March 17, 2018


Willie Miller’s Grassroots Approach to Student Engagement Costs Less Than a Dollar

Willie Miller


Informatics and Journalism Librarian, Head of Campus Outreach Group, Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis


MLS, Indiana University, 2010


@LibraryWillie (Twitter); iupui_ulib (Instagram); iupuilibrary (Facebook); @IUPUI_ulib (Twitter)

Photo ©2016 Shawn G. Henry

When LJ Mover & Shaker Willie Miller first got hired at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis as the Informatics and Journalism Librarian in 2010, he was that rare commodity: a young person with an ear to the ground on social media and a taste for library science.

Part of Miller’s job description was to take part in the Campus Outreach Group (COG), an ad hoc organization comprised of 10 librarians and staff tasked with promoting the library’s services and resources. Miller was appointed head of the group after nine short months.

Miller’s plan was simple: create a hallmark event to launch a communication agenda, engage students online and IRL (in real life), and measure the results. “I work really well with a list of things to do,” says Miller, who earned his MLS at Indiana University. “It’s a great way to clarify what we are marketing at the moment.”

Students responded to Miller’s guerilla approach to engagement: boards were installed in the library lobby where they put up Post-it notes. Asked to describe their likes or dislikes about the library, the students were incentivized to write on the Post-it notes with candy around Valentine’s Day, or at other times, a water bottle with the library’s name and URL on it.

In the past five years, COG has collected and analyzed nearly 4,500 Post-its.

Every month, Miller and his team promote a theme around library usage that’s relevant to students. October was about resources and research guides, September was about how to use the library. The themes are then amplified through social media channels, “So people are thinking about the library even when they’re not in the building,” Miller says.

COG has also helped the library with policy making decisions. When non-students in greater numbers began using library computers during midterm and finals, there was something of an uproar among the student body.  “I was able to share with the administration things that were being posted on social media about this — students complaining that during midterms and finals their access to computers was limited.”

The University acted, limiting non-students during these peak times. As a result, the four or five weekly negative comments posted on social media about this have now been reduced to zero.

It’s results like these — generated through community outreach — that attracted Miller to Library science in the first place. He never thought about being a librarian until he saw a life-size sign that said, “Consider a career in Library Science,” at the circulation desk at his college library. “I looked online at what academic librarians do, and I thought, I can have fun doing that.”

And today he is. Miller gets jazzed about the idea that the library is an intellectual hub for campuses and communities alike. “It’s a place where you can come to work to become better; it’s a place to work out problems,” says Miller, who adds, “You always leave the library better than when you came. That’s what keeps me emotionally interested and excited.”

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