Free food attracts college students. So why not make food the main attraction instead of an afterthought?
A common perception on campuses is that students will attend programs if free food is part of the deal. Well, that may be true. Instead of an afterthought, food can be the main focus and still not cost a fortune. Two recent food-focused events helped us invite students to come see Storytime Censored, a fall exhibition of challenged or banned children’s books.
About Storytime Censored
Storytime Censored, which coincided with ALA’s Banned Books Week in 2016, featured 15 rare editions from the Rose Rare Book Collection of Dayton-area collectors Stuart and Mimi Rose. Numerous English, education and history classes visited throughout the period, but we did not plan any formal speaker events. Instead, we marked special occasions inspired by the books themselves with food and a friendly introduction of the exhibit’s meaning. (View a copy of the event flyer.)
Keeping students as our target audience, we selected celebration days tied to books that students know and love. We also coordinated with the university’s social media manager and media relations to help spread the word.
Roald Dahl Day
We celebrated author Roald Dahl Day on Sept. 13, 2016, with a 100th birthday cake. First editions of Dahl’s books "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "The BFG" were both featured in the exhibit. The local news came and did a brief segment on our program.
One doesn’t need to be a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien’s "The Lord of the Rings" to appreciate a Hobbit-themed snack. Calling attention to the first edition on display, we hosted “second breakfast” (also known as “elevenses”) on Hobbit Day with bagels and muffins on Sept. 22, 2016.
As students stopped by, we pointed out the locations of the books for the special day and gave the shortened pitch for the exhibit and its meaning. We found out many students walked by the gallery on a regular basis but had never taken a moment to stop in. Portable food and friendly staff members to greet students proved to be welcoming, intriguing and fun.
Sometimes it takes more than a bulletin board to have a meaningful conversation about Banned Books Week, Open Access Week or National Library Week. Libraries can connect food to book-themed or author-themed celebration days or ALA events to start conversations on their campus.