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Information Literacy Guide: Article: Library Assignments: Challenges that Students Face . . .

A guide to support faculty in incorporating General Education Learning Goal #4 into the curriculum.

Ideas for Library Assignments from Necia Parker-Gibson

Source:  "Library Assignments:  Challenges that Students Face and How to Help" (College Teaching, Vol. 49, No. 2, p. 65-70, Spring 2001):

  • Provide a clear, simple, written definition of the assignment and verify that students understand it.
    • Include a list of resources you would like them to consult or ask the librarian to develop a list of materials available in the library that will support their research. 
  • Encourage critical thinking skills by posing a problem or question for which students must develop a solution.
    • Ask students to find information and use it in a meaningful way rather than just locate facts.
    • Have them evaluate the information they find by analyzing it, questioning it, and comparing various information sources.
  • Define the terms you use and be specific about the tools that students should use to complete their assignment.
    • Make sure they know the difference between magazines and scholarly literature (professional, peer reviewed, refereed journals).
    • When students are told they should not use encyclopedias as sources, they will avoid the Britannica, but they will also avoid excellent, subject-specific encyclopedias written by experts.
    • When students are told not to use the Internet, they believe that they cannot use subscription databases accessed through the Internet that provide citations and the full text of scholarly journal articles.
  • Allow students to choose between a variety of topics and utilize a variety of resources.
    • Even if material is placed on reserve in the library to guarantee access, an assignment that requires that all students use a specific resource increases the possibility that materials will be unavailable when students need them. 
  • Assignments that consist of hard-to-answer, very specific questions or random facts (scavenger hunts) usually require that librarians do the research and give answers to the students.
    • The goal is for students to learn to do research more independently.
  • Try doing the assignment yourself at the library students will be using before giving the assignment.
    • Students will experience more success by completing an assignment with resources that are readily available to them.
  •  Help students to recognize that research takes time by assigning writing assignments early. 
    • The best books and/or articles for their topic might only be available through Interlibrary Loan.
  • Communicate with library staff in advance about assignments and/or provide a copy of the assignment and course syllabus.
    • Advance warning about specific assignments allows librarians to gather and create helpful materials, plan ways to assist students, and give you feedback if the assignment will be difficult for students to complete in our library.
  • Remember that some students have never been to the library and do not know how to use the library.
  • Present a realistic picture of what is and what is not on the Internet.
    • Ask students to use a variety of sources, not just the Internet.
    • Make sure they understand the nature of information found in the research databases the library purchases for their use.
  • When the Internet is a good source for an assignment, recommend specific sites, lists of links compiled by experts, or subject directories of evaluated sites.
    • This helps students find authoritative, timely and useful information.
    • Invite a librarian to your class to teach how to locate quality Internet sites, searching strategies for the major search engines, and evaluation of Internet sources.
  • Schedule a course-related instruction session with the librarian to introduce students to the resources in the library that would be most helpful.
    • Provide a list of the topics chosen by the students for the librarian so that the session can be individualized to their needs.
  • Encourage students to arrange an individual consultation with the librarian.
    • They can obtain help with their research and with understanding how to use the library and its resources.
    • Librarians can teach them how to find information more efficiently so that they can spend more time synthesizing their information and doing their writing.