Redesigning library orientation for first-year medical students during the pandemic




undergraduate medical education, library orientation, remote learning


Background: Prior to 2020, library orientation for first-year medical students at Weill Cornell Medicine took the form of an on-site treasure hunt competition. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the orientation for the MD class of 2024 was shifted to an all-virtual format. This shift mandated a full redesign of the library orientation.

Case Presentation: The Samuel J. Wood Library sought to preserve the excitement and fun of the treasure hunt in the new virtual format. The competition was redesigned as a Zoom meeting using breakout rooms, with library faculty and staff serving as team facilitators. Tasks were rewritten, shifting the focus from the library’s physical spaces to its virtual services and online resources. The redesigned orientation was evaluated using two data sources: a postsession survey of student participants and a debriefing of the library employees who participated. Student evaluations were positive, while the faculty and staff provided numerous suggestions for improving future virtual orientations.

Conclusions: A successful virtual library orientation requires careful preparation, including testing the competition tasks, full rehearsal with library facilitators, and a thoughtful approach to technology and logistics. We have chosen to share the materials we developed for other academic health sciences libraries that may wish to take a similar approach to their own virtual orientations.


Mongelia P, Brown H-A. Millennials find treasure in the library! [Internet]. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University [2007; cited 1 Nov 2020]. <>.

Stribling JC. The clinical medical librarian’s handbook. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield; 2020.

Kettell E. Extreme makeover: library orientation for postgraduate dental residents. Med Ref Serv Q. 2011;30(2):189–99.

Brown Epstein H-A, Brown S, Merlo L, Reinbold S. iPads added to the Weill Cornell Medical Library Treasure Hunt [Internet]. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University [2013; cited 24 Nov 2020]. <>.

Hickner A. Vaccination hesitation: a virtual discovery and library orientation [Internet]. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University eCommons [2020; cited 24 Nov 2020]. <>.

van Merriënboer JJG, Sweller J. Cognitive load theory in health professional education: design principles and strategies. Med Educ. 2010 Jan;44(1):85–93.

Richardson JE, Bouquin DR, Tmanova LL, Wright D. Information and informatics literacies of first-year medical students. J Med Libr Assoc. 2015 Oct;103(4):198–202.

Fisher RA. Statistical methods for research workers. 5th ed. Edinburgh, UK: Oliver & Boyd; 1934.

Giles K. No budget, no experience, no problem: creating a library orientation game for freshman engineering majors. J Acad Libr. 2015 Mar;41(2):170–7.

Spence M, Foster J, Irish R, Sheridan P, Frost G. “Gamifying" a library orientation tutorial for improved motivation and learning. 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition Proceedings. Washington, DC: ASEE Conferences; 2012. p. 25.14.1–19.

Dent VF. Innovation on a shoestring. Coll Undergraduate Libr. 2003 Jan 19;10(2):29–43.

Mikkelsen S, Davidson S. Inside the iPod, outside the classroom. Ref Serv Rev. 2011 Feb 15;39(1):66–80.

Rosenstein J. Ghost hunters in the library. Coll Res Libr News. 2013;74(7):350–3.

Georgas H. The implementation of an independent and self-paced online library orientation for freshman students and the use of Sakai as a quiz management system (QMS). Coll Undergraduate Libr. 2014 Jan;21(1):56–75.

Silver SL, Nickel LT. Are online tutorials effective? A comparison of online and classroom library instruction methods. Res Strategies. 2005 Jan;20(4):389–96.

Ingalls D. Virtual tours, videos, and zombies: the changing face of academic library orientation. Can J Inf Libr Sci. 2015 Mar;39(1):79-90.

Getselman A, White MS. Use of a pre-assessment tool to start a meaningful dialogue: new paradigms in library instruction. Med Ref Serv Q. 2011;30(3):245–56.

MacEachern M, Townsend W, Young K, Rana G. Librarian integration in a four-year medical school curriculum: a timeline. Med Ref Serv Q. 2012;31(1):105–14.

Nevius AM, Ettien A, Link AP, Sobel LY. Library instruction in medical education: a survey of current practices in the United States and Canada. J Med Libr Assoc. 2018 Jan 2;106(1):98–107.

Gotschall T, Gillum S, Herring P, Lambert C, Collins R, Dexter N. When one library door closes, another virtual one opens: A team response to the remote library. Med Ref Serv Q. 2021 Mar;40(1):11–22.

Mi M, Zhang Y, Wu L, Wu W. Four health science librarians’ experiences: how they responded to the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. Coll Res Libr News. 2020 Jul 8;81(7):330.

Gall D. Facing off: comparing an in-person library orientation lecture with an asynchronous online library orientation. J Libr Inf Serv Distance Learning. 2014 Oct 2;8(3-4):275–87.

Roth A, Turnbow D, Goldman C, Friedman L. Building a scalable mobile library orientation activity with Edventure Builder. Library Hi Tech. 2016 Mar 21;34(1):36–44.

Smith K, Hottinger P. Gotta catch ‘em all: a case study about Cal Poly Pomona’s Pokemon GO AR orientation. In: Elliott C, Rose M, van Arnhem J-P, editors. Augmented and virtual reality in libraries. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield; 2018. p. 145–58.

Townsend L. Creating a library orientation video for distance, regional, and online students. Planning Library Orientations. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier; 2018. p. 223–32.






Case Report