Sequenced Assignments to Introduce Students to a Field of Study

Professor Louise Robbins, Professor Michael Edmonds, Library and Information Studies,

In this series of assignments, Professor Louise Robbins and Professor Michael Edmonds lead students new to Library and Information Studies through a series of field research and critical thinking tasks to help them understand the central questions and perspectives characterizing study in that field.

Assignment 1: Book Review
Due September 22

First, read the instructions that Library Journal gives to its reviewers.

Then, select any one of the following required books:

  1. Fadiman. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
  2. McAuliffe. Bloodland: A Family Story of Oil, Greed and Murder on the Osage Reservation or The Deaths of Sybil Bolton
  3. Woodson. I Hadn’t Meant to Tell You This
  4. Robbins. The Dismissal of Miss Ruth Brown

Then, as demanded by LJ, provide “within 175‑200 words… a brief statement of the thesis or description of the contents, a critical appraisal of both substance and execution, and an indication of the book’s value for library collections. Our audience [that’s me…] expects an LJ review to be based on a thorough, careful reading and on informed judgment.” After writing the review, answer the following questions in no more than three sentences each:

  1. What did you find most frustrating about this exercise?
  2. What effect would that, and similar limitations, have on the content and quality of reviews in Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and other major reviewing journals?
  3. Can librarians successfully rely on such tools to select books for their collections? Argue yes or no, but provide your reason.
  4. What might librarians do to remedy this situation?

Submit your assignment before midnight on 9/22 by placing it the dropbox in our Learn@UW site.

Assignment 2: Professional Literature
October 13

Visit the SLIS library and examine the last two years of a journal whose title is marked below. As you do so, make notes on the questions that follow. You will use your notes to contribute to an online discussion in small groups no later than 10/13. We will also discuss the literature in class on 10/20.

  1. Who publishes it? What sorts of people appear to write for it? Is it peer reviewed? What sorts of people are its intended audience? What niche, if any, does it occupy?
  2. What bibliographic indexes cover it?
  3. How does it compare to a professional journal in your undergraduate discipline or in another career you’ve had? (Journal of American History, Foreign Affairs, American Studies, Journal of Modern Literature, etc.)
  4. How can you imagine using it during your SLIS or professional career?

Place your notes with the title of your journal in your dropbox no later than midnight on 10/13.

Assignment 3: Collection Development
Due November 16

Your boss at Medium Sized Public Library has decided that current events require you to expand the library’s collection of books on Islam, globalization of the economy, and civil liberties in the U.S.

Choose ONE of those topics and identify $500 worth of materials currently in print that you would buy in order to give your patrons a better grasp of that subject. You may add books, journals, videos, CDs, database subscriptions, or other objects to the collection, as well as adding websites to the library’s online information clearinghouse. Your patrons are mostly curious lay people with high school educations, though there are some children, a large number of young adults, and some college graduates to consider as well.

Provide me a bibliography showing the authors, titles, publishers, and prices of materials you would select. Their total cost should be $475‑$525. Then answer the following questions in not more than three sentences each:

  1. How did you discover information on your topic? How did you learn what was available to add to your library? Briefly describe your overall strategy.
  2. What specific sources did you consult to make your choices? Bookstores? Review journals? Web sites? Campus experts? Mass media? List all these sources by name.
  3. What do you see as the greatest flaws, dangers, or disadvantages in this process? How might a good librarian overcome them?

Put your assignment in your dropbox no later than midnight 11/16 and be prepared to discuss it in class the next day.

Assignment 4: “Geographies of Information”
Due December 1

It is impossible not to be aware that the United States has an advantaged position when it comes to information access. Part of this advantage is rooted in technology and material wealth; part of it is rooted in the political and economic systems. Even within the U.S., however, there are differentials in information access depending on where you live and your economic status. Choose a country you know little about and spend time finding information about its “Geographies of Information.”

See what you can find out about your country’s

  • telecommunication system
  • newspapers
  • internet access and number of users
  • libraries
  • publishers
  • transportation system
  • literacy levels and access to education

Create a brief (no more than two-page) synopsis of what you have found. You can use an atlas style for this assignment, with bullet-points and tables, charts, or maps if you like.

I would suggest using some of the following resources, in addition to almanacs and atlases, if they are helpful:

  • The Europa World Yearbook located in the College Library Reference Collection.
  • Websites related to your country.
  • The International Federation of Library Associations and Agencies (IFLA) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Websites.

Place your paper in your dropbox no later than midnight on December 1, but be prepared to discuss it in class that day.