This guide is intended to help new and returning instructors create library research assignments to accompany their class' research skills session in the library and/or to integrate quality library resources into any class assignment.
If you have any questions or would like to collaborate on an assignment, please feel free to contact your program librarian. We would love to hear from you!
Designing the library research assignment
Learning to locate, evaluate and use resources takes time and practice. Library research assignments can be a great way to introduce students to the library and help them build confidence in their research skills.
Click on each of the links on the left for tips on creating assignments that will help students understand how to do academic research using the library and its resources.
For new students, the library can be an intimidating place. Sometimes the wealth of resources available can seem overwhelming and students often have trouble knowing where to begin. Studies show that students who feel uncomfortable or unfamiliar with college libraries are likely to turn instead to more familiar ways of searching (namely, Google) (Head & Eisenberger, 2009).
An introductory assignment that has students navigate the physical and online environments of the library, while clarifying the different kinds of information available, can reduce the stress of doing research and highlight the value of the library's high-quality resources. Please feel free to use or adapt any of the sample assignments listed to the left on this page for this purpose. To use these assignments effectively, they should be linked to a library research workshop led by your program librarian.
While library introduction assignments are great for getting students started, we all know that real learning occurs when students apply what they have learned in class to actual research for an assignment. When beginning an assignment, a brief reminder of the resources provided by the library and/or a refresher on finding and using library materials is a good idea, even if your students have participated in a library workshop in the past.
Reviewing basic steps such as how to access the library website, how to search for books and where to begin looking for journal articles can reduce stress and boost students' confidence in their abilities. Highlighting the different ways that students can get research help (by asking a librarian or watching an online tutorial, for example) can also reduce the stress of doing research and result in higher-quality completed assignments. Your program librarian is happy to help with this in any way.
1. Clearly Define your Terms
Studies show that students often have difficulty determining when to use different kinds or sources of information (Head & Eisenberg, 2009). This is a learned skill and one that is integral to information literacy. Including clear directions about what kind of information sources to use (i.e. books, scholarly journal articles, newspaper articles, etc) can help students understand the differences between various types of sources, as well as assist librarians in steering students toward the right sources when they come for help.
Online resources: Web VS. Library
In particular, it is important to be very clear about the difference between online or "web" sources and online journal and newspaper articles. Many times when instructors say that online or web sources are not allowed, students get the impression that they are not allowed to use our e-book or journal article databases, which make available full-text online sources that were originally published in print. For more on this distinction, see "Is it information on the web or a journal/magazine article?"
2. Indicate the required number of resources
It is recommended that instructors set a minimum number of resources, with no set maximum. For example, "For this assignment please use a minimum of three library resources (this can include: books, magazines, ebooks, articles)."
3. Require a variety of sources...
...but be FLEXIBLE. Why? Not all topics, particularly those chosen by students themselves, are covered in every type of resource. For example, it may be difficult to find government documents in print on the topic of faith healing.
Content for this section adapted from Northwestern Michigan College Library.
Sometimes it can be hard for students to see the value of using good quality information (especially when it means doing more than a Google search!). Since studies show that students learn best when they perceive an assignment to be relevant to their life or studies (Miley, 2009; Park & Choi, 2009; Shotwell, 1999), it helps to have students search for materials on subjects that will be covered in the class or their program.
Emphasizing future uses for this information can help too - including questions like “when might you use this resource in the future?” or “what other kind of information can you find here?” can help students think critically about resources and understand the connection between introductory library assignments and future research assignments.
In an effort to remain current we are constantly updating, revising and replacing library materials and resources. This means that an assignment that worked one year may not be suitable the next, simply because new materials have been acquired or new modes of access provided.
In addition, while we try our best to ensure that the library’s resources meet program needs, it would be impossible to provide access to every publication and resource available on a topic. Therefore it is best to make sure that the library has the materials students will need to complete their assignment right before it is assigned. Few things are more frustrating for students than being asked to complete an assignment using resources that are not available!
Sharing your assignment with your program librarian before assigning it to students can help avoid this, and will give your librarian an opportunity to let you know about other great resources you may wish to focus on.
Remember, if you are pointing students to a particular resource or asking them to investigate a topic, check with your librarian first, or feel free to double-check the library collection yourself to ensure we have the resources you are asking students to find.
Since we're always updating our resources, it's a good idea to go through the assignment as your students would and make sure all of the required or suggested resources are still available. Things can change quickly and while we try to keep faculty informed of major changes to our resources, we don't always have advance notice ourselves.
Be especially careful with links to journal articles and other online resources. Doing the assignment can also act as a reminder of what kinds of challenges students will encounter. Sharing these details with your program librarian can help us prepare for your students at the reference desk.
