Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it. (Samuel Johnson 1775)

An effective library assignment provides students with an opportunity to explore a library’s resources and to integrate their findings into class assignments. A well-designed assignment can provide students with the positive initial library experience that is essential in laying a foundation for future success in using an academic library.


Assignments and Information Literacy

When asked to do “library research,” many students use methods that have worked for them in the past. For students who have grown up in the “Information Age”, this usually means turning to search engines like Google.  While students may stumble across scholarly works or authoritative sources using search engines, the research experience is often negative and frustrating.


Tips for Designing Effective Library Assignments

Avoid these common problems which usually result in negative research experiences:

1. The “Mob Scene”

Problem: An entire class looking for the same resource or researching the same topic.

What happens in the Library: Resources disappear; they are taken off the shelf and/or checked out. They are also often hidden in the library or mutilated.

Solution: Provide a variety of topics to reduce competition for resources. If the assignment requires the use of specific resources, have the resources placed on “Course Reserve.”

2. The “Shot in the Dark”

Problem: Assigned information materials are NOT held by the library.

What happens in the Library: Students become frustrated looking for information the library does not have.

Solution: Check the availability of resources before assigning them. Resources may have been discontinued or replaced by a better product or may have migrated from paper to online.

3. “Sink or Swim”

Problem: Assuming students have had prior experience in doing library research.

What happens in the Library: Students select and use inappropriate research tools, spending large amounts of time executing inefficient research strategies.

Solution: Teach research strategy in class, when appropriate. Orient students to complex sources or strategies and explain relevant library jargon. Keep in mind that electronic resources typically require specialized instruction and substantial practice for effective use.

Consider asking students to keep a research diary of strategies used, sources consulted, terms used in the search and to note both the successes and failures.

4. Plagiarism

Problem: Students copy verbatim from scholarly works and fail to cite ideas.

What happens in the Library: Students have to re-do the research because they have not written down the information necessary to properly cite.

Solution: Make sure the students know what information is needed for their bibliography.


Alternatives to the Traditional Research Paper

Many faculty have lost confidence in the effectiveness of the traditional research paper. Concerns over “cut-and-paste” plagiarism and purchasing papers via the Internet have created a need for new approaches. The list below outlines some alternatives to the “term paper.”

1. Prepare an annotated bibliography of sources on a specific topic.

2. Analyze the content, style, and audience of two journals in a given discipline.

3. Compare the way two different disciplines handle the same topic.

4. Compare and contrast two journal articles that present opposite points of view.

5. Contrast two journal articles that discuss the same topic but from vastly different time periods.


What the University of Miami Libraries Can Do For You

1. Assist in developing library research assignments. A librarian may see practical problems which you may have overlooked.

2. Provide individualized orientation to the library’s rapidly expanding online collections. We can assist in selecting appropriate resources for specific courses.

3. Provide individualized instruction in searching specific online resources.

4. Provide library research instruction sessions. We encourage faculty to schedule instructional sessions when assigning projects or papers involving library research. Sessions are tailored to meet the research needs of a particular class and focus on discipline-specific resources.

Sessions may be scheduled in the library instruction room, which seats 24 and is equipped for hands-on application of concepts and search techniques.

The library conference room can accommodate larger groups or subject librarians can travel to sites outside of the library where a computer and projector are available.

In addition to assisting with library assignments, subject librarians can provide assistance with your personal research projects, order library materials, and more.

For more information or to make an appointment for one of the services listed above, contact your subject librarian, or email a reference librarian through our Ask a Librarian service.