Tips on Creating Assignments that Require Library Research
The Research & Instruction librarians at Pickler truly enjoy interacting with students and aiding them in locating good sources for their assignments. Of course, not all assignments they receive will require outside research or library help. But for those that do, we thought we would provide faculty with a brief guideline for creating assignments that can be supported by the library.
The librarians have created online research guides for many subject areas which direct students to relevant databases and reference sources. These are available from the library's home page, under the link Research Guides. While students can always search TruSearch from the library home page, results can sometimes be overwhelming. Using a research guide can lead them to those article databases and other sources that are associated with the topic they are working on.
The Library Catalog
While TruSearch includes the library catalog when a search is performed, the Library Catalog is highly effective when the research is specifically looking for books (print or electronic), or other formats such as DVDs, CDs, or streaming videos. Getting familiar with how to tailor a search in TruSearch takes a little time, so selecting the Library Catalog can sometimes be more efficient when looking of the aforementioned materials.
- Course Reserves
This option can be very useful if students need to access books and other materials for your class for which the library has only one copy. Our Course Reserves service provides some flexibility with loan periods (2 hours, 24 hours, or 72 hours for books and 4 hours or 24 hours for media), while ensuring that all students can access the required material. Electronic Reserve is also an option if the professor is assigning a specific book chapter or journal article for reading.
Consider contacting the subject librarian for your area when you are developing a research/library assignment. Providing us with some details of what students will need to complete an assignment can be very helpful. You might also consider involving us in the development of an assignment that will be research/library "heavy". We are happy to meet with you in your office, or at the library, or at the Student Union over a cup of coffee, etc.!
- Instruction session for Your Class
Invite your subject librarian to come to your class to provide an overview of relevant library resources for the assignment, present various information literacy issues, or answer questions they might have. We can also schedule your class to come to our computer classroom for an instruction session. Availability of dates and times will vary, expecially during second-block when we teach LIB 111 - Use of Information Resources.
- Students' knowledge of a university library and its resources is usually quite minimal. They might not know how to read call numbers. They are usually unfamiliar with subject headings used in library catalogs and journal databases, and sometimes don't know what a "citation" includes or how to find or use a citation. They usually begin researching a topic by searching Google and Wikipedia, and sometimes go no further. Some have never located or used an academic journal for information. Some of these things can be introduced to them by their professor. Of course, we are able and willing to instruct them on all these things.
- Many students do use Google Scholar and can get to many scholarly journal articles that way, but they need to keep in mind that the library won't always have the full text that the citation is referencing. Many won't know that they can request such articles through Interlibrary Loan or how to go about it. This is something else that students can be reminded of (as well as MOBIUS for books). The turnaround time for MOBIUS requests is approximately 5 days. For journal articles (which are sent electronically), it is generally about 3 days.
- If using websites is an option for an assignment, think about directing students to sites that you might be familiar with, or a directory or list of websites on a certain topic that have been reviewed and that reflect accuracy and authority on a given topic. Of course, if part of the assignment is to teach them about source evaluation, then some "free-range" searching would be called for.
Finally, here are a few things that we prefer to be avoided:
- Scavenger Hunts
These sometimes frustrate the student and can make things rather chaotic in the library and don't really teach anything useful about research.
- Requiring Sources that are Unavailable
Although Interlibrary Loan and MOBIUS are always options for obtaining what the library does not have, it is preferable that our library has the resources that can support the assignment, especially if time is a factor. For instance, there are some subject databases and specific journals that we do not subscribe to. For the most part, we do not purchase text books.
Just to reiterate: We welcome the opportunity to work with your students to help them achieve a good outcome on their assignments. So we encourage you to include our names and contact information on your syllabi or elsewhere on your Blackboard pages. You could also include a link to our RAP (Research Assistance Program) form directly from your Blackboard pages.
Thank you for taking time to read our recommendations! Any suggestions YOU might have are certainly welcome.
Portions of this document were adapted from Pierce College Library (Woodland Hills, CA) and Brookens Library, University of Illinois-Springfield.