Skip to main content
Ask A Librarian

First-Year Seminar Instructor's Guide: Useful Tools

This guide assists the instructors of WVUe 191 to incorporate library research.

Tips for Designing Your Own Library Assignments

A well-designed library assignment can help students learn to make effective use of the library resources.  Here are a few tips for designing good library assignments: 

  1. Clearly state the purpose.  Explain to the students what they are expected to learn.  Students need to understand why they are doing the assignment and what purpose it serves.  If it involves the use of unfamiliar sources or search strategies, students should get oriented.
  2. Ensure the feasibility of the assignment.  Try doing the assignment yourself first to make sure the necessary materials are available.  Check WorldCat and other databases to make sure the materials available on campus are adequate for the assignment.  If need be, ask a librarian to help determine the feasibility of a research topic.
  3. Alert the library staff.  Call the library’s Reference Desk or the Access Services Desk to alert the staff of an upcoming assignment that requires heavy use of certain materials so that they may be set aside or acquired.
  4. Give students a list of sources.  Students may not be familiar with sources that seem intuitive to you.  Provide them with a list of sources that will help them complete the assignments.  This kind of guided search helps them see the search process and the value of certain library resources.  It saves them a lot of frustration from picking materials at random while lacking the skills to locate the most relevant ones. 
  5. Add variety.   Enable students to choose from a wide range of topics so that everybody in the class is not looking for the same material in the library. For a class of 25 maybe let them choose from 15-20 books to critique instead of 1-5 books.
  6. Think critically.  Choose assignments that require integration of knowledge rather than “scavenger hunt” assignments.  In general, assignments based on using a certain type of tool (online catalog, databases, etc.) and involving critical analysis are more successful than scavenger hunts.  For example, an assignment that requires the students to compare the different results retrieved from popular sources and scholarly sources.
  7. Update, update.  An assignment that works this semester may not work well next semester because library resources are changing ever so rapidly. Making sure all the titles of sources and their time coverage in the assignment are current will keep students from searching frantically for something that no longer exists.
  8. Know library jargon.  When referring students to the library, distinguish between reference and reserve, print and online, indexes and citations and full-text articles, microfilm and microfiche, etc.  Note that information about current topics is not often available immediately in print and that the index to such information takes quite long to produce.  Also be aware of lag time in interlibrary loan requests.
  9. Distinguish between types of sources.  When listing types of information, distinguish between scholarly and popular sources; primary sources and secondary sources; information found in books and information found in periodicals; information in printed material and information in online, or audiovisual sources.