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Faculty week: Designing library research assignments

Aug. 22, 2014 – Designing library research assignments for undergraduates can be a complex process. Many instructors make assumptions about their students: 

  • Experience in doing research projects in high school or freshman year
  • Familiarity in using online search tools
  • Knowledge of potential sources like newspapers, magazines, and academic journals
  • Understanding of how knowledge is organized. 

Instead, students come from a wide variety of backgrounds and may have had little or no exposure to the research process.

As mentioned in a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article, this results in confused students. Instructors try to steer their students away from sources like Wikipedia by stating, "use no Internet sources on this assignment," which student interpret to mean not to use online, library-subscription databases or to avoid electronic journals in favor of print copies. (This is a larger problem now that we have discarded so much of our print journals as we purchase online backfiles.)

Students assume all information is instantly available, waiting too late to start their assignments to take advantage of services like interlibrary loan or recalling checked out books.

The library offers many sources to assist you in designing effective library research assignments:

College Librarians

Librarians with expertise in academic disciplines are assigned to each college or department. They are available for consultation in designing an assignment to ensure it can be completed by students using the resources we make available to them. They can help make you and your classes aware of materials and databases specific to your instruction and research needs. And making the librarian aware of your assignment will help us disseminate relevant information to our service desk to be better able to assist students working on your assignment.

Subject Guides

Librarians have developed Subject guides and Course guides that list discipline-specific databases and other resources. We also list general purpose databases that are an excellent place to start a research project.

Classes and tours

Librarians welcome the opportunity to provide your class with one or more instruction sessions on library resources and services. They can come to your classroom to present information, or they can schedule time in one of our computer classrooms to provide hands-on instruction. Contact your college librarian early for the most options for dates and locations of instruction sessions. Self-guided library tours are available through students's smart phones or iPads checked out from the Circulation desk to show students how our collections are organized and where different service points are located.

Library research tutorials

Pointing students to our online tutorials is a great way to supplement your assignment instructions and classes given by librarians and you. Our Getting started with academic research pages walks students through the steps involved in library research. The Research Paper Scheduler provides a timeline and lists of resources for each step of the process. We offer many screencasts, short video tutorials, for our online resources. The glossary of library terms will assist students who are unfamiliar with academic libraries.

Criteria for effective library assignments

The following criteria will provide you with some guidance when developing or re-evaluating library assignments.

  • Relevance
  • Purpose
  • Flexibility
  • Accuracy
  • Doable
  • Free of library jargon
  • Fosters critical thinking


Newman Library fall hours

Sun: opens at 9 a.m.*
Mon-Thurs: open 24 hours*
Fri: closes at 8 p.m.
Sat: 9 a.m. - 8 p.m.

* During 24 hour operation, a valid Hokie Passport is required to access or remain in the library between 12 midnight and 7:30am.


Current semester hours

Art + Architecture Library fall hours

Sun: 2 p.m. - 10 p.m.
Mon-Thu: 8 a.m. - 10 p.m.
Fri: 8 a.m. - 5p.m.
Sat: 1 p.m. - 5 p.m.


Current semester hours

NVC Resource Center fall hours

Sun: Closed
Mon-Thu: 11:00am - 10:00pm
Fri: 11:00am - 7:00pm
Sat: 9:00am - 5:00pm

Current semester hours

Veterinary Medicine Library fall hours

Sun: 11:00am - 11:00pm
Mon-Thu: 7:30am - 11:00pm
Fri: 7:30am - 5:00pm
Sat: 9:00am - 6:00pm

Current semester hours