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Reimagining outreach to students: A tale of two Florida academic libraries

April 15, 2019

By Barbara G. Tierney, Linda K. Colding

Librarians share student outreach efforts to promote student success

This article is the second of a two-part series highlighting outreach activities at two universities: University of Central Florida, which serves 68,000 students and 1,900 faculty, and Florida Gulf Coast University, which serves 15,000 students and 526 faculty. This article focuses on student outreach efforts to promote student success. The first article in the series highlighted outreach activities to faculty.

University of Central Florida and library background

The University of Central Florida (UCF), the nation’s second largest public university, enrolls over 68,000 students and offers 92 bachelor’s degrees, 83 master’s degrees, and 31 doctoral programs.  UCF Libraries supports a subject-librarian service model that offers one-stop librarians to assist graduate and undergraduate students.

Twelve subject librarians and eight campus librarians, across seven campuses, cover 65 subject areas. (In addition, six of the subject librarians also have “engagement librarian” duties discussed below). Librarians reach out to their assigned students by providing face-to-face and online library instruction classes, workshops, one-on-one consultations, research guides, customized research videosopens in new tab/window, online “service checklists” for undergraduateopens in new tab/window and graduate studentsopens in new tab/window, and printed informational pamphlets. Also, to further support student success, UCF’s library director allocated an initial sum of $10,000 to create a print textbook collection that targeted high enrollment rate courses (such as GEP) and courses with high student failure or dropout rates. Subject Librarians publicized this textbook collection in their e-newsletters.

This model also prioritizes the visibility and accessibility of librarians, with strategies that include short welcome videosopens in new tab/window from subject librarians, research guides that include appointment scheduling modules, and consultation request forms linked from the library website’s home pageopens in new tab/window.

Engagement librarians

UCF Libraries also allocates percentages of six of the subject librarians’ annual assignments for additional “engagement assignments” with specific student populations (such as graduate students, undergraduate research and honors students, first-time college students, transfer students, online students, and global/international students). These “engagement librarians” participate in student orientations and welcome events and frequently serve as a student’s first introduction to the library. Engagement librarians often refer students to an appropriate subject librarian for in-depth research assistance.

An engagement librarian and student at UCF’s graduate student orientation

Both engagement and subject librarians also use other types of face-to-face opportunities (visits to student clubs and student sections of professional organizations) as well as online interactions (targeted emails to members of student groups, with the student’s name in the salutation) to reach out to targeted populations.

Co-curricular library programming

Since 2017, subject and engagement librarians have been collaborating with their assigned academic departments and faculty to sponsor many co-curricular programs (on subjects such as STEM, business, or diversity) at the library.  These usually involve a combination of faculty speakers, book displays, crafts, or a film screening, and are scheduled the same week as the related campus event.

For example, the science librarian collaborated with the physics and planetary sciences faculty on a “Total Eclipse of the Sun” program (main image in this article). She also partnered with biology faculty to sponsor library programs connected to Earth Day and the Sea Turtle Walk. The business librarian collaborated with her faculty on a “Business, Coaching, and Mentoring” programopens in new tab/window that was part of a larger series called “Libraries Bridging the Gap between Innovation and Entrepreneurship.”

Earth Day Seeding Program at UCF

The graduate student engagement librarian collaborated with the College of Graduate Studies to offer graduate workshopsopens in new tab/window, and the patent librarian collaborated with UCF’s Blackstone Launchpad Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership office to provide patent and trademark programs. The campus’s Diversity Week was celebrated with a series of library-centered diversity programsopens in new tab/window. In addition, a weeklong series called “Become an Information Expertopens in new tab/window” was very successful.

Engineering and Science Librarians (center back) coordinating an IEEE Panel Program

Motivating students to participate in library events

To ensure high attendance, the subject and engagement librarians often invite faculty to bring their entire class to these library programs. They also motivate students to participate with “LINK Lootopens in new tab/window” incentives—a fun and profitable tie-in with the libraries’ website and app (Goosechase, LINK@UCFopens in new tab/window). To receive LINK Loot, students attend programs listed on the UCF Libraries website or app and check in using the app. It’s not hard to find a LINK program because one occurs practically every day. Students can use their accrued LINK Loot at end-of-semester events. Prizes at events typically include TVs, Xboxes, movies, video games, digital cameras, theme park tickets, UCF spirit items, and more.

