Guidelines for Creating Effective Library Assignments
A well-designed course-related library assignment is an effective way to introduce students to research. It relates to some aspect of course subject material or learning objectives leading to an increased understanding of a subject or the process of locating information related to a subject. A library assignment that meets these criteria is an excellent teaching tool and builds research skills.The following guidelines are meant to ensure students of a positive library experience and reinforce library use as a means of learning.
1. Consult with a Reference Librarian before the assignment
The Librarians would be glad to work with you to design an appropriate assignment that will achieve your course goals/objectives. If you send a copy of your assignment to the Reference Librarians in advance, they will be able to provide your students with appropriate assistance.
2. Assume minimal library knowledge
Although some students will be familiar with using a few library tools (e.g. dictionaries, thesauri, the author/title portion of the catalog), few really understand the intricacies of subject headings, or periodical indexes/abstracts; most have never used research journals, but only Time, Newsweek, and other similar titles. A library orientation helps your students get off to a good start. Schedule it at least two weeks in advance.
3. Explain the assignment clearly, preferably in writing
Give students a clear idea of what the assignment involves, suggesting types of sources to be used. Give an example of complete citations for specific works.
4. Always be sure the library holds the needed information
It is quite frustrating to be looking for what does not exist, has been discarded, lost, or checked out. Use the Library's Reserve Books for materials that many students will need. Before you begin the assignment, verify the sources and make sure the Library owns it. You can check the online catalog over the campus network (http://www.lavc.cc.ca.us/Library/library.html). Also, send an advance copy of the assignment and its due date to the Reference Librarians.
5. Avoid the mob scene
Dozens of students using just one book, article, or index, or looking for the same information usually leads to misplacement, loss, or mutilation of materials. Give students a variety of topics and sources. Use the Reserve Book service as needed; use photocopies of "classic" articles if you can conform to fair-use practice.
6. Avoid scavenger hunts
Scavenger hunts are typically the least effective assignments! Searching for obscure facts frustrates students, can cause chaos in the stacks, and teaches students nothing useful about research. If planning a library exercise, talk to the librarian about designing one appropriate for the class.
7. Teach research strategy when appropriate
Include a list of steps involved in the research assigned. Research strategies are generally unknown to students. Invite a librarian to review strategies for the assignment with the class, and discuss appropriate tools or types of material.
8. Teach critical thinking
Choose assignments that require integration of knowledge; or an assignment that requires the student to evaluate the nature of the source (i.e., the difference between a primary source and secondary source, the difference between popular literature and academic literature.)
With sufficient lead time, librarians can provide library instruction lectures, workshops, and written materials geared specifically to your course and assignment, as well as general orientations for more inexperienced students. Please ask!
Adapted from the California Clearinghouse on Library Instruction, Southern section 12/99