If you give a student a cookie…

I have no problem with the old bait-and-switch. As long as the switch is actually USEFUL to your patrons and not just self-serving, then why not bribe them?

Ah, because bribery could appeal mostly to extrinsic motivation, you are worried. It’s a valid concern. Hence when designing outreach activities I ask myself the following questions:

  • What intrinsic motivation(s) could I tap into here?
  • What extrinsic motivation(s) am I appealing to?
  • Do the two work together in a fairly balanced manner? Or could the intrinsic get totally lost here?

It’s okay if occasionally the intrinsic does get lost. Examples of when I’m okay with this happening include activities the student leaves with a positive impression of the library and staff. Once I’ve answered those questions, I have to decide which I’m going to lead off on: the extrinsic or the intrinsic. Often, the decision is made for me. When students had to follow entirely new procedures this past fall in order to register for classes, it was easy to design outreach. Telling students, “if you don’t do the following you can’t register for classes next semester!” got right to the point and their motivation. Students are busier (and not just tending to virtual farms) and so often I cut right to the intrinsic motivation, adding a little extrinsic cherry on top (candy, for example) to sweeten the blow that they have real, internal reasons for needing to know which database will help them find business stats.

You're the one

But then there are those times when I get to “hawk my wares,” as one professor so kindly puts it when he sees me with a tray of cookies in one hand and laptop in another.  That’s when I use the old bait-and-switch in all its subtle glory. I should mention it usually involves cookies. The upside is that students I don’t know will come up to me and ask when I’ll have cookies again. Other students are known to yell down the halls, “Lizz is here with her cookies again!” Luckily “cookies” is not euphemism here. A few things I do:

  • Once a month choose a Resource of the Month to demonstrate, outside of the library and classroom. I set up a computer with giant monitor in a busy student area during lunch. I have a tray of cookies*. I ask students if they need a free cookie. They almost always do and then feel compelled to ask what I’ve got going on. I then show them (I get my one-minute schpiel DOWN before I do this) whatever the Resource of the Month is. Note: I base which is the Resource of the Month on what’s going on in curriculum. Is it paper time? Then I show off a database other than Academic One File most students can use. Students do not always remember what I show them, but they remember when I see a few of them closer to paper due dates, that I showed them SOMETHING that was helpful and could I please show it to them again…now that they actually need it!
  • When we changed our registration system, I got a cart, loaded it with cookies* and handouts about how to use the new system and walked around campus. “Need a free cookie? Need to register? Come see me!” (Out of respect, I stayed away from our Starbucks because I love the staff there.)
  • I am working on a program for younger kids being mentored by college students. This one is multi-layered bait-and-switch! The college students often bring their mentees, in a group, to campus to provide positive college experiences for them. I am working on a mystery called “Who Stole the Cookies?” The mentees and mentors must all work together to solve clues as to who stole the cookies so that they can find and eat them. Clues will be hidden in our catalog (using QR codes for some) and in books. They will have to use knowledge found in books and databases to make sense of clues. They will have to pool clues together to make sense of them completely. The library becomes a fun place in which knowledge is immediately useful and at their fingertips. And we shall not eat the cookies in the library.
  • I toss rubber duckies at first year students for thoughtful answers in instruction classes. I do this early on in a class, usually by asking “so, why bother learning how to do research?” It grabs attention and students start saying, “I want a duck.” Yes, football players want a cheap rubber ducky I got from Oriental Trading Company. This is tricky. It’s tricky because they can start shouting out answers, good or bad, in an attempt to get more ducks than their friends. I tell them honestly you have to EARN a duck for participating in a meaningful way. I am often surprised at how they react positively to this and do start to take the class more seriously. I end with two contests and the chance to win a duck. They have to find a peer-reviewed article on Britney Spears (thanks, Theresa Carlson for this). First to find gets a duck. If others find articles using different search strategies or databases, they can win a duck, too (driving home the point that there is not just one way to do something.) Then I ask them to find a non-Wikipedia encyclopedia entry on something like gnomes or fairies in Iceland (shows the breadth of what our reference collection covers.) This idea comes from one of my best library school professors, Betty Bush. She started each class with a trivia question with a rubber ducky as prize. I proudly display my three ducks in my cubicle.
    So yes, this is a case in which extrinsic motivation is the prevailing one. I admit that honestly. That said, it’s a great trick for when you work with students for the first time. They WILL remember a librarian who threw rubber duckies at them. They will have a positive association with the library. And they will know that peer-reviewed articles are being written about Britney Spears.

Good luck with balancing ex/intrinsic motivation when planning programs. I often find I never know what will work or how until I try it. Luckily I can learn for you and will continue to share.

Oh, and I DO NOT bake the cookies myself.

*It helps to have a supervisor who will reimburse you for cookies and encourages their use.

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