Faculty Guide for Effective Library Assignments

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 them 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 Check your assignment regularly so your students are not asked to use outdated or no-longer-existing methods and sources.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 one of our 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 a whole 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 which 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 one of our Subject Specialists or Mr. John Upchurch, Head of Public Services (ext. 5252). Classes may be scheduled by submitting our Library Instruction Session 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 one of your

Adapted, with permission, from Allyson Washburn, Dixie State College's Val A. Browning Library, George, Utah (http://library.dixie.edu/index.html)