By Nella Letizia, WSU Libraries

PULLMAN, Wash. – How many books can a Washington State University student check out at a time? What magazine is at call number 901 B772i? And how many copies of “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” does the WSU Libraries own?

About 80 K-6 students attending Cougar Kids Camp Mini Cougar Week learned the answers (299; “Ideas and Men;” and six) during a visit this week to Holland and Terrell libraries. The visit – combined with a related “treasure hunt” through book stacks, archives and landmarks – introduced the youngsters to the world of an academic library.

“Cougar Kids come to campus during Mini Cougar Week to experience what a real college student might do here,” said Corey Johnson, WSU Libraries’ head of library instruction. “But this visit is also a way to underscore to kids that we do have a juvenile section and that they can use our libraries too.”

Expanding information literacy

Since 2002, Cougar Kids have toured Holland and Terrell as part of a broader K-12 outreach program sponsored by WSU Libraries. Program librarians seek to help school-age children find, access, evaluate and present information, developing skills they will need all their lives, Johnson said.

“It’s important to start early in terms of addressing information literacy,” he said. “WSU librarians are dedicated to collaborating with K-12 teachers, other librarians and administrators to assure students are prepared for the demands of school, work and life.”

Along with Cougar Kids, the outreach program has organized visits with many other local and regional educational groups, including Cougar Quest, Pullman High School, Pullman Christian School, Jennifer Junior High School in Lewiston, Idaho, and McFarland Junior High School in Othello, Wash.

Getting familiar with resources

Most library visits feature instruction about Search It, WSU Libraries’ online catalog, and an introduction to general subscription databases. After finding what they’re looking for in Search It, students can go to the stacks, locate their materials and check them out, or email database articles to themselves for future use at home or school.

Classroom learning sessions cover such topics as plagiarism, evaluating information sources and websites, selecting and refining a research topic, and citing sources. Some visiting groups schedule time in WSU’s Manuscripts, Archives and Special Collections to examine current exhibits and rare collections while learning about the characteristics and preservation of historic materials.

But for Johnson, who taught high school social studies for five years before becoming a librarian, the most important part of the visits is making sure students feel at home in the WSU Libraries.

“I begin nearly every K-12 library session by asking the students to evaluate the following statement as true or false: One must be a WSU student, staff or faculty member to use the WSU Libraries,” he said. “The students almost always make the connection that their very presence here is evidence that the statement is false.”

Whirlwind tour

kids-dewey-500Whether trekking up and down stairs or elevators, between bookshelves or through departments, Cougar Kids followed treasure hunt clues to answer 15 questions in one hour. They located the tallest set of books in the libraries on the third floor of Holland Library. They learned about the time capsule in Terrell Library that will be opened in 2040.

Asked what his favorite part of the visit was, Cal Lewis voiced what many of the Cougar Kids liked best: the moving shelves in Terrell’s basement that house collections cataloged by Dewey Decimal System. With the turn of a black, tri-pronged handle, the children could easily move heavy shelves – and did so repeatedly.

“This place is like a labyrinth,” Lewis said.

Cougar Kids Camp directors Skyler Archibald and DJ Mackie have watched the campers’ same excited reaction to library visits for four summers.

“Library staff does a great job of setting it up for us. They’ve made it fun for the kids, all in one hour,” Mackie said. “That’s pretty awesome.”

“The library visit is the perfect tie-in for the kids,” Archibald said. “They can come here and see another side of the university, outside of classes and athletics.”