Guidelines for Effective Library Assignments

Well-designed course-related library assignments are an effective way to introduce students to library research. The following guidelines are meant to ensure that students have a positive library experience and reinforce library use as a means of learning.

Consult with a reference librarian before you give the assignment. Librarians will work with you to design an appropriate assignment that will achieve your course goals/objectives. Sending a copy of the assignment to your Department Liaison or Barbara Quarton before you give it to your students will ensure that the librarians are ready to help your students when needed.

  1. Assume minimal library knowledge. Although many students may be familiar with using some library tools (e.g., dictionaries, encyclopedias), few really understand the intricacies of subject headings or keyword searching, and many have never used research journals.
  2. Explain the assignment clearly, preferably in writing. Give students a clear idea of what the assignment involves, suggesting types of sources to be used. Give complete, accurate citations for specific works
  3. Ensure the library has access to needed materials. There are few experiences more frustrating than looking for what does not exist or has been checked out. Course Reserves are available for materials needed by many students.
  4. Avoid the mob scene. Dozens of students using just one book, article, or index, or looking for the same information usually leads to misplacement, loss, or mutilation of materials. Give students a variety of topics and sources. Use photocopies of "classic" articles if you can conform to fair-use practices.
  5. Avoid scavenger hunts. Searching for obscure facts is infuriating to students, can cause chaos in the library stacks, and teaches students little about research. When planning a library exercise, please talk to your department liaison about designing an exercise that's appropriate to the class.
  6. Encouraging Your Students to Use Library Resources has samples of alternatives to the research paper.
  7. Teach research strategy when appropriate. Include a list of steps involved in the research assigned. Invite a librarian to review strategies for the assignment with the class and discuss appropriate tools or types of materials.

(Adapted from Guidelines for Effective Library Assignments from Library Instruction, University of Oregon Library System. Last viewed: 7/13/09.)