Creating Effective Library Assignments: A Guide for Instructors

A well-designed course-related library assignment is an excellent teaching tool. Effective assignments develop research skills, critical thinking skills, and subject knowledge. By working together, librarians and instructors can develop assignments that enhance pedagogical objectives while minimizing frustration.

We Can Help!

Consult with an Instruction Librarian
Your liaison librarian will collaborate with you to design an effective assignment by identifying appropriate research strategies for our collection.
Request an Instruction Session
We invite you to request an Instruction Session for your class. These sessions are offered from orientation level through highly-specialized research sessions for graduate classes. Our course-specific sessions provide in-depth instruction on the information sources and research skills most relevant to a specific course or assignment.
Place material on Reserve
Material that will be in high demand for a particular assignment should be placed on RESERVE at the Circulation Desk in order to ensure fair access to all. Print resources in high demand are at risk of "disappearing" or being vandalized.

For an assignment consultation or to arrange an instruction session please contact the liaison librarian for your department.

To arrange for materials to be placed on reserve, please contact:

Tips for Developing Assignments

Currency
Information sources are constantly changing. New sources appear and methods of accessing information are evolving. Please check with a librarian to ensure that students are being directed to the most current sources.
Feasibility
Please ensure that the library holds the needed information. A familiar source from your own collection or another library may not be available at UNB Libraries.
Variety
It is important to incorporate choice into assignments so that large numbers of students are not looking for the same book, article, or index. Circulating items that will be needed by many students should be placed on RESERVE.
Consultation
Refer students to a librarian in the Reference Department at HIL, the Science and Forestry Library, the Law Library, or the Engineering Library. An important aspect of library research is recognizing the expertise of librarians and asking for research help when necessary. More in-depth help is available in the library during office hours.
Time frames
Students who are new to library research often find library assignments very time-consuming. Providing deadlines for different stages of the assignment is useful for larger research projects. On the subject of time frames, it is important for students to be aware that information about current topics may be limited to newspaper sources, as journal articles and books take time to appear.
Correct Terminology
Students are easily confused by new terms that they cannot interpret. For example, a specific indexing/abstracting tool should be referred to by its correct name. If you do not wish students to search the "free" internet, please be specific about what you wish them to avoid. The Library subscribes to many electronic sources of information which are made available over the web. Similarly, students often believe they cannot use encyclopedias when a subject encyclopedia may be a very useful and appropriate tool (e.g. International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences).
Web Reality
For most assignments students should neither be directed to find their information exclusively on the web nor be told to avoid the web. Many high-quality, expensive, electronic research tools are made available by the library on the web. These resources are not to be confused with what is freely retrieved by searching the web. In many cases, electronic discovery tools lead students to useful information but the information itself is not provided on the web.
Source Citations
If there is a documentation style you prefer, it is useful to specify the style when the assignment is introduced.
Library Copy
Please provide a copy of your assignment to the HIL Reference Department or the library your students will use. We can provide better service if we know what students are working on and what resources you wish them to use.
Student Copy
Library assignments distributed to students in writing cause much less confusion than those described orally in class. Specifics, such as length, citation style, and acceptable or suggested resources are very useful. If you require the use of specific resources, please identify accurately and completely.
Regular Visits
Don't be a stranger! Regular visits to the library will help keep you up-to-date.

Pit-Falls to Avoid

Scavenger Hunts
Too often the focus of library assignments is on finding random facts rather than requiring students to learn research skills and think critically about the information they have found.
Unannounced Class Visits
If a visit is arranged with us beforehand, we can provide instruction. Even if you are not requesting an instruction session, it is still a valuable courtesy to alert us about a group of students arriving en masse. There may already be a class scheduled at that time. In addition, some of our electronic tools have a limited number of simultaneous users and thus cannot accommodate a large number of students searching the same tool at the same time.
Incorrect Directions
Often library assignments provide incorrect or incomplete references to required library resources.
Misassumption of Research Experience
In our experience, many students, even at the graduate level, lack basic research skills and familiarity with libraries. And those with introductory-level skills will not be prepared for the research demand of upper-level courses and subject-specific resources.
Narrow Limitations of Resources
If students are all looking for the same limited resources, the items should be placed on RESERVE or the topics broadened.

Suggestions for Library Assignments

These are generic suggestions, requiring modification to suit the needs of a particular course or discipline.

  • Prepare a bibliography of books, journals and web sites with evaluative annotations. Students may be asked to prepare a required reading list for their topic, in which case the annotation would include an explanation of why a particular resource was included.
  • Prepare a guide to the information sources on a particular subject. This may be presented as a group project to the rest of the class.
  • Create a web site as a resource for the course. Included on the site might be discussion groups, e-journals, meta sites, and organizations.
  • Prepare a literature review on a particular topic within a specific time frame.
  • Compare the results of searching the same precise topic on one or more Internet search engines and a bibliographic database(s).
  • Research a controversial topic using a variety of sources. Discuss how the different types of sources (e.g. newspapers, websites, news magazines, academic journals, academic discussion lists) treat the topic.
  • Compare how two different disciplines discuss the same topic by finding articles from the journal literature of each discipline.
  • Compare the discussion of a particular research study in the popular and scholarly press. Students compare the relationship between the popular article and original study on which it was based.
  • Compare popular and scholarly articles on the same topic in terms of content, bias, style, audience.
  • Compare two journal articles that discuss the same topic from different points of view.
  • Research a topic using primary and secondary sources. Compare the results retrieved from the two types of sources.
  • Research a particular topic in the literature of the 1970s and 1980s. Research the same topic in the literature of the 1990s and 2000s. Discuss the evolution of the field based on this exercise.
  • Read an editorial and find facts to support or contradict.
  • Prepare a nomination of a person or group for a particular Nobel Prize or other significant award. In addition to defending their nomination, students would be required to learn about the prize, criteria for the award, etc.
  • Research the publications and career of a prominent scholar. The assignment might require biographical information, a bibliography of publications, and analysis of the individual in their field of research.
  • Research a classical work through reviews, citation indexes, biographical information, etc. and discuss the effect of the work on the discipline.
  • Research a particular company, organization, research lab, etc. as preparation for a (hypothetical) interview.
  • Evaluate a relevant web site based on specific criteria, including accuracy, comprehensiveness, authority, bias, ease of use, visual style. Students may be asked to compare a number of web sites representing government, personal, commercial, and scholarly sites.
  • Submit a research log with the assignment for which the research was undertaken.
  • Submit a major research project at various stages (e.g.outline, bibliography, introduction). If feedback is provided promptly, students can be redirected and advised as the project progresses.

Contact your Liaison Librarian

Librarians collaborate with faculty to develop the academic research skills and confidence our students need to successfully navigate the increasingly complex world of information. Together we have successfully integrated information literacy objectives into the curricula of many departments and faculties. To find out more, contact the liaison librarian for your department.

At UNB Libraries, our instruction is informed by the Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education, approved by the Association of College and Research Libraries, January 2000.

This guide created by Lesley Balcom (lbalcom@unb.ca), Associate Director for Learning & Research, UNB Libraries.