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Library Assignments for Critical Thinking and Information Literacy: Design Tips

This guide is for faculty looking for inspired ideas for assignments that use library resources to engage student critical thinking skills and information literacy.

Critical Thinking/Information Literacy

Critical thinking and information literacy go hand-in-hand!

Tips for Designing Library Assignments

>  Consult with librarians and use the Library's instructional services.

  • Librarians are an excellent resource for developing library assignments and are glad to work with you in development, revision, and review. 
  • Electronic resources change frequently; librarians can direct you to appropriate library resources and assist in developing assignments that have sufficient resources to complete. 
  • Since students come to the reference librarians for assistance, it is helpful for librarians to have a copy of the assignment in advance. 
  • After the assignment is due, a discussion of any problems in completing the assignment helps solve any issues for the next time, thus making a successful learning experience for students.
  • A consultation with a librarian may help determine whether a library instruction session would be appropriate for your needs. 

>  Assume minimal library knowledge.

Freshmen, transfer students, international students, or new bachelor's degree students may have had no experience with our library system.

Basic library skills may be inadequate for upper-level subject-based research assignments.

>  Present a realistic picture of what is, and what is not, on the Web.

On the Web (and perhaps ONLY on the Web): census data, government documents, statistics, etc. 

Not on the Web: Some professional journals, most books (not including ebooks), many specialized encyclopedias, etc.

>  Be specific.  Identify sources students should and should not use.

Define what is an acceptable "Web" resource.  Students are often confused and think they cannot use the library's online databases.  Also, when some information is only available on the Web (i.e., 2000 census) they may need to use Web resources.  Some guidelines: use articles found in library databases or subscription encyclopedias (Gale Virtual Reference Library but not Wikipedia); articles from a professional association, statistics from a government site, etc.

>  Teach research methodology when appropriate. 

Use the Library's Research Guide for assistance in choosing and refining a topic, finding and evaluating resources, and citing resources.

>  Try out the assignment yourself to make sure it can be completed realistically.

Does the library have the necessary resources?  Will there be enough resources for all students (few books all checked out by one person)? Should some materials be put on Reserve for all to use?  Will there be enough time allowed if requesting materials through interlibrary loan?  Are journal citations in your bibliographies correct? 

>  Incorporate critical thinking into your assignments in as many places as possible.

Use the Library's Evaluating Resources website for guidelines on authority, relevancy and purpose, currency, structure, etc.

From: Creating Effective Library Assignments (University Libraries of Notre Dame)

What to Avoid


  • Assuming students know the basics.  Many may not have had library research experience, some may be transfer students or the instruction received did not cover specific tools needed for your course.
  • An entire class looking for one piece of information or researching the same specific topic; especially difficult when printed materials are involved. Consider using the library's Reserve service or scanning materials for your e-course materials.
  • Requiring a resource that is no longer available.  Libraries are constantly changing.  If you've used an assignment before, check the resources needed before using it again.
  • Use of the phrase "Do not use internet resources" without clarification. Clarify that the library's databases lead to journal articles that should be used.