5 Ways to Up Your Library Orientation Game

5 Ways to Up Your Library Orientation Game - Tips I've learned from 12 years of library orientations for middle schoolers.


This is my 12th school year as a teacher librarian.  That also makes it my 12th year of teaching some type of library orientation to my students.  Things have changed a lot over the years – from a pretty boring PowerPoint my first year to having to go to each socially distanced classroom individually last year, there’ve been many ups and downs to my orientations.


My Library Orientations Through The Years

At Stewart, I would have my student assistants create a “Do’s and Don’ts” video.   We’d come up with a list of things we wanted to share with the new 6th graders.  Then, my students would act them out in the video (i.e. DO enjoy creating with materials in the makerspace.  DON’T throw LEGOs at each other and make a giant mess).  The kids got a kick out of this and it was a fun way to introduce the norms and procedures of the library.  After watching the video, we’d have a card matching game where students had to decide if each thing was a do or a don’t. 

There were a few other slides just going over information I had to get out, but that was the majority of the orientation, besides leaving plenty of time to check out books.  ALWAYS leave time for checking out books – students are eager to get new books in their hands, and bringing them into the room and then sending them on their way empty handed is just wrong to me.

Slides and conversations

At Tampa Prep, I had been focusing more on information and conversations.  A semi-interesting slide show interspersed with conversation breaks at student tables, which gave me a chance to learn more about their reading preferences.  But I always felt like I was talking too much, and later on I would continue to get the same questions I had answered in the slides (How many books can we check out? When can we use the library?  Where do we return books?).  I knew I needed to change something.

Fast forward to this year, and after a year of crazy COVID schedules and hybrid learning I was finally getting to see my students in the library space for the first time in a year and a half.  All of my 6th graders and many of my 7th graders had NEVER seen the library when it wasn’t semi-closed for storage of our excess furniture that we removed from spaces to encourage social distancing last year.  I decided to find a way to make my orientations more interactive, put the learning in my students hands, and give them a better chance to get to know our library.

Our school is 1:1 iPad, which makes many of these activities easy to do.  But most of these could also work if you have enough devices to give one to each group of students.  You could even set up computer stations if you don’t have any mobile devices.


5 Ways to Up Your Library Orientation Game!


1: QR code station tour of library

I was originally calling this a scavenger hunt, but the students had numbered stations and knew which one to go to next, so it was really more of a tour.  I created QR code stations at 5 different important places in the library.  (Here are the signs I used if you want to get ideas of what they could look like.)  I divided students into five groups and had one group go to each station.  The codes took students to something I wanted them to learn about that area or an activity I wanted them to do.  These will likely look different in your library, but this is what I had:

The stations

  • Fiction station – This station had a QR code to survey students about their favorite genres and book suggestions for the library.  Library whiteboards were also on hand for students to write their favorite genres on there.  This station also included some info about how our fiction section is organized.
  • Computer station – Here I included information about how students can use our computers to print.  The QR code took students to the Library Resources page so they could get familiar with it.
  • Writing Center – This is a table in our library where students can get help with their writing.  The QR code went to a video tutorial about how to place holds in Destiny (made using Loom).
  • Check out desk – Here the QR code went to a short video of me explaining checkout policies, showing where the bookdrop is, how to checkout, etc.  It was a quick video I made on the fly with little editing, but it helped communicate what I wanted students to learn.
  • IDEAlab and Makerspace – I laid out materials and projects in our IDEAlab.  Students could write on the whiteboard what activity they were most excited about.  The QR code linked to the library Instagram account, but it turns out this doesn’t work well for those who don’t have an IG account.  Next year I’ll make a short highlights video of our Maker Day activities instead.

2: Interactive Quizzes

I don’t know about you, but my students LOVE Kahoot.  To help review what we learned in our QR code tour, I made a short Kahoot quiz going over the information I wanted to make sure they retained (i.e. What do you do if you lose or damage a book?  What color genre sticker do you find the fantasy books under?  Who remembers which Hogwarts House is Mrs. Rendina in?)

For my 7th and 8th grade students, I only had half the amount of time I had with the 6th graders, so we just did the Kahoot by itself.  It was a great way to refresh their memories about library policies they were familiar with from the year before.

3: Fun videos 

Students like videos.  Fun videos where other students act out or explain things are awesome.  Video tutorials explaining how to do things are great.  Even a video of you explaining something might help keep their attention more than you explaining the same thing in front of the group.  I was really happy with adding several videos to my orientation this year and I plan to make more in the future.

4: Survey your students

Depending on how your school works, orientation may be the one time where you get all of the students in your library at one time where it’s not connected to the curriculum in some way.   It’s an invaluable opportunity to get to know some things about your students and get their input. 

I created simple Google Forms surveys as a part of our orientation.  The first asked for students to select their favorite genres and make a suggestion of a book they liked for the library.  (Here’s a copy of the survey if you want to see how I formatted it).  I got SO many great suggestions for books to order!  I also got a good feel for what kinds of genres and books my middle schoolers are interested in.  The second survey was Books vs eBooks vs Audiobooks – where students would select what their preference is, and which types they read.  This helps me plan as I allocate my budget for print and digital copies of books.

5: Focus on what’s most important

It’s easy to overwhelm students at orientation.  Focus on what they need to know right now – How do they find books?  How do they use the catalog?  What happens if they turn in a book late, or if they lose a book?

Now is not the time to teach the Dewey Decimal system (I’m slowly working on de-emphasizing it in my library anyway).  It’s also probably not the best time to teach database research skills, or give tons of details about library programs.  I like to give my students the core things they need, an quick overview of other stuff they might be interested in, and plenty of time to checkout books and explore the library

Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good

I’ve been at Tampa Prep for five years.  Every year I’ve said I was going to change up my orientations.  But I was so worried about getting it perfect.  I would feel paralyzed and just go with what I’d always done.  Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.  Sometimes things might go wrong and that’s okay.  What’s more important is making a little bit of forward progress every time.

What have you done in your library orientations that worked well?

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