Nicole Fook, Mike Ridley and Lori O’Neill
Library custodians Nicole Fook, left, and Lori O’Neill pick a winner to receive an ipod Touch after last semester’s campaign to keep the library clean. Mike Ridley, chief librarian and CIO, holds the free-coffee coupons redeemed by students who were caught in the act of cleaning up. Photo by Lisbeth Sider

Kelly Bertrand, director organizational services for the U of G Library, was walking through the library one day when he noticed a student putting garbage into a trash container. He thought: “You know, I don’t see that often enough,” and began to wonder if there was a way to reward the students who were doing their part to keep the library a little cleaner.

In consultation with Kirk Sprague, manager of facilities services; Cort Egan, senior communications officer; and others on the library staff, Bertrand came up with a plan. Students “caught” cleaning up their garbage or tossing things into the trash containers in the library would be rewarded with a coupon for a free cup of coffee. In addition, each redeemed coupon would be put in a draw for an ipod Touch.

“We have more than 12,000 people going through the turnstiles each day, and that can be a lot of paper cups and wrappers left lying around,” says Bertrand. He adds that people tend to follow the examples set by others:  “If I leave my coffee cup on the table, the next person will leave theirs as well.”

If that’s true, he reasoned the opposite could also be true: recognizing students who were making the effort to clean up might spur others to do the same.

The library’s custodial staff became an integral part of the clean-up campaign by helping to hand out the coffee coupons. About a year ago, the custodians moved from working nights to working during the day. Says Sprague: “We made the changes because it’s healthier for people to work during the day. It also makes them more visible to students.”

Visible is right. The free-coffee referees wore bright green T-shirts promoting the clean-up campaign. “The custodians loved them and were very good about wearing them all the time,” says Sprague. “I think handing out the coupons helped to build a relationship between the custodians and the students.”

He says their participation also reinforced that idea that custodians are part of the library team, not just people who happen to work in the library.

The campaign ran through the exam period from March 22 to April 30. U of G student Alexandra Keoshkerian won the ipod Touch donated by Superior Sanitation. U of G buys cleaning supplies from the company.

“That’s our busiest time of the year,” says Bertrand. “Students’ priorities are studying and getting assignments finished, so they’re not worrying too much about a few leftover wrappers.”

At first, Sprague says the usual response of students was surprise that someone had seen them clean up. As more students became aware of the campaign, some would try to deliberately toss garbage in front of a custodian in the hopes of getting a coffee coupon.

Of course, giving out free coffee wasn’t really what it was all about. Did the campaign actually reduce the littering problem?

Sprague says that the reduction in garbage left in study carrels was noticeable; both library staff and custodians saw a significant improvement. Bertrand adds: “Overall it was a positive experience for everyone involved. We may tweak things a bit, but we’ll definitely do it again in the fall.”