Express Yourself!

I am always on the lookout for easy marketing/outreach activities that take little effort and staff time to pull together, especially since my library, The Ohio State University at Marion/Marion Technical College Library, is small with few staff. In November 2011, as I was reading messages on an email discussion list one day, someone mentioned using an Expression Wall as an outreach tool to students. I admit; it was new to me so I read up on it. Some call them Expression Walls; some call them a Graffiti Wall; still others refer to them as Free Expression Walls. However they are called, it typically involves allowing students to post responses to a posed question, a particular topic, or simply a conversation starter on a wall of some sort.

As I read about them, I found several libraries that have used a variety of “walls”—any surface (glass, markerboard, chalkboard, paper, bulletin board, etc.) that allows students to write or post a thought, a saying, an idea, a message. One library even used sticky notes as the message venue to post to a wall. Questions were sometimes posed by library staff or generated by an event or even a faculty member. I thought to myself, “What an easy and low-cost idea!”

I chose to offer a Thankful Wall; it was close to Thanksgiving and it had been a tough year in many ways. The library used a three-panel bulletin board situated just outside the library and covered it in newsprint paper that we had in stock. We hung markers in several places and posed the question: “What are you thankful for this holiday season?” I sent emails to faculty and staff at both of the schools that my library serves and posted invitations on the library blog and in the student online newsletter. Then we just watched to see what would happen.

Responses were slow at first, but then began to pick up. It was interesting to read what made folks thankful. Family, friends, and assorted loved ones were highly popular, but other posts mentioned various foods (beer, turkey, Twinkies, and jelly beans), specific people (i.e., celebrities, firefighters, troops), faith, forgiveness, and even some professors. Some drew pictures; I saw flags, turkey, and dogs. I counted more than one hundred postings in the course of the month it was up. I judged it to be a success by the number of postings. We also received some positive feedback from faculty on the concept of it: “Awesome idea—thanks for doing it!” “Wonderful idea!”

Implementing this simple project was easy. I had all the materials at hand (so it cost me nothing), and one of my creative student assistants designed the prompt and constructed the wall in a day. I checked the wall periodically to make sure markers were still there, nothing was coming down, etc. I did not use the postings for anything further, given the particular topic we chose, and did not develop any official posting policies. Other libraries I found have created policies regarding use and posting; Cooper Library at Clemson University created a Libguide on how they used their responses.

I used a convenient holiday as my prompt, but the possibilities are endless. Ask students about a current topic, or survey them about your library services or their wants for the library. Collaborate with a faculty member to offer a wall outside the library; maybe he or she will help develop questions. Use it during orientation to allow new students to ask questions; ask for student input on a library renovation or their favorite book title; celebrate a special month or holiday; use it in conjunction with a campus event. The wall can be easily used at a public or school library, too.

I’ve used the wall idea since and plan to offer it periodically on my campus to expand student learning experiences and offer students a unique opportunity to provide input and involvement.