A new look at orientation

AASL Forum, LM_NET, and other librarian ListServs were rife with orientation ideas this year; and all those great ideas got me thinking about changing up my orientation lessons. My usual tack is to use a scavenger hunt that asks questions such as:

  • “How many pages are in the book 13 Reasons Why?”
  • “How much does it cost to print?”
  • “What subject is covered by the Dewey number 645?”

Students seem to like them. The library is always full of giggling students cowering nearby in order to follow up with the task to “introduce yourself to your teacher librarian.”

But as always, my biggest question centers on “How can I introduce students to the library in such a way that they actually see what’s here?” What I did was serendipitously developed when I came across a quote, which came completely from left field. Here’s how it came about.

While helping another librarian weed her collection I spent some time looking at the rationale others use to justify to administrators why they are weeding so many books. The “Awful Library Books” webpage titled “Hoarding is not collection development” states:

“Remember – unless your library exists to archive and preserve materials for the ages, we are not in the business of collecting physical things. We collect information and provide access to information.”

I’ll never know why this statement jumped out at me as a way to think about orientation, but what clicked was the idea that all those books on the shelf encompass a vast view of the world and offer so much that students would find interesting to read and useful for their assignments if only they knew what was there.

So I devised this orientation for exploring the physical space of the library. Using the catalog and other resources was saved for another day later in the week.

1. I made individual Dewey posters (8 ½” x 11”) for each of the 100s category. On each poster I listed the Dewey range and topics covered within those numbers. Thus, 700s included sports, music, theater, magic; 800s listed poetry, plays, literature, etc.

2. I posted these on a white-board along with 6 topics: sports in America, art history, the Constitution, animal rights, World War I, and nutrition.

3. To begin, the students divided themselves into topic groups. Using the QFT questioning technique they wrote down questions about their topics together. Following the QFT process we discussed the different kinds of questions (open, closed) and organized them into similar topic groups, e.g. the animal rights table might place questions regarding ethics together, those regarding laws together, etc.

4. The students then reflected on the question “How do your question groups seem to relate to the topic groups (Dewey sections) as listed on the white-board?” This discussion led in interesting places with student groups moving things around or adding questions that could fit into each Dewey 100s section.

5. After this, their task was to divide into smaller groups of 2-3 of the same topic and then head to the stacks. They were to browse each section, and using their questions see if they could find a book that might likely or definitely would be included as a resource in an investigation for a research paper or project.

6. Their task was “to think outside the box” – browse with the big picture in mind – and choose titles that seemed interesting, possibly useful, or might change their mind about their topic or the content of their topic.

7. To prove their choices, they took group selfies of themselves with the book in each section.

8. They then emailed it to me at the library email address with their period, topic, and names in the subject line.

9. They had fun, of course, and some of the selfies were darn interesting. Some took pictures of themselves with a country book (900s useful for nutrition (“What do people in other countries eat?”)) in front of the big wall map. Some interesting group combos from individual groups:

Sports in America
The Baseball Encyclopedia (700s);
Latino Americans in Sports, Film, Music and Government: trailblazers (300s)
Moises Alou: Biographygames
Sports Injuries Information (600s)

The Constitution
Biography: James Madison
From Colonies to Country (900s)
The Amendments (300s)

Animal Rights
Animal Poems (800s)
Animal Rights Movement (300s)
Veterinary Guide (600s)

…and many many more. Each group was to have 9 images all together. (We mostly got 6-7.) What I hope this activity gave to students is the idea that their questions can lead them to topics… and browsing can also provide some insight into not just where books sit on shelves in the library, but the many kinds of books that can relate to topics of interest to them, but might not be “standard” report information.

In reflecting on the process, different students found books they never would have encountered. One girl was shocked to find out that not only did we have a book about dirt bike racing – a sport she lives and breathes every day – but that if she wanted to do a report that uses dirt bike racing in some way (health injuries in extreme sports, history of dirt biking, taking care of bikes, etc.) her passion can be the subject. Research reports can and should incorporate bits and pieces of our lives so that we can find touchstones to keep us grounded and interested. Students will be willing to go the mile in completing research projects if they have a hand in the game and have questions that they really want the answer to.

For our ELD class,we asked them to locate one book in an assigned Dewey section relating to nutrition. The quest itself lent time for nutritionstudents to locate a book, talk with each other about why it might be useful/interesting, and then return to their tables to write one to two sentences on why their chosen book might be useful for a report. They then reported to the class on their choices by reading them out loud. As they spoke, we wrote their topic idea on the white board. By the end of the period they had  incorporated reading and writing skills in with their questioning and locating skills. Because speaking in front of classmates is difficult for new language learners, it was especially fun to listen to the  group that had the 600s. They found a book  about survival skills and spoke eloquently about why finding good food in the wild would be important to keeping up good nutrition.

In my own reflection, I think it would be better to include some time or some sort of venue for all students to be able to justify their choices out loud or via a gallery walk. Sharing out would help expand the opportunity to see beyond their own group topic. While the classroom teacher(s) and I wandered and asked: “Why did you choose this book?” I think now, that sharing out would provide a bigger group reflection. A good thing was that we were able to demonstrate how to use an index, table of contents and estimate from the cover, and the call number to dig a little deeper to discovering why one book might be more useful over another.

I hope that you will add your thoughts on how to improve this idea; expand it; make it better. I enjoyed watching them engage with each other as they interacted with the material up and down the library rows and I hope that it encourages them to head that way now and then, on their own, in the coming 4 years of their high school life.


Author: Connie Williams

NBCTeacher Librarian and author of “Understanding Government Information: a Teaching Strategy Toolkit for grades 7-12”. Member of the CA State Library Services Board, and History Room Librarian at the Petaluma Regional Library [Sonoma County Library]. She welcomes all conversation.. give a holler!

Categories: Blog Topics, Collection Development, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

3 replies

  1. This sounds like a wonderful activity. For my freshman orientation, I talked about the importance of diversity in literature, and had students pair up and examine a book to see if there was any type of diversity represented in it. I had them input their information on a Google Form. I also had them play a Kahoot game I created to answer questions about LMC policies and activities.
    Just out of curiosity, did the students come to the LMC during one of their classes? Or do you have regularly scheduled classes?

  2. This was a grand experiment for sure. They came to the library both days – day one was this activity – looking at the kinds of books we have in the library – and day two was all about using the library website, getting any accounts set up.. much more task based. I’d love to do the same type of information-seeking with the on-line things also. These were all Freshmen English classes for this orientation. We do not have a fixed schedule, it’s all on a sign-up basis. I will often go into classes for brief ‘drop-in’ session of some kind [e.g. setting up their Noodle Tools account, quick book talk]. This saves time and makes the library less of just a place to go to and more of an idea that they can go to the library virtually. More and more, I’m encouraging teachers to let kids come in to work during class. They have their ipads and assignment so coming here to work will often be a great place to not only work with the technology, but pick up print resources, get some help from me, and hang out in a quieter environment [mostly].

    Your idea of having students look closely at a book is a great way to introduce them to diversity. I wonder if having them share out what they found would be of use? That way the whole class could see the wealth [ or lack] of diversity in the books they choose. A “60 second” book talk might entice their fellow students to read the book they talk about, or they might pick one that ends up intriguing them. Kahoot seems like a great way to share the ‘nuts and bolts’ of library things in a fun way. Thank you so much for these great ideas. I’m going to add them to the idea list!

  3. About to try this next week with my freshman. Any updates since you did it back in 2016?

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