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Subject Specialist Task Force Report

Subject Specialist Task Force Report– rev 12/23/2011


The Subject Specialist Task Force was charged with identifying and articulating the role of subject specialists in the design, delivery and assessment of Library services and to develop a document that could be used in the preparation of new position descriptions.  The Task Force targeted five areas of primary responsibility for subject specialists: 1) Engagement; 2) Reference Service; 3) Collection Development; 4) Instruction; and 5) Professional Development.  Within each of these categories, new and expanded areas of involvement with our users, the profession, and emerging information technologies were identified.


This document is not intended to be used as an assessment tool of an individual librarian’s performance, but as a guide to the myriad opportunities our profession provides.  It is hoped the ideas present a springboard for expanding the role of current subject specialists in the University communities they serve, as well as a guide to assist career advancement in the Libraries.  Subject specialists all serve different constituencies with different needs and expectations based on a number of different measures.  No one can expect to excel in all of the areas identified in this document.  However, the Task Force believes the roles and responsibilities outlined below are realistic and achievable by most everyone working as a subject specialist in the University of Illinois Libraries.  The final document should also provide easy development of position descriptions for any new employment opportunities in the subject specialist arena.



Identification of Roles & Responsibilities


1. Engagement


A)     Library commitment


1)      Works collegially with other librarians and staff

2)      Maintains a high level of expertise in the subject area served and related areas

3)      Stays abreast of new research and information trends in the subject area

4)      Shares knowledge and subject expertise with others through formal and informal instruction sessions

5)      Practices continual needs assessment in assigned areas


B)      Campus Contacts


1)      Knowledge of the information needs of the community served

2)      Maintains personal contact with users on a regular basis

3)      Attend faculty meetings – offer to make an annual update presentation

4)      Establish and meet regularly with a Library Committee representing users in areas served

5)      Establish and maintain regular office hours in served areas

6)      Make regular rounds / site visits to served population(s)

7)      Welcome new faculty and staff personally and with quick start guides to using the Libraries

8)      Work with student organizations and groups within the discipline(s) served

9)      Prepare exhibits in the Library or elsewhere on campus

10)   Serves as a resource for scholarly communications, copyright, open access, and the institutional repository.


C)      Professional Contacts


1)      Establish and maintain contacts with others working in similar positions at peer institutions

2)      Join and become actively involved in professional organizations supporting the subject area – either library-oriented or subject area specific

3)      Attend and participate in conferences supporting the subject area

4)      Active involvement in list-servs and others subject-specific communications mechanisms for the sharing of information

5)      Establish and maintain contacts with industry and commercial entities and their representatives serving the subject area


D)     External Commitments


1)      Active involvement in fundraising & grant-seeking opportunities

2)      Involvement in local community activities involving Library and/or subject area expertise

3)      Serve as ambassador of the University Libraries at local professional and community events


2. Reference


A)     Provides effective, responsive reference service through all media – in-person, email, chat, phone, and other means that may be available as technology changes.


1)      Participates in reference service (both physical and virtual) throughout the Library.

2)      Responds within 24 hours to questions received via email.

3)      Works in a collegial manner with other departments and general reference services.


B)      Monitors and understands the most recent changes in the production of knowledge in the related subject discipline and the knowledge base as a whole.


1)      Uses current awareness services and regularly reviews the professional literature.

2)      Keeps abreast of publications and trends in the subject literature.



C)      Provides reference tools in the form of written and electronic guides to the literature.


1)      Creates and maintains general guides to the resources available to the users in all formats.

2)      Creates and maintains a variety of guides to specialized fields within the subject area.

3)      Creates and maintains a variety of links to useful internet resources for users.

4)      Shares information on specific assignments and resources with others working reference hours in other disciplines.


D)     Provides standardized office hours, either in the Library, the Department, or other areas that may be used by students and researchers.


1)      Publicizes office hours to users to encourage walk-in consultations.

2)      Works with teaching faculty to identify physical spaces that might be used for the highest   exposure of reference services to students and faculty.


E)      Documents and analyzes data concerning reference transactions with a view to defining best practices in the discipline.


1)      Maintains statistics to track numbers and types of questions received.

2)      Regularly reviews the types of questions being received.

3)      Keeps detailed log of consultations being provided and topics discussed.


3. Instruction


A.     Actively participates in Library and library information resource instruction to the campus community.


1)   Works with faculty to integrate information literacy concepts and skills

       programmatically into the curriculum

2)      Keeps current with relevant University and department curriculum initiatives in order to keep information literacy programs consistent with University curriculum.

3)      Promotes and offers group and individual instruction to faculty and students in relevant departments.

4)      In instructional sessions, teaches students to recognize information needs, create successful search strategies, and evaluate and effectively use information resources in all formats.

