Creating Effective Library Research Assignments

The Reference Librarians can assist teaching faculty in creating effective library assignments.  Various types of assistance are available:

  • Identifying available resources for projects and papers. 
  • Placing high-demand items on Reserve.
Working with the Reference Librarians can help you avoid:
  • Assignments that do not reflect current local resources, services, and technologies.
  • Assignments with terminology that confuses students, e.g. scholarly journals, primary sources, etc.
  • Assignments that require large groups of students to use the same source within a short time frame.

Elements of Good Library Assignments: A Checklist

  1. Purpose:
    • What is the goal or reason for doing the assignment?
    • What are the students expected to learn?
    • Will the assignment help students better understand a subject area or the process of locating information on a subject?
  2. Relevance:
    • The library assignment should originate from and be directly related to the course subject.
    • Tie the library assignment to other course assignments.
  3. Require Critical Thought:
    • Emphasize the research process and analysis over "correct" answers.
    • Ask the students to evaluate, analyze, and make comments, not just compile a list or find a specific fact or article.
  4. Feasibility:
    • Is the assignment doable?
    • Has it been tested?
  5. Availability and Currency:
    • Are all the sources available at Odum Library?
    • How up-to-date are the sources?
  6. Variety:
    • Assign a variety of topics and sources to give students a better chance at finding resources.
    • Will a single source be tied up by dozens of students?
  7. Accuracy:
  8. Flexibility: Can students tailor the assignment to their specific interests and goals?

Quick Tips for Creating Library Research Assignments

  • Consult with a Reference Librarian (333-7149) before the assignment.
  • Explain the assignment in writing. This will help avoid misunderstanding by allowing students to refer to the original instructions.
    • Include complete bibliographic information (full title, edition, volume, publication date) of any specific library items you want your students to use.
    • You might want to explicitly state that resources found through Internet search engines (such as Google) are not the same as resources found through the subscription, Internet-based GALILEO Databases (such as Academic Search Complete or Lexis-Nexis).
  • Share a copy of the assignment with the Reference Department. This is especially important if the students will be required to use specific print sources, which can be placed on temporary reserve. This will also help the Reference Librarians to be ready to help your students (who might forget to bring the assignment sheets with them to the library.)
  • Check the Online Catalog to verify book/journal titles and availability. Journal titles are sometimes changed by the publisher, and subscriptions to periodicals may be canceled. Books may be checked out or missing from the stacks.
  • Arrange for a library instruction session (333-7149 or online request form) to coincide with when students receive their assignments. This is especially important for freshmen or if a research assignment involves the use of subject-specific sources or search techniques.
  • Assume minimal student library, computer, and information-gathering experience. Many students are not familiar with the intricacies of subject headings, periodical indexes or databases, and few freshmen have used scholarly journals.
  • Encourage students to plan their research before and as they locate information, and provide them with a list of steps involved in the assigned research. You might want to consider establishing deadlines for bibliographies, outlines, rough drafts, etc.
  • Try to do the assignment yourself within the time frame you have given your students.
  • Ask your students for feedback on the library assignment.
  • Assess and update the assignment each semester. You may want to contact a librarian (333-7149) to help determine what resources are currently available and what has changed since the assignment was last given.

Library Research Tips to Share With Your Students

  • Remind your students that research takes time! Time needs to be factored in for determining which databases to use (GALILEO alone contains more than 150 databases), figuring out what terms to type in, printing out articles, finding books, locating the bound journals and a photocopier, and critically reading and analyzing the sources.
  • Be sure students know they can and should ask for assistance at the Reference Desk, Circulation and Reserve Desks, and Archives Office. Reference questions can be asked at the Reference Desk in person or by phone (333-7149), or submitted online to the Ask A Librarian email reference service.
  • Many books on the same topics get checked out. Encourage your students to check out books as early as possible, especially if they are researching "hot topics" such as abortion, gun control, welfare, genetic engineering, and violence in the media.
  • The Internet at large is not the same as "Internet-based resources". In other words, GALILEO databases such as MLA Bibliography,ABI/Inform, and Lexis-Nexis are not the Internet.
    • Some students are told not use "the Internet" for their research and, therefore, think that they cannot use GALILEO databases and othersubscription databases.
    • Articles contained in full-text databases are identical to the contents of many of our print materials, and are paid for by Library and University System subscriptions.
    • Internet search engines, such as Google, do not link to articles found in our full-text databases. Such carefully screened materials are usually not available on the Internet at large for ready, free access.
  • Print is Not Dead. Many students, especially freshmen, limit their research to searching full-text article databases. Remind your students that excellent information can be found in reference books, print journals, microfilm newspapers, etc. Believe it or not, some information can be found faster in a print source than in an electronic one!
  • Besides finding full-text articles, students will still need to check for local periodical holdings. Citation databases, like print indexes, are global in scope and always index more titles than are held locally. Some students think that if it is in the index, it's in the Library. Emphasize that students should search for the journal title, not the article title, when conducting a title search in Odum Library's Online Catalog.
  • Government documents are shelved separately and organized according to a classification system different from the rest of the library. Reference librarians will help students find relevant materials, in print, on microfiche, or in electronic format.
  • Students can take advantage of InterLibrary Loan to obtain materials not owned by Odum Library, but they need to allow approximately 3-10 working days for their requests to be processed.
  • Tell your students to come to the library prepared. They might want to bring a disk to download citations or full-text articles. (A disk is a must if they come to type a paper.) Paper, pens, and change for the photocopiers are also a good idea.

Tips for Developing Web Assignments

Web assignments require careful consideration of students' experience with electronic resources and of the types of information available on the Web. The World Wide Web is gigantic and imprecise in both its contents and search techniques. Despite its differences from traditional academic literature, it is still a rich information source. Scholarly information, research reports, current news, and many government documents are available on the Web, along with "fun" sites. Effective course assignments can help students learn to put the Web in perspective as one of many resources to support their research needs.

  • Identify what you want students to learn about searching the Web and how it compares to traditional library resources.
  • Before assigning a Web-related exercise, ask several students to tell you how they would complete it to alert you to potential problems.
  • Ask students to explore the types of resources related to their discipline on the Web. The results can be demonstrated in class and compared with sites you recommend.
  • Request that a librarian demonstrate advanced search techniques in class or create a hands-on session in the library's electronic classroom.
  • Require students to include their search strategy and analyze how they refined it and what made it more successful. The results can be demonstrated in class.
  • Have students develop their own assessment criteria for Web sites and discuss the importance of them in class. Refer students to checklists that can be used to evaluate Web sites.
  • Encourage students to work in pairs or groups so they can help one another.