Making Winners of Students and
the Library: Publicizing a New OPAC
by Luke Vilelle
No library-related web interface is as closely associated with the library as its online public access catalog (OPAC). Frequently the conduit through which the community interacts with the library, the OPAC is usually the only way to see the library’s holdings.
For this reason, perhaps no change to a library’s online presence engenders as much emotion as a change to the OPAC. In the case of the University Libraries at Virginia Tech, the library staff believed those emotions would be overwhelmingly positive — if the community would just use the new OPAC.
Library staff knew anecdotally that students preferred not to use the old web OPAC (called Addison), which had featured the same navigation and appearance since its debut in 1998. Librarians used the telnet version of the OPAC because it was faster and showed information that wasn’t always displayed in the web version.
Upon the debut of the new Addison in August 2005, the library needed to spread the word that this was a user-friendly catalog. The OPAC implementation team, following instructions from library administration, designed the new catalog with undergraduates as the target market. The library wanted to ensure undergrads knew about Addison’s new advantages. The library marketing team1 had the task of informing them, and received a $1,500 allotment from the administration to do it.
Library student workers,
when asked what type
of prize would induce
them to participate in
the contest, chose iPods.
The team wanted to do more than tell students about the new Addison; having students try it out was the prime goal. The marketing team discussed taking a public relations angle — an approach proven successful by the Baylor University libraries in celebrations to commemorate the passing of the old OPAC and the birth of a new one 2 — but decided to focus more on user education in order to convince students that the new Addison was worth their time. By offering a low-cost giveaway to all and valuable prizes to a few, the marketing team introduced a significant number of Tech students to the new Addison.
First Approach: Low-Cost Giveaway
The team’s first, and more traditional, approach to promoting the new interface was to offer an inexpensive giveaway to all customers, including students. The team wanted the item to feature more than just the name and URL of the OPAC.
The team chose sticky pads (a generic version of Post-It Notes) to convey the message. The design featured the words “New Addison” in bold, with the tagline “You’ve never seen a library catalog like this.” The web address for Addison (http://addison.vt.edu) was on the next line. Around the border of the sticky notes, eight brief bullet points about new Addison features could pique a user’s interest. A faded version of the University Libraries logo filled the background of the sticky notes’ writing area. Two thousand sticky pads cost $789.
The team began handing out the pads during Virginia Tech’s Move-In Week, the week prior to the start of the fall semester when most of the student population returns to campus. The new Addison was a primary focus in the library’s canopy on a pedestrian mall. Library personnel distributed library literature and free lemonade to passersby. More than 350 students received library information during the three days on the mall. Most took one or more sticky pads.
More pads reached the community during a week-long “Addison tour” two weeks into the semester. Two library staff members with a book cart, balloons, and promotional materials visited a different spot on campus for three hours each day. The library table averaged about sixty visitors per day.
A passive approach worked to distribute the rest of the sticky pads. During the first week of the semester, the outreach librarian placed about five Addison sticky pads next to each of the library’s sixty-plus computers. Most disappeared within a few days. Distribution within the first semester was a priority, given that Addison could only be “new” for so long.
Homemade bookmarks, designed by circulation staff member Mary Lucado, complemented the sticky pads. The circulation department gave a bookmark, which identified the self-service circulation options in the new Addison (requesting a book, renewing your book, checking due dates, etc.), to nearly every patron who checked an item out during the first couple of months of the fall semester. Circulation distributed about 2,000 bookmarks.
Second Approach: Valuable Prizes
The marketing team spent the rest of its $1,500 on prizes for a contest that would introduce students to the new OPAC. The team chose to purchase iPods because of their strong appeal to the student population. Library student workers, when asked what type of prize would induce them to participate in the contest, chose iPods. The marketing team purchased four iPods for $626.
To be eligible to win an iPod, students had to answer four multiple- choice questions (see https://survey.vt.edu/survey/entry.jsp?id=1122917485414) correctly using the new Addison. The team, which wanted students to be pleased with their experience in the new OPAC, designed a set of easy questions that would highlight new features in Addison. An optional, open-ended question concluded the entry form: “We’re interested in your opinions about the new Addison. If you have any comments or suggestions regarding the catalog, please enter them here.” Virginia Tech’s web-based surveying tool, survey.vt.edu, enabled the creation of the contest entry form.
