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TL v57 n2 Reaching Your Millenials
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Tennessee Libraries

Volume 57 Number 1



Reaching Your Millenials: A Fresh Look at Freshman Orientation

Toni Carter
Reference and Instruction Librarian

Beverly Simmons
Reference and Instruction Librarian

University of Tennessee, Chattanooga

Conference Abstract: Millenials like to learn differently -- or do they?  Maybe they just push us to be better teachers.  Leverage their love of independence and activity to create a freshman library orientation that is engaging and memorable.  UTC Instruction Librarians share their experiences redesigning their freshman orientation for Millenial students.

During the summer of 2006, we attended the LOEX Annual Conference and the Instructional Excellence retreat hosted by the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Both of these events focused on understanding the characteristics of the Millenials – the current generation of college students – and helping us use that understanding to better serve this group. Based upon our experiences at these conferences and the insights we acquired, we decided to revamp our Freshman Library Orientation to have a greater appeal to this group of students.

Who are the Millenials?

The current group of people aged 18 to 24 is sometimes referred to as “Millenials”, “Net Gens”, or “Generation Next”. According to a report from The Pew Research Center (2007) , the four most recent generations can be characterized as follows:


Born between

Current ages

Generation Next

1981 and 1988

18 to 26

Generation X

1966 and 1980

27 to 41

Baby Boomers

1946 and 1965

42 to 61


Before 1946

Over 61

As the Pew Report notes, generational breaks and the names used for these generations vary. Another generational designation, this one from the presentation made at LOEX 2006 by Wheeler and Harris (2006) used the name “Millenials” for the generation born between 1982 and 2002, currently 5 to 25 years of age. For our purposes here, we have chosen to use the name Millenials for the current generation of college students.

From our observations as well as from discussions with colleagues at conferences, we came up with a list of characteristics of Millenials that we wanted to address in our library training design.


  • don’t like being passive recipients of information
  • like trial and error (no fear of failure)
  • like to learn from each other
  • don’t like formal instruction
  • like to be engaged and entertained

We decided to redesign our Freshman Library Orientation to take these characteristics into account.

Our Freshman Library Orientation is delivered as part of a 3-credit optional course called University Studies 101, which is designed to orient new students to university life. The intent of the course is to help students understand how to succeed in college and to familiarize them with what the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga has to offer. This past academic year, we conducted Freshman Library Orientation classes for 580 students, or 26% of our freshman class.

During the semester, each section of University Studies 101 spends two full class sessions at the library for Freshman Library Orientation. Prior to those two sessions, the instructing librarian meets with the class briefly to introduce him or herself, to help them form working groups, and to give the students their exercises and instructions. They are also told that this library exercise will be a competition among groups. The students spend the next class period working in the library in their groups, and the subsequent class period in the library classroom with the instructing librarian.

Taking the characteristics of “Millenials” into consideration, we had four major goals for our new Freshman Library Orientation design:

  1. More self directed
  2. Very little lecture
  3. Relaxed and informal
  4. Lots of student engagement and activity

Design Goal 1: More Self-Directed

During the first session, we hand out slips of paper with heads, arms, and legs printed on them. Instead of just numbering the students off in order to form groups, the instructing librarian asks the students to form “bodies,” consisting of one head, two arms, and two legs (see Figure1). This gets the students up and moving, talking, and allows them to meet other classmates. Most importantly, it gives them some say in the groups that they form.

Figure 1

The library exercise that the groups complete requires them to research a particular topic. Instead of assigning a topic, we allow the groups to pick their own – another move towards more self-direction. Music and sports tend to be the most popular.

The students must also name their groups, or “bodies.” Their creativity shines during this time. “The Fab Five,” “MOCS fans,” “The A-Team,” and “Spike” are examples of the group names used by the students.

Design Goal 2: Very Little Lecture

Instead of lecturing to the students about the physical library, we wanted them to teach themselves. We achieved this through an exercise we call the “flip-chart competition.” When they return to the library, after completing the library exercise, each group receives a large piece of white paper divided into three sections labeled 1st floor, 2nd floor, and 3rd floor. The groups must then list items and services available on each floor of the library. We usually allow around ten minutes for this activity.

When finished, one person from each group comes to the front of the room with the paper. We then go through the lists, allowing us to review what they need to know. The groups with the most correct answers for each floor receives a point which the instructor records on the whiteboard. We use these points later to determine which group wins a prize.

Occasionally the students forget to list something, such as microfilm and Special Collections, and the instructor can be sure those get discussed. Even so, instructor-led discussion or lecture still makes up a small percentage of the class period.

Design Goal 3: Relaxed, Informal

We try to maintain a relaxed, informal atmosphere in the class by encouraging the students to speak up, ask questions, consult with team members, and have fun. One of our instruction rooms recently received a makeover, which includes movable tables and chairs, allowing for an adaptable classroom with an informal atmosphere (see Figure 2). For example, during the “flip-chart competition,” students spread out all over the room (some even lay on the floor), while they work in groups. The students really seem to enjoy themselves (although no formal assessment has been done – yet), and the class actually becomes fairly rowdy at times. We feel like if students can get that excited about the library, then we must be doing something right.

photo of classroom

Figure 2

Design Goal 4: Lots of Engagement and Activity

Competition forms the basis for the new class outline. We have found that competition kept the students engaged and interested. The instructing librarian keeps a running total of points throughout the class, and the group with the most points receives a prize. We already discussed the “flip-chart competition,” which provides the students with the opportunity to take part in the class discussion. Another exercise that encourages engagement is what we call the “found items competition.” The library exercise requires the students to check out a book and photocopy articles about their topic from a magazine/journal, a reference book, and a website. In the past, we rarely reviewed this part of the exercise, making it appear to be merely busy work. With our new design, however, one student from each group comes to the front of the classroom with the magazine/journal. We ask them to explain how and where they found the article, what it is about, etc. They must “sell” the article to the class with enthusiasm. The professor of the class picks the winner, and that team receives a point. We repeat this process with the reference book, website, and for the book that each group checked out.

Another activity that promotes student engagement involves the Library of Congress Classification System. We want to introduce students to LC without overwhelming them. During the class, the instructing librarian gives a handful of students laminated sheets of paper with call numbers printed on them. They then must put themselves in LC order, with help from the class. This provides a quick and easy introduction to the system, without loading the students down with too much information.


Redesigning our Freshman Library Orientation with the goals of very little lecture, making classroom activities more self-directed, providing an informal structure, and creating more opportunities for student engagement, has provided us with experience that we are now applying to all our library classes. Using a class design strategy that leverages a knowledge of the interests and learning styles of Millenials, we feel that our Freshman Library Orientation and other classes are more effective at helping students use and understand the library. We will continue to tweak our design goals and outcomes, and plan to develop more formal assessments to help with this endeavor.


The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. (2007). A portrait of "Generation Next": How young people view their lives, futures and politics (Report): The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

Wheeler, A., & Harris, P. (2006). Creativity and personalization: Freshman orientation for the Millennial Generation. Paper presented at the 34th Annual LOEX Conference. Retrieved 5/23/07, from


Click here to view the PowerPoint presentation.

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