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Feature #26 – Increasing student engagement in library inductions

I’m the first to admit that library inductions are problematic things. At the Cambridge College library where I work, the first hurdle is to get students through the door. Then the Freshers that do arrive at the inductions are exhausted (possibly hungover) having already had information thrown at them all week. The Fresher’s week timetable is so packed that we slot library inductions into any available slot, often staying into the evening to be able to see as many students as possible before they go for dinner. I’m conscious that the sessions we’re running are not the jazziest or most exciting, which I would love to change. In this article I’d like to share some of the ideas I’ve been exploring recently. Many of these were sparked by a brainstorm session I attended recently with group of other College librarians, talking about induction sessions, sharing tips on what works and exploring solutions for what doesn’t work. That session prodded me into gear and I’m now thinking about how we can increase student engagement in next year’s inductions. Fortunately there are many librarians doing this already in their inductions and training sessions, so I can copy them!

The ideas below are mostly from university and school libraries, however inductions and user training sessions are of course held in all sorts of libraries and I think many of these ideas could be transferable to other sectors with a bit of adaptation.

'May I Ask' by Slebur on Flickr

May I Ask‘ by Slebur on Flickr

Audience participation: Cardiff University’s ‘Cephalonian method’

Science Librarian Linda Davies observed this method of audience-led presentation on a holiday in Cephalonia. “In place of the usual lecture detailing attractions on the island, holidaymakers were assigned printed questions which they were required to read aloud in a random sequence. For example, ‘Am I stuck on the island for a week, or are there trips to the mainland?’ or ‘Is there a reliable bus service because I’m too scared to drive on these roads?’ This simple idea proved to be a very effective ice-breaker, and when Linda returned to Cardiff, we discussed the idea and decided that it could be adapted and developed into a new model for student induction. The ‘Cephalonian Method’ of induction was born!“¹

In a library induction context, students were randomly handed a card with a question on it as they arrived. The librarians would then ask for questions to be called out throughout the session. The questions were divided into categories, and the cards were colour coded. This gave some structure to the session (basic information questions could be asked first before moving onto questions about reading lists etc.) but was much more informal and interactive than the librarians simply reciting the information about the library for the twentieth time that week.

The Cephalonian method has since been adopted at other institutions, including Manchester Metropolitan University. MMU’s experience was also very positive: “Staff have reported more informal, fun sessions with further questions being asked since the ice had been broken by students asking the questions on the cards. Students have commented on enjoying the interactivity of the session and the involvement of the group. The Cephalonian approach has been used with various group sizes and in different locations, from seminar room of 15 students to lecture theatres of 160, and has been received with great success in all environments.”²

Input from more experienced students

At Clare College in Cambridge, student library reps have helped to deliver parts of the library inductions, covering general information about the library and drawing on their experience of using the College library and other libraries in Cambridge for a more personal touch. Student-delivered inductions are practiced more widely at Westminster University, where FANS (Friends of Arriving New Students) show new students around the university, including a library tour and an introduction to the VLE. The Westminster FANS initiative is co-ordinated by the Students Union. The FANS go through a thorough selection process and are given in-depth training. The Students Union describe their approach as “more interaction, less bombardment”, which is one of the main things I am aiming for in my next round of inductions.

Learning through play

School librarian Cathy Foster (@callmecathy) wrote a blog post a few years ago with a recipe for a library induction which included a pirate treasure hunt with treasure maps, pirate hats and booty. This helped to get both confident and reluctant readers excited about exploring the library space. Cathy said “I like that it is very ‘sneaky learning’, you are covering the catalogue and the Dewey decimal system in a pretty crafty way. Also, again for the reluctant readers, the game is fun, and you really want to build some positive library experiences like this for these youngsters. And it gets them out and browsing the shelves, which I think is very important. Pupils can get a bit fixated on the library catalogue, I want them to feel happy and confident just looking around too.”

And games are not limited to school and public libraries! Universities are also incorporating games into their library inductions. For example there is a library welcome scavenger hunt at Sunderland University, and at York University Library they do a themed induction each year which in the past has included a code-cracking spy game. Ned Potter describes some of the ways York are rethinking inductions in this Prezi.

I’m looking forward to getting more ideas from our #uklibchat session on library inductions, and then it’s thinking caps on to come up with my own!

Annie Gleeson, Deputy Librarian at Magdalene College Library


¹ Morgan, N. and Davies, L. (2004) “Innovative induction: introducing the Cephalonian Method.” SCONUL Focus 32, pp. 4-8.

² Jones, R., Peters, K and Shields, E. (2007) “Transform your training: practical approaches to interactive Information Literacy teaching.” Journal of information literacy, 1(1), pp. 35-42

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This entry was posted on June 26, 2015 by in Feature and tagged , , , , .

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