Next came the hard part: attracting entrants. Publicity for the contest centered on an image of the Hokie Bird (the Virginia Tech mascot) wearing an iPod, created by library staff member Robert Sebek. The graphic mirrored the silhouette images that had gained popularity in iPod television advertisements. The team included this image on all publicity materials — postcard-sized fliers taped next to the computers in the library and handed to students during outreach events, large posters hung from the library canopy during Move-In Week, and a student newspaper advertisement.
Sebek, a library news administrator, also maintained a link to the contest in the library announcements section of the home page. Other routes for publicizing the contest included a public service announcement (PSA) on the campus radio station and fliers sent to all dormitory resident assistants, in the hope that they would pin the fliers to their bulletin boards.
The contest opened on August 17, five days before classes started, and entries slowly trickled in — fifty over the first five days. The goal for the contest, one thousand entries, seemed far away.
Momentum started to build upon the start of classes. An average of forty-eight students entered each of the first four days of classes.
On Thursday, August 25, a presentation about the contest at a reference department meeting encouraged all librarians to mention the contest during library instruction sessions and at the reference desk.
This tactic helped heighten awareness of the contest, as did the previously discussed Addison tour of campus. The week of the Addison tour, the second week of classes (August 29–September 4), drew the most entries — 358 — of the three full weeks during which the contest was held.
The largest number of entries on a single day was 103 on September 13, the next-to-last day of the contest. This indicates that perhaps continuing the contest another week or two would have proved fruitful.
The marketing team set September 14 as the contest entry deadline because the team wanted to mesh the iPod giveaway with the library’s fiftieth anniversary tailgate party on September 17. In retrospect, contest entries might have received another bump from the hundreds of students who attended the library tailgate celebration.
The only paid contest advertising was an ad in Tech’s student-run newspaper, the Collegiate Times, that ran September 7 and cost $85. The seventy-nine entrants that day were the most of any day that week, but the most important part of the ad was the showcase of comments students had made about the new Addison.
Of the 1,179 contest entrants, 511 answered the optional final question, giving the library a rich set of feedback. Some comments helped the OPAC implementation team identify problems with Addison, such as a too-small typeface and a too-large search screen. The vast majority, though, offered comments such as “It’s stupid-proof” and “I am actually looking forward to doing research in the library,” which the advertisement featured.
“I am actually looking
forward to doing research
in the library.”
The library newsletter, Off the Shelf, which is distributed to all library donors and university faculty, has included these comments. The library dean found the comments helpful in illustrating the popularity of the new Addison, and has used them in presentations and in thank-you notes to university administrators who helped the library acquire the new integrated library system.
The contest’s 1,179 entrants included 820 undergraduates (3.8 percent of the undergrad population) and 349 graduate students (5.5 percent of the graduate population). Of the 1,179 entrants, 1,018 got all 4 questions right, and so were entered in the contest drawing. In sum, the team spent about $0.53 per entrant on the iPods. The sticky pads cost $0.39 apiece. Given that each entrant to the iPod contest was definitely exposed to the new Addison (which could not be guaranteed with the sticky pads), the money on the iPods was well-spent.
Upon reflection, two or three iPods might have accomplished the same thing as four. However, it was critical to have more than one — multiple students asked in some form, “Well, are you only giving away one iPod?” Being able to tell students the library was giving away four impressed them and made them feel like they had a chance to win.
And with students believing they could win, the library became a winner, too.
1 Marketing team members were Luke Vilelle (chair), Sharon Gotkiewicz, Paul Hover, Paul Metz, Joyce Nester, Dan Palmer, Robert Sebek, and Larry Thompson.
2 Mary Koehler Goolsby, Carol L. Schuetz, and Phillip J. Jones, “From Funeral to Christening: OPAC Rites of Passage,” The Bottom Line: Managing Library Finances 13.1 (2000): 34-36.