Help For Faculty

Tips for Assigning Library Research


  1. Feasibility-do make sure library resources are adequate. Check our periodical holdings to see that our journals and books support the topic before your class starts their search.
  2. Variety- do give students a range of topics to pick from so that 25 or more students aren't trying to use the same source at once.
  3. Use the Reserve System- If you anticipate a large demand for a source, ask that it be put on reserve. Within the limits of copyright, copies of key articles can be reserved as well.
  4. Assume Nothing- many students have never been in an academic library before. Assume minimal knowledge of library locations, terminology, sources, and procedures. Schedule a library tour for your class ahead of time to get students familiar with the collection.
  5. Critical Thinking- do choose assignments that require students to integrate or evaluate knowledge from a variety of sources, rather than just make lists of titles - which can easily be done without ever setting foot in the library! For great assignment suggestions, ask a librarian.
  6. Distinguish Between Resources - when suggesting types of information, distinguish between scholarly/academic and popular sources; primary sources and secondary sources; information found in books and information found in periodicals; information in printed format and information on the internet, or in video or audio sources. Many students do not know the difference.


  1. The Needle-in-A-Haystack- Don't assign materials if you are unsure the library has them. Don't assign sources you are unfamiliar with. Tell your students exactly what you want them to look at, why they should be using it, and provide call numbers if possible. If you need a list of resources, ask a librarian!
  2. The Mob Scene- Don't assign one source for your whole class to use. This often results in a burden on library resources that is too much to bear - including unavailability, mutilation and theft of materials! There are a limited number of computers available at any one time, and we recommend assigning group work or scheduling a hands-on orientation in Whitman Hall.
  3. The Sneak Attack- Don't bring or send your entire class into the reference area unannounced. There is only one librarian on duty at any given time. When the library is unprepared for your visit, students often have to wait for help from a librarian. If we know your class is coming, we can be sure to provide an appropriate level of staff assistance.
  4. The Wild Goose Chase - Don't send your students looking for facts or vague topics without some direction. Make sure their assignment and its objectives are stated clearly. Make sure you tell them enough information to get started (i.e.; the correct spelling of an author's name), what kind of sources are appropriate and what the scope of their search should include.

Library Assignment Ideas

This list presents a wide variety of assignment suggestions, ranging from simple to comprehensive. Librarians will be happy to work with you to develop an assignment that is appropriate for your class.

  • Locate a popular magazine article, then find a scholarly article on the same subject. Compare the two articles for content, style, bias, audience, etc.

  • Prepare an annotated bibliography of books, journal articles, and other sources on a topic. Include evaluative annotations.

  • Se lect a topic and compare how that topic is treated in two to five different sources, including a popular and a scholarly journal, an encyclopedia, and current books.

  • Analyze the content, style, and audience of three journals in a given discipline.

  • Write a review of recent (past two to five years) literature for a given field. Your review can be of books, or scholarly journal articles.

  • Read an editorial and find facts to supp ort it.

  • Choose an autobiography of someone related to the course content. Find secondary sources which deal with an idea or event described in the autobiography. Compare and contrast the autobiographical description of the event with the other sources researched.

  • Create a web page on a narrow topic relevant to the course. Include major sites, e-journals, discussion lists, and newsgroups.

  • Select a scholar/researcher in a field of study and explore that person's career and ideas. Besides locating biographical information, students prepare a bibliography of writings and analyze the reaction of the scholarly community to the researcher's work.

  • Evaluate a web site based on specific criteria.

  • Each student in the class is given responsibility for dealing with a part of the subject of the course. He or she is then asked to 1) find out what the major reference sources on the subject are; 2) find out "who's doing what where" in the field; 3) list three major unresolved questions about the subject; 4) prepare a 15 minute oral presentation to introduce this aspect of the subject to the class.

  • Assemble background information on a company or organization in preparation for a hypothetical interview. For those continuing in academics, research prospective colleagues' and professors' backgrounds, publications, current research, etc.

