BLASTing the zombies!: Creative ideas to fight finals fatigue

Jean Hiebert; Shelly Theriault


We see them at the end of every semester—students with vacant expressions who murmur unintelligible things to themselves as they shuffle from the library to their classrooms for exams. They forego sleep, food, and even basic hygiene in a last-ditch effort to do well on their finals. When asked on Facebook how students at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte planned to use J. Murrey Atkins Library during exams, many admitted that it would become a new home for them. The imminent zombie invasion became frighteningly apparent when one student commented, “I will be drinking a lot of Red Bull and starting a new movement #OccupyAtkinsSpring2012Finals.” Clearly, this semester was going to end with someone’s brains being eaten unless we took decisive action. We decided to BLAST the zombies.

Planning

Finals are a key time to support—and engage—stressed students. Like other academic libraries, Atkins Library has provided free coffee, candy, coloring books, and such during this time. However, we decided to greatly expand our efforts for Spring 2012 finals. We started by establishing a committee of people with creative ideas who were willing to work hard for the 11 days of exams. We quickly netted nine faculty and staff from various departments who began meeting one month prior to the start of finals. After exploring numerous ideas, we agreed on offering BLAST (Bounce, Lounge, Art, Sleep, and Touch) as the foundation for our activities.1 Although Atkins Library’s brand claims “A New Way to Think,” this specific event offers students a space not to think through creative relaxation.

An online volunteer management site, SignUpGenius.com, was used to manage the volunteer sign-up and responsibilities needed for four-hour shifts during the 11-day period. This greatly reduced administrative time spent creating and distributing instructions, sending reminders, and making schedule changes.

We also partnered with a local organization, the Library Dog Therapy Group, organized by Professor Emeritus and Past Atkins Library Interim University Librarian Carole Runnion. We found this group to be a great addition to our offerings. Students were thrilled with the opportunity to love on a furry friend—especially those who missed their family dogs while away at college.

First, the committee wanted a room that was close to an entrance. It also needed to be large enough for all the activities we planned, yet contain the noise that was bound to be generated. Fortunately, the library had recently opened a new entrance on the ground floor, and we were able to claim a large space that had not been upfitted for group study rooms.

Next, the committee organized offerings and activities that surrounded the BLAST theme:

(B)ounce: Various games involving balls were supplied to help students blow off some steam. Most popular were a Ping-Pong game, lots of colorful plastic balls, and a small basketball goal.

(L)ounge: Comfortable seating groups and low tables softened the atmosphere and provided a place for students to actually relax or even catch a few desperate winks.

(A)rt: Easy creativity is a great way for students to disengage from such a strong emotional level and calm their minds. No artistic skills needed, talent is in the eye of the beholder. Play Dough, coloring books, puppet crafts, and puzzles were plentiful and greatly appreciated.

(S)leep: Boxes containing disposable pillows were placed (and replaced) in the break room.

T(ouch): Several therapy dogs arrived with their owners three different times during finals to mingle, relax, and wet nose some very happy students.


Students were provided with disposable pillows during BLAST.

Coffee, hot water (for the hot chocolate and tea), cups, stirrers, and sleeves were ordered and supplied continuously from Peet’s, the library’s café. A microwave from the staff break room was temporarily relocated to the area. Large trash cans were placed by the door and Housekeeping was very helpful in keeping them emptied for us. Disposable pillows were ordered from an online vendor. We asked local dentists to donate toothbrushes and toothpaste.

An extensive supply list was created, including hot chocolate packets, green tea, and art supplies being the bulk of items. Two members took a trip together to purchase all items up-front.

Implementation

We set up the back of the room with Ping-Pong, miniature basketball, and paddle balls. The “art corner” had several tables with crayons, coloring books, Play Dough, and paper bag puppet supplies. A large whiteboard was also placed with a daily lead-in question that students could answer, such as, “How many hours have you slept within the last 24 hours?” Our building operator provided plenty of comfortable seating and small tables, which we loaded up with magazines and games like Jenga and Boggle. Another large table offered the disposable pillows which were, unsurprisingly, more popular at night. In response, a student posted to our Facebook page: “We have disposable pillows? Is this real life?”

Atkins Library is open 24/7 during exams, so SignUpGenius. com was used to schedule restocking and tidying the room every four hours. All library employees were encouraged to volunteer.

The students used 1,400 coffee cups, 2 cases of creamer, 2 gallons of milk, 7 boxes of stirring sticks, 2 cases of sugar, and one case each of raw sugar, Equal, and Splenda. The students also consumed 42 boxes of cocoa and 19 boxes of green tea. The cocoa was very popular, and one student tweeted, “Mmmm hot chocolate w/marshmallows, compliments of atkins library # uncc.” We also placed a microwave nearby for students who brought their own food or who heated water if the dispenser of hot water ran out before we could replace it. We surprised the students on Reading Day with free pizza at 11 p.m. Forty pizzas were gone in 17 minutes.

Postcards saying “Don’t worry, I’m studying in the library,” were also offered for students to send to family and friends. For a generation that grew up with computers, postcards are a bit of a novelty, so we taped a sample to the table so that they would know how to address them. They were gathered at the beginning of each shift, and the director of library development mailed 450 of them.


