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Designing Library Assignments

Some guidelines for making library research a learning experience for students.

Purpose of Library Assignments

  • Makes the students aware of the different resources available for research (print, article databases, web, videos, microfilm, newspapers, etc)
  • Helps students learn to evaluate appropriate topical resources
  • Relates to course material or subject matter
  • Introduces students to the process of finding information
  • Instructs students in the method of principled research and proper citation

Prepping Students for Research

  • Make sure your students know why they are doing this assignment.  What is its purpose?
  • If you want students to become familiar with certain resources, make a  list of these sources, including any call numbers and other location information
  • Library instruction may be helpful for first-time researchers, or for research that may become complex

Characteristics of Effective Research Assignments

  • Give library assignments in writing rather than orally
  • Make it simple and unambiguous
  • Before setting students loose, make sure they understand the assignment in its entirety
  • Use precise terminology
    • If you want students to use both magazines and journals, make sure they know the difference and know your requirements
    • Be certain everyone understands the difference between an online/web resource and a subscription article database (note: there is no difference in content between a print journal article and an article accessed via InfoTrac, Academic Search Premier, etc.)
    • Clarify expectations of “peer reviewed”, “scholarly”, “academic”, “juried”, “judged”, “refereed”, “professional” journals for your discipline—if you require students to use a specific journal (or list of journals), give them the list
  • Check assignments periodically to make sure they are still current and require information that is accessible to the student
  • Do the assignment yourself to see how easy information is to find/access and how long it takes to complete—keep in mind your students’ inexperience

Hazards to Avoid

  • Assuming that your students have any prior research experience
  • Requiring resources that aren’t available (or are hard to find)
  • Sending the entire class to do the same assignment at the same time (resources will need to be used by everyone, and will be scattered throughout the library and/or mis-shelved after each use)
  • Giving a scavenger hunt.  It is difficult to construct an assignment in this format that does not frustrate the students and lead to negative perceptions about research in general
  • Not making sure there are adequate resources in the library to fill the necessary number of book/article resources required for all students

Role of the Librarian 

  • Helping you develop assignments
  • Teaching library skills—we will be happy to come into your classroom and provide students with a Library Instruction session 

Alternatives to Traditional Research Papers 

  • Produce an annotated bibliography
  • Compare and contrast the discussion of the same topic in a magazine article and a scholarly research article
  • Identify key issues or people in a discipline
  • Compare and contrast two journal articles with opposite points of view on a topic
  • Compare two journal articles with the same topic from two different time periods
  • Remember: It is very useful for research assistance if librarians have an advance copy of the assignment!