Effective Library Assignments

Librarians are available to assist faculty in developing assignments that use library materials effectively. In addition, keep these guidelines (adapted from the Virginia Tech University Libraries) while creating new assignments that require students to use the library:

  • Presume minimal library and research knowledge.
    Students may know how to use Facebook and most claim to know how Google operates, but most do not understand college research. They may not know what you mean by such words as article, scholarly, peer-reviewed, journal, abstract, primary source, etc.
  • Explain the assignment clearly, preferably in writing. If the assignment requires the use of a certain number or types of sources, state that clearly, with examples if possible.
  • Test your assignment. What may seem like a workable assignment may not work in practice. Ask someone to test it for you.
  • Ask librarians for help. Librarians can help by providing feedback regarding useful sources. Librarians work with students conducting research, so are familiar with student research behavior.
  • Be careful when assigning current or local topics. Current topics do not lend themselves to scholarly research because scholarly articles appear much later than magazine and newspaper articles on a topic. Local topics tend to appear in local newspapers and are generally not available from academic, scholarly, or peer-reviewed journals.
  • Be careful of topics that are too general or too specific. If students must decide what to research, give them examples of workable and acceptable topics. Most students will need to either broaden or narrow their research. Students may need help formulating a thesis statement.
  • Avoid a mob scene. Dozens of students using one book, or one of any single library resource can cause problems with accessibility, loss, and damage. Use course Reserves in the library if there is a need to assign material from a single source.
  • Avoid scavenger hunts. These tend to have very little real research skills value. Google and other search engines do not provide a good way to learn how to research college level sources.
  • Be clear in your use of “the Internet.” Students may ask if they can use “the Internet.” Most consider that to mean a Google search. If you want students to concentrate on more academic or scholarly material, require that they use library sources such as books and articles from print magazines, newspapers and journals (these are available on the Internet, but require access through the library’s homepage and login. The Project Starter Databases are a good starting point for all research projects. Check out this explanation of using the library’s online article sources for more information.
  • If you do not want them to use open search engines like Google and Yahoo, make that clear. Be sure students understand that most library resources are accessible on “the Internet,” are password protected (so cannot be accessed through regular search engines) and can be accessed from home.
  • Be clear in your use of “library computer.” Be sure students understand whether you mean the library catalog or library articles online rather than a computer, or literally, the computers in the library.
  • Ideas to get started. Consider something other than a traditional research paper. These could be annotated bibliographies, a book review, or something as simple as a fill-in-the-blanks assignment that requires identifying and citing several sources on a topic.
  • Refer students to librarians for help. Remind students that librarians are available to assist them.

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