Interview with an Outreacher

by Cynthia Condit

Once upon a time in a law library in the great desert southwest, a law librarian sat pondering. She wanted to reach out to law students but didn’t know what to do. Fortunately, she had a fairy godmother, which came to her rescue and said, “Put on
a law library Fun Fest in conjunction with law school orientation!” She thanked her fairy godmother and set about forming a Student Fun and Outreach Committee to bring the idea to fruition.

Okay, so maybe it didn’t happen quite that way. But the librarian did have an idea to put on a library Fun Fest, and she gathered together a gallant group of Outreachers who, for the past four years have put on a library Fun Fest outreach event for incoming 1Ls during orientation. Luckily, she granted me a few minutes of her time to talk about it and offered some tips for creating and running a successful event.

Me: Tell me about your planning process for Fun Fest.

LL: We begin planning in May and select a Head Outreacher, someone to oversee everything. Next, we brainstorm for a fun theme. This year’s theme was “Law School’s a Beach.” We also form committees and assign duties.

Me: How many people are involved?

LL: We have a small group of creative and enthusiastic law library Fellows to draw on. The rest come from the library’s technical and public service areas. This year, a total of ten people were involved.

Me: What kind of committees do you have?

LL: There’s a committee that obtains donations for prizes and food from the community. After four years, we have a good list of donors we rely on, but we’re always on the lookout for new ones as well. Usually a team of two starts contacting potential donors in mid-June. We make a thank-you sign for donors that we display at Fun Fest and personal thank-you notes are also sent out to each donor. Donations vary from coupons for a sandwich to a free yoga lesson.

Me: Wow! A free yoga lesson?

LL: Cool, right? We got around 150 of these this year from a local yoga studio.

Me: Other committees?

LL: Decorations, food, and games/activities.

Me: Tell me about the decorations group.

LL: Decorations are based on the year’s theme. The beach theme this year was really fun. We had an inflatable blue dolphin that we filled with helium, and we attached helium-filled balloons. It floated around the library during the event. Everyone wanted to take it home. The decorations committee also make a banner for the event. Luckily, we’ve always managed to find someone who has an artistic flair and can create something special.

Me: I bet you transform the library.

LL: We do! We always have lots of colorful balloons and streamers. This year we added some beach balls, inflatable crabs, and other beachy stuff. One of our Fellows created a gift basket using a sand pail and shovel set. Everyone dresses up a bit to match the theme – this year it was Hawaiian shirts and floppy beach hats. Our Head of Circulation dressed up in an old-fashioned men’s swimming suit complete with a boater hat.

Me: Wish I’d been there to see it! What about food?

LL: We usually stick with a popular frozen slush drink from a local restaurant chain, soda floats, and a cake.

Me: Do you have vendors – Westlaw, Lexis, and Bloomberg – at the event?

LL: Yes, except Westlaw wasn’t here this year. Students can meet the reps, ask questions about password and registration info, and pick up a little bit of swag. The bar review vendors also set up tables. BarBri and Kaplan usually provide us with gift certificates worth $250 or $500 to use toward the cost of a course to give out as prizes.

Me: What about activities and games?

LL: The therapy dogs that come every year are probably our biggest draw. They’re furry people magnets. We also have a “guess the number of candies in the jar” game. Our Head of Tech Services came up with it and is now our official Candy Man. The winner gets the whole jar.

Me: Does anyone ever come close to the actual number of candies in the jar?

LL: Actually, yes! This year someone was off only by two pieces. The total was 168. But the guesses are all over the place. This year the spread was 850 for the highest and 56 for the lowest.

Me: Any other favorites?

LL: The Skittles Death Match has become pretty popular. Two students pair off and using  straws, they try to suck up all the skittles in one cup and put them into another cup faster than their opponent. A fishing game, new this year, was a hit. Students “fished” off the main level balcony to the lower level reeling back a prize attached to the hook. Students had a blast. We almost ran out of prizes.

Me: Any other tips?

LL: It’s helpful to have one or two people stationed at each activity to encourage participation. Some students are shy, but once the ice is broken everyone has a great time.

Me: Last question: what kind of feedback, if any, do you get?

LL: We do get feedback, and it’s always been very positive. The Associate Dean said, “Yes – I heard lots of ‘wows” – great job by the library team (as always).” And the Dean noted, “[I]t appears that your staff outdid themselves for Library Fun Fest. Please pass along my thanks to all the people who worked to make it happen. It’s a memorable experience for our new students.”

Me: Sounds like you’ve latched on to a great outreach event. Thanks so much for talking with me!

LL: Yes, it’s worked out well so far. We’re already looking forward to next year’s Fun Fest!

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