Welcome back alumni during events like reunion weekend and homecoming with these fun programming elements.
Each summer, the University of Dayton’s Reunion Weekend offers a “welcome home” to graduates celebrating milestone years. During the weekend, typically held in early June, alumni socialize, network, and explore campus to see how much has changed since they graduated.
On the Saturday of Reunion Weekend, the library hosts a four-hour open house where alumni and their guests can visit the building and reacquaint themselves with the library. Thinking back on some recent open houses, here’s a list of five ways to welcome back alumni.
1. Lend, lend, lend
Alumni organizations are always looking for ways to increase engagement with alumni and keep them connected with their alma mater. One benefit: library borrowing privileges. We offer alumni living in the state a free borrowing card, which gives them access to our circulating collection as well as items available through the consortia OhioLINK (academic libraries) and SearchOhio (public libraries). Their requested physical materials can be sent to any member library in either of these consortia, making library materials accessible for even non-local alumni. Leading up to Reunion Weekend, we promoted this service using social media, our blog and signage.
2. Exhibit and showcase
Typically when we book exhibits that will fall during Reunion Weekend, we think of ways to connect the display with alumni. Exhibits planned specifically for Reunion Weekend can celebrate alumni art or showcase current student or faculty projects. This year, we have an incredible exhibit called “Living Glass: Sustaining Memory Through Light.” When the campus chapel underwent renovation in 2015, students and faculty used the reclaimed stained glass from the chapel’s old windows to create new works of art that communicate what the university’s Marianist identity and community mean to them. We created a special handout for the Reunion Weekend registration table that connected the exhibit to alumni: “The original chapel windows hold memories for us all: from mourning to worship to happiness and celebration. The stained glass has been resurrected in this exhibit, at eye level, and gives new meaning to us as a community.” Many visitors came specifically to see "Living Glass," and a faculty artist featured in the exhibit was present to answer questions.
3. Finals friends
As I wrote in the post “Pizza and Positivity,” we ask alumni to write notes of encouragement to current students for posting around the building during finals periods. They can write notes of encouragement, funny memories or anything to let students know alumni are thinking of them. This is a low-cost, easy way to engage alumni visiting the library and connect them to the current student experience.
4. Button maker or bust
If there’s something to take away from this blog post, it’s BUY A BUTTON MAKER. Young people are totally into them. Prior to our open house, I posted this teaser photo of buttons featuring our nun dolls (yes, we have a special collection of nun dolls with quite the following on social media). Younger alumni came to the open house specifically asking for these buttons and ended up staying to make some for themselves (and their friends) and see what else was going on. We had other images available as well, including as a student neighborhood party scene, a vintage photo of the school mascot and graphics from our holy card collection. On a recent discussion thread in the Facebook group of the ACRL Interest Group Library Marketing and Outreach, librarians cited their favorite button maker companies as American Button Machines, USA Buttons, U Make Buttons, and Tecre.
5. Archivist outreach
Our archivists have a large stake in connecting with alumni, notably to collect university memorabilia or other special items. Archivists bring yearbooks from the graduating years of the invited alumni and let people look through albums and scrapbooks. It’s a great way to remind people that these materials are kept here (and in our case, available online, too).
Whatever we do for the open house, the library is automatically appealing as a place to cool off and relax for a bit. The open house is scheduled after the outdoor food truck rally, and it’s always hot at that time of year. This past open house, many people wandered in to revisit their old study spot on an upper floor. Social media, especially using the weekend hashtag #UDRW proved to be effective to get people (especially recent graduates) in the door. We have additional image ideas for the buttons next year (more student neighborhood houses) and some catering ideas (iced coffee!).
Most universities have some events to invite alumni back to visit, whether it’s a reunion weekend or homecoming. What types of programming does your library host, and what’s a draw for each age group?