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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Summer 2015

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Hunting for Knowledge: Using a Scavenger Hunt to Orient Graduate Veterinary Students

Caitlin Pike
Nursing and Medical Humanities Librarian
IUPUI University Library
Indianapolis, Indiana

Kristine M. Alpi
William Rand Kenan, Jr. Library of Veterinary Medicine
NCSU Libraries
North Carolina State University
Raleigh, North Carolina


Active participation in orientation is hoped to increase understanding and use of library resources and services beyond the effect of tours or welcome lectures. Timed scavenger hunts have been used to orient undergraduate and medical students to academic libraries. This report describes the planning, execution, and evaluation of an untimed iPod-documented scavenger hunt in 2012 for first-year graduate veterinary students, and the modification and execution of the hunt for new students in 2013. Findings about the hunt's utility as a learning opportunity, based on student participation, staff experiences, and student and staff perceptions, inform recommendations for the characteristics of a scavenger hunt that facilitates hands-on learning in the library while placing reasonable demands on library staff.


Orientation for new students is offered to help them acclimate to campus spaces and support services and to foster academic success. Involvement in orientation provides library staff an opportunity to engage each new student and introduce resources early in their university experience. Orientation may include lecture, classroom hands-on sessions, guided tours, and self-directed print or digital tours. Few libraries report assessing whether knowledge of library resources and services was gained during orientation or retained afterwards. As universities promote active learning with progress towards concrete objectives, such as students learning to use specific resources or equipment, having students find and use spaces and resources on their own demonstrates independence (Burke et al. 2013). Using a scavenger hunt as the basis to explore the library encourages participation and creates a shared experience among students.

Literature Review

Academic libraries that have used scavenger hunts during orientation report varying strategies and degrees of success. At the Holon Institute of Technology in Israel, small group activities were a complement to the focal point of library orientation (Langley 2007). Studies focused solely on scavenger hunts as an orientation method primarily addressed freshman students on university campuses of various sizes and governance, with some reports from community colleges and smaller private schools (McCain 2007). Queensborough Community College librarians used a mystery-style game to orient students to the physical library while introducing them to library resources and evaluated the effectives of the game model, using a control group of students who completed the prior tour format. Librarians administered an exit survey on the intended learning outcomes which indicated an overwhelmingly positive response to the new active-learning model from both students and counselors (Marcus & Beck 2003). Rugan and Nero critiqued scavenger hunt assignments and suggested librarians collaborate closely with teaching faculty in designing questions (Rugan and Nero 2013).

Positive engagement, time for collaboration, and entertainment are part of several programs. Examples include a pirate-themed library exercise at the University of Notre Dame equating information literacy and searching a database to discovering buried treasure (Smith 2007) and a mystery hunt searching for clues related to the fictional missing valet of a famous author designed by Niagara University librarians (Kasbohm et al. 2006). The self-guided treasure hunt at the University of Otago, New Zealand had students working together in a 90-minute simultaneous session (Thompson et al. 2008). In 2012, the NCSU Libraries developed an iPod/Evernote-based hunt as an in-class introduction to the Libraries for undergraduates; some students reported that its 25-minute duration was a constraint to completion (Burke et al. 2013). At Australian Catholic University, the mandatory treasure hunt for their primarily international nursing students had assigned grades focused on finding the skills and resources (Telford 2006).

Multiple evaluations since 2006 of a medical school orientation program for classes of 100 first-year medical students have been reported by the Weill Cornell Medical Library (Mongelia & Brown 2007; Merlo et al. 2011). Evaluation immediately post-hunt consisted of students responding on a nine-point Likert scale from uncomfortable to confident to express how they felt using the library's physical spaces and online resources. In a summative evaluation of several years of data, students reported learning most about finding physical resources and the online catalog. The print treasure map and clues were replaced by an iPad-based hunt with QR code clues in 2012 (Brown et al. 2013).

Pitfalls and negative experiences on the management end of some academic library scavenger hunts included overtaxing the library staff due to the sheer number of students who needed help navigating the resources. Positive responses of students and professors outweighed the negative remarks from staff (McCain 2007).


The College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM) at a large southeastern land-grant university was increasing its Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) enrollment from 80 to 100 students per class starting Fall 2012. The Veterinary Medicine Library (VML) had provided mandatory staff-led 20 to 30 minute tours during lunchtime to groups of ten students over two days. Approximately ten minutes of the Library director's orientation welcome lecture prior to the tours was also devoted to physical spaces and resources. Interactions with students at the service desk demonstrated little recall of information from the tours.

Learning Objectives

The goal was to create an active, self-directed, and effective orientation with hands-on experience for all 100 DVM students that could be managed with limited staff to observe the activities. The learning objectives were for students to become familiar with the VML staff and spaces, practice using resources relevant to their first-year coursework, and to prepare for future knowledge-seeking needs.



VML staff attended a main-library Scavenger Hunt overview which allowed VML staff to experience the hunt themselves, use the iPods that it employed, and decide whether a hunt might substitute for orientation tours. In July 2012, VML staff met with the hunt's developers to consider how to create an experience more appropriate for graduate students. They removed time and scoring across teams to foster collaborative exploration rather than competition. Table 1 shows components of the veterinary student question sheet modified from the undergraduate hunt, added to address VML-specific features. Specific items were chosen based on topics that first-year students might find useful from the top five search results in the Libraries catalog, with eye-catching resources preferred.

