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Faculty Guide

A quick guide to the Hunter College Libraries for all faculty members.

We're here to help

We all want to make sure our students succeed. We can better help your students if we know in advance what they'll be looking for in the library and how you want us to help them.

In some cases, faculty have sent students to the library with a very specific request. If we know ahead of time we can prepare all of our librarians who work the reference desk and even arrange easy access to the resources.

Alternately if there is an assignment that you want the students to do themselves, let us know so we don't do the work for them, but instead provide support and guidance.

Types of sources asked for

types of sources
"Assigning Inquiry: How Handouts for Research Assignments Guide Today's College Students," Alison J. Head and Michael B. Eisenberg, Project Information Literacy Progress Report, University of Washington's Information School, July 13, 2010 (41 pages, PDF, 2.14MB).

Things that don't work well

We encounter a lot of assignments and as much as we want to help the students in their research process, some aspects of the assignment may not work. What do you want your students to be able to do successfully as a result of this assignment?

Over-specification or under-specification

  • Under: asking students to choose any topic in which they are interested. This leads to serious problems with developing a reasonably researchable topic. Instead of focusing on locating good sources and integrating them into their writing, they get hung up on developing the topic.
  • Over: asking them to research a very narrow, specific topic will lead to frustration in locating useful resources or sometimes any resources at all.

A better option: utilize a pre-selected list of manageable, researchable topics related to the theme of the class or of your choice. Have students select a topic from this list and work with them on developing a good research question at the outset. Have them come to the library research session with their topic chosen and an initial research question in mind.

Arbitrary specifics for resources

  • "Don't use the internet": this is very confusing for them. Most journals today are found electronically and we have an enormous collection of scholarly eBooks found in our catalog. Not to mention the great journalism at newspapers; print/digital or born digital.
  • "Don't use Wikipedia": absent the context, students may just use another, potentially less useful internet resource such as Instead, teach them how to use Wikipedia, or talk to a librarian about ways to incorporate this lesson into your class.
  • "Use only scholarly resources": again, absent context students don't understand why they should use these sources or, in fact, what they are. Additionally, limiting students to scholarly sources excludes the voices of those whose work may be important to a given topic.

A better option: Discuss with them why they should or should not use particular sources or types of sources. Have them search for a variety of sources and show them to you. Discuss in class the benefits or drawbacks of particular sources for answering various research questions. Talk about the cycle of information - how published information is produced and for what purposes.

Assuming students are good at research

  • Students are very good at finding things online. They are less adept at reading, summarizing, and evaluating the resources they locate or engaging in the academic conversation on a given topic when given little guidance. Additionally, many of them are novices in their chosen subject area and are unfamiliar with the conventions of the discipline.

A better option:  Scaffold the process as much as possible. This will build the foundation for their future work, and provide opportunities for feedback and clarification from you, and questions from them, throughout the process.

Rethinking scaffolding

There are a lot of skills, concepts and practices students need to learn. Consider unpacking some of these. For example:

  • Take away the search portion and present students with several sources that they can read and then integrate.
    This hits on evaluation of sources and using sources to engage in a scholarly conversation.
  • Work with students to concentrate on just formulating researchable questions.
    We find a sizable group of students have hard times formulating research questions from a topic (that might be the topic's fault, see above).
  • Concentrate on reading different kinds of sources. Have your students compare and contrast and discuss what each kind of source did effectively, what it can be used for, and so on.
    This is how to transform the "must have X peer-reviewed items" assignment.
  • Have the students write a position paragraph based on class readings.
    This is a good way to introduce the different types of sources you'd like them to use, and they gain a foothold for creating great "researchable" questions.
  • Pick readings with bibliographies and the class can "discover" further readings.
  • Give a specific question and ask student to find 4 different kinds of sources (the librarian can go over kinds of sources). Students can then write about how each source contributes to answering the question. This removes the topic selection piece so students can focus on locating sources.