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Library Assignment Tips

Tips for effective library assignments

Library assignments, whether designed to teach research skills or simply the use of library resources, can be a key factor in learning to utilize Polk Library successfully. For students, especially incoming freshman, an academic library is likely the largest library they've ever seen, and the thought of finding, selecting and using sources for research can often be overwhelming. An effective assignment can help to assuage some of these fears, and introduce students to the help and materials available to them. While no assignment will meet every need, many common pitfalls can be avoided with some advance planning. When developing the assignment you may want to consider the below points.

Send a copy of the assignment to the Reference Staff.

Students often ask the Reference Staff for help with assignments. Sending the assignment early can help us understand what you are requiring of your students and notice any potential problems. Most importantly, it helps us better assist your students. Along with the assignment it is also helpful for us to know:

    • How many students are in the class(es).
    • When the assignment will be given and when it will be due.
    • What resources (print or electronic) students will be asked to use.

Work through the assignment yourself.

By completing the assignment you can determine where your students may encounter problems, and how long it might take them to complete it. It may prove fruitful to have a student employee work through it as well.

Consider placing required library materials on reserve.

This is especially true for large or multiple classes. Because these materials will receive significant use, they can be misshelved or left in other parts of the building, making it difficult for other students to use them.

Are the materials required for the assignment available in the library?

Materials are occasionally lost, discontinued, stolen, hidden or misshelved. Please check the library holdings or contact the reference staff before giving the assignment.

Are the recommended electronic resources available?

The library's list of electronic resources is fluid, with databases frequently being added or removed. Check the library's electronic resources list or contact a member of the reference staff.

Do the students understand the terminology?

Students, especially freshman, are often confused about concepts such as the definition of a scholarly journal, or the difference between an electronic database and the Internet at large. Ascertain your students' knowledge of these concepts prior to assigning work.

Do your students have the research skills to complete the assignment?

While we would like to think that our students are versed in using the library, many incoming students are not familiar with academic libraries such as Polk Library. Consider scheduling a library instruction session, tied to the assignment, that will not only familiarize your students with the library materials they will be using, but also how it fits in with the research process.

A note regarding scavenger hunts.

While scavenger hunts are a common type of library assignment they can also prove the most ineffective. Questions that ask for trivial types of information can be frustrating for students and often end up with the reference librarian locating the answers instead of the students.

Questions? Contact Marisa Finkey: finkey@uwosh.edu or 920-424-3436

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