Underground Above Ground: A New Demonstration Series
The following post is authored by Reference Librarian Kate Britt (University of Michigan Law Library).
This summer the librarians at the University of Michigan Law Library began brainstorming ways to reach the greater law school community, both for general outreach and goodwill and to increase awareness and use of library resources. While our Reading Room is gloriously situated as a pillar of the Law Quad, our library is literally underground, which physically separates us from the rest of the law school. We wanted to meet students where they are, provide them with information when they could use it, and ideally become part of their law school experience. We shared ideas in many meetings and Google Docs, finally settling on a series of “Demo Days” as part of a program called “Underground Above Ground.”
The Underground Above Ground series consists of one-hour demonstrations or outreach events (respectively called “Demo Days” or “Hey Days”) held in the hall outside the main student commons area. In order to choose time slots for these events, we compiled a spreadsheet of when every class lets out, rounded roughly to the half hour. If several 1L classes let out on Tuesdays at 1:55, 2:10, and 2:20, for instance, we may schedule a demonstration for Tuesday from 2-3. Our pacing in this inaugural semester is one to two events each week.
After collecting and discussing many ideas for content, the librarians decided on about a dozen topics to demonstrate throughout the semester. We attempted to coordinate the content with students’ general needs. For example, in the second week of classes we presented bullet journals as an organizational tool; two months in we shared strategies for selecting a seminar paper or journal note topic; right before exams we will promote our collection of study aids and other study guide materials.
For each Demo/Hey Day, we reserve a table in the hall and arrange to have a monitor and laptop available. Presenters create a handout that summarizes the demonstration content and has a QR code that links to a relevant research guide, webpage, or other resource. For most demonstrations, presenters will create a slideshow that loops on the monitor. These slides both highlight the major points of the demonstration and catch students’ eyes. For the demonstration on our Wellness Collection, the monitor simply showed relaxing nature scenes as an oasis for weary souls.
Additional materials on the table vary from session to session. Often the content of the session dictates the spread: bullet journals for bullet journaling, study aids for study guides. Most of the time we provide a snack, like donuts, candy, bananas, or trail mix. We also put up signs to alert oncoming foot traffic to our demonstration.
One of the many lessons we took from the AALL 2018 presentation on Lightning Lessons was to grab students with an inescapable question. “Do you want to learn about study aids?” Absolutely not. I’ll keep walking. “Are you taking any hard classes this semester?” Well, yeah. What do you have to say about that? Sometimes it takes a few tries to nail a good intro question, but once you’re asking the right question you don’t have to depend on student interest to bring them to the table. Once the students realize we are not trying to sell them anything, they usually show genuine interest in the information.
In the midst of presenting, we are also tasked with recording statistics for each demonstration. We have a template on which we tally students who look at the material but don’t interact, students who ask questions or talk with us, and faculty interactions. At the close of the hour, we count how many handouts were taken (we start with 20 and have only run out once). We have a common spreadsheet to input statistics. In addition to the previously mentioned numbers, we record the date, day, time, snack, and presenters, in case we can identify any patterns.
Every attempt has been made to align Underground Above Ground materials with the Michigan Law brand. The handouts and slideshow use consistent headers created by the communications department. We work with the school colors, fonts, and logos wherever possible.
More exciting for our purposes are the ways we’ve created a library-specific brand. The Underground Library is identified in the series title. “Underground Above Ground” is also between two arrows (one down, one up), drawing on our library slogan Go Underground ↓. Our real calling card involves the distinctive green carpet in the Underground Library. We use green in slideshows and promotional material. We even purchased a green tablecloth to use for each demonstration. The color stands out from the Michigan maize and blue, and immediately identifies who we are.
Demo Days are promoted using flyers posted on bulletin boards across the school and in the library. We have recently entered the social media realm with Law Library Twitter and Instagram accounts, which we use to promote events a few hours before they begin and while they are in progress. Visitors to the Law Library homepage will also see the next few scheduled Underground Above Ground events, scheduled using LibCal.
The online home base for the series is a LibGuide. This guide includes a listing and short description of upcoming demonstrations. Once an event has passed, the event’s box moves to a second page, where the event is described in more detail. Associated handouts, slides, images, and other relevant links are also added. This makes it easy to share the information with students who were not present at the demonstration. Promotional flyers include QR code links to this page, and social media posts also send students to the LibGuide for more information.
As stated at the outset, our two major goals for this venture are library outreach and increased awareness of resources. Regarding outreach, we are certainly becoming familiar faces to students who otherwise don’t visit the library. While it is difficult to measure intangible successes, there seems to be more recognition between students and librarians, general goodwill toward the library, and a breakdown of the barriers historically enforced by our location.
Our statistical record-keeping is still in the early stages. Since we are largely testing the waters, we are uncertain what the demonstration stats will tell us. In time we will also consult the library usage stats we’ve always kept–reference transactions, resource usage, etc.–and perhaps be able to track whether any upticks coincide with demonstrations.
So far we are happy with the successes of the Underground Above Ground series, and we look forward to growing positive relationships with the students and greater law school community with each Demo Day.