I’m writing this as I watch 60 students take exams in the library. For a few of them, it’s the first time they’ve been in here all year, but I’ve already had conversations with most of them about their classes throughout the fall. Flexible scheduling is a mixed bag. I love that I can work with a class every day for a month if requested, but I hate that there are classes that have never set foot in the library. I’ve found that my biggest challenge isn’t connecting students to library resources; it’s getting students to realize all of the ways that the library can make their lives easier.
I’ve been thinking about Katie’s awesome post earlier this week about marketing to students. It turns out that more of my job than I expected is simply marketing. I need to get students to walk through the door because showing up is the first step, right? From there, it’s a hop, skip, and a jump to “real” library work. Here are some thoughts about making that first step.
- Food is the easiest method. Students (and their teachers) are drawn to sugar. Keep a steady supply of candy. It’s important to keep it close to you. It’s less about free food than about saying hello as people approach.
- Have what they need. This goes beyond traditional library resources. For the first few years, I didn’t buy index cards, highlighters or tissues because they weren’t specifically part of my budget. Experience over the past few years has shown me that sometimes a student is just as happy to find a glue stick as a primary source.
- Keep the printer close to your desk. Not only does it magically stop paper jams and students accidentally printing out 40 copies instead of 4, it’s a great way to listen to students talking about their classes and offer impromptu advice.
- Showcase them! Teens love to look at photos of themselves and each other. Talk to the yearbook teacher about using some of their extra pictures, or ask teachers to take photos when they leave campus for field trips.
- Know student names. And use them. Students respond differently when called by name, and they assume (sometimes incorrectly) that if you know their name, you know quite a bit more about them.
- Ask for help. Frustrated that your iPad is only printing double-sided? Want to know how Instagram works? Care for opinions about whether Androids are better than iPhones? Teens are happy to be the expert, and if you take their responses seriously, they won’t think any less of you just because you asked them for help. In fact, they might be inspired to ask their own questions.
- Reconnaissance with teachers can work wonders. If you meet at the coffee machine and ask about projects, you’re most likely to hear about the ones that aren’t working out so well. Target those students specifically or have the teacher draw up a time for the student to visit you.-Follow up online. Each time I introduce a research project and a student is brave enough to share their preliminary ideas for group brainstorming, I take that idea home with me. For one or two students in the class, I’ll do some database searches and email them a promising article. Believe me, they tell their friends. Bonus points if you can subtly (keyword subtly) turn this into a conversation about why your findings are more authoritative than theirs.
- Don’t take yourself too seriously, and don’t try to keep up with what’s cool. Even if you’re not going to stand with a microphone telling jokes, post library or book-related comics. I have a wall of cat memes, with the occasional T-Rex comic. Kids often ask how they can add their own.
- Be yourself. Teens see through facades, and they don’t respect them. You can still be professional while letting your spirit and sense of self shine through. Lower school students I’ve never taught know me for riding my bike to school. Upper school students all know I love John Steinbeck and F.S. Fitzgerald, though I’m frustrated by Faulkner. What do your students know about you outside the library?
You’ve probably noticed that almost all of these work similarly. I’m realizing that I spend my days baiting “student traps” that tempt them with what they want and are mutually beneficial to us both. The key is to start a conversation with students once they’re in the library. Get them talking, and listen to what’s important to them. It’s not just about schoolwork. Being a teen is tough, and some days a student isn’t going to be able to work on a paper until she’s processed her thoughts about a falling out with a friend. One of the benefits of independent schools is the low teacher-student ratios. Make students feel important and valued, and you will gain their trust.
These are some tips that have worked at my school. Every school is different. What ways have you found to get students to open up to you? How do you make students more comfortable in the library?