Creating Effective Library Assignments

PURPOSE OF A LIBRARY ASSIGNMENT

  • It should have a specific, understood purpose.
  • It should be related to the subject matter or learning objectives of the course.
  • It should increase the students’ understanding of the subject matter.
  • It should help students build their research skills.
  • It should help students improve their critical thinking skills:
    • By making comparisons between two or more sources of information.
    • By looking at the potential impact of something.
    • By agreeing or disagreeing with a researched viewpoint.

IMPLEMENTATION OF LIBRARY ASSIGNMENTS

  • Tell your students why they have to do the assignment and what purpose it serves.
  • If an assignment requires specific resources, give students a list of these sources.
  • Put specific resources on reserve or at one of the reference desks in the library.
  • Orient students personally to complex sources or unfamiliar research strategies, or make an appointment with a librarian for a customized library instruction session.
  • View the assignment from your students’ experiences and perspectives.
  • Tie the assignment to other assignments or to the students’ personal experiences or their fields of study.

CHARACTERISTICS OF EFFECTIVE ASSIGNMENTS

Clarity

  • Give library assignments in writing (not orally) to reduce confusion.
  • Provide students with easy-to-understand instructions.
  • Include all the information students will need to complete the assignment.

Use of correct terminology

  • Define any and all questionable words.
  • Try to use the correct library terminology.
  • Explain what you mean by the resources that you expect students to use.
    • Magazines vs. scholarly journals?
    • “Library computer” = LibCat (TAMU Libraries’ online catalog of materials)? Or what?
    • Internet (or World Wide Web) vs. library’s electronic databases?

Currency

  • Check assignments for outdated methods and sources or ones that no longer exist.
  • Be aware that assignments created around current events may raise problems due to the delay when critical analyses and reviews about events are available.
  • Contact Learning and Outreach Services (862-1060) for a personal faculty orientation.

Appropriate time frame

  • Do the assignment yourself to see how long it takes and to be sure that all the necessary materials are in the library (i.e., not missing, not on Reserve, etc.).
  • Allow for students’ inexperience and for movement of materials in the library.

ROLE OF LIBRARIANS

  • Librarians are an excellent resource! They are glad to work with you in developing assignments, looking at drafts, and providing comments.
  • Please provide the library with a copy of the assignment and recommended sources in advance. This will help the librarians to help your students.
  • When an assignment is over, you might want to contact the library for feedback.
    • Did any students seem confused or have trouble understanding the assignment?
    • Were there any resource or access problems related to the assignment?

PITFALLS TO AVOID

Please don’t make the following assumptions about your students:

  • That they have had previous experience in using the library.
  • That they have already been oriented to the library.
  • That their library orientation was relevant to your assignment.
  • That transfer or new graduate students have experience in this library system.
  • That their basic library skills are adequate for upper-level, subject-based research assignments.

Please don’t assume what the Library has or doesn't have.

  • Resources change dramatically from semester to semester.
  • This library may not have exactly what other libraries have.
  • Always retest the assignment before giving it out from one semester to the next.

Please don’t give an entire class the same assignment.

  • Required resources may be hard to find, or they may have disappeared or been vandalized.
  • Offer several possibilities (e.g., ask students to research the history of a major public American corporation of their choosing rather than one particular company).
  • Arrange to have materials put on reserve or placed behind the reference service desks if an entire class must use a particular source or set of sources.

Please don’t ask students to copy information from one source.

  • One student may check out the resource, and then it won’t be available for others.
  • The source may be reshelved incorrectly, and then others can’t find it.
  • It’s too tempting to tear those pages from a book, hide it, or copy from someone else.

Please, please don’t assign scavenger hunts.

  • The least effective assignments ask students to locate random facts.
    • They lack a clear purpose, teach little, and are very frustrating.
    • Librarians, not students, frequently end up locating the information.
  • Reference desks have written guidelines on handling scavenger hunt assignments.
  • Please contact the Head of Learning and Outreach Services, Susan Goodwin at 979-458-0114 (or sgoodwin@tamu.edu) if you are planning a treasure hunt assignment.

RESOURCES

LIBRARY CLASSES, TOURS, AND DEMOS OF COMPUTERIZED RESOURCES

  • To obtain information about tours, lectures, and demonstrations or to schedule a session at Evans Library, contact Learning and Outreach Services at instruction@tamu.edu or 979-862-1060.
  • All library sessions need to be scheduled with us by WEDNESDAY NOON THE WEEK PRIOR TO YOUR PROPOSED SESSION DATE.
  • Schedule early! The first weeks in a semester are busy times for library instruction!

RESOURCE LIBRARIANS

  • We invite you to discuss library resources and assignments with our Subject Specialist Librarians.
  • Ask for help in placing materials in a controlled access environment (i.e., in the Reserves Department or at one of the Reference desks). This will allow every student to have an equal opportunity to use the item.