  • Compile an anthology of readings by one person or on one topic. Include an introduction with biographical information about the authors, and the rationale for including the works [justify with reviews or critical materials].

  • Conduct the research for a paper except for writing the final draft. At various times students are required to turn in 1) their choice of topic; 2) an annotated bibliography; 3) an outline; 4) a thesis statement; 5) an introduction and a conclusion.

  • To develop the ability to evaluate sources, have students prepare a written criticism of the literature on a particular issue by finding book reviews, by searching citation indexes to see who is quoting the context of the scholarship in a particular field.

  • In biology or health classes, assign each student a 'diagnosis'. Have them act as responsible patients by investigating both the diagnosis and t he prescribed treatment. Results presented in a two-page paper should cover: a description of the condition and its symptoms; its etiology; its prognosis; the effectiveness of the prescribed treatment, its side effects and contradictions, along with the evidence; and, finally, a comparison of the relative effectiveness of alternate treatments. This can also be accompanied by oral or visual presentations, slideshow, poster session,etc.

  • Have students follow a piece of legislation through Congress. This exercise is designed primarily to help them understand the process of government. However it could also be used in something like a 'critical issues' course to follow the politics of a particular issue. (What groups are lobbying for or against a piece of legislation? How does campaign financing affect the final decision? etc.).

  • Similar to above, have students follow a particular foreign policy situation as it develops. Who are the organizations involved? What is the history of the issue? What are the ideological conflicts?

  • Ask each student to describe a career they envision themselves in and then research the career choice. What are the leading companies in that area? Why? (If they choose something generic like secretarial or sales, what is the best company in their county of residence to work for? Why?) Choose a company and find out what its employment policies are-flex time, family leave, stock options. If the company is traded publicly, what is its net worth? What is the outlook for this occupation? Expected starting salary? How do the outlook and salaries vary by geography?

  • Write a biographical sketch of a famous person. Use biographical dictionaries, popular press and scholarly sources, and books to find information about the person.

  • Nominate someone or a group for the Nobel Peace Prize. Learn about the prize, the jury, etc. Justify the nominations.

  • Everyone becomes an historical figure for a day. Students have to do the research on the person, time-period, culture, etc. They give an oral presentation in class and answer questions.

  • Students adopt a persona and write letters or journal entries that person might have written. The level of research required to complete the assignment can range from minimal to a depth appropriate for advanced classes.

  • Write a newspaper story describing an event--political, social, cultural, whatever suits the objectives-based on their research. The assignment can be limited to one or two articles, or it can be more extensive. This is a good exercise in critical reading and in summarizing. The assignment gains interest if several people research the same event in different sources and compare the newspaper stories that result.

  • Create your own course "textbook" anthology. Limit the acceptable content to scholarly articles written within the last ten years, or it can be broadened to include chapters or excerpts from monographs and significant older materials. Students should be asked to write an introduction to the anthology that would display an overall understanding of the subject. In addition, each item should be described, and an explanation given as to why it is included. The assignment could also re quire a bibliography of items considered for inclusion as well as copies of the items selected. In any subject course in which students would benefit from finding and reading a variety of scholarly, such an assignment would guarantee that they use their library skills to locate the articles, their critical reading skills to make the selections, and a variety of writing skills to produce the introduction, the summaries, and the explanations.

  • Contrast journal articles or editorials from recent publications reflecting conservative and liberal tendencies.

  • Write a review of a musical performance. Include reference not only to the performance attended, but to reviews of the composition's premiere, if possible. Place the composition in a historical context using timetables, general histories and memoirs when available, using this information to gain insight into its current presentation.

  • Write an exam on one area; answer some or all of the questions (depending on professor's preference). Turn in an annotated bibliography of source material, and rationale for questions.

  • Assemble background information on a company or organization in preparation for a (hypothetical) interview. For businesses, research the company's market share, position in the industry, etc. For those continuing in academia, research prospective colleagues' and professors' backgrounds, publications, current research, etc.

Thomas D. Greenley Library

Greenley Library

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Last Modified 8/24/23