How Do We Want Students to Feel About the Library?

March 29, 2012, 2:52 pm

This article has been lingering in my subconscious: How Companies Learn Your Secrets

There are good insights into companies monitoring buying habits with the goal of building better relationships. This is the main takeaway:

Once consumers’ shopping habits are ingrained, it’s incredibly difficult to change them. There are, however, some brief periods in a person’s life when old routines fall apart and buying habits are suddenly in flux.

Having a baby is one of those critical moments when everything becomes chaotic and new habits are formed. Target is on the lookout for women who start purchasing prenatal vitamins with the assumption that they are pregnant and hence, they can start advising or conversing with them along those lines. Target tries to position itself as the one-stop-shop for the busy mom. Amazon is also in on this as they offer a free year of Amazon Prime to new mothers.

I’ve observed how this flux can alter consumer behavior first hand with my wife. Not only does she love Amazon Prime now, but she also gave up Starbucks (formerly a daily ritual) in place of Panera because it had a drive-thru. When you struggle to get your kid in a car seat a drive-thru becomes your preferred destination.

How does this apply to libraries? Once study and work routines are ingrained I imagine it is difficult to change them. If you never use the library building it is likely you’re not going to start. Those first experiences seem to make or break it for a lot of students I’ve spoken to over the years. It becomes a place they love, a place they hate, or a place that’s “ok, but nothing special.” My mission right now is to transform our library into a preferred destination for academic work. A place that students feel enables or empowers them to succeed better than other locations on campus.

I wrote on this theme of forming good habits earlier and it’s still simmering in my mind. If we think about these life-defining chaotic moments then the first semester of college has to be one of those key times. Leaving home, moving away, losing friends, independence, academic stress, pressure to succeed, opportunities for fun and romance. It’s a swirl of commotion.

And it’s a perfect time for establishing a relationship with the library.  I want to explore this a bit, but my feeling is that instead of “knowledge authority” the objective should be for something more primal. Let’s link the library to feelings of accomplishment rather than to collections. Let’s play the empathetic card, rather than the info lit one. Let’s build upon mystery and serendipity to counter intimidation and anxiety. Let’s employ engagement practices rather than a purely task-oriented appeal.

I don’t have anything concrete right now, just pondering. But my thoughts keep coming back to this article and the opportunity we have to reach freshmen, transfer students, and international students as they enter. How does the library become a positive habit? A positive idea? (My wife will probably say I’ve been watching Inception too much, but that’s the basic goal.)

I’ve been talking informally with a handful of freshmen about their first year and I’m looking to expand my reach into residence halls this fall so I can soak up those initial weeks firsthand. But I feel this inception has to happen soon than that. Once they are here it’s almost too late. The relationship has to begin months before they move in. Just like Target and Amazon want to reach excepting mothers, rather than just new mothers. The relationship has to be forged before they arrive and then reinforced once they get to campus.

The question isn’t what do we want them to know about the library, but rather, how do we want them to feel about the library?

Book Recommendation: The Power of Habit


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