Table 1. Learning tasks used in the VML scavenger hunts in 2012 and 2013.

Questions New? Modified? Included in 2013?
  1. Use the Online Catalog to find an eBook



  1. Find Library Hours



  1. Locate a Book in the VETS Collection



  1. Locate a Book in the Stacks



  1. Locate a Specific Journal Article in the Stacks



  1. Locate a DVD in the Media Collection



  1. Name Two Tech Lending Items



  1. Locate/Interpret an Entry in the Room Scheduler Web Site



  1. Checkout a Reserve Book and Flash Drive



  1. Locate and Use the Zeutschel Overhead Scanner



  1. Register for Tripsaver Account


  1. Find Cost of Printing



Bonus Question: Meet the Staff



Preparation and Creation

The hunt was described in the students' orientation materials (Figure 1) to appear that participation was expected, but spread across five days to facilitate coordination of up to 50 groups with only ten iPods. We created 50 Google mail and Evernote team accounts. We chose iPods as they were portable, Internet accessible, included cameras, and used a simple interface so students could document their experiences through photos and screenshots. Evernote is a free organizational app to store pictures, notes, checklists, and web sites that syncs across devices and has a web presence which allowed us to use a team's account information to check their responses.

Figure 1
Fall 2012 orientation schedule describing the scavenger hunt

To avoid traffic jams, the places and order of the questions were varied in five versions; an example of the Question Sheet in 2012 is Appendix A. Questions were further varied in 2013 (Appendix B). Students self-determined what topic within the broad subject area of dermatology to look up, and which course reserve book and technology lending item to borrow. A display case showcased smaller technology lending items so students could see the items available to borrow.

Participants received instructions on Evernote and the iPod, and VML staff logged each team into Evernote. Although we encouraged recording answers as notes in Evernote, we accepted responses written on the sheet, and we reviewed the device camera rolls for photo responses. When teams returned the iPod and question sheet, they received fruit snacks as a small reward and to demonstrate the library's food-friendliness.



Groups in 2012 ranged from one to four participants (median/mode=2). Students who preferred to work alone or had scheduling challenges completed the hunt independently with permission. A few students questioned whether it was mandatory, and we followed up with e-mail reminders with non-completers. Ninety-two students completed the scavenger hunt for a final completion rate of 92%. Figure 2 shows that most groups completed the hunt in the first two days, with activity tapering sharply after Wednesday. In 2013, groups ranged from one to six participants (median=3, mode= 2). Larger groups were common; there were five groups of five to six. The final participation rate after one e-mail reminder was 99%.

Figure 2.
Percentage of total students completing the hunt each day in 2012 and 2013.

Time Spent and Success Rates

For planning in 2012, we captured completion time on six of the groups. Time to completion ranged from 38 to 57 minutes (mean=46 minutes, SD=7 minutes). Of the 36 groups completing the hunt, 12 (33%) groups made one or more errors.

Most students did not know their textbook titles, so we pulled a selection of the first-year texts out during the busiest times. The most common errors in responses were underestimating the VML's weekend hours on a specific day (n=9, 25%) and listing the printing charges of the main library rather than the VML pricing (n=7, 19%). Infrequent problems included looking in the journal stacks for monographs (n=2, 6%), being unable to determine the time due for course reserve materials (n=2, 6%), or registering for a Tripsaver account (n=1, 3%). The Library director corrected errors via e-mail (Figure 3) to groups as she thanked them for completing the hunt and shared group photos that had been taken. Twenty-six (72%) of the groups took a group photo.

Figure 3.
Sample of e-mail feedback sent to students completing the hunt with errors.

Based on areas of confusion and suggestions, we modified the questions. In 2013, time to completion was captured for 11 of the 32 groups. Mean completion time was 34 minutes (SD=12 minutes) with the fastest being 18 minutes and the longest taking 53. Half (n=16) of the groups had no errors. The most common errors remained identifying VML weekend hours (n=9, 28%). A few missed the main library hours (n=3, 9%), room scheduler lookup (n=3, 9%) and reserve book loan periods (n=3, 9%).

Post-Event Evaluation

Orientation is evaluated annually by CVM's counseling psychologist. A web-based orientation evaluation questionnaire was sent to all students on October 24, 2012. By the November 1 closing date, there were 39 responses (42%) to the two library-provided questions on use of the knowledge or skills gained in the hunt, which represented approximately 42% of the scavenger hunt participants. More than half of respondents (n=21) used library resources or services in the 11 weeks between the hunt and the evaluation (Table 2). Another 15% (n=6) thought they would by the end of the semester.

Table 2.
Evaluation survey responses

Have you used any of the knowledge or skills you gained during the Library Scavenger Hunt?

2012 (n=39)

Number of responses

Percentage of responses




Not yet, but I think I will this semester



No, and I don't think I will this semester



Did not participate in the scavenger hunt



Have you used any of the knowledge or skills you gained during the Library Scavenger Hunt component of Orientation?

