24 Sept 2019

The challenge of student engagement: a sloth’s perspective

Runner up post in the CONUL Training and Development Library Assistant Blog Awards 2019. This post is by Susan Murphy, working as a library assistant at TU Dublin Blanchardstown

I am a member of the student engagement team at TU Dublin Blanchardstown Campus Library. Our aim is to engage the students who make use of our library, be it in person or online. We want them to enjoy their library experience and to view the library as a safe, welcoming space where they can both further their studies and enjoy some fun interaction. What could we do, we wondered, to achieve this purpose?

Enter José.

Figure 1: José, our library mascot

José Garcia-Lopez is our exchange student from Paraguay. He may be a sloth but he is far from lazy! He came to the library in September 2018 and has been making his presence felt throughout the academic year. He hangs out in the library a lot but he also visits other parts of the campus and even makes some field trips on occasion.

Figure 2: José marking World Stationery Day

Figure 3: José visiting SciFest                                        Figure 4: José at the seaside for Mother Ocean Day

Some of José’s interaction is very simple. Sometimes he sits on the library desk holding a sign offering everyone free hugs. The students have really responded to this and we are happy that José has been able to offer them a nugget of comfort during stressful times.

Figure 5: José offering free hugs

José’s friendly face appears on a lot of our library signage so students regularly see him on the walls and pillars and have grown used to having him around.

Figure 6: José on our library bookmarks                                                                         Figure 7: José on our library posters

I maintain the Blanchardstown Campus library blog (publishing new posts every Tuesday and Thursday) and many of José’s antics tie in with the monthly blog themes. For example, April was Garden Month so José took the time to visit the Horticulture compound on campus to learn more about water conservation and building bug hotels. These types of posts are a good way to make students aware of what else is happening around campus and it’s possible to tie them back to the library too, in this case by informing students where they can find the Horticulture books in the stacks.

Figure 8: José and a water reservoir                                                         Figure 9: José and a bug hotel

José also likes to mark special dates during the year. Valentine’s Day and St Patrick’s Day were two of his favourites.

Figure 10: José celebrating Valentine's Day                         Figure 11: José celebrating St Patrick's Day

What was especially significant about these book structures in terms of student engagement was the fact that a student stopped to watch us build the shamrock and then made her own suggestion for what we could build next – a throne for José in honour of the final season of the TV show Game of Thrones! We were delighted to have such student interaction and naturally obliged. This structure really captured the hearts of the students, with many stopping to comment and take photos of it.

Figure 12: José's very own Iron Throne

Examinations are an inevitable part of the academic calendar. The exams period can be a stressful time, but José was there to provide support and advice to anxious students.

Figure 13: José says 'Hang in there!' during exam time

These days, technology is an inescapable part of people’s lives so we have made sure to connect with students online as much as in person. José’s activities are widespread on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, where he garners likes and shares/retweets each time something new is posted.

Figure 14: José is a big fan of the Harry Potter books which he read during Library Lovers Month

Figure 15: José helping to highlight the national Be Media Smart campaign (which garnered a like from RTÉ!)
We are delighted to say that José is a very recognisable figure around campus now. Even staff members know who he is and a colleague from TU Dublin City Campus coined the phrase ‘#josérocks’, which we now include in every social media post. José’s influence is only growing and we look forward to seeing how he continues to flourish next year!

Photo credits: Timmi Donald (figures 1-2, 4-12, 14-15), Anne Greene (figure 3), Susan Murphy (figure 13). All photos are property of TU Dublin Blanchardstown Campus Library.


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