Marketing first impressions: academic libraries creating partnerships and connections at new student orientations.

Author:Rhoades, James G., Jr.


Creating positive perceptions of academic libraries can occur at more than just the reference desk or during library instruction. Librarians can and should take advantage of other occasions to promote their library. New student orientations provide an ideal opportunity to be more innovative and proactive in creating first impressions of library resources and services. When librarians become involved with orientation programs, positive interactions can begin before students even start their first semester.

Orientation programs are designed to help students adjust to university life and ultimately improve retention rates, graduation rates, and grade point averages. Many studies show the success of these programs. For instance, Busby (2002) states, that at Stephen F. Austin State University, "the average GPA of the college freshmen who attended orientation between the years 1986-1994 was 2.11 on a 4.0 scale with a standard deviation of .059. The average GPA of the college freshmen who did not attend orientation between the years 1986-1994 was 1.73 on a 4.0 scale with a standard deviation of .077" (p. 46). Becoming familiar with university resources like the library is one way students adjust to university life, and the earlier students learn about the library, the sooner they can begin to use it to improve their research skills. As Tenofsky (2007) explains, "Librarians can make a difference in these students' lives [...] These collaborations will benefit not only the library and the students, but also the institution with its retention efforts" (p. 292).

A common element missing in library participation in new student orientation is a distinguishable role outside the walls of the library. Salzer (2003) discusses the idea of promoting resources and services outside a physical library by saying, "Librarians must take a proactive approach, viewing strategic marketing of their services and resources as critical to their continued survival"(p. 4).With this idea in mind, Florida State University Libraries became involved with the university-wide orientation program. In this article, we examine this proactive way to market first impressions of the library outside the library facilities.

Literature Review

This literature review focuses on how libraries are reaching first year students and how orientation programs benefit those students.

Efforts of libraries to reach first year students

There is not a great deal of literature on the role of libraries in university-wide orientation programs. Alexander, Gaither, and Tuckett (2000) describe the University of Michigan Libraries' role in new student orientation, and discuss effective techniques for reaching students. Tenofksy (2007) emphasizes collaboration and describing the success that followed working with the university's orientation services. Utah State University Libraries assessed their involvement in a for-credit freshman orientation program called Connections, which reaches approximately 1,200 students and takes place the week before classes start. Cahoy and Bichel (2004) discuss an interactive and informal library open house as an alternative to traditional library orientation at Pennsylvania State University. Most articles examine marketing efforts for undergraduates, instruction programs aimed at first year students (either in first-year experience courses or through English composition courses), or living learning communities.

Some of the literature shows librarians searching for ways to effectively market and promote library resources and services. According to Nims (1999, p. 251), says that "[p]romoting is simply employing creative ways to make library products and services visible to users." Block (2001) believes a successful library is one that informs users about services and convinces them to use them. Noel and Waugh (2002, p. 2), contrasting marketing efforts at Indiana University Libraries and Abbott Laboratories, acknowledge that "getting users to use the library and making them aware of the library's services" is an important ingredient in success.

Librarians are concerned with the effect of library instruction on first-year students. The University of North Texas assessed their collaboration with the English department to provide instruction for two core curriculum classes. Byerly (2006) explains the importance of these classes for establishing a foundation for students, stating that the library uses "this one-shot session to lay the foundations of information literacy by providing instruction on basic research skills, catalog searching, database searching, and finding help from a librarian" (p. 590). Other academic libraries, such as Central Missouri State, are being innovative by promoting to freshmen the benefits of semester-long library instruction courses, which they market to the students before they have even arrived at campus (Lawson, 2000).

In recent years, many university libraries have made attempts to become involved with living-learning communities. At Kent State University, "the librarian team believed that the library had a unique role to play in enhancing the first-year experience for these students. Becoming involved with learning communities could be an opportunity for librarians to provide additional guidance and nurturing of students' information literacy skills" (Voelker, 2006, p. 73). Involvement with learning communities gave them many chances to interact with students outside of the library. Frazier (2006, p. 28) reports on the benefits that the librarians at SUNY at Buffalo received from participating in learning...

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