty-thousand, the University of Western Ontario (Western) strives to provide "the best student experience among Canada's leading research-intensive universities" (University Secretariat, "Engaging the Future"). For the incoming cohort of first-year undergraduate students, approximately fivethousand of whom set foot on campus each year, that 'best student experience' depends upon successful transition from the secondary to post-secondary environment. Fortunately, Western's first-year students are in good hands with the University Students' Council (USC), the group charged with planning and overseeing Western's Orientation Program (O-Week) each year. By dedicating significant resources to its OWeek initiatives, the USC has developed a well-established and long standing tradition of successful orientation programming for incoming undergraduate students at Western.

As academic libraries play a key role in the undergraduate student experience, library orientation should undoubtedly factor into formal orientation programming on college and university campuses. Unfortunately, this has not been the case at Western. Despite its best efforts to cultivate partnerships with orientation planning staff each year, Western Libraries has yet to figure prominently in the official orientation program on campus. In order to overcome this challenge, Western Libraries shifted its approach to library orientation in the fall of 2005, launching its very own O-Week campaign for the Class of 2009.

Background

The University of Western Ontario's library system, Western Libraries, is comprised of seven service locations distributed across campus. Each location serves designated academic departments or faculties and provides access to resources and services which support the unique needs of their particular community. With numerous physical locations serving distinct user groups, providing system-wide library orientation that is both meaningful and relevant can prove to be quite a challenge. For this reason, individual library locations at Western often adopt their own marketing strategies and orientation initiatives. Examples of such strategies have included: multilingual 'welcome' signage placed throughout the first floor of the library; tours offered by subject librarians which are incorporated into faculty-based orientation; and an O-Week 'welcome desk' set up in the foyer of the library throughout September and staffed during peak hours (e.g. mid-day, mid-week).

While there is certainly a place for such location-specific orientation initiatives, 2004 LibQUAL+(TM) survey results indicated that the Western community at large was unaware of the valuable resources and services available through Western Libraries (Western Libraries, "Service Quality at Western Libraries"). In an effort to address this gap, Western Libraries established a task group to determine how to raise awareness of library resources and services. After conducting a thorough literature review (Appendix A), the task group identified the need to bolster the profile of Western Libraries on campus. …