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Teaching Research to First-Year Students: Library Instruction Program

Why Partner with the Library?

Do your students often fail to find the best sources for their research? Do they appear to search Google and nothing else? Are they turning to ChatGPT to produce research papers? While students can usually find some information about a topic, their research skills aren't typically as developed as they think. Most of our students need additional guidance to develop the kinds of mature research skills that prepare them to succeed in college and beyond.

The library & its faculty can help. We are not only experts in the complex world of information, we are experts in how to teach critical research skills to students. Our mission is to support your students as they conduct research and to help teach them to think critically about how information is produced, shared, functions in today's world. 

We offer many options to support you and to connect with your students. Our aim is to provide a host of options that fit your time and course needs. We strongly encourage you to reach out to us to help support any of your courses where students will be conducting secondary research. Start with your library liaison; we'll be reach out to you, too. 

For a more in-depth exploration of strategies to develop student research competencies at various levels, consult these guides: 

More About Library Instruction Sessions

We understand it might feel a little strange to hand off your class to someone else. To help, here's more information about what a library instruction session looks like, as well as some FAQs:

  • The librarian will develop a teaching plan based on close consultation with you about the research assignment and your learning objectives. 
  • Sessions include a mix of discussion, demonstration, hands-on learning, and reflection
  • The librarian will create a course guide containing appropriate resources and methods for the research task
  • You can schedule more than one session! This is especially useful if students are struggling or you'd like them to have more guided time conducting research.

When's the best time to bring students in for a session? 

  • Sessions work best when students have initial topics and are just starting to explore the related literature.

Where do the session(s) happen?

  • Instruction sessions usually take place in the library’s eclassroom (seats 20, although we can squeeze more if necessary) or the smaller lab (seats 10). We can also come to you, especially if your students will not be using many books for their research.

How far in advance should I schedule the session?

  • We prefer at least a week's notice, although more is better. However, we're flexible and will work with you to find a time that fits everyone's schedule. Even if your request is last minute, we'd rather see your students than not! 

Who should I contact for a session(s)?

  • You are welcome to contact any librarian of your choice, but starting with your library liaison can be beneficial. Your library liaison has a strong sense of research materials in your area.

Should I plan on being at the session(s)?

  • When you attend, it signals "this is important" to students. However, we'd rather see your students than not, so if a session works when you're not there, we are happy to make that work. 

Library Instruction Options

We know course time is precious and you have a lot to cover each semester. We offer a range of options to support your students' research needs, depending on the amount of course time available. The support we offer is central to our work, so don't worry that you're "adding" to our workloads by requesting anything on this menu. This is the work we're paid to do and we love doing it, so please take advantage of these options!


If you have 0-1 minutes:

  • Encourage OR require your students to contact a reference librarian. Help is available 24/7!
  • Via Starfish, refer students who need extra help to a librarian.
  • Add your liaison librarian's contact information to your syllabus and encourage students to contact the librarian directly. 
  • Include the link to the research guide for your discipline(s) on your syllabus.
  • Include the following language about Reference Services in your syllabus:

    • ​​Research Help - You can always get help with your research at the library. Reference librarians will help you find information on a topic, develop search strategies for papers and projects, search library catalogs and databases, and provide assistance at every step. Drop-ins and appointments are both welcome. Visit https://libcal.gustavus.edu/ for hours, location, and more information.


If you have 5 - 10 minutes, you can incorporate all of the above options plus:

  • Invite your library liaison to visit a class; the librarian will introduce themself to your students and briefly discuss how and why students can work with us. The librarian will also send a follow-up email to the course alias.
  • Ask your library liaison to create (or update) a course page designed specifically for your course and research assignment(s).

If you have 20+ minutes, you can incorporate all of the above options plus:

  • Arrange for your liaison librarian to teach a library instruction session for your students. Sessions can range from 20 minutes to the entire class time; if class time is limited, we are happy to teach for part of a class period. You and your liaison librarian will discuss the research assignment and consult on student learning objectives. Your librarian will design a dynamic class session designed to put students in direct contact with appropriate information sources and think critically about the process. 
    • To view library classroom availability, view the library's instruction calendar. We are happy to come to your classroom, too, if that's more convenient.
  • Consult with your librarian on current or future research assignments, including design and scaffolding.

If you have a semester or longer and would like to think more systematically about how your program or department curriculum can be more intentional about developing student research competencies, you can hold ongoing conversations between your department or program and the Library to discuss how and where your students learn to do research within your curriculum and where these approaches can be improved. We can share examples of successful models in Geography and Political Science.

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