Freshers’ Week: The Five Things Every Academic Librarian Will Understand

by Leanne Workman, Information Consultant (Sciences) at Royal Holloway, University of London. @notsospotless 

This weekend the summer vacation lull has been ended by excited new and returning students flooding our campus and bringing it back to life once again. For us librarians at Royal Holloway, University of London, it is an incredibly exciting time as we’re opening our new £50+ million library and getting students’ reactions to the new space! It must be said, however, that during Freshers’ Week it can be hard to get students excited about libraries and the resources available to them!

Whatever it may be called, “Freshers” or “Welcome” week, is something that happens at every university at the start of a new academic year and it does provide an opportune moment to get the library on the students’ radar.

So here is my short guide written with 5 years’ experience of working in academic libraries and facing my 6th Freshers’ Week at Royal Holloway. And truthfully? I am still learning…

1) Meeting students – old and new – is always my favourite part of the job as an academic librarian.

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The start of session is a fun time of year and we have an opportunity to meet hundreds of students. It makes me remember my own Fresher days and then I face the stark realisation that my references are no longer cool and I secretly have to look up what some words used in a conversation mean.(Peng for example. And I am still not quite sure I know the answer…).

Cool or not, academic librarians love to get stuck into Freshers’ Week!

2) Students can find academic libraries intimidating. I was really surprised by this myself, as I love libraries and find them comforting, awesome places, but they do not always inspire these feelings in everyone.

Library anxiety is a recognised issue and has been widely written about, but it is something you can actually see in action on campus, particularly at this time of year. Many, I find, have never used a library in their life before and the size and scale of an academic library can be downright daunting. So you have to be understanding, even if they are in their third year and only just rocking up to the library now. Meeting a friendly, understanding librarian will make all the difference to their experience of the library.

3) Library inductions are a common feature of many a Freshers’ Week and seek to impart key messages about library services (e.g. opening times, how to find books, how to loan books, online resources, etc!) Library inductions, in short, need to be useful and informative. The librarian here has a tough job, as these inductions are often squeezed

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into a tight timetable in a week where students face information-overload at a time of incredible change for them. They’ve probably left home for the first time, realised they don’t know how to cook or do laundry, and they have to get to grips with a whole other level of studying in a truly alien environment. The library services, unsurprisingly, probably come lower down in their priorities.

That said, it doesn’t mean that librarians cannot try to impart this information and there is a myriad of ways librarians have found to make the induction as effective as possible. There are a lot of schools of thought on teaching by librarians (check out the Journal of Information Literacy and the number of articles on library inductions! Also see here for a blog post from UKLibChat on increasing student engagement in library inductions.)

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At Royal Holloway, we try and make library inductions fun with as little text as possible, complete with some humorous images to make it memorable. We use an interactive quizzing tool at the end (Kahoot) to see what they can remember from the talk. There is a chocolate-based award for those scoring highest. This year I will also trial using an augmented reality app called “Aurasma” to get students navigating their way round the library. It is a bit like Pokémon Go and my use of it was inspired by several talks at the LILAC conference this year!

4) Reading Lists – from having worked on the helpdesk and now as an academic liaison librarian, I know that reading lists can be problematic. The first (and main) problem is often getting the list in the first place and therefore having the right books on the shelf. (And between you and me, having the right books on the right shelves is bloomin’ important to students and their studies!)giphy (5)

Academics will often send lists at the last minute no matter how far in advance you ask and remind them. They often think that you can “just use Amazon Prime”, but unfortunately, that really isn’t the case and book orders can take 4-6 weeks to arrive. Most universities are part of a purchasing consortium, which invites suppliers to bid for our business. These bids are then ranked and those in the consortia then must use those suppliers ranked highest.

Many academic libraries use an online reading list system (we use one called Talis Aspire) and this has helped improve transparency to students about what texts the librarians think are on the reading list for that course. Reading lists systems link up to the library catalogue so students can see how many copies of that text the library has or where to access an article. In short, it is quite frankly amazing!

5) You will likely get Freshers’ flu from all the student interaction. It is known.

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Stock up on Lemsip, cough sweets and boxes of tissues now! In the meantime, drink orange juice or sink Vitamin C tablets like there’s no tomorrow.


So here concludes my top five things to know about being a librarian in Higher Education during Freshers’ Week! It is an immensely busy week, but filled with fun, interacting with students and excitement. I love this time of year (though I often need a long lie down after!) I hope I haven’t scared any of you off, and do tweet us if you have any questions @lisnpn as I am happy to help in any way I can.

(All gifs are taken from