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Asked and Answered: Creating Engagement Through Questions

April 17, 2018
College Students
Tweens and Teens
klewallen's picture
Short Title
Creating Engagement Through Questions

A simple question can be a passive program and community engagement all at once. So what should we ask?

Everyone loves to share their opinions — you just have to ask them. And what better way to get to know your student community than to ask them about their thoughts, feelings and lives?

Writing on a whiteboard

From high-tech polling through websites and social media, to simple solutions that need only a whiteboard, a weekly question can provide insight into the thoughts and feelings of your students. With questions ranging from serious to silly, it also helps students to engage with the library in a new way.

How to poll

Whiteboard questions: While I send a formal survey to students at the end of each year, a whiteboard is how I most often poll my students. Each week, I jot a question on the top of a small whiteboard that sits between our circulation desk and front door. I leave out a few markers, and students add their answers throughout the week. At the end of the week, I snap a picture of the entire board and then erase for the next week’s question.

Social media polls: Facebook and Twitter have polling functions built into their posting options, and Instagram allows you to post polls in your Instagram Stories, though these will disappear after 24 hours.

Google forms: Google Forms are free and can be embedded just about anywhere. They also give you tons of options, such as adding images, allowing respondents to select multiple options, and showing results once people have voted.

What to ask

Poll the audience: Trying to decide which movie to show for a movie night? Looking at a few options for new furniture? Ask your students! Not only will you get help with decision making but creating opportunities for students to voice their preferences on library issues helps students feel empowered and engaged in your library.

Prepare for guest speakers: Have students submit questions for guest speakers and authors ahead of time. Students who might not feel comfortable asking a question in front of a large group can still have their questions answered at the event, and it helps you know that students are thinking ahead. 

Writing on a whiteboard asking, "Where are you going for spring break?" with responsesBook talk: Have students talk about the books they love or the books they’re reading. What would they recommend to a classmate? Who is their favorite author? What are they reading right now? What Hogwarts house or Divergent faction or Middle Earth species do they belong to?

Just for fun: Get silly and ask some questions that have nothing to do with the library. If you could travel anywhere, where would you go? Who inspires you? What teacher do you want to say thanks to, and why? Ask students to leave their favorite quote. Ask them to draw something. Ask them about their plans for school breaks. You could even have students suggest future questions — the possibilities are endless.

If you need inspiration, DePauw University Library has a LibGuide where they show tons of questions and responses from their whiteboard Question of the Week. 

Other considerations

I teach high schoolers; sometimes they get inappropriate, especially since my library also serves middle schoolers. I always keep this in mind when I choose what questions to ask. I also know that if I get something inappropriate, I’ll erase the entire board rather than just the offensive comment. Make sure you know your audience and have a plan in place if you think this might happen to you.

If you’re using a whiteboard, provide plenty of dry erase markers to minimize the chance of students writing with permanent marker.

Writing on a whiteboard
Library Type
Academic / College
School (K-12)
College Students
Tweens and Teens
Programming Librarian Forum