Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Librarians as College Recruiters

I've written before about how student retention is part of the responsibility of academic librarians, that it takes a whole college to graduate a student, but the truth is that it also takes a whole college to recruit the student in the first place. That's why I've spent time, a lot of it recently, building a relationship with the office of admissions at my new institution. It was long overdue, but I finally attended an admissions department meeting recently and I'm so glad I did,

I'm not 100% sure what they were expecting, but when I said, "I want to know how I can help you," they were obviously, and pleasantly, surprised. (Well, everyone but the Assistant Director of Undergraduate Enrollment, with whom I'm friends because we bonded over our shared love of Doctor Who shortly after I came to campus.)

After that general offer of assistance, I talked to the members of the admissions department about why I want to help them. Not everyone realizes it, but prospective students and their parents do take the library into account when making a decision about colleges. You won't be shocked to hear that the ACRL has a guide for prospective students to use when evaluating university and college libraries, but it might surprise you to hear that US News & World Report has something similar. In fact, at my previous institution, we created a page on the library's website that linked to those two documents as well as to the admissions department's web presence.

After I talked the admissions department up, I made my big move and revealed the reason I had wanted to connect with them in the first place. And that was this: I offered to come up with a list of talking points about the library for the admissions counselors and the student tour guides. I have overheard some wonky things being said by people leading these tours in my six months here, and I wanted to correct them, but I didn't want to overstep my bounds and offend the very people from whom I want help. I've worked at colleges where admissions got a bit huffy about how tours were conducted and, while the library was encouraged to correct mistakes that were made, we weren't really supposed to tell student tour guides what to say. Those admissions departments had their reasons for wanting the content to come from the tour guides instead of the library. Since I'm still learning the culture of my new institution, I tread very carefully as I tried to further my agenda.

I'm pleased to say that my offer was very warmly received. Huzzah! A major librarian win over which I'm still smiling a couple of weeks later.

If you're curious, here are the points I sent:

  • Close to 40 computers available exclusively for students;
  • Access to/delivery of the materials of almost 50 libraries in the state of Delaware through the Delaware Library Consortium (if we don’t have it, we can usually get it for you in 3-5 days);
  • On campus access to some of the best electronic subscription based resources available, even from the dorms, and the library is close to making it so that anyone who is part of the Wesley College community will have access to these resources from anywhere with an internet connection;
  • Open 90 hours per week during the school year, including being open until midnight Sunday through Thursday;
  • In person assistance is available whenever the library is open, but we will soon be providing 24/7/365 online research assistance through the library’s website.

Since then, I've been doing some judicious eavesdropping. Some of what I've asked them to say was already in their repertoire, but most of those things weren't really on admissions' radar. I've heard them using the new talking points (yay!) and only had to pass along one correction to the assistant director. I want a consistent message going out to prospective students and their parents, so I'm going to have to keep vigilant. At the same time, I want to be sure to keep the admissions people happy, so I don't want to ride them too hard about it. The whole thing will be a balancing act of sorts, but it will be worth it.

Besides, when all else fails, I can interact with tour groups myself. Seeing the director when they come through lets parents know that we aren't kidding about the personal attention students get in a small college setting and it lets prospective students know that I'm approachable. That way we all win.

How about you all? Those of you who are (or who want to be) academic librarians, how much do you work with your college/university admissions department? Any tips to pass along?


  1. This is timely! My colleague and library director are meeting with Admissions staff next week. Our college is currently in RECRUITMENT CRISIS MODE after a shortfall in freshman yield this spring and our new admissions team wants to get talking points from all academic departments for tours and recruitment efforts.

    I'll share this post with my colleagues. Thanks!

  2. I am right with you on cringing a bit sometimes when student tour guides say some strange things to prospective students about the library. We are a small, small university and keep one copy of required textbooks on reserve for use within the library only. The tour guides always mention this and say "So you don't have to buy your textbooks!" or something similar and I just want to launch myself through the air slow motion style yelling "Nooooo!" Our cohorts are about 70 students each and if 70 students are fighting over one copy of a textbook (especially the week before an exam) because none of them thought they needed to buy their own copy, people get pretty cranky (and blame the library). I've asked the admissions department to please ask their tour guides not to say this, but they still do. It's a little frustrating. Tour guides also say "rent" instead of "borrow" and I always worry that they are giving the impression (to prospective students who understand the difference between the two words) that they will have to pay a fee to take things out of the library.
    Good for you for taking a more active role. My admissions department has been pretty reluctant, but you've inspired me to give it another try.

  3. Outstanding. I admire your library's use of your website to welcome prospective students. Hadn't seen those articles and your viewpoint is right on, especially for small colleges. I've also found our enrollment folks willing to work with us. At the same time, my take on tours has been that prospective students and families are innundated with information both verbally and visually, so if folks at least leave with a good impression without being seriously led astray, so good. Thanks for an excellent and instructive and thoughtful post.