Monday 20 June 2011

The Role of the Subject Specialist Librarian

There are many different aspects of an academic librarian’s role. Collection development includes making decision on monograph and serial purchases, database subscriptions and the cancellation on resources. Reference is probably the most recognised role being the “Help” for people finding it difficult to locate what they need. This help can often vary from “how do I photocopy?”, “my internet connection doesn’t work”, to a quick location of a resource and in depth strategic resource searching. Liaison or outreach roles can incorporate collection and reference skills on a higher academic staff level. We are also faced with new challenges in the competitive tertiary environment assisting faculties with demonstrating impact within their discipline through various bibliometric measures and citations tools. 

So as librarians how do we learn to be an expert in all these areas on top of subject specialisation? Should librarians have a 2nd degree in a specialised area to be able to help people at a tertiary and research level and how often would this knowledge be used? This subject expertise may be beneficial for assisting research students with high level needs and thesis references, academic staff with their specialised research as well as identifying the most relevant resources for a running course at an undergraduate and postgraduate level. On the other side of this, general search strategies and skills are required more than specialised expertise when on a reference desk or help area when you have students and library users from all subject areas asking for assistance. 

These information needs could possibly be met with identifying key general strategies that could be communicated and implemented through online information literacy tutorials, resource guides and subject guides. With the detailed creation of these guides and strategies it may be possible for library users from various disciplines to delve into any resource effectively. This may create a new role for the subject specialist librarian to have an in-depth knowledge of databases and to be able to appropriately understand, document and communicate resource specific intricacies. Is subject expertise really required for this role or does it require knowing the functionalities of specific databases, in turn making the subject specialist redundant?

So do we need to be subject specialists in University Libraries? Perhaps we have come to a point where more importance lies in knowing and understand the changing nature of our resources. This includes e-journal, e-books, databases, and the fast developing computer and mobile technologies and not forgetting the still very present and popular print material. As professionals this may be enough for us to build our collections and disseminate to our library users effectively. I have posed many ideas which would be interesting to gain feedback on. How are our current librarian roles developing? What training is required to build these skills and knowledge?

Bruce Munro is an ALIA Sydney committee member

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