My alma mater FINALLY retired their racist Native American mascot a few years before I attended. Being politically correct enraged alumni and current students alike who felt ditching an outmoded, insulting representation took away from their school pride. They were so upset they regularly raised $15,000 to rent out the basketball stadium on campus in order to host The Last Dance, at which the old mascot performed. People shelled out their own money to pay homage to a costumed character they felt in their souls represented something important to them. That’s kinda crazy and also very telling. It also means we need to pay attention and totally steal from established, successful forms of outreach, my fellow librarians.
My library had adopted a mascot before I came: a giant version of those wooden men art students use. A librarian bought it from a sporting goods store that was closing for $50. He stood, naked, behind the Help Desk when an enterprising, creative student named Clayton started dressing him up. We were launching a new knowledge base called Albert, after Einstein. Clayton dressed him up as Albert Einstein. Clayton and I started planning other costumes for our mascot who became Holz (German for wood. We let the students pick his name.) We set up a Facebook page for him (which we are slowly building up). He’s been Wilma Flintstone (celebrating the anniversary of the show), the Easter bunny, a graduating senior and currently is a hybrid of Lincoln and Cupid. He is also pretty popular on campus.
During freshmen orientation we set up a booth at which you could get your picture taken with Holz. We printed them out, but will email them next year as most students wanted an electronic copy for their profile pic. Holz announces important events and information through Facebook and signage. We’ve gotten feedback through our online help ticket system from folks saying they love seeing his costumes. We’ve gotten more mileage out of that $50 than some of our other pricier endeavours.
The coolest part is that Clayton, Holz’s artistic director, gets to use his creative skills on the job. Rather than having him dust shelves during slow times, we give him the opportunity to use and develop his skills and interests. He has become a valuable student worker because of this. At another library at which I worked, we regularly had our student workers with art skills design elaborate white boards conveying important information. Students regularly took photos of these boards and asked about the artists to compliment them. I love working for places that realize student workers bring unique skills that we can benefit from. There will always be dusting we can do, but valuable student workers eventually leave us. What they leave us with and take with them is entirely up to us.