Pens, pencils, worms and dragons

Encouraging new students to visit the library during induction week can be a tricky business. Perhaps unsurprisingly, in a week where they are not only having the academic aspect of their next 3 or 4 years mapped out to them, are being invited to join team, clubs and societies and indulge in half price pizzas and 2-for-1 “quaddy voddies”, new students might find that ‘pop into the library to have a look around and to pick a pencil and a book-shaped eraser’ slips quite far down their agenda.

Although we’re not strictly competing for attention with University Cheese Society or “slammer’s night” at the local champagne bar, it is important to get students into the library early on in their university lives so that we can:

  • Remove any worry, fear or trepidation about the library – after all, it will likely be on a scale much greater than students have experienced to that point
  • Highlight what we have to offer
  • Put a ‘human face’ on the service

Over the years, we’ve found that themed inductions have work quite well in terms of luring students in and spreading positive word-of-mouth publicity. Previous themes included Harry Potter (this was extraordinarily popular, especially when the entrance gate ‘sorted’ you into a house as you scanned your campus card. I belonged to Slytherin House…), pirates, Jane Austen and Roald Dahl. This year we went with myths and legends.

In addition to the general aims listed above, we wanted to use induction week to highlight that Durham University Library and Collections is not just about the books and study spaces in the Bill Bryson Library, which tends to be regarded as the university library. We have fabulous resources at our other sites too – many of which are a world away from textbooks – and we wanted to use induction week both to highlight those and encourage students (new and returning) to visit them.

How? Well, firstly we devised a competition that required participants to visit 3 sites – The Bill Bryson Library, Palace Green Library and the Oriental Museum – and get a card stamped at all three. On completion, they handed in their card and got a fabulous gift and were entered into a prize draw with a chance of winning an Amazon voucher.

We highlighted the differences in the collections by having some objects on display – namely an amazing Chinese Dragon and a huge replica of The Lambton Worm presented with a video explaining the local legend. Displaying these two amazing objects side-by-side allowed us to highlight how our collections are of both local and international significance.

The Lambton Worm. Quite terrifying.

We also set up some fun activities:

  • Diya lamp making, designed to illustrate activities we do at the Oriental Museum for Diwali.
  • Zine making, where students were encouraged to create something that talked about local legends where they come from
  • A ‘guess how many dragon eggs are in the jar competition’
  • An invitation to have your picture taken with the Chinese Dragon.
  • The chance to dress up and slay the worm! Carefully!
The Dragon. Less terrifying.

In addition to all of this fun and frivolity we gave away freebies such as pens, pencils and erasers. And hand sanitisers. Which were extremely popular. Who knew?


The week proved very successful, particularly in terms of being able to engage with the students who came along and to answer any initial questions they had and present the library and collections as a friendly, approachable service. There is always room for improvement, and we will be looking to build on what we have done this year and increase engagement next year. Where the theme is still to be decided.

The big question is, will the colleague who always suggests ‘some sort of shark theme’ finally get their way next year?

Spoilers: no, they won’t.

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