First-year college students face many daunting challenges, including how to perform research at a college level (Collins & Dodsworth, 2011). One basic step in acquiring this skill is becoming comfortable with the library building, its services, and asking librarians for help. However, students can often feel uncertain, or even fearful, of navigating this new environment (Gross & Latham, 2007; Jiao & Onwuegbuzie, 1999). Many libraries attempt to ease these fears by offering an orientation to first-year students or specific audiences such as transfer or international students (Brown, Weingart, Johnson, & Dance, 2004; Hartz, 1965).
Library orientations can take on many forms depending on their library’s size, mission, budget, or parent institution. With this in mind, we firmly believe that there is no right or wrong type of library orientation. There are many paths to success, and what works for one institution may not be practical for another. Here are six aspects of orientations to consider, and some tips to help you in planning your own event.
Librarians can use active play to instill a sense of fun, competition, or accomplishment into their orientations. Tips:
- Orientation games can take many different forms, from sports or video games to role-playing or board games.
- When creating an orientation game, make sure that you have ordered enough materials to satisfy demand, and that you have carefully mapped out the flow of traffic through the library during game play.
- Games will be most effective when you plan to tie the game strategies into a learning objective.
Marketing and promotion
An orientation can only be successful if students are aware of its existence. Many libraries make unique efforts to publicize their event and increase staff participation. Tips:
- Simplify. Invest in one incentive that students will be really excited about instead of many small ones. This often has a greater impact—and requires a smaller budget.
- Use online networks, such as campus e-mail or Twitter to promote your services and events.
It’s often helpful to develop and cultivate partnerships with other campus organizations or internal library organizations. Tips:
- Look for offices that have mutual objectives and find opportunities to bring these together. This could include student support services, campus-wide orientations, first-year experience and transfer programs, or IT and public relations and marketing departments.
Targeting specific audiences
While many library orientations are designed for incoming first-years, there are plenty of other library populations with particular demographics and needs. Attempt to reach out to expanded audiences, such as international students, cadets, or English language learners. Tips:
- Targeted audiences make highly tailored orientations possible. Build an orientation that connects to the participants by pulling in relevant terminology and experiences.
- Question the immediate assumptions you make about a targeted group when planning your orientation and, if possible, create opportunities for dynamic feedback throughout.
Some orientations will have technology as their theme, including orientations that introduce library users to various technology tools. Tips:
- Simplicity is key, both for the creators and the users. The easier your technology-based orientation is to create and update, the more responsive you can be to changes in the future. The easier it is to use, the more people you will reach and the more enjoyable their experience will be.
- Be aware of technological limitations. Not all technology tools are accessible for people with vision impairments or hearing disabilities, for example. Other considerations: Certain technologies allow for only a small number of simultaneous users, and not all of your users will have access to the devices needed to engage with your technology-based orientation.
Many orientations include a library tour. Your tour may change over time as you assess your users’ needs. Tips:
- Orientations don’t have to be elaborate to be engaging. Enliven tour-based orientations with active learning or task-based instruction, games, prizes, and technology.
- Work within the time given with campus-wide orientations and keep students’ attention by shortening the orientation.
- Learn from your mistakes by using assessments and adapting when needed.
The future of library orientations
It can be tempting to conclude that there are no generalizations to be made about the state of academic library orientations. However, while each library may take a slightly different approach, all share the aim of making the library accessible and familiar to the populations it serves. A common theme is the need to assess, revise, and change the orientation as needed in response to feedback, staff demands, and evolving trends in libraries, technology, and the world at large. Though we are hesitant to attempt to predict what these trends may be—given the variations in size, mission, and budgets, no projection is applicable to all libraries—we do feel comfortable saying that orientations will continue to be a major point of outreach for academic libraries well into the foreseeable future.
The book Planning Academic Library Orientations: Case Studies from Around the World (2018) from the Chandos Information Professional Series, by Kylie Bailin, Benjamin Jahre and Sarah Morris, features many kinds of orientations, from basic to elaborate, to show what is possible and why each of these can work for a particular type of institution. Each chapter includes institutional information so readers can decide if that type of orientation would be relevant to their own needs and see what resources are required.
We are pleased to offer our Library Connect readers an exclusive look at the book by providing a complementary PDF of a chapter from the book, “Hunger to Change the Game: Using Assessment to Continually Evolve a Library Orientation.” This chapter describes the evidence-based evolution and the shape of the current orientation at the Skillman Library at Lafayette College and includes considerations for implementation at other schools.
Brown, A.G., Weingart, S., Johnson, J.R.J., Dance, B., 2004. Librarians don’t bite: assessing library orientation for freshmen. Reference Services Review 32, 394–403. https://doi.org/10.1108/00907320410569752
Collins, N., Dodsworth, E., 2011. Reaching First-Year Students During Orientation Week. Partnership: The Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research 6.
Gross, M., Latham, D., 2007. Attaining information literacy: An investigation of the relationship between skill level, self-estimates of skill, and library anxiety. Library & Information Science Research 29, 332–353. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lisr.2007.04.012
Hartz, F.R., 1965. Freshman library orientation: a need for new approaches. College & Research Libraries 26, 227–231. https://doi.org/10.5860/crl_26_03_227
Jiao, Q.G., Onwuegbuzie, A.J., 1999. Is library anxiety important? Library Review 48, 278–282. https://doi.org/10.1108/00242539910283732