Library Instruction

The Library offers Library Instruction to all individual patrons, classes, or groups that request these services. See the Library Orientation and Bibliographic Instruction section of the Policy and Procedures Manual for more information. Instructors can use the Library Space Request Form to schedule an instruction session for their class.

Library Instruction Personnel

Mr. John Upchurch, Head of Public Services

Library Instruction Information

What is Library Instruction

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Library instruction refers to single or multiple class sessions taught by subject specialist library faculty that introduce students to library research strategies and the basic information sources needed for effective use of the library. Library instruction sessions are designed for both a basic introduction to the university library, and to complement particular courses or fields of study. Instruction covers use of the databases to which the Library subscribes, the Library Catalog, the Houston Cole Library's website, subject-specific print indexes and abstracting services, major bibliographies and reference tools, as well as appropriate remote sources accessible on the World Wide Web, and from commercial information providers. Procedures for the retrieval and use of information and materials are also covered.

It is the policy of the Houston Cole Library to offer library orientation and library instruction to all individual patrons, classes, or groups that request these services, if the request is done in a timely manner and a librarian is available. Library orientation is designed to introduce new or potential patrons to the collection, facilities, organization, and services of the Houston Cole Library. Library instruction is designed to promote information literacy by teaching library patrons the organization and structure of information, and the variety of research methodologies employed to access relevant information in an effective, efficient, and timely manner, thus providing a foundation for contemporary and lifelong learning.

Why provide library instruction to your class?

Library instruction can help students with any or all of the following:

  • Understanding the use of the library's online system as well as remote catalogs
  • Identifying and critically evaluating information in various formats available from a variety of local and remote sources including the World Wide Web
  • Focusing and narrowing a topic
  • Locating materials on a specific subject
  • Recognizing scholarly vs. popular materials
  • Using current as well as older materials
  • Finding statistics, documents, and other sources, both electronic and in print
  • Overcoming library anxiety
  • Improving communication with library faculty regarding their information needs

Through instruction in the use of a wide range of library resources, students will be better able to complete more thoughtful, interesting, and scholarly research projects.

Where is library instruction provided?

Classes are generally taught in one of the Library's two instruction classrooms - in the basement or on the 10th floor. There are occasions when the session must take place on a subject floor. The classroom in the basement has 25 micro-computer work stations and an instructor's workstation. The classroom on the 10th floor contains a projector. All are networked locally and capable of Internet access, as well as a workstation with an LCD projector and CD-ROM player to demonstrate searching a variety of electronic sources. Special arrangements may be made for larger classes.

How do you plan for library instruction?

Library faculty are interested in becoming active partners in integrating information resources directly into classroom, and individual learning by involvement with classroom faculty at the initial stages of planning for library instruction. They are available to consult on assignment design and implementation to assure that the objectives of any library assignment are realistic and appropriate, given available source materials and other library resources. Please call the appropriate library faculty member (see list below) for advice as early as possible in planning a library assignment.

Library instruction should be scheduled as far in advance as possible to allow adequate preparation by the library faculty member involved. Timing is everything; students get the most out of library instruction if the session is presented on a date to closely coincide with the point of need for information. Once the session is scheduled, library faculty prepare their instruction and appropriate accompanying written materials in consultation with the instructor, taking into account the focus of the course, details of the students' assignments, and what sources should be presented in the sessions.

How can you request library instruction?

Faculty should arrange well in advance for library instruction for their classes by submitting the Library Space Request Form or by contacting the appropriate subject specialist librarian.

For more information about library instruction, please contact Mr. John Bruce Upchurch:; (256) 782-5252.

Faculty Guide for Effective Library Assignments

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Purpose of Library Assignments:

An effective library assignment has a specific, understood purpose relating to some aspect of the course subject matter or learning objectives. It will lead to increased understanding of the subject through the process of locating information related to the subject. A library assignment that meets this criteria is an excellent teaching tool, and can enhance and enrich the student's learning experience, increase the understanding of the subject matter and build research skills.

