Designing Effective Library Assignments

Well-designed, course-related library assignments are an effective way to introduce students to the research process.

Consult your librarian before the assignment

We will be happy to work with you to design an appropriate assignment that will achieve your course goals/objectives. Consult the list of Subject Liaison Librarians to determine the most appropriate librarian to assist you. With at least a week to ten days' lead time, librarians can prepare library instruction lectures, workshops, and written materials geared specifically to your course and assignment, as well as general orientations for more inexperienced students.

Let us know

Sending an advance copy of the assignment and its due date to your Subject Liaison Librarian will insure that we are ready to help your students at the Reference Desk when needed.

Assume minimal library experience

Although many students will be familiar with using some library tools (e.g., dictionaries, and encyclopedias), few really understand the intricacies of online databases, indexes/abstracts, and research journals. Remember that basic introductory skills may be inadequate for an upper-level, subject-based research assignment. If you would like your students to use specific books and articles, provide complete citations.

Be sure the library has the needed information

There are few experiences more frustrating than looking for what is unavailable or has been checked out. Check Summon or the CLICnet library catalog to make sure we have what you need, and use Course Reserves to set aside heavily-used books and photocopies of articles for your students to use for brief periods (usually 2 hours/overnight).

Avoid the mob scene

Requiring an entire class to use just one source (book, journal) is stressful for people and resources. Give students a variety of topics and sources in order to avoid competition for print resources, and break up assignments into sections to be completed in stages.

Plan scavenger hunts judiciously

Searching for obscure facts can be frustrating to students and can easily lead to plagiarism rather than teaching students useful research skills. If planning a library exercise, talk to your liaison librarian about designing one that will allow students to explore the scope and range of library resources.

Teach research strategies

Include a list of steps involved in the research process, and create a series of assignments to be completed in stages. Request a library instruction workshop, where a librarian will review strategies with the class and provide hands-on experience using appropriate print and online tools.

Need some fresh ideas for assignments?

Here are a few links to get you started:

Suggestions for Assignments (Gustavus Adolphus College Library) 
Effective Research Assignments (University of California-Berkeley Library) 
Ideas for Library/Information Assignments (University of Newfoundland Memorial Library) 
Alternative Research Assignments (San Diego State University Library) 
Ideas for Library Related Assignments (University of Puget Sound, Collins Memorial Library)

Adapted from the California Clearinghouse on Library Instruction, Southern Section publication, "Guidelines for Effective Library Assignments."