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Library Research Skills Instruction

Vassar Librarians can teach your students to understand and use information resources. We can help you design effective research assignments, and ensure that the library has the research materials that you and your students need.


  • Assignments should be well-integrated with your stated learning goals and relate to class material -- otherwise they will not seem relevant to students.
  • Set clear goals for your research assignment and explain to your students what you expect them to learn. After the assignment, it can be useful to have your students talk about skills they learned and whether they feel more empowered to seek and evaluate information
  • Update and test assignments before using them, especially an assignment you've use before. Students (and librarians!) are often frustrated when assignments are several years old and no attempt has been made to ensure that the same resources are still available. Websites and digital resources change frequently, and the Vassar Library continues to acquire and modify its holdings, plus sometimes books go missing and cannot be replaced.
  • Teach students how to determine what a manageable topic looks like. Students tend to come up with a topic before having done the necessary reading, and it's only after they have spent considerable time on an unwieldy topic that they realize the need to step back and determine whether the topic is really appropriate.

Why assign library research opportunities?

  • We expect our students to graduate knowing how to assess what information is most appropriate to answer a question and how to find that information at its source.
  • Research assignments provide a framework to ensure our students are aware of the complexities, obstacles and methodologies of quality research and scholarship.   

Vassar Research Credo

"Go to the sources."

Lucy Maynard Salmon 


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  • Don't use ambiguous or undefined terminology in research assignments. For example, students are easily confused by phrases like primary sources, scholarly sources or peer reviewied sources and some of these phrases have different meanings in different disciplines.  Students are also tripped up by terms like citation, reference, abstract, bibliography, literature (as in journal literature or literature cited) and by distinctions between magazines and journals. Use these terms carefully and make sure you clarify what you mean by them.
  • Don't assume your students are familar with using library catalogs and databases. The unique conventions of an academic library are new to most, and even familiar digital resources can look very different depending on what publisher platform and interface students have accessed before Vassar.
  • Scavenger hunts are most effective when it is integral to a research methodology you are teaching; otherwise, they often do not show students how actual research is conducted, they lack meaningful purpose, and are often viewed by students as busywork to be gotten out of the way
  • Tell students about key resources and don't expect them to discover them on their own as part of the challenge of the assignment. The abundance of information sources is overwhelming and even the librarians can't always guess what resources you have in mind for students to use.
  • Don't give out assignments that require all students to look at the same print resources, unless you've put them on Reserve, otherwise those resources will be in high demand and never on the shelf.

How do I make research assignments effective and efficient?

We have a beautiful library and it should be a place where ideas come together, not a place of struggle and hardship. Good assignments should foster an appreciation for scholarship and the research process. A good assignment should also challenge students to critically evaluate information.

Work with your liaison librarian to develop a research assignment that is practical, effective and avoids frustration. We can test the assignment to make sure the library has appropriate resources to support the assignment and to ensure students won't run into any snags along the way.