Library Assignments

Looking to integrate library resources into your syllabus? Follow these tips.

Plan the Assignment

  • Make sure the SCC library has the resources you require. Check the library catalog for books and the databases for articles. Ask a librarian if you need assistance.
  • Send a copy of your assignment to the librarian for your department in advance. Library collections are constantly changing and what was available in previous semesters may have changed. The librarians will also have your assignment in mind when selecting new materials.
  • Give students the assignment in writing and ask them to take it with them to the library. Students often don’t fully grasp what is expected of them and librarians can help them understand the assignment if they have it in writing.
  • Avoid scavenger hunts. It can be difficult for students to see the relevance of such assignments, and librarians often must give students the answers. (See the list below for alternatives!)
  • Use clear language to define the task: If you say “don’t use the Internet,” does that include library databases, which are accessed via the Internet? Do your students understand what “peer-reviewed journal” and “primary sources” mean in your discipline?

Prepare your students

  • Don’t assume that your students have used a college library. The library is happy to schedule an orientation session tailored to your class needs. Otherwise, encourage your students to attend a face-to-face workshop at their convenience, or complete our online tutorial, PILOT. Contact Sue Chen for assistance with PILOT.
  • Stress the fact that research takes time and encourage students to start early. Good quality Web-based resources are not always faster to find and use than books and articles. Or the “perfect” book may be checked out until next week or located at another library.
  • Emphasize the use of SCC library resources. If your class research needs go beyond what the college can provide, please let your students know how they are expected to find resources. Contact a librarian to strategize; with sufficient lead time, we may be able to order needed materials.
  • Avoid giving a large class the same topic. All the books may soon be checked out. Allow variations on the theme, with instructor approval.
  • Put limited materials on reserve or eReserve if several students need the same item. This includes textbooks, sample tests, readings, and private copies. See our page for the process of putting items on reserve.

Alternatives to the traditional research paper

Try one of the following assignments (adapted from Saint Mary’s College Library) to promote critical thinking and information literacy. As a bonus, these assignments are virtually unplagiarizable.

  1. Follow The Citations:  Start with a recent, controversial book aimed at a general audience—some examples might be Fast Food Nation, Freakonomics, Nickel and Dimed, The Omnivore’s Dilemma—and have the students track down one or several of the sources cited in the book. Then have them determine if the book’s author is using the source appropriately:  does the source really prove the point that the author claims that it does?  How trustworthy / authoritative / valid is the source?  This gives students a very tangible experience with the reasons why we cite sources and the importance of using sources appropriately.
  2. Follow The Citations, Science Journalism Style: Alternatively, you could do a similar assignment where the students start with an article from a popular source—a newspaper, popular magazine, newscast, or a blog—that reports on the results of a scientific study of some sort.  The students would then need to track down the actual published research study, and evaluate whether the popular source reported the results and implications of the study accurately.
  3. University Research Press Release: This is the reverse of the two assignments above.  Students find a research article on a topic of interest to them, and then pretend that they are the PR department at the university where the research was done, and they need to issue a press release, aimed at a general audience, describing the scope, significance, and results of the study. They may also do an oral presentation about the research to a particular audience of non-specialists.  As part of the assignment, students may be required to find related research (previous research done by the same researcher(s), a follow-up study to the one they are reporting on, etc.) and explain the relationship between the two studies.
  4. Annotated Bibliography For Clients:  As part of an oral presentation for a [mock] group of clients in a [mock] social-service setting, students could prepare a list of briefly annotated resources that might include books, journal articles, websites, or organizations.  Then the students would write a separate, short paper in which they discuss the sources they selected and their reasons for selecting them, as well as—and this is important—sources that they rejected, and their reasons for rejecting them.
  5. Annotating Primary Sources:  For a course whose subject matter includes persons and/or times that are distant from our own, students could take excerpts from primary sources relating to those persons or times—letters, diary entries, etc.—and annotate them.  So for example, if a diary entry mentions meeting with another person:  who was that person?  Why was s/he significant?  What did they do and where did they go?  Why are those activities/locations significant?  Who was a letter written to and why?  This involves digging into some of the more in-depth reference tools and sources that students often aren’t familiar with when they arrive at SCC.
  6. Research packet (from Jacobs & Jacobs, “Transforming the one-shot…into pedagogical collaboration“):  This is essentially a research paper, without the paper.  Students are asked to select a topic, do some research to find information about that topic, document (cite) the information on the topic, construct a research question, and describe their learning process, while reflecting on the research process at each step.  Actually writing the paper, after compiling the research packet, is an optional addition that may or may not be appropriate, depending on the goals of the course.
  7. Contribute to Wikipedia:  There are many variations on this assignment, but the basic idea is to identify a topic that is not covered, or not covered in sufficient depth, in Wikipedia, and develop an article that meets Wikipedia’s standards of rigor and documentation (which are considerable, and not all that different from the standards of academic research).  Students then contribute the article to Wikipedia, and observe the results as senior editors comment on and revise their contributions. Wikipedia has robust guidelines, suggestions, and steps in the planning process, as well as links to ongoing school and university assignments, here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:School_and_university_projects
  8. Literature Review: First-year students are probably not ready yet to engage in the kind of synthesis and integration—as well as the exhaustive searching—that a true literature review entails, but they are ready to start learning about the concept of a literature review and its role in the literature and research.  Starting with a foundational literature review that is 5-10 years old (depending on the speed of research in the discipline) students could update that review, identifying works within the scope of the review that have been published in the intervening years, and incorporating them into the narrative of the review.