Sharing for our Community: UMW Assignment Bank

Today we welcome guest blogger Peter Catlin. Peter is a reference librarian at UMW’s Simpson Library, and he also serves as the library’s coordinator of first-year programs.

Hello blog readers! I’m here today on behalf of the UMW Libraries to tell you about a new service we’re launching, called the UMW Assignment Bank.

“What is an assignment bank?”, I hear you ask. “Why do we need one?”

I will answer these questions at the end of this post, but first, I want to give you some background. I want to talk about the purpose of libraries, and about the way information flows through them.

The purpose of a library is to serve its community, but “serving” is a broad concept. A library can serve its community in a wide variety of ways. For example, a library provides its community with information about the world, and it also gives them resources for fact-checking the claims they read online, and it also helps them get their hands on the latest John Green novel.

Notice that, in all of these examples, information is flowing into the community from outside the community. The information is created elsewhere. The librarians look outside the community, identify the best information, and then make it available to their community, by buying books or by subscribing to electronic databases.

There’s nothing wrong with this model, but I think most librarians would agree that this model isn’t enough. There’s more to “serving the community” than just moving information inward. Librarians recognize that the people in our communities aren’t just consumers of information, they’re also creators of information. A good library should preserve the information created by its community, curate this information, and give the creators a way to share their creations.

This is not a new idea. Many libraries have collections of local works. Here at the UMW Libraries, we have Special Collections and University Archives, which preserves and provides access to items from more than a century of Mary Washington history. We also recently launched Eagle Scholar, an online repository for works created by members of the UMW community.

With all this in mind, let’s revisit the Assignment Bank.

In my job, I see a lot of class assignments. I’m an instruction librarian, which means that professors invite me to meet with their classes and help their students learn how to do research. When a professor asks me to meet with their class, I request a copy of the assignment that the students will be working on, so that I can tailor my presentation to the students’ needs. As a result of this, there’s a folder on my computer that contains assignments from dozens of different courses. I rely on this information to do my job.

One day, a thought occurred to me: If this information helps me, maybe it could help other people, too. Maybe professors would benefit from seeing what their colleagues are doing. Maybe, as a librarian, I have a duty to preserve and provide access to this information.

This was the genesis of the Assignment Bank. I knew that UMW professors have designed some brilliant assignments for their classes. I knew that if other professors saw these assignments, they would be inspired. So, all that the librarians would have to do would be to create a website to make it easy for professors to share assignments with each other. Easy, right?

Well, easy for me to say. I don’t have a background in web design. I shared my idea with several of my colleagues, who patiently explained to me that what I was proposing was more difficult than I realized — and then told me that they would help me create it anyway.

And they did!

The Assignment Bank is now up and running. Take a look! You can browse the assignments that have been contributed, or contribute your own assignment.

I could not have created the Assignment Bank by myself. The fact that it exists today is a testimony to the skills of my colleagues. I particularly want to thank Rosemary Arneson, our University Librarian; Katherine Perdue, our Web Services Librarian; Angie White, our Digital Resources Librarian, and Carolyn Parsons, the Head of Special Collections and University Archives. I’d also like to thank DTLT for inviting me to be a guest blogger. Thank you, everyone! I feel privileged to be part of the UMW community with you.

Photo by Dawn Armfield on Unsplash