5)      Teaches students to understand the research and scholarly communication patterns of their chosen disciplines as well as the economic, social, and legal issues around the use of and   access to information.

6)      Conducts needs assessment as appropriate and selectively measures instructional outcomes in order to ensure effectiveness of instructional initiatives.


B.     Commitment to improving personal instructional techniques


1) Keeps abreast of national and international developments in information literacy and library


2) Lead internal (Library) presentations to share knowledge with colleagues

3) Participate in cross-training activities

4) Maintain awareness of professional standards – such as the ACRL core competencies



4. Collection Development and Management


A.    Selects material in relevant formats and languages to serve the research, teaching and learning needs of the University community.


1) Accepts the emerging trends in, and user acceptance of, the electronic format.

2) Identifies and selects monographs, serials and non-print materials

3) Identifies and selects materials on the approval plan

4) Responds to purchase requests from users

5) Provides access to materials in alternative formats when appropriate


B.  Manages collection funds effectively and in a timely manner.


1)      Reviews serial subscriptions and standing orders on a regular basis to insure that they reflect current research and instruction

2)      Reviews approval plan profiles periodically to insure that they reflect current research and instruction

3)      Reviews and manages firm orders and approval plan fund balances

4)      Prepares budget reports, projections and needs assessments when necessary

5)      Adheres to collections calendar and timelines

6)      Participates in special projects such as serials cancellation projects, flipping serial titles from print to online, etc.


C.    Develops skills with and knowledge of current technologies required for the collection development process


1)      Keeps apprised of changes and developments in relevant subject areas

2)      Keeps apprised of publishing trends in relevant subject areas

3)      Keeps apprised of current issues and trends in collection development  for academic and research libraries

4)      Acquires knowledge of collection development tools and resources (GOBI/YBP, folders on g:drive)

5)      Keeps up-to-date with UIUC Library collection development procedures, standards, and requirements.


D.    Analyzes collection characteristics and collection usage data to better serve users and keep up with research trends.


1)      Reviews circulation data

2)      Actively engaged in physical collection management (includes de-acquisition)

3)      Actively contributes toward the development of criteria to inform broad collection management decisions

4)      Communicates and collaborates with the Collection Development community

5)      Analyzes subject area or discipline in order to inform collection development


E.    Develops and maintains cooperative and constructive relationships and communicates when necessary


1)      With faculty, instructors, students, colleges, and departments

2)      With other UIUC subject specialists/librarians

3)      With vendors and book dealers

4)      With donors and Library Advancement Office

5)      Communicates effectively with Acquisitions Department, Collection Development Committee, and AUL for Collections, and Library IT.

6)      Works with colleagues in CARLI, CIC, and other consortia activities.


F. Discovers and recruits institutional scholarly output, research data, and other content for

inclusion in the Library’s digital initiatives, scholarly communication programs, and special             collections


1)  Collaborates with researchers to identify data management and curation needs, including identification of datasets and other research materials that could be made accessible via IDEALS or other Library services

2)  Identify potential sets of institutional scholarly output (for example, technical reports, working paper series, and proceedings of locally held conferences) for inclusion in IDEALS

3)  Identify potential sets of institutional output (for example, faculty papers and administrative records) for accession by the University Archives

4)  Identify potential items or collections (either for acquisition or that already sit within Library collections) that may be part of special collections.

5)  Collaborates with users and Digital Content Creation to identify and assess potential collections for digitization and online access and use


5. Professional Development



A.    Attends and actively participates in professional development events


1)      Attends professional conferences, either physically or virtually.

2)      Participates in webinars as an attendee and/or instructor.


B.  Monitors trends and initiatives in librarianship and in subject disciplines.


1)      Reviews professional literature.

2)      Stays current with information from non-traditional sources, such as blogs and videos.

3)      Uses current awareness services and tools.


C.    Learns about new resources and services provided by the University Library and by the University.


1)      Attends local seminars and workshops.

2)      Emails or meets with colleagues to learn more about specific resources or services that they provide.

3)      Monitors and participates in relevant listservs.


D.   Identifies and explores opportunities for providing new or improved services and tools to library users.


1)      Stays aware of new services being offered by other academic libraries.

2)      Tests new tools that might benefit library users.


E.    Shares discoveries with interested librarians, library staff, teaching faculty, and students.


1)      Provides brief updates at relevant committee meetings.

2)      Reports back to colleagues after a conference.

3)      Regularly communicates with interested communities through blogs, email, or other social networking tools.


F.   Gains and maintains competency with necessary tools.


1)      Uses collection management tools, such as Gobi and Excel.

2)      Uses web development tools, such as OpenCMS and LibGuides.