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Teaching Research Skills

How Librarians Can Help 

Your Students and Research:

Most incoming students have little or no experience using an academic library and find the myriad of online and print resources available to them daunting. Also, many students have little idea how to choose and properly use academic sources in scholarly settings. Some of the problems faced by your students include:

  • Minimal exposure to scholarly writing; difficulty understanding the difference between magazines and scholarly journals.
  • Minimal experience with reference books, especially with subject-specific reference works.
  • Minimal experience reading documented writing (and practically none in tracking down cited materials).
  • Difficulty choosing and reformulating good search terms.
  • Difficulty determining which items in a results list will best meet their needs.
  • Unwillingness to invest time in learning to do library research when they believe they can find something on the Web.


Students tend to do the following:


  • Begin their research on Google and then only look at the first one (maybe two) pages.
  • Limit their searches in library databases to a general database rather than expanding their search to a subject-specific database.
  • Fail to continue if their first search does not lead to perfect results. They are much more likely to change topics than change search strategies.
  • Hesitate about approaching the reference desk because they may not know how to ask for what they need. Instead they rely on help from fellow students and sometimes from instructors.

How the Librarians Can Help:

The library faculty can work with faculty in the disciplines to help students overcome these obstacles. We are happy to collaborate in any way we can. Here are some ideas:


  • Consulting in advance about resources for an assignment.
  • Preparing a resource guide available online for a particular assignment.
  • Conducting a library instruction tailored to your assignment.
  • Meet with students (or groups of students) for follow-up appointments to work on their projects.
  • Work with students at the refernece desk.

Following are some sample library assignments that can be adapted to fit the needs of your class:

  • Finding books and articles in the library -- an introduction to basics
  • Finding biographical information -- using reference books and books in the general collection (will require some advanced research to ensure library collection contains materials on subjects you choose)
  • Scholarly v. popular -- asks students to compare publications from the print periodical collection
  • Evaluating Web Pages -- asks students to compare three web pages and then compare them with a scholarly article on the same topic and finally to create a citation in the format of your choice.

Writing Using Scholarly Formats

Students have little experience reading or writing documented prose and often view documenting their own papers as a meaningless chore. Be sure to encourage your students to use the excellent assistance provided in the Reading and Writing Center. They may also ask for assistance citing sources at the Reference Desk or by referring to our online Citation Style Guides.