Ongoing project: white board questions

At the start of the fall semester, our library asked visitors to share their favorite book. Then, I dug through our catalog and pulled books that were mentioned to create a display. Alongside the display, we parked a couple of white boards, asking people, again, to share their favorite books. The response was wonderful, and I shared photos about the project in a previous post.

I have continued propping “white board questions” up in a high-traffic area of the library, trying to do one every 4-6 weeks. The response (for the most part) has been positive, with visitors and library faculty/staff enjoying the engagement. Here are a couple examples of the prompts we’ve used:

Progressive Story
Around Halloween, I began with a prompt, asking students to finish the story, one sentence at a time.


After a while, contributors started going back and embellishing what others had added, so that our first finished story looked like this:


It reads: It was a dark and stormy night, and the FedEx truck was just pulling up with my Ebay delivery. It was something I always wanted, Paulie Shore’s Filmography, to watch as I wrote my 100 page research essay on the applications of organic chemistry in computational neuroscience. When suddenly, a big spider came after me! In a state of panic, I defeated the foul creature with my larger than life research essay (student added the comment, “I laughed here”). Then I died after the grade I got, and my parents punished zombie me for flunking out.

We added an additional board after the first filled up, with another prompt:


The second story reads: It was 3 AM and I just got to the library to study for my test. “How much is parking?” I queried querulously. “Three square inches of epidermis,” said the attendant with a wink. I reached over and grabbed my wallet off the passenger seat, wondering why the price had suddenly spiked, and handed the attendant the requested amount that I’d harvested from a very spirited young man just a few hours prior. Turns out that “spirited young man” was actually my long-lost twin brother! Actually, your mom. Then I woke up and hit snooze. The End. (Student comment to the side: “Calm down Hannibal.”)

Word search
Our library debuted a new computer lab this semester, called the Dimensions Lab, that is outfitted with brand new Macs and PCs, virtual reality software and hardware, and a bunch of other fancy software for doing fancy things. Our development office approached me about doing something with the white boards in order to highlight the new space. Because simply asking a question like, “Have you tried the new Dimensions Lab?” wouldn’t generate much engagement, and other questions like, “What would you like to see in the new lab?” would likely cause confusion for those unaware of the space (not to mention those questions would not really fit the purpose of the white boards, which is fun, easy engagement), we had to come up with a way to draw students in. The solution? A word search, featuring the names of  software, hardware, and buzz words for the space:


The puzzles were completed really quickly, so I ended up refreshing the board at least twice a day, and scrambling the letters in different ways each time. If we pursued something else like this in the future, I would likely look into printing the word search as large posters, and mounting them behind plexiglass or our large windows that lead in to our reference area, or something similar, so that it could simply be erased and used again, rather than having to write letters in straight rows and columns 2-3 times a day.

I plan to continue asking “white board questions” this semester, as we have received comments at our service points about how much student enjoy them, and asking when they’ll be back. They’re a fun, easy way to engage students and other visitors, and show them that academic libraries can play, too.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s