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Magazines > Marketing Library Services > July/August 2024

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MLS - Marketing Library Services
Vol. 38 No. 4 — Jul/Aug 2024
Reaching First-Year Students in Their First Weeks at Loyola Marymount University
by Ray Andrade and John M. Jackson
Presenting LMU Sue to first-year students.
Ray Andrade fist-bumps a student in this still from the 2024 library welcome video.
The William H. Hannon Library’s 2024 outreach team poses with a promotional whiteboard.
(L) Activity at the check-in table during the 2022 Library Open House; (R) John Jackson puts outreach into action, “barking” to passing students to draw them into the 2023 Library Open House.
Getting college students to come into the library and use its resources within their first semester is correlated with higher retention rates and grade point averages, according to research published on the academic success of college students. Knowing this, the outreach team at Loyola Marymount University’s (LMU) William H. Hannon Library creates messaging and programming that is hyperfocused on getting students into the building and helping them to see the library as an essential part of their journey from move-in weekend to commencement day.

The Hannon Library serves the LMU campus in Los Angeles. Located on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean and the northwestern corner of the Los Angeles basin, LMU is an R2 institution (“high research activity”) that enrolls more than 10,000 students across its undergraduate, graduate, and law school programs. In addition, it employs more than 2,000 staffers and faculty members. The Hannon Library is the sole library on LMU’s flagship Westchester campus. It houses approximately 613,000 print books, more than 6,000 bound periodicals, and more than 5,600 linear feet of archival collections, in addition to its electronic resources. The library is operated by 48 full-time staff members and approximately 100 part-time student employees. Its annual expenditures exceeded just more than $10 million in 2022–2023.

We co-authors—student engagement librarian Ray Andrade and head of outreach and engagement John Jackson—are one-half of the outreach department, which leads the library’s efforts in reaching its diverse user populations through events, exhibitions, marketing, publications, tours, and orientations. The outreach team, which also includes event manager Chan Harris and programming librarian Rhonda Rosen, hosts 45 public programs and 15 exhibitions each year on average. Of particular note, Andrade currently leads the library’s video production work, and Jackson leads the social media and email marketing strategy.

The Hannon Library’s outreach team strives to get every new student into the building within their first semester. The following article details some of the ways we co-authors have succeeded and failed at those attempts over the past 5 years, beginning with orientations and continuing through the first month of the semester until the library’s annual open house.

Shifts in Undergraduate Orientation

Orientations for undergraduates have changed significantly since the pandemic. Before then, librarians would step on stage in front of hundreds of new students to essentially host “undergraduate story time,” telling the tale of one first-year student’s journey in using the library’s collections and services. In collaboration with LMU’s Academic Resource Center (ARC), we created a fictional character named LMU Sue (portrayed by a then-current LMU student and orientation leader) and told her story through the use of an image-heavy slide deck and carefully written script.

This narrative took the audience through an adventure—complete with conflict, friendship, and last-minute rescues—wherein LMU Sue capitalizes on services offered at the ARC and the library, such as research consultations with librarians and writing tutors at the ARC. While preparing our script, we intentionally worked in the phrase “friendly and helpful librarians” more than 20 times. Coupled with positive images of LMU Sue interacting with librarians and being in our space, this helped us cement the library’s “friendly and helpful” brand.

First-year students’ reception of the LMU Sue character was a surprising success. At one presentation, hundreds of students erupted in applause at the story’s conclusion and started chanting, “Sue! Sue! Sue!” Don’t believe us? We got it on camera: https://www.instagram.com/p/B1hctIOgfHO.

To further extend the “friendly and helpful” messaging initiated by the LMU Sue presentations in summer 2018, we collaborated with the ARC for side-by-side tabling at high-traffic locations across campus throughout the first month of the fall semester. On many occasions, students visiting the library’s table would recognize us and say, “friendly and helpful librarian!” We used these opportunities to remind (and sometimes quiz) students about the services that LMU Sue used to successfully complete her first semester at college. Given the presentation’s success, we repeated it in 2019 and would have kept using it, but the pandemic took away LMU Sue along with the practice of hosting large, in-person orientations.

Since 2020, all first-year undergraduates’ initial encounter with the library has been through videos hosted within a series of required online learning modules. Between 2020 and 2023, new students were required to watch two videos on the library orientation module. The first is a 1:22-minute video produced in 2018 that simply offers a friendly “welcome” in multiple languages, featuring full-time and part-time student workers (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s12ou4QvOdQ). The second video is almost 5 minutes long and has more in-depth instructional information (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pq3H8BP62Nc). Produced during the 2020 lockdown, the second video is informative but lacks live action, since we had to rely on still images we had access to while working from home.

