Subject Specialist Task Force Report

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.  In addition, an outline of the roles and responsibilities of the subject specialist is provided as an addendum to this document to facilitate the development of position descriptions for any new employment opportunities in the subject specialist arena.

The Task Force suggests that similar documents be developed for other identifiable populations of librarians in the University Library.  These documents should, at minimum, be developed for General Public Services, Technical Services, and Area Studies librarians.  The development of a similar document might also be helpful for those designated “coordinator” in the University Library.


Identification of Roles & Responsibilities


1. Engagement


A)     Library commitment

  1. Works collegially with other librarians and staff
  2. Maintain a high level of expertise in the subject area served and related areas
  3. Stay abreast of new research and information trends in the subject area
  4. Share knowledge and subject expertise with others through formal and informal instruction sessions
  5. Practice continual needs assessment in assigned areas
  6. Subject specialist librarians also work closely with special collections in their area of expertise, collaborating with Special Collection Division curators and staff on collection development, exhibitions and other public programming, and in advocating the use of primary sources in the curriculum through faculty development and teaching.


B)      Campus Contacts

  1. Knowledge of the information needs of the community served
  2. Maintain 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. Serve 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 listservs 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)     Provide effective, responsive reference service through all media – in-person, email, chat, phone, and other means that may be available as technology changes.

  1. Participate in reference service (both physical and virtual) throughout the Library.
  2. Respond within 24 hours to questions received via email or provide for alternative assistance when unavailable.
  3. Work in a collegial manner with other departments and general reference services.


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

  1. Use current awareness services and regularly review the professional literature.
  2. Keep abreast of publications and trends in the subject literature.


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

  1. Create and maintain general guides to the resources available to the users in all formats.
  2. Create and maintain a variety of guides to specialized fields within the subject area.
  3. Create and maintain a variety of links to useful internet resources for users.
  4. Share information on specific assignments and resources with others working reference hours in other disciplines.


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

  1. Publicize office hours to users to encourage walk-in consultations.
  2. Work with teaching faculty to identify physical spaces that might be used for the highest   exposure of reference services to students and faculty.


E)      Document and analyze data concerning reference transactions with a view to defining and applying best practices in the discipline which might include

  1. Maintain statistics to track numbers and types of questions received through the use of common tools such as DeskTracker.
  2. Regularly review the types of questions being received.
  3. Keep detailed log of consultations being provided and topics discussed as one means improving service.

3. Instruction


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

  1. Work with faculty to integrate information literacy concepts and skills programmatically into the curriculum
  2. Keep current with relevant University and department curriculum initiatives in order to keep information literacy programs consistent with University curriculum.
  3. Promote and offer group and individual instruction to faculty and students in relevant departments.
  4. In instructional sessions, teach students to recognize information needs, create successful search strategies, and evaluate and effectively use information resources in all formats.
  5. Teach 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. Conduct needs assessment as appropriate and selectively measure instructional outcomes in order to ensure effectiveness of instructional initiatives.


B.     Commitment to improving personal instructional techniques

  1. Keep abreast of national and international developments in information literacy and library instruction.
  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


C.  Improving subject expertise

  1. Identify and promote the use of core resources through instruction.
  2. Identify and uss the appropriate vocabulary of the subject area when working in the classroom and with departmental faculty and students.
  3. Keep current with precepts, theories, methodologies and topics in the subject area and incorporate relevant ideas in instruction.

4.  Collection Development and Management

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

  1. Recognize the growing trends in, and user acceptance of, the electronic format.
  2. Identify and select monographs, serials and non-print materials
  3. Identify and select materials on the approval plan
  4. Respond to purchase requests from users
  5. Provide access to materials in alternative formats when appropriate


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

  1. Review serial subscriptions and standing orders on a regular basis to insure that they reflect current research and instruction
  2. Review approval plan profiles periodically to insure that they reflect current research and instruction
  3. Review and manage firm orders and approval plan fund balances
  4. Prepare budget reports, projections and needs assessments when necessary
  5. Adhere to collections calendar and timelines
  6. Participate in special projects such as serials cancellation projects, flipping serial titles from print to online, etc.


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

  1. Keep apprised of changes and developments in relevant subject areas
  2. Keep apprised of publishing trends in relevant subject