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.

Library attendance at Resource Fairs

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.

Current outreach project: “What is your favorite book?” display

In honor of national “Read a Book Day” that happened on Sept 6, another librarian and I put together a display of books loved by our students and faculty/staff.

Favorite Books Display

Several weeks ago, during Week of Welcome, we put out some blank sheets of paper, a collection box, and a sign that asked, “What’s your favorite book?” In about 3 days, we collection 54 responses. Then, I went through our collections and pulled copies of a select number of the ones we owned for display. Finally, using a table in our Atrium, myself and another librarian set up the books along with the responses we received. I also included a take-away handout that listed all the books suggested and their library locations.

I was planning on leaving it at just that, until we realized that seeing the display might prompt others to want to share their favorite books with us, so we drug a movable white board out from one of the study areas, planted it next to the display, and wrote across the top, “What is your favorite book?” That was on Tuesday, late morning. Today, as of noon, that beautiful, inspiring white board looked like this:

White board books

And every time I walk past it, I stop to see what our students our reading. What books stick with them. Which ones people are commenting on–because now short conversations have cropped around around some titles. And I am just filled with happiness. I never want to take it down.