However, starting in fall 2024, all first-year undergraduates will see a new, professionally produced 2-minute library video featuring a senior outreach student staff member, Lia, offering advice on the “top 3 things you should know about the William H. Hannon Library”—outstanding collections, research support, and special events. Featuring actual front-line reference librarians, the new live-action video captures a diverse cast of staffers and students having meaningful interactions, thereby demonstrating the library’s support and care for students (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qw3j5dnyDsM).

This new video concludes with a personal message from senior Lia to new students:

Looking back at my 4 years at LMU, the library has become my home because of the genuinely caring faculty and staff who have constantly supported me throughout my LMU career. As you begin your LMU journey, I encourage you to experience the library for yourself. Discover how the library supports your academic success and brings our LMU community together.

Though we no longer present to undergraduate-packed auditoriums, the use of short, engaging videos embedded in the orientation experience sets the tone for all future interactions with students. As we describe further on, we continue to reinforce the messaging and “vibe” of these videos through events like Welcome Weekend and our annual Library Open House.

In addition to the general orientations offered to all students, we also provide orientations for specific student communities, including (but not limited to) first-generation student cohorts, transfer students, international students, athletes, and students of African descent in The Learning Community, an annual program for up to 36 carefully selected participants. We deliver informative yet memorable library orientation experiences for these niche communities, especially those that require additional onboarding to the college experience. For example, we provide up to 1.5 hours of face time in the first few weeks of the semester with first-generation and Black student communities by holding Library Orientation and VIP Tour experiences for them. The orientation component (30–45 minutes) introduces them to services, collections, and outreach programming, and the tour component (30–45 minutes) takes them into staff-only areas and special collections, which is typically the highlight for many students.

Graduate Student Orientation Challenges

Orientations for graduate students have also changed significantly since the pandemic. Before, we offered two back-to-back, 30-minute presentations in person as part of an all-day program. On average, each presentation would attract more than 20 graduate students, sometimes packing out the presentation classrooms. Since the pandemic, general orientations for graduate students have remained virtual. We are only permitted to offer one session, and ours is one among many other equally informative and useful sessions. Not surprisingly, attendance has been low since 2020 (between three and 12 students). So, to better connect new graduate students to the library, we have deployed multiple outreach strategies.

This has been a challenge. The directors of the graduate programs in our six colleges each handle orientations differently, and the amount of time allotted for library presentations can range from 5 to 45 minutes. While we have achieved some success by collaborating with our colleagues in the reference and instruction department to provide in-depth orientations for graduate students in five of LMU’s six colleges, we have not been as successful in attracting graduate students in the remaining one, the college of science and engineering.

To tackle this, we took a page from our undergraduate orientation work with specialized groups. We worked with our STEM librarian and the associate director of graduate programs at the science and engineering college to promote a Library Orientation and VIP Tour exclusively for graduate students in the sciences. We promoted the event via personalized email invitations and the college’s internal newsletter. In our communications, we highlighted free food and drinks. Unfortunately, only seven students attended. Targeting science graduate students at the college level has not worked. In the future, we may try to work more closely with the directors of specific graduate programs in the science and engineering college, as we do with the other five colleges.

Welcome Weekend and the Library Open House

As we noted earlier, orientation is only the first attempt at establishing our brand identity among new students. We continue this work throughout the first few weeks of every fall semester. Along with orientations, we participate in a number of campus activities during LMU’s Welcome Weekend. These have included back-to-back, 15-minute tours with a concluding interactive activity (e.g., inviting new students to use Post-it notes to add their aspirations and goals to the library’s lobby wall) as well as setting up a library booth outside our entrance with branded merch and large posters featuring photographs of our services, collections, and events.

We even dipped our toe into the waters of AI this past year by using ChatGPT to help us generate 300 unique positive affirmations that were printed onto small scrolls tied with ribbons and distributed to new students as they walked by the library’s entrance. All of these high-touch, face-to-face interactions enable us to extend the impact of the orientations.

Of particular note, for the past 6 years, we have hosted a Library Open House within the first month of the fall semester. Targeting primarily first-year and transfer students, this event aims to reduce library anxiety by introducing new students to our “faces and places.” All of our employees are expected to participate in the event. Student attendees learn about setting up research consultations, reserving group study rooms, searching the catalog, navigating the book stacks, accessing the variety of rare items held in special collections, and more. We modeled our open house after that of Texas A&M University Libraries (German & LeMire, 2018) and set up stations throughout the building, each hosted by different library departments.

However, this event has a unique problem: It’s held close to the beginning of the semester, so there isn’t much lead time to get it onto the calendars of new students. Moreover, we haven’t had enough time to lock these first-years into our more established digital communications channels, like social media and email newsletters. So, in order to successfully attract an audience, we have to pound the pavement.

In this particular case, we utilize other campus units’ pre-established communications networks. Units such as LMU’s main marketing and communication team and the office of student affairs already have communications channels that are guaranteed to reach students: For instance, they are not able to opt out of the LMU This Week emails that go to all students, faculty, and staff. Additionally, anyone who participates in student organizations is required to use a Campus Labs-based platform named LMU LEO in order to manage their rosters. Leaning on these two already-established channels enables us to reach students who haven’t yet had a chance to follow the library on social media or subscribe to our email newsletter.

We also promote the event to faculty members who teach two classes that are required for new undergraduates. By creating customized email templates for them to send to their students, we build faculty awareness and make it easy for them to build student awareness.

We also rely heavily on face-to-face interactions. Every week, the university hosts an outdoor event called Wellness Wednesday. This program brings together local food vendors, campus organizations, and artists in a farmers market-style setup situated in the central crossroads of the campus. We staff a library table at every Wellness Wednesday leading up to the Library Open House, promoting the event by enticing bystanders with custom stickers, a prize wheel, and samples of the raffle prizes that students could win by attending the open house, such as bedazzled library T-shirts. You have to have a gimmick, as they say! All we ask is for students to share with us their email addresses, which we then add to a distribution list that sends out weekly reminders about the upcoming event, teases new raffle prizes, and encourages students to share the open house information with their friends.

This street-style marketing doesn’t stop on the day of the event. Never underestimate the power of having a good carnival barker! We have learned over the years that having a gregarious (and loud) student or staff member positioned outside of the library just before and during the first hour of the event, and equipped with nothing more than a large whiteboard ad, is a remarkably effective way to pull in a few dozen extra attendees, especially for an event like an open house where folks can drop in and leave as they please.

The cloistered nature of a college campus, especially one with a large residential population (approximately half of all students, including 95% of our first-years, live on campus), offers us the opportunity to deploy and foster some of the most effective marketing techniques in our toolkit: face-to-face conversations and word of mouth.

Increased Email Marketing

When we first started working in academic library outreach almost a decade ago, email was definitely not the first channel that came to mind when determining how to reach college students, but in recent years our thinking on this has begun to change. Surveys of our own students as well as recent reports from both inside and outside our industry show that email is increasingly the preferred method of communication between college students and university faculty and staff (Jackson, 2024). Moreover, it is the reported way students prefer to stay up-to-date on library happenings.

Armed with this knowledge, we have drastically increased our email marketing efforts. It’s tempting to jump on the latest social media platform or student engagement system, but when it comes to fostering word-of-mouth and library-to-student information sharing, email is where we are seeing the most return on our investment in time and resources. Open rates for student-focused emails frequently reach 50% or higher. So while “I heard about it from a faculty member” is still the number one response when we survey students about how they heard about library events, email regularly comes in second place. Moreover, with email outreach, we know we are reaching students directly, as opposed to our social media audience, which contains a mix of campus units, other library professionals, and community members.

A Multi-Method Ecosystem

Starting with the knowledge that using the library within their first semester at college is correlated with academic success, the outreach team and the Hannon Library have employed a variety of tactics to get students in the door. By creating engaging orientation videos, promoting the library at in-person campus fairs, fostering word of mouth by working directly with niche communities, leveraging existing communication channels and email marketing, and hosting an open house early in the semester, we have cultivated an ecosystem in which the library’s brand can take root and thrive.


German, E., & LeMire, S. (2018). “Sharing the Value and Impact of Outreach: Taking a Multifaceted Approach to Outreach Assessment.” Journal of Academic Librarianship, 44(1), 66–74.

Jackson, J. (February 29, 2024). You Don’t Need X: How Email Marketing Triumphs Over Social in Campus Communications (conference presentation). SCELCapalooza 2024, Los Angeles.

Ray Andrade is the student engagement librarian for the William H. Hannon Library at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He holds an M.L.I.S. from San Jose State University in California. Andrade has more than 10 years’ outreach experience within an academic library setting, with special attention to orientation efforts and serving traditionally under-represented student communities. His email address is raymundo.andrade@lmu.edu.

John M. Jackson is the head of outreach and engagement for the William H. Hannon Library at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He holds an M.L.I.S. from San Jose State University in California. Jackson has more than 10 years’ experience leading outreach and promotion programs for academic libraries. His email address is john.jackson@lmu.edu.

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