Implementation of library assignments:

In order to be effective, a library assignment must be implemented in an appropriate manner. Students should be prepared for the assignment, told why they are doing it and what purpose it serves. If the assignment requires the use of specific sources, students should be given a list of these and arrangements made with the library to assure availability and access. If it involves the use of complex sources or unfamiliar research strategies, students should be oriented to these - by you or by a librarian - in a customized, scheduled library instruction class. When testing an assignment, try to put yourself in the student's shoes with their experience and perspective.

Characteristics of Effective Assignments:

  • Clarity: If students have trouble understanding what they are supposed to do, they will have trouble doing it. Give library assignments in writing (not orally) to reduce confusion.
  • Use of Correct Terminology: Students tend to interpret library assignments very literally and are easily confused by terms they, and the librarian, cannot interpret definitively. Define any questionable words. For example, some instructors differentiate between magazines and journals, while others use the terms interchangeably. Does "library computer" mean the online catalog, computerized periodical indexes, the Internet, or CD-ROM databases?
  • Currency: The library is continually changing and these changes will affect library assignments. New sources and ways of accessing information replace old ones constantly. Check your assignment regularly so your students are not asked to use outdated or no-longer-existing methods and sources. If it's been a while since you've used library research sources, contact a Reference librarian for help.
  • Appropriate Time Frame: Do the assignment yourself to see how long it takes before you decide how long students need to do it. Remember to allow for their inexperience and the various locations of different materials.

Pitfalls to avoid:

  • Assuming most students already know the basics: Don't assume that your students have prior experience in using the library, orientation to the library, or that their orientation was relevant to your assignment. The library no longer uses the same online system as the public library or the local high schools, and has many more research databases available. In addition, basic introductory skills may be inadequate for a more complex assignment.
  • Requiring resources that are not available: Do not assume what the library has or doesn't have. While a core of basic resources is maintained, others may change from year to year. This library may not have what you have used in other libraries. It is always a good idea to retest the assignment before giving it out.
  • An entire class with the same assignment: If an entire class has the same exact assignment, needed resources will be difficult to find at best, disappear or be vandalized at worst. For example, instead of asking an entire class to research the history of IBM, ask them to research the history of a major public American corporation of their choice. If it is necessary for an entire class to use a particular source or set of sources, have them put on reserve. Librarians can assist you in placing needed materials in a controlled access environment where each student will have an equal opportunity to use the item. Telling the student to "put it back" just does not work. Even the most honorable of students may reshelve items in the wrong place. To place items on reserve, call extension 5758.
  • The Scavenger Hunt: The least effective assignment possible requires students to locate random facts. It lacks clear purpose, teaches little, and is very frustrating. Frequently librarians, not students, end up locating the information.

The role of the librarian:

When it comes to library assignments, librarians are an excellent resource. While a librarian will not create an assignment for you, one will be glad to work with you in developing the assignment, look at a draft, and provide comments. Since students will be coming to the Reference librarians for help, it would help us (and therefore the students) to have a copy of the assignment, and recommended sources, in advance. When an assignment is over, librarians may be able to provide feedback. Did any students seem confused or have trouble understanding the assignment? Were there any resources or access problems related to the assignment? Faculty and librarians working together can make library assignments a successful learning experience for students.


  • Library instruction: The library offers a variety of basic and customized instruction classes that assist students in learning how to use the resources found in the library. These classes familiarize students with new information resources, as well as traditional printed information sources. For complete information, contact your or Mr. John Bruce Upchurch, Head of Public Services (ext. 5252). Classes may be scheduled by submitting our Library Space Request Form. If you want a class during the first two to four weeks of a semester, schedule it as soon as possible as this is a busy time for library instruction and only one session can be scheduled in any one time slot.
  • Demonstrations of computerized resources: Several basic computerized resources are demonstrated during the English 101 and English 201 instruction sessions. If you'd like a class dealing with a particular resource in more depth or one on advanced searching techniques, contact your department liaison.

Adapted, with permission, from Allyson Washburn, Dixie State College's Val A. Browning Library, George, Utah

Helpful Links:

Information Literacy
Instruction Policy
Request Instruction

Instruction Evaluations

Student Evaluation
Faculty Evaluation