2013 (n=35)

Number of responses

Percentage of responses




Not yet, but I think I will this semester



No, and I don't think I will this semester



Not applicable: Did not participate in the scavenger hunt



** Orientation evaluation sent out immediately after orientation before most classes had started.

Comments regarding the hunt's usefulness ranged from extremely positive to neutral to a few negative or unnecessary. Other comments suggested aspects of using the library that should be emphasized more, such as certain collections, or navigating the online catalog. In 2013, the evaluation was distributed immediately after orientation. The response rate of 35% was similar, but the change in timing likely affected the rate of responses for those who had already used the resources, down from 54% to 40%. Seventeen (49%) said they would use the resources by the end of the semester. The reduction from 12 (38%) to only 3 (9%) thinking they would not use the information was encouraging since the hunt was modified to be more relevant to coursework.

Discussion and Conclusions

Student Experiences

Previous studies indicated that some groups divided up, and not all the members learned at the various stations (Mongelia & Brown 2007). Although occasional freeloading took place, we felt adult students would prefer autonomy to establish their own group operating norms. During peak times between 4-6 pm and at lunchtime, one or two dedicated library staff members were needed to help students with the overhead scanner and checking out Reserve materials held at the service desk. Some students also needed hands-on assistance with Evernote or the iPod. Students expressed confusion about regarding whether the scavenger hunt was mandatory, and therefore some did not complete it until the very end. For 2013, we revised the wording to clarify the hunt was required. However, no penalties resulted from non-completion.

Staffing Challenges and Unanticipated Effects

VML had four full-time staff and one intern. All had received brief training on iPods and Evernote and reviewed the questions, but only three of five were sufficiently familiar to handle the time pressures of getting the devices signed out, checked in, and made available again quickly. We informed students they would receive a follow-up e-mail addressing any problems in their responses and sending them their group photo if they took one. As we did not know whether feedback e-mails were read, finding a way to provide real-time feedback before the students left the library was an area we revisited. Most completed the hunt at lunchtime or at the end of the day. In 2013, we had more full-time staff available during predictably busy times, but were still unable to always provide real-time feedback.

Unanticipated effects included a few students receiving overdue notices on reserve books and technology lending items that did not get discharged in a timely fashion during the busiest periods. We took the corrective action of checking the Reserve books and flash drives used at the end of each surge. We noted upon viewing the August circulation statistics of reserve books and lending technology that a large number of the increased uses were generated by the hunt. We also created a surge in the workload of the Interlibrary Services/Document Delivery staff that processed 92 Tripsaver registrations over the five days of the hunt. To determine whether early Tripsaver registration was worthwhile, VML staff checked whether the class of students that completed the hunt used their accounts more than the previous year's class, which had not been required to register. Three students (3%) used Tripsaver compared to four students (5%) in the previous class, so we eliminated the Tripsaver registration component.

Unfortunately, the hunt did not yield the hoped-for efficiency. The traditional tour strategy required 30 minutes in each of 10 tour groups for a total of five hours of contact time, plus the time to schedule and follow up. The engagement with the scavenger hunt (not counting the creation and staff training time) took about double the time, nine hours, which was mostly spent checking out reserve books and technology, helping with scanning, or answering Tripsaver questions. We decided that this time was worthwhile since participating staff met students individually and saw their names with their faces at several points during the hunt.

Technology and the Future of the Scavenger Hunt

In 2012's evaluation, students suggested they would prefer to have the opportunity to experience library tools and resources on their own devices, which they were more likely to use in the future. A few students complained about the difficulty of searching the library catalog on the small screen. We eliminated the technological demands of iPods and Evernote by allowing students to choose how to document their hunt answers, whether their own devices or workstations around the library for those who preferred larger screens.

For 2013, library staff did a practice run using the available lending technologies. Having completed the hunt, we were better prepared to answer questions. Student workers were asked to distribute the scavenger hunt materials to participants and to report back with any problems or suggestions. We will continue to use the instruction sheet as a backup reference, and do a short hands-on training session with service desk staff before asking them to complete the hunt on their own.

In our experience, the scavenger hunt was a successful orientation strategy for professional students. We got to know our student population better, and as active learning with hands-on experience we hope it facilitates retention of the information. Students practiced library skills and equipment they will need during their first year, and it offered them the opportunity to explore and ask questions while not under the time constraints of a graded assignment. A limitation to this case report is that we did not assess the longer-term learning outcomes and whether students have transferred learning from the specific hunt questions to the more general application of library skills.


The authors thank NCSU Libraries colleagues Elisabeth Whitman, Jacqueline Gadison, and Carol Vreeland for helping with the VML scavenger hunt in August 2012 and 2013. Dr. Betsy Taylor promoted and evaluated the hunt as part of orientation. We also thank Anne Burke, Adrienne Lai, and Adam Rogers, who spearheaded the original D.H. Hill Library scavenger hunt. We thank Anne and Adrienne, as well as the anonymous peer reviewers, for their suggestions on improving the manuscript.


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Appendix A - 2012 Question Sheet

Appendix B - 2013 Question Sheet

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