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First-Year Seminars: Library Instruction Resources for Instructors & Peer Advisors: Library Assignment Tips

Library Assignment Tips

Collaborate with a librarian

Librarians can help you design assignments that encourage a critical and reflective engagement with various information sources.  Consider sending a copy of the assignment to the you Subject Librarian to ensure that they are prepared to help your students.

Clearly outline assignment

Specific information about the format, length, style (MLA, APA, other), acceptable resources, and purpose can help alliviate anxiety for students.  More importantly, assignments should define the research process and should encourage students to gather information from multiple and various modes and genres.*  Have students reflect on the best uses of the various modes and genres of information.

Scholarship as conversation

Incoming freshman are accustomed to report-style research: gathering information and reporting on what they found.  Many have not been asked to engage in a conversation with others, analysing and synthesizing the work of others related to their subject of interest.

Don't assume

Incoming freshmen have not had exposure to university level research and may be overwhelmed with even basic research tasks (i.e. searching the online catalog, locating books on the shelves, finding articles, etc.).  Unpacking and breaking down the research process into smaller steps and collaborating with a librarian are two ways to make sure students learn research skills. 

Research as inquiry

The idea that research is about asking questions may be wholly new to incoming freshmen. Encourage students to let go of anxieties about finding THE answer and to explore how others' have attempted to answer (and ask more questions about) the same and similar questions.

Check availability

A librarian can help you determine if the library has access to all the resources your students will need to complete their assignments. 

Define "the Internet"

First-year students have little experience with the type and range of resources available at a university library.  Asking students to NOT use resources from the Internet may prevent them from using the library's quality databases and journals, as they may not understand the differences between scholarly resources available through electronic databases and the results of a search done on Google. 

Make it relevant

Assignments that require students to simply locate an article or a book in the library can be viewed as busy work, and reinforce the idea that the library and its resources are irrelevant.  Connecting library assignments with course work demonstrates the value of the library's resources.

Translate "library-ese"

Terms like reserves, citation, index, abstract, scholarly, and peer-reviewed will likely not be familiar to your students and leave them uncertain of how to proceed.

Tell them how to get help

Let your students know the range of ways in which librarians can assist them in their research.  Research appointments, online chat reference, email, and office hours visits are just a few opportunities to get help from your subject librarians. 


*Head, Alison J. and Michael B. Eisenberg. "Assigning Inquiry: How Handouts for Research Assigments Guide Today's College Students. Project Information Literacy Progress Report, July 12, 2010. Available at
Adapted from Belk Library & Information Commons, Appalachian State University: and informed by assessment undertaken by Armacost Library, AY 2013-2014