Guidelines for Designing
and Implementing Effective Library Research Assignments LRC@TCC
Suggestions | Characteristics | Pitfalls | Resources
Here to Help! When designing assignments
for your students, it can be helpful to consult with a librarian
regarding resources available at the TCC Libraries. Librarians will
be happy to answer any questions you may have. Prior to handing a
library assignment out to your students, consider providing the librarians
with an advance copy, along with recommended sources (if any) you
would like your students to use. With a copy of the assignment in
hand, librarians are better able to assist students in finding the
resources they require. When an assignment is over, feel free to
ask librarians for feedback. (e.g., did any students seem confused
or have trouble understanding the assignment? Were there any resource
access problems related to the assignment?) Suggestions for
Characteristics of Effective Assignments
- Check with the librarians
in advance of the assignment to assure availability of and access
to required library resources.
- Test the assignment beforehand.
Try to put yourself in the students' shoes with their experience
and perspective, which is probably much more limited than yours
("walk" or "web" it through).
- Request an
instructional session for your class to familiarize students
with research techniques and sources.
- Tell the students what purpose
the research assignment serves.
- Describe the specifics of
the assignment (e.g., length, acceptable types of sources, format
for references/bibliography - APA, MLA, etc.).
- Give the students a printed
list of sources if there are specific ones you want them to use.
Include library call numbers for books and/or World Wide Web address(es).
instructions are available.
Pitfalls to Avoid
- Clarity. Give library research
assignments in writing (rather than verbally) to reduce confusion.
- Select terminology carefully
and define any questionable words. Students tend to take library
research assignments at face value and may be confused by terms
that they or a librarian cannot interpret definitively. For example,
some instructors tell students not to use the Internet but students
must use the Internet to access any of of the Library's paid subscription databases.
Some instructors differentiate between magazines and journals,
while others use the terms interchangeably. Does "use the Library's
computers" or "use the Internet," mean the online
catalog - or another computer database? Does an assignment
such as "find an article on the Internet" refer to the Internet
in general, or one of the Library's paid subscription fdatabases?
Additionally, do students understand what is meant by "primary" or "secondary" sources
(if you require their use)?
- Currency. The Library regularly
updates and adds to its resources. New sources and ways of accessing
information occur with increasing frequency. By checking your assignments
regularly, you can make certain that you are not asking your students
to use outdated or withdrawn sources.
- Appropriate time frame. Remember
to allow for students' inexperience and for the availability of
- Assuming that most students know
the basics. The information environment changes rapidly.
As a result, students may need an introduction (or re-introduction)
to current library resources. Many students have no prior experience
using the library. Even students who have attended a previous
library orientation may not have received information relevant
to the needs of your current assignment. Keep in mind that transfer
or new students may have no prior experience using the library.
- Thinking that required sources are
readily available. Double check current library holdings
as resources are often added or updated from semester to semester.
The Library may not own the identical items that you have used
at other libraries. Consider re-testing an assignment before
giving it out in a new semester.
- Giving the entire class the same
assignment and sources. If an entire class has the same
assignment, students find themselves competing for materials.
As an alternative, for example, instead of requiring the entire
class to research the history of Microsoft, you might ask them
to research a major public American corporation of their choosing.
If it is necessary for a whole class to use a particular source
or set of sources, it may be helpful to place them on reserve
by calling your Library's circulation
- Assigning a scavenger hunt. The
least effective scavenger hunt only asks students to locate random
facts (e.g., "How many volumes comprise the Oxford English
Dictionary?"). Librarians rather than the students frequently
end up locating the answers. The most effective scavenger hunts
balance the search process with identifying appropriate information
sources (e.g., "What source in the library would provide an overview
to literary criticism written about Maya Angelou?").
- The Library
staff is always eager to assist you.
- The Library offers a variety of customized
library instruction sessions and/or advanced instructional sessions.
instruction page offers online instruction such as library
research and literature research web pages which include online
- The librarians can also provide subject
guides designed to meet your class requirements.
- Early scheduling can guarantee that a librarian
and library facilities will be available to fit your specific course
Adapted from University of Wisconsin-Madison, Library and Information
Literacy Instruction Program and from University Library, California
State University, Northridge