Four hundred and fifty postcards were mailed to students’ family and friends.

Funding and marketing

Budgets are tight and fiscal responsibility is certainly an important factor for marketing and student engagement activities. With the increasing popularity of the finals break room from past semesters, it was decided to move a significant amount of our marketing dollars from another event, Week of Welcome (WOW), to this.


An article on the pet therapy session was displayed on the UNCC library’s Web site.

WOW is an annual university-wide event where incoming freshmen and transfer students are introduced to the campus’ resources and organizations during the first five days of classes. Atkins Library historically participates in a significant way during this time, engaging upwards of 1,000 students during a three-hour event timeslot. Exams, however, provided us with a larger captive audience, lasting 11 days versus a few seconds. As one student tweeted, “holy atkins library right now! #packed.” Facebook posts, tweets (by the library and university), building signage, and word of mouth served as excellent marketing tools.

Using the pet therapy sessions as a key angle, we secured an article displayed in the university’s homepage highlights, beginning a few days prior to finals and throughout.

We also advertised the pet therapy visits with signs of the individual dogs accompanied by meaningful and cute sayings, telling students when the dogs would be here. Each sign had tear-away portions at the bottom with the dates and times so that the students would have reminders. The university’s broadcasting division sent a videographer who created a touching video of the dogs’ first visit and the student reaction to them. It was posted on the university’s YouTube site2 and e-mailed to various units and departments. Finally, The Charlotte Observer—the largest newspaper in the Piedmont area—sent a reporter, and her article, “Students Can Go to The Dogs at Exam Time” appeared in a Sunday edition.

In addition, one committee member dressed in scrubs and handed out “prescriptions” for taking a break. We also handed out fliers that employed the slippery slope advertizing method to add some humor. It appeared to be successful since students were laughing and showing them to their friends.


BLAST promotion.

Lessons learned

We were thrilled with the vast popularity of our finals BLAST activities. It was so popular, we were unable to keep up with restocking drinks and supplies using our four-hour schedule. Next semester, we’re going to move to a two- or three-hour schedule. We were also surprised at how quickly the coffee and cocoa disappeared and hope to double the amount purchased in the future, if the budget allows.

For simplicity’s sake, we only ordered pepperoni pizzas, thinking people who didn’t like pepperoni could just remove them. We didn’t take into account that some cultures do not eat pork products or food that has been touched by pork. In the future, we’ll order plain cheese pizzas.

While we expected the materials to be used up or go missing (and some did), we controlled this by bringing out items in batches. We were pleasantly surprised by the artwork and messages students left for us, expressing their appreciation. We will provide space for them to post their art work in the future.

We plan to ask more dentist offices to donate toothbrushes and toothpaste because what we had went so quickly. The students were delighted when they realized they could keep the pillows. One student posted on Facebook, “ [t]he UNC Charlotte Atkins Library has disposable pillows? We have such a hip, cool library!”

We need a bigger space for the pet therapy program as well. Although we were prepared for accidents, we didn’t expect one of the dogs to vomit. On the three days we had arranged for them to come, it was either too hot or rainy to take them outside. Other libraries have taken dogs through the library rather than having the students come to them, and this may be the model we have to adopt.


Art work left by one of students.

Overall, the pet therapy was an incredibly successful activity and was a key angle in promoting all of our finals break room offerings. One student tweeted, “[t]here are dogs in the library right now. Atkins, are you trying to make me fail my comm theory exam?”

One other consideration is the university’s policy on “non-service dogs” in a building. We ended up scrambling the day before their arrival to get express permission from the chancellor for the dogs to enter the building.

Although we asked students to post their comments about the BLAST room on our Facebook page or to tweet about it, they seemed to have preferred writing their comments on a white board. Perhaps it is better to catch them in the moment, before their minds stray back to more pressing issues. We plan to place more white boards near the entrance to the room as well as inside it. The comments they wrote were very positive (“this break room is amazing!”) as were the comments they made to the staff who restocked and tidied the room.

Conclusion

Atkins Library has all types of spaces (i.e., quiet zones, group study rooms, collaborative work tables) to accommodate the different ways today’s students study. We have a large commuting population that occupies the library between classes and is accustomed to the services we provide. We also have students who never use the library until exams are upon them. Trying to reach all of them can be like attempting to nail JELL-O to a tree—some of them slip away from us despite our best efforts. Friends, family, instructors, and student organizations are vying for the attention of the average student—getting their attention is the first step. Once you have it, the message must be clear: the library is genuinely invested in student success, and offers the personnel, spaces, technology, and services to achieve it. . . . and we definitely don’t want them to eat our brains.


Notes
1. Special thanks to the BLAST Committee: Marc Bess, Edna Dash, Betty Ladner, Donna Lanclos, Stephanie Otis, Beth Scarborough, and Shoko Tokoro.
2. The Paws for Exam Therapy video is located at http://youtu.be/xOPoNF7ZMnc
Copyright © 2012 Jean Hiebert and Shelly Theriault

Article Views (2018)

No data available

Contact ACRL for article usage statistics from 2010-April 2017.