Library assignments are what we do! When designing the assignment, please feel free to ask for input from your program librarian. We have seen a lot of great assignments but we have also seen students become frustrated and disheartened by assignments that have great potential but just require a few tweaks.
Sharing an assignment with your program librarian before it is handed out to students can save you time and energy in the long run and can help ensure that it will provide a constructive learning opportunity for students. In addition, a copy of the assignment can be placed at the library reference desk so that all library staff can be alerted in advance of the assignment’s objectives and required materials.
There is a lot of research out there about the benefits for students and faculty when faculty and librarians work together (ACRL 2012; Jacobson & Mackey, 2007; Miller & Pellen, 2005; Mounce, 2010; Rockman, 2004; Stevens & Campbell, 2008;), so please feel free to contact us about collaborating on an assignment. We would love to help!
Library instruction workshops normally take place in a designated classroom within the library (please speak to your program librarian about class visits).
Led by librarians, they are a great way to introduce your students to the physical environment of the library while delivering essential research skills. Your program librarians will create and deliver a session (usually 45 - 60 minutes in length) designed specifically for your students’ program, class or assignment.
We strive to provide sessions that will assist with current assignments as well as future studies. In accordance with the ACRL Information Literacy standards, our ultimate goal is to promote lifelong learning.
To schedule a library workshop, begin by contacting your program librarian. If you have a specific assignment in mind, we will be happy to discuss it with you beforehand - the earlier the better! The more time we have with your assignment, the more tailored the workshop will be (1- 2 weeks before the scheduled class is best).
You may also wish to make use of one of the assignments listed on the right-hand side of this page, under "sample assignments." Don't forget, we’re happy to help you create assignments too! We would love to hear from you.
If you do not see an assignment for your students' area of study here, please contact your liaison librarian (listed above). We will be happy to supply you with an assignment geared toward a specific program area.
Textbooks, E-books, E-Coursepacks & Copyright
If many students will be using one resource (a specific book, for example) you may be able to have it placed on reserve by filling out the Course Reserve Form. Reserve items will be made available to students for a short time only, which should help ensure that all students have equal access to them. Please note, the rules surrounding copyright and reserve items have recently changed. For information please see the Textbooks, E-Texts and E-Coursepacks page.
Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL). 2012 (rev.). Characteristics of Programs of Information Literacy that Illustrate Best Practices: A Guideline. http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/characteristics. Accessed April 13, 2012.
Carter, E. W. (2002) 'Doing the Best You Can with What You Have:’ Lessons Learned from Outcomes Assessment. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 28, 36–41.
Head, A. & Eisenberg, M. (2009). What today's college students say about conducting research in the digital age: Project Information Literacy Project Report. Retrieved from http://projectinfolit.org/pdfs/PIL_ProgressReport_2_2009.pdf.
Jacobson, T. E. and Mackey, T.P., eds. (2007). Information Literacy Collaborations
that Work. New York: Neal-Schuman.
Julien, H. & Given, L. (2003). Faculty-Librarian Relationships in the Information Literacy Context: A Content Analysis of Librarians’ Expressed Attitudes and Experiences.
Canadian Journal of Information and Library Science, 27, 65–87.
Marfleet, G. & Dille, B. (2005). ‘Information Literacy and the Undergraduate Research Methods Curriculum. Journal of Political Science Education, 1, 175–190.
Miley, F. (2009). The storytelling project: innovating to engage students in their learning. Higher Education Research & Development, 28(4), 357-369.
Miller, W. & Pellen, R.M. (2005). Libraries within Their Institutions: Creative Collaborations.
Binghamton, NY: Haworth Information Press.
Mounce, M. (2010). Working together: Academic librarians and faculty collaborating to imporve student's information literacy skills: A literature review 2000-2009. The Reference Librarian, 51, 300-320.
Park, J., & Hee Jun, C. (2009). Factors Influencing Adult Learners' Decision to Drop Out or Persist in Online Learning. Journal Of Educational Technology & Society, 12(4), 207-217.
Rockman, I. (2004). Integrating Information Literacy into the Higher Education Curriculum:
Practical Models for Transformation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Shotwell, T. A. (1999). Comparative analysis of business and non-business students' performances in financial accounting: Passing rates, interest and motivation in accounting, and attitudes toward reading and math. College Student Journal, 33(2), 181.
Stevens, C. R. & Campbell, P.J. (2008). Collaborating with Librarians to Develop Lower Division Political Science Students' Information Literacy Competencies. Journal of Political Science Education, 4(2), 225-252.