One aspect of my job is to attend resource fairs for prospective students. As the liaison to New Student Programs, I set up a table, usually surrounded by tables of people from different departments, offices, services, and organizations on campus. These happen several times throughout the academic year as part of campus visit days: students are invited to campus for tours, fairs, meetings with faculty and others, to learn about the University and what it offers. The fairs most often take place concurrently with registration: guests register, and then have about an hour or so to wander through the fair and talk to the reps prior to the opening session. There is also usually breakfast involved. Free breakfast is always good.
I inherited the responsibility of attending these fairs from another librarian, and have been going to them for about 4 semesters now. I’ve struggled with how to make the library presence at these fairs meaningful. If we’re being honest, most people who come to these fairs don’t have a lot of questions about the Libraries on campus. They want to talk to Res Life and find out if they have to live on campus and for how long, they want to hear from people in the major they’re considering about the classes and faculty, they want to learn about on campus job opportunities or tutoring services or the fitness center. If they want to know about the libraries, it’s usually enough (at this point in their college selection process) to know that we exist. Occasionally I’ll get the person who wants to stop and talk about the hours we’re open, what kind of resources and spaces we have, if we loan out tech to students, and other things. Most often, the people that stop are the parents who 1. are librarians, 2. have a family member who is a librarian, or 3. are alums who want to ask what’s different about the Libraries now from when they were students (answer: a lot).
At my final fair of the year last spring, I experimented. Instead of only taking handouts of library stats, I also grabbed campus maps. I noticed at that fair that more people than ever stopped to say hi, grab a map, and move on their way. Did I have more meaningful conversations about Library services? No.
My first fair of this year, I continued with taking maps, and also added other things: campus maps, city maps, information about on-campus jobs and how to find them. I went to our circulation desk and asked our full-time staff there: “Of the handouts by the entryway, which ones to you have to refill most often? Which ones do you get asked for most often?” And I started taking those handouts. What did I notice? Even more people stopped to say hi, grab some campus information, and move on. I asked a couple people who were particularly talkative if things like campus maps or job information were included in their registration packets. They said no–that the ones on my table were the only ones they’d seen. No wonder they were so popular.
After these two experiences, I decided something. Most people may not know what questions to ask of an academic library. In the college-decision making process, I do not know how many students carefully consider the library as an important factor. Maybe they should, I’m not honestly sure. Am I having more in-depth conversations about the library when people stop for a map? Maybe once or twice each fair. But for the others, I’ve decided to hope that they’ll remember a friendly face and the helpful materials I had on my table. Hopefully, they’ll at least begin to associate the library–and the people that work there–as a place to find information and get help from a nice person. For now, I’ll call that a win.