Library Poker Runs: Active (and fun!) Learning in the Library

By Laura Mosher, Reference & Liaison Librarian

Earlier this semester, patrons may have noticed groups of plebes moving quickly through the Library, stopping at various places and engaging in conversations with Library staff members, before zooming off to another location within the building. If you were one of those patrons, you encountered plebes taking either RS 100 or RS 101, the Reading and Study Skills course offered by the Center for Enhanced Performance. As that name implies, these classes help plebes adapt to the fast-paced, highly demanding academic world of West Point with instruction in time management, note-taking, reading comprehension exercises, and tips on coping with stress. One very important aspect of these courses is a Library-oriented lesson, which introduces many of the services and resources the Library offers, and gives the plebes a chance to meet our staff members who are eager and able to help with their research needs throughout their cadet career.

Modeled on motorcycle Poker Runs that are a popular fund-raising activity, the Library Poker Runs call for cadets to team up and visit five checkpoints within the Library, and perform a task at each one. The checkpoints are places where important Library activities take place, such as the Circulation and Reference Desks, or places that highlight collections or functions that all cadets should know about, such as our Special Collections and Archives Reading Room and the Reserve Room. Additionally, one checkpoint provides each cadet team with a Librarian focused on introducing them to the Library’s web page and new single search tool Scout.  After completing their assigned task, each team draws a playing card, and moves on to the next checkpoint, assembling (they hope!) a winning poker hand, and walking away with a prize, courtesy of their Instructor.

Over approximately two weeks’ time this August, September, and October, nineteen sections of RS 100 & 101 were taught in the Library, to a total of 312 cadets! With the dedicated help of almost two dozen staff members from four Library Divisions”, the five checkpoints became places where plebes learned: how to use the self-check machines to borrow books; what to do if they need an item that’s not in our collection; how to use search limiters and subject terms to find materials on their chosen topics; what kinds of primary source materials our Special Collections and Archives Division has to make their history papers more engaging; and how to find the materials that specific Instructors place on Reserve in the Library for the use of all the cadets in their classes.

Instructors and cadets alike have told us that the Poker Runs provide a competitive and highly interactive method of introducing plebes to essential library resources and services, and they enjoy both the learning and the competition –and the prizes!  So the next time you stop in the Library early in the semester, and notice groups of plebes busily moving from place to place with playing cards in their hands you can rest assured that they are not gambling, but learning how the Library can help them with their studies.