What do arts students know about VCU Libraries? How do they find out what they know? What are the gaps in their knowledge? How can we fill those gaps to increase their awareness and use of library resources and therefore improve their experiences as students and creators? 

These are the sorts of questions Arts Research Librarian Carla-Mae Crookendale explored in a study  “The Art Student and the Library: A Library Use Assessment,” began in fall 2017 with a survey of 362 students followed by 16 interviews. She managed and reported the data in spring 2018 and her findings informed our creative strategy for heightened outreach to the School of the Arts. Rollout began in fall 2018. 

“Each of the 16 programs in the School of the Arts interacts with library resources in their own unique ways,” says Crookendale. Art history students report frequent library visits and use whereas dance students rarely use the building. Fashion students showed a marked preference for electronic resources while theater students were frequent users of print books. And a high percentage of all students reported lack of knowledge of vast streaming music and video offerings. 

“Art students do not readily see that their creative endeavors can be informed by exploring ideas using library resources,” she says. “Research for most art students is not about writing papers. It is about informing their creative processes or seeking inspiration. I’m looking for directions from my research findings to explore new avenues of outreach to better meet their needs.” 

After review of the first round of data and preliminary review of interviews with a focus group of undergraduates, the creative team decided to immediately focus on a literacy-level outreach to broad audiences. Crookendale would later refine her approaches in targeted outreach through a myriad of tactics, designed to achieve goals for more robust and measurable outreach in 2018-19.

The Communications and Public Relations office created a pilot campaign using a conceptual approach that could be replicated for other librarians and schools. 

Anecdotal reports and Crookendale’s data shows that many students do not know about liaisons/designated/expert librarians in their disciplines. Many faculty also are unclear about the expertise and the kinds of services librarians can provide. The Academic Outreach department for some time had pondered how to amplify outreach through promotion of individual librarians to targeted audiences. VCU Libraries has been successful with enewsletters (which receive high open rates) to faculty. But, the libraries had not yet created a sustained, focused campaign with the liaison librarian as the centerpiece.

This would be a pilot program, rolled out in the 2018 and continuing over several academic years. 

Our campaign would be in line with VCU Libraries’ high-level of creativity and excellence in materials. A tried-and-tired tactic in academic and public libraries is to create a poster featuring a librarian emblazoned with a tagline and contact information. With 2 million visitors annually to library buildings, posters are very effective in driving up points of contact. “We wanted to avoid the dull approach we’ve seen in some similar campaigns by other libraries,” said Communications Director Sue Robinson. “We nixed librarians dressed as superheroes or as football mascots or in costumes representing their favorite books. Visuals should be sophisticated, eye-catching, even provocative. We wanted students to turn their heads when they saw these posters. We wanted arts faculty to appreciate them as works of art. We wanted to be noticed. We wanted them to want a copy of the poster to hang in their dorm rooms. We wanted people to post the postcard of the artwork on their bulletin board. We want them to slap the sticker on their laptop.”

Artist and graphics designer Jeff Bland was commissioned to develop a visual collage that represented the two main areas of the School of the Arts: Visual Arts and the Performing Arts. This defining image would represent these departments/school in all new materials, including: 

  • Oversized and digital poster with contact info, name, link to online research guide11×17 poster for distribution to targeted faculty/schools/locations.
  • Postcard for handing out to student groups.
  • Direct mailed postcard to all faculty in target school/unit.
  • Sticker of artwork for giveaways at orientations/pop-up libraries/office hours 

These posters were displayed in library spaces on digital screens and in School of the Arts buildings. 

The arts librarian exceeded her numbers for outreach, due in part to the increased promotion and also increased face-to-face outreach through the research process. Improvements were in these areas:

  • One-on-one consultation appointments with School of Arts faculty
  • Consultations by emails and phone calls are up, compared to the same month last academic year. 
  • Attendance at pop-ups libraries. 
  • Hits on research guides saw increases, in some cases, substantive increases. Research guides that saw increases were Art Education, Copyright for Creator, Creativity, Fashion Design, Graphic Design, ICA, Interactive Media Design, Kinetic Imaging, Materials Research, and Sculpture. Some quite large. For example, the Art Education guide saw an increase of 112% and Kinetic Imaging 221%. 
  • Social media shares on target departments’ platforms.
  • Views of videos on Kanopy, a video streaming service rose.  

After the initial success of the School of the Arts collages, the project expanded to include images representing the School of Business, the Wilder School, the College of Humanities and Sciences and the College of Allied Health Professions. 

arts school collage_24x36_final (2).pdf

performing arts postcard_6x8.pdf

performing arts 11×17 poster.pdf

arts postcard_6x8.pdf



Categories Collections, Community, Faculty/Staff, Librarians at Work