What you do in the first week matters

First year student carnival

First year student carnival

When my mother got married, my grandmother told her, “whatever you do in the first week of your marriage will set the tone of the rest of your life.” The first week my mom got her hair washed and set at the beauty parlor. Months later she told my dad she wanted to hire someone to come once a week to clean the house. My father could not understand why she’d want to waste such money (money that was less than she spent on her hairdo.) When she gave up her weekly hair appointments, my father asked why in the world would she give that up? She did it every week, for goodness sakes! Moral of the story: my Bubbe was right.

Small, expected things can add up.

Small, expected things can add up.

Which means: we need to start planning for the first week of school. If you are a public librarian: what relationship do you have with neighborhood schools? How will you address homework help and kids coming in after school? Academic librarians are most likely NOT thinking about orientation yet, but a really good, engaging program requires planning (and maybe swag) that should be considered now. Many school librarians probably feel overwhelmed by the number of schools they are now required to serve in less hours with fewer resources. All good reasons why a good plan thought out now can get the school off to a meaningful start.

Some ideas to get you started:

  • If you have social media, assess your strategy. Can you tell what posts garner hits/feedback? If not, consider regular “features” such as staff profiles, your own version of a Throwback Thursday, Friday Funday (highlight something fun/weird/interesting in the library.) This way you can start to assess what your followers want in a more systematic way instead of throwing out posts. Also, consider a month-long push to get new followers (bribes are great.) Hootsuite is an effective way to manage your social media including scheduling posts and reporting analytics.
  • Host a party with no bait-and-switch. The Helen C. House Party at UW-Madison is an excellent example of this. The undergrad library puts on a party each year just for fun. Staff highlight skills (palm reading or hosting ninja tag or creating crazy scavenger hunts) for students. They invite local pizza joints to donate pizzas and have students vote on the best local pizza. They have crafts. They have fun. At Carthage, I put on a first year carnival which introduced new students to our resources via carnival games such as bean bag toss, prize wheel, and duck pond. It’s a popular event that the RAs bring their floors over for.  Public libraries should consider some back-to-school event to let patrons know how their local library supports student success especially as more school libraries close, lose staff, and don’t add to their collections. If you are a public librarian who is not working with your local schools, perhaps this is a great opportunity to start. See if you can get invited to their back-to-school nights or have a float in the Homecoming Parade with your TAG.
  • Small things make a difference. Start a puzzle for patrons to work on at their leisure. The students at my former library loved doing the Today in History white board we put up at the entrance. And patrons loved it; they noticed when it was not updated! Small, expected activities/rituals cultivate engaged patrons.
  • Consider your swag wisely. Our students mentioned everyone passes out pens, but they need pencils. Done! Don’t put too much information on the item. And don’t include URLs unless they are short and sweet. At Carthage, we passed out microwave popcorn bags with a sticker highlighting DIY videos we created for first year students. It alleviated having candy wrappers thrown around our library because they had to go home to use the item. Ask older students and RAs what swag they really wish they had gotten their first week/day. The answers are often surprising and much cheaper than our pie-in-the-sky ideas.
  • If you do get to visit a local school or give a ten-minute schpiel at orientation, use it WELL. Consider this: they’ve been sitting for long periods of time having people tell them stuff they don’t need right now. They are full of fear, trying to look cool, and figure out who their friends are. Make an impression rather than try to impress information on them. Make a crazy video with your TAG or student workers (adapt the zombie guide to a quick video, perhaps or do a Big Brother parody in which the winner uses the library to win.) Host a trivia contest: pick out contestants, ask trivia about the school/what professors expect from papers/anything, give out a fun prize to the winner. Make it different, make it interesting, make it interactive. Leave them by reminding them you are nice and will help them with research. They will remember what you did and that they library did not bore them to death.
  • Check out  this post from ilovelibraries for facts about library use and more ideas to inspire you to get started planning for back-to-school now.

Let us know what you are planning for back-to-school. And let us know if you would like to write up your back-to-school experiences including the good, the bad, and the ugly by emailing lizz.zitron@gmail.com

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