Creating Effective Library Assignments

Creating Effective Library Assignments

We welcome opportunities to discuss library resources and to teach information literacy skills and concepts. If you are incorporating a library assignment into your course, your

Design, Define, Work Through:

Please review this list of suggestions on ways to create effective library assignments.

  • Design your assignment so that students are asked to find information and use it in a meaningful way, applying information and constructing meaning, not just retrieving facts or regurgitating them.
  • Clearly define the task and identify any sources students should or should not use.
  • Define search tools and sources carefully, as most of our authoritative sources—books, journal articles, databases—are “online” sources
    • Information may be limited and only available in popular magazines, newspapers, or the web
    • Locating scholarly articles or a number of different sources might not be possible, depending on the topic
    • In some cases, there may be little or nothing published about the topic, depending on how recent the event is
    • Personal interviews with experts on a topic might be an option for students to consider if print or electronic information is limited
  • Work through the assignment yourself, even if you’re just revising an old assignment, making sure that the assignment does what you want it to do and that the Library has the resources you’re requiring students to use.
  • Give students a copy of the assignment. If you have very specific requirements, include a list of resources you’d like them to consult. Also, check to see whether the Library has already created a guide for your subject area.
  • Put materials on course reserve if students have to use the same resource. (This is not true for reference books since they do not circulate.)
  • In assigning current or local topics, it is helpful to keep in mind that:
  • Build in “critical thinking” skills to library research assignments, such as:

    • Credibility, reliability, and authoritativeness of resources
    • Distinguishing between primary and secondary source materials
    • Development of a focus statement or hypothesis supported by quality information

Working with your liaison:

  • See the Subject Resource pages for liaisons
  • Consult with your liaison when designing a library-related assignment, before finalizing it: engage in dialog to clarify the
    • Goals and objectives of an assignment
    • Your expectations of students to successfully complete the assignment
    • Your expectations of the library in supporting the learning outcomes of students engaged in the assignment
    • levels of research–what types of search tools and resources do you expect students to use (course reserve, books, ebooks, articles–scholarly/peer-reviewed or popular, websites)?
  • Do the assignment yourself.
  • Send a copy of the assignment to your liaison before you give your students the assignment so that we can not only be prepared for the students but also participate in the assignment at the level you desire. (For example, do we answer the question, or do we tell the student to find the answer on his/her own?)
  • Schedule a course-related instructional session or discuss the assignment with your department’s liaison librarian if your assignment is particularly complex.
  • Contact your liaison or the Reference Desk if, in the course of your students’ assignment, you need to clarify something with the librarians or if your students are experiencing a problem that we can help solve.
  • Place requests for new library books not owned by GVSU at least a full semester (3 months) in advance of giving the assignment.
  • Work with your liaison librarian when choosing required readings (course reserves) to ensure that the best possible copy is available.

    Remind Students:

  • Give students enough time to complete the assignment successfully. Remind students that even under the best circumstances, research takes time.  Have them use the University of Minnesota’s Assignment Calculator.
  • Encourage students to stop by the Reference Desk or to schedule an individual consultation with the liaison library faculty member if they need assistance.
  • Remind students that both print and electronic sources can be useful; check the availability of sources immediately before giving the assignment.
  • The GVSU Library is no longer a centralized library; each location holds materials that are not duplicated at other locations. Remind your students to plan accordingly and update your own notes/instructions/assignments.
  • Allow time for document delivery and for materials in storage to be retrieved.
  • Review the definition of plagiarism with students, including examples; review how to avoid it and consequences if they do not.

Common Problems in Library Assignments: avoiding these typical problems in library assignments will make your students’ experience less frustrating and more enjoyable.  The experience you plan for your students in the Library should be a positive experience!

  • Refrain from sending students to use Library equipment (e.g., microfilm readers) just for the sake of using it. They don’t really learn how to use it, and they keep serious scholars away from needed access to the equipment.
  • Avoid giving a large class the same exact assignment. Students may have trouble accessing the materials.
  • Use a complete or accurate name when referring to a source. For example, don’t tell your students to use Standard & Poor’s since S&P publishes many well-known reference books. Be more specific by asking them to use Standard and Poor’s Industry Surveys.
  • Avoid requiring a source that the library doesn’t own.
  • Don’t give students hard-to-answer trivia questions (scavenger hunts) since librarians usually have to give students the answers.
  • Forego giving generic assignments from a handbook or textbook, unless you check ahead of time to make sure they work.
  • Refrain from asking students to look for a needle in a haystack; ask them to use the online catalog, periodical databases, or web sites in a productive manner.
  • Don’t instruct your students to use another institution’s library without having one of our library faculty contact the other institution to make appropriate arrangements.
  • NEVER require or suggest that students collect or turn in original materials (color illustrations, magazine ads, etc.). Make it clear to students that you will ONLY accept scanned copies, printouts, or photocopies for such assignments. Otherwise, you will encourage vandalism of library materials by at least some of the students.

Remember that the experience you plan for your students in the Library should be positive!  Because good library learning experiences reinforce classroom learning, we are more than happy to work with you in structuring assignments that meet your needs and serve to promote lifelong use of libraries.

Related links:
Creating Effective Library Assignments (University of Maryland University Libraries)

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