Creating Effective Library Assignments
Creating library assignments that serve both the students and faculty well can be a challenge.
Effective library/research based assignments have a well defined purpose behind them and develop
both students' research and critical thinking skills.
Purpose of course-related research assignments
An effective research assignment...
- has a specific, understood purpose.
- relates to some aspect of course subject matter or learning objectives.
- leads to increased understanding of a subject or the process of locating information related to
- makes students aware of the variety of information sources and formats available (e.g., print,
electronic, microform, video).
- teaches students to select and evaluate quality information sources appropriate to their
- reinforces habits of ethical scholarship.
Preparing your students
- Tell your students
why they are doing this assignment and what
purpose it serves.
- If the assignment requires the use of specific sources, give the students a list of them. You
may wish to
place them on Reserve to assure availability and access for
your entire class.
- If it involves the use of complex sources or unfamiliar research strategies, your students will
need to be oriented to these, by you or by a librarian, in a customized, scheduled library
Characteristics of effective assignments
Clarity - If students have difficulty understanding what they are supposed to do,
they will have trouble doing it. Give assignments
in writing (rather than orally).
Currency - Information sources are constantly changing. New sources appear as do
methods of accessing the information. Check your assignments each semester to verify the accuracy
of your sources. If you have questions about sources call the Undergrad Library, (217)
Reasonable time frames - Students who are new to library research often find
library assignments very time-consuming. Providing deadlines for different stages of the assignment
are useful for larger research projects. On the subject of time frames, it is important for
students to be aware that information about current topics may be limited to newspaper sources, as
journal articles and books take time to appear. Share the
Assignment Calculator with your students to familiarize them with
a timeline for their paper or other project.
Avoidance ofambiguous terminology - Students are easily confused by new terms and
often interpret assignments quite literally. Common problems include:
- Some instructors differentiate between magazines and journals, while others use the terms
- Does "library computer" mean the online library catalog or some other online database, or
- Use full and current titles of journals and databases; avoid abbreviations and superceded
- What do you mean by "the web"? Many high quality, expensive electronic research tools are made
available by the library on the web. These resources are not to be confused with what is freely
retrieved by searching the web.
Pitfalls to avoid
Assuming most students know the basics
Do not assume that your students have had prior research experience or experience using a
Requiring resources not available
The materials that the University Library owns or leases change from semester to semester.
UIUC Libraries may not own or lease the same materials as other libraries you have used. Retest an
assignment before giving it out.
Giving an entire class the exact same assignment
Needed resources will be difficult to find at best, disappear or be vandalized at worst.
Instead of asking the whole class to research the history of IBM, ask them to research a major
public American corporation of their choosing.
Assigning a scavenger hunt
least effective assignment possible asks students to locate random facts. It lacks
a clear purpose, does not teach students to do meaningful library research, and may be frustrating.
Librarians rather than students frequently end up locating the answers. In general, these
assignments result in a high level of student frustration with regard to using the library.
Other helpful tips
Place it on reserve - If you have a large number of students using the same
source, consider placing it on
that all will have easy access to it.
Provide us with a copy - If you have numerous students doing an assignment it can
be very helpful if we have a copy of it as well. We will then be better prepared to help your
students locate appropriate sources.
Don't be a stranger - Stop in the library, or contact Susan Avery, Instructional
Services Librarian, Undergraduate Library at
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