Florida Gulf Coast University and library background

Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) is a teaching university with approximately 15,000 students representing 46 states and 87 countries. FGCU offers 58 undergraduate, 26 graduate, and five doctoral programs. The library’s Reference, Research, and Instruction Department is home to seven subject librarians, a department head who also serves as a subject librarian to one program, and an instructional support specialist.  The subject librarians conduct the bulk of outreach to students as well as faculty.

Textbook Affordability Project

Student success is the focus of the FGCU subject librarians, and one important initiative is the Textbook Affordability Project. The initial $40,000 budget was provided by the provost and began with a reserve collection of undergraduate textbooks that could be borrowed for two hours and used in the library. The initial collection did not include every required textbook; the priority was purchasing textbooks that cost $100 or more or were for courses with high failure and dropout rates. The library worked closely with the campus bookstore to negotiate a 25 percent discount; the rationale was that once students opened the book and realized how much they needed it, they would purchase their own copy. The library is nearing completion of this project’s second semester and is eager to analyze the results. At the end of the first semester, textbooks loans represented just over one-third of all undergraduate loans. The subject librarians made it a priority to spread the word to faculty and students, and the faculty newsletters and research guides embedded into our Learning Management System Canvas courses provided information about the project.

A reserve shelf of textbooks, part of the Textbook Affordability Project

Library Student Ambassadors

The FGCU Library Student Ambassadors support their peers’ research and information literacy needs. Initially, the ambassadors observed and shadowed subject librarians, but as they gained skills and knowledge, they began leading programs and instruction. The ambassadors shadow reference librarians, provide research assistance and mobile librarian services, observe instruction sessions and workshops, lead or co-teach activities and workshops, and create instruction activities.  The ambassadors also represent the library at Eagle View Orientations, staff tables for Week of Welcome events, provide library tours, create promotional materials, speak with students at residential assistant meetings, and create library displays.

Welcome Event

The FGCU Library’s welcome event is held annually during FGCU’s Weeks of Welcome.  Each year we create a themed scavenger hunt. Past themes include Pirates, Willy Wonka, Clue (based on the board game) and Travel (based on the TV show The Amazing Race).  We greet students at the main entrance and give them a guide. At each stop, they receive information and get their guide stamped. The stops include the computer lab’s help desk, the reference desk, the stacks, the circulation desk, study rooms, and the archives and special collections.  When the students have all six stamps, they turn in their guide and spin the prize wheel. This fun-filled event introduces new students to the subject librarians and our many services.

Research Day

FGCU faculty guide students in conducting research, both inside and outside the classroom, that contributes to the local community, shapes policy within Florida, sets trends on the national landscape, and begins dialogues all over the world.  Subject librarians have also assisted students with their research. Sponsored by the Office of Research and Graduate Studies, Research Day is a yearly event where students give oral presentations and present posters about their research. This has allowed subject librarians to form relationships with students and expanded their roles, including serving as judges for these poster sessions. The awards include the Dean’s Award by college for best graduate poster and best undergraduate poster and the Distinguished University Research Awards for the best graduate poster, undergraduate poster and oral presentation.

Research Day with library judge

Outreach Events

The library’s student engagement committee plans student-oriented activities such as the Library Escape Room, NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) Write-In, and Blind Date with a Book.  While these activities may not directly relate to student research, they do encourage students to view the library as more than a quiet place to study or find a book. In addition, the outreach committee sponsors Move-In Day.  At this annual fall event, librarians and library staff help students move into the resident halls by providing directions, water and a helping hand. It always helps to have family support when encouraging students to use the library.



Barbara G. Tierney

Head of Research and Information Services University of Central Florida Libraries, Orlando, FL, United States


Linda K. Colding

Head of Research and Instruction Florida Gulf Coast University Library, Fort Myers, FL, United States