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Creating Quality Library Research Assignments

A resource guide for faculty seeking to create meaningful research assignments for their courses.

Tips for Developing Effective Library Assignments

Helpful Tips Post-It Note

Assume minimal library knowledge.

  • Freshmen, transfer students, and international students may have had little or no experience with libraries.
  • Basic library skills may be inadequate for upper-level subject-based research assignments.
  • Present a realistic picture of what is, and what is not, on the internet.
  • On the Internet (and perhaps ONLY on the Web): census data, government documents and statistics, etc. Scholarly e-journals and ebooks licensed by FAU are accessed via the Web, but require user authentication (see following item).
  • Not on the Internet: Some scholarly journals, most books (not including ebooks), many specialized encyclopedias, etc.

Be specific. 

  • Identify sources students should and should not use.
  • Define what is an acceptable "Web" resource.  Students are often confused and think they cannot use the library's online databases.  Also, when some information is only available on the Web (i.e., 2000 census) they may need to use Web resources. 
  • Some guidelines: use articles found in library databases or subscription encyclopedias (Gale Virtual Reference Library but not Wikipedia); articles from a professional association, statistics from a government site, etc.

Try out the assignment yourself to make sure it can be completed realistically.

  • Does the library have the necessary resources? 
  • Will there be enough resources for all students (few books all checked out by one person)?
  • Should some materials be put on Reserve for all to use? 
  • Will there be enough time allowed if requesting materials through interlibrary loan? 
  • Are journal citations in your bibliographies correct? 

Incorporate critical thinking into your assignments in as many places as possible.

Consult with Library Liaisons or contact the library's Research and Instructional Services.

  • Librarians are an excellent resource for developing library assignments and are glad to work with you in development, revision, and review. 
  • Electronic resources change frequently; librarians can direct you to appropriate library resources and assist in developing assignments that have sufficient resources to complete.
  • Since students come to the instruction and engagement services librarians for assistance, it is helpful for librarians to have a copy of the assignment in advance. 
  • After the assignment is due, a discussion of any problems in completing the assignment helps solve any issues for the next time, thus making a successful learning experience for students.
  • A consultation with a librarian may help determine whether a library instruction session would be appropriate for your needs. 

From: Creating Effective Library Assignments (University Libraries of Notre Dame)

Common Pitfalls to Avoid in Designing Library Assignments

When faculty want students to learn research skills, they may create assignments that are not as effective as they expected.  Assignments similar to the ones below can cause more frustration than learning.

Students often do not know as much about research, even online research, as faculty imagine. They also may not be as interested in browsing for information as a faculty member might be.

1. The mob scene

A large class looking for one piece of information or researching one topic.

WHY?  Resources will disappear quickly- either they will be taken off the shelf or checked out. Both scenarios prevent other students from completing the assignment and they will form the incorrect impression that they will never be able to find information in the Libraries.

2. The shot in the dark

Students working from incomplete, outdated or incorrect resource lists; assigned materials are not owned by the Libraries; vague topics are assigned or approved.

WHY?  Students will get frustrated and again assume incorrectly the Libraries do not have the information they need.

3. The needle in the haystack

Students are sent to the Libraries to find obscure facts.

WHY?  A library scavenger hunt or treasure hunt, unless focused on the research process and the use of the information found, is usually an exercise in futility- and students will realize this quickly.

4. Browsing for serendipity in the haystack

Students are told to find any book or print journal article on a broad topic in order to encourage them to explore the stacks.

WHY?  Students may not understand the organization of library information well enough and likely will not have the interest and patience to truly browse the shelves for a serendipitous find.  They will simply grab anything and may not have any interest in what they grabbed.

Credit: Virginia Tech University Libraries

Last updated on Feb 23, 2024 3:31 PM