What role does your school library play on Open Night? Indeed, does your school library even play a role? When prospective students and their parents stream into your school to assess its worth and suitability, how does the library impact their decision?
Our school held an Open Night last week. I want to share some of the ideas and insights that came to me as a result. My hope is that this might help other school librarians to harness the huge potential that exist on Open Night, in order for the library to:
- Become stronger and more influential in the school.
- Be a driving reason behind parents choosing your school over others.
Seeing The potential
When financial advisers talk about risk they usually mention two things:
- The risk involved with doing something.
- The risk involved with doing nothing.
It is useful to look at a library’s involvement with Open Night in a similar way. Perhaps your involvement will be ineffective? This is always a risk but it is an infinitesimal one if you have planned well. No participation or minimal participation (for whatever reason) means you take on the second risk scenario: the potential gains won’t see the light of day.
- Improved Reputation: reaffirm and demonstrate your professional expertise by literally showing what you have to offer.
- Differentiation: in marketing, a product stands out on the shelf when it is differentiated from other similar products. Why choose ‘that particular’ vanilla ice-cream over dozens of similar ones sitting right next to it? Somehow, marketers have made it look special and unique. Perhaps the ice-cream is not special after all? Nevertheless it receives buy-in. Unlike ice-cream, the school library is a special and unique entity sitting along-side the other parts of the school, but if it is to be viewed as such it needs to be differentiated.
- Product enhancement: If the school is a business, and teaching and learning is its product, a truly great library cannot help but enhance that product. A great school library is a ‘selling point’ for a school.
- Advocacy for your profession: by explaining to parents what a 21st century library should look like, you are fostering within the community, an understanding of libraries as dynamic and adaptable places that meet current needs.
All of this translates loosely to better exposure, more support and higher engagement from the school community. The specific benefits will depend on what you deliver and in which ways you impress.
What should Open Night look like?
You will need to be realistic and work with what you have, but I suggest the following minimum:
- Beautiful book displays.
- OPAC up and visible on the computer/s.
- Clean benches and a tidy front desk.
- Students – if you can get them to stay late!
- Examples of a pieces of work created by students through library clubs (such as a drawing, a story, a piece of knitting, a robot… ).
- A sample of all the most popular activities run at lunchtimes. For example, if you made badges, put the machine on the table next to a few sample badges, and stick some photos on the table of the event in question.
- Hands on! Include things that can be sampled or tried out by your visitors. For example, I placed a robot on the table with some obstacle course mats. Visitors could turn it on and run one of its programs (to watch it follow the black line or some other task). It was a big hit with the prospective students!
- Have a loose script, so that every group receives the key information from you.
- Talk about how the library supports the school.
- Talk about experiential learning and support for both academic and non-academic skills.
- Emphasise access and equity: stress the fact that all students have access to these activities, irrespective of their grades or subject selections.
- Mention the importance of new and emerging technology in young people’s lives, and demonstrate what you do to support that.
- Souvenirs: have some items on the table that parents or students can take with them. It could be a bookmark, a badge, a picture, a pen or something else. Whatever it is, it will travel home with the family and ensure you are not forgotten.
- You are one of the most important parts of the library! Make a lasting impression. Parents should feel as though they got to know you personally, and that your interest in students is personal as well as professional. Let your passion show, ask questions and express enthusiasm about families joining the school community. Pretend they have already chosen you!
After Open Night… give feedback
The principal and other teachers may not have been able to drop by to see your efforts. Chances are they were busy putting in 100% in their own corner of the school.
Make sure you send photos and feedback to the Principal, Deputy Principals and other teachers. This is your way of communicating the value of what you contributed, and of marking your place as an important contributor to the success of the night. Make a special note of comments made by parents. Include these as quotes along with the photos. This will give people a real idea of what happened in the library that night, and how the library was perceived by visiting families.
Lastly, jot down your thoughts about how the library’s contribution to Open Night might be improved upon next time.
Remember: Open Night is about being the selling point that you are!