Creating Effective Library Assignments

Consult with a Reference Librarian before giving the assignment

Librarians are experts on information sources and information research processes and can help you design an appropriate assignment that will achieve your course goals and objectives. Please send a copy of the assignment to the Coordinator of Library Instruction to ensure that the library staff is ready to help your students.

Assume minimal library knowledge

Some students may be familiar with using some library tools, but few really understand the intricacies of subject headings or keyword searching, and many have never used research journals.

Explain the assignment clearly in writing

Give students a clear idea of what the assignment involves, suggesting types of sources to be used. Give complete citations for specific works.

Always be sure the library holds the needed information

There are few experiences more frustrating that looking for what does not exist or has been checked out. Send an advance copy of the assignment and its due date to the Coordinator of Library Instruction.

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 sources. Use the course reserve service as needed.

Avoid scavenger hunts

Searching for obscure facts frustrates students, can cause chaos in the library stacks, and teaches students little about research. If planning a library exercise, talk with a reference librarian about designing one appropriate to your class.

Teach research strategy when appropriate

Include a list of steps involved in the research assigned. You may want to consider requesting a library instruction session for your class where a librarian can review strategies for the assignment with the class, and discuss appropriate tools or types of materials.

Present a realistic picture of what is, and what is not, on the Web

In general, try to refrain from encouraging students to use the Web as the only source for information. Please let your students know that the databases to which libraries subscribe usually provide quality information that is much easier to find than the hit-or-miss Web searching students often do. When the Web is the best or sole source for the kind of information you require, please recommend specific sites, specific expert lists of links, or specific directories to help them find authoritative, timely and useful information.


Stress to students that there are professional librarians available at the reference desk or by appointment to help them retrieve the information they need for their research.

With sufficient lead-time, librarians can provide presentations and written materials geared specifically to your course and assignment, as well as general orientations for more inexperienced students. Please contact the Library Instruction Coordinator (x6209) to find out more about these services.