Do You Sudoku? Challenging incoming students with a puzzle

April 25, 2010, 5:06 pm

It’s about that time of year again. Orientation & Registration Season. Hundreds of kids (and their
parents) will be wandering around college campuses all across the country. Some
of them are still trying to decide where they should attend, while others have
made up their mind and are finding out more about their future school.

 We had one of these last week at UCSB and it was pretty
wild. At GT they spaced things out across two days and separated the various
groupings: academic departments, clubs & organizations, and campus services.
Here they combine everything into one event and it had a carnival- like

Photo 4 
Photo 5

I wanted to share our approach in attempting to
engage this audience of incoming and/or potential students. I didn’t want us to
just tell them facts about library because it’s too early for that. If you read
the book
(p. 123) I talk about timing and I still believe that timing is
everything. The need to discover and use the library should unfold in a natural
progression. Trying to talk to pre-freshmen about subject librarians,
collections, or borrowing privileges will fail every time.

I’m big believer in selling the idea of the library early on. Attempt to create a positive
first impression
. Most students don’t want to know about our book count or that
they can chat with us or any of that stuff—save that for later! What typically
happens when they attend these things is they get bombarded with information
and emotional stimuli; the last thing they want is a FAQ about the library. So
we mixed it up: we gave them a Sudoku puzzle.

Photo 3

 I really wanted to offer a puzzle or mystery or mental
challenge of some sort. I figured it would be cool to give them something to do
during the trip home– that they might not toss aside a puzzle without attempting
to solve it first. One of my emerging themes for our library is to raise the
bar of intellectualism on campus. Granted Sudoku is far from Shakespeare or
Sartre, but it plants a seed. It makes a statement, hopefully, that the library
is going to challenge them. That’s on my summer planning to-do list— but instead
of being just a destination for content and academic tools, I also want to
spark their sense of curiosity, creativity, and problem solving. 

 Ok, so we printed 200 copies of a Sudoku puzzle and
offered a $25 iTunes gift card via a raffle to participants. They had to solve
the puzzle and then enter in a sequence of the numbers via an online form. When
they went to the web page to enter their data they were greeted with a handful
of photos of the school mascot goofing around in our building and several
bullet points that introduced them to the library, basic stuff that is probably
different from their previous library experiences, namely the freedom to eat, talk,
and use the computers as long as they want. These points were presented in a very
informal and playful manner. It was all about trying to set a welcoming tone.

We gave away 126 copies of the puzzle and only 8 have
submitted their answers. They have until May 1 so perhaps they’ll start funneling
in any day now? A part of me is disappointed. I was hoping to have a larger
return rate. Conceptually it seemed like a solid idea. Despite the poor
follow-through, it was a success at the session. People approached our table and
were very excited about it (oh I love Sudoku, oh cool Sudoku, etc), it was a
great conversation starter / icebreaker and it drew people in who probably
would not have normally stopped to hear about the library.

In addition to Sudoku we gave away our Monthly
Scene cards
. It was great to be able to give away free music and many of
the students were intrigued to check out local artists. Looking at the web hits
could see a steady increase the week after this event.

So that’s that. As we all move into Summer and the students
return to register we’ll probably introduce another challenge of
some sort. I want to continue the idea of offering some type of mental amusement.
If you’re still planning your orientation strategy, I highly recommend Sudoku or some
other form of puzzle. Give it to them along with your traditional handouts– take that opportunity to surprise and delight them, and build up some good will toward your library

Some older posts about reaching incoming students:


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