In February 2019, the George Washington University Law Library hosted Lawlapalooza 2019, its 10th annual research fair. Lawlapalooza uses an exhibit format to deliver information about online resources and library services that support student research. We encourage student interaction at tables through a game that allows students to earn pizza and entries into a gift card drawing. This guide chronicles the evolution of our research fair. It details the planning process and highlights the end product with emphasis on the library’s marketing initiatives.
In 2009, the library faced two common problems: few students realized the breadth of databases available or made the connection that the research databases available to them are services of the library. We explored ways to increase visibility, familiarity with available research services, and database usage and decided that hosting a research fair would be a fun and engaging way to increase student awareness of resources available to them through the library and would serve as a forum for end users, librarians, and vendors to interact.
At the first research fair, students were encouraged to speak with library staff, librarians, and vendors at hosted tables as well as attend 3-5 minute librarian presentations called "InfoBlasts" and 30-minute vendor training sessions. The library table provided basic library information and research content was delivered through the InfoBlasts. In hopes of simplifying logistics and increasing participation, we dropped the vendor training sessions in subsequent years.
The following year, the library decided to highlight research using mobile devices and database apps, which became the theme for marketing materials. 2011 marked the adoption of a game as a way to facilitate student participation. As an incentive for visiting tables and InfoBlasts, students were encouraged to collect stickers at each table. Upon attaining the requisite number of stickers on their game cards, students were entered into a drawing for a Kindle.
For the 2012 research fair, the library integrated lead-up events to generate interest. Each day for two weeks, we posted library trivia questions online. For each correct answer during a week, students received one entry into that week's drawing for a $10 Starbucks gift card. The Question of the Day lead-up event occurred in 2013 but for various reasons was not repeated in subsequent years.
The 2013 event brought significant changes. We moved the event to a more open location, added a drawing for a Kindle Fire tablet, By collecting stickers from the tables, students earned one or two slices of pizza. (If you feed them, they will come!)
In 2015, the library switched the drawing prize from a Kindle Fire to gift cards. The fifth event also brought change to the delivery of InfoBlasts. Instead of stations dedicated to distinct topics, each InfoBlast station delivered any of four topics selected by the student. By 2018, a decision was made to eliminate the InfoBlasts and to deliver library research content at a table staffed by librarians.
In Fall 2017, the library adopted Instagram and pursued a year-long social media plan to encourage students to follow and interact with the library. Organizers integrated this social media initiative into the 2018 research fair. We created buttons and distributed them at lead-up events. Students were encouraged to interact with the library on social media to earn entries into a gift card drawing. Additionally, the library set up a selfie station during the research fair where students could earn more entries for the gift card drawing.
The tenth research fair was held February 13, 2019. The library used Valentine's Day as the marketing tie-in. In addition to our usual pizza and gift card drawings, we added a prize wheel with Valentine's Day related prizes. By interacting with any one table and collecting a sticker, students earned a spin on the prize wheel. Prizes ranged from snacks in library-created packaging to custom law-related conversation heart buttons.
Through the years, another goal of the fair emerged—student outreach. This event allows the library to showcase itself as a welcoming place with friendly people who want to help students succeed. The library consistently receives feedback that students appreciate this event and look forward to a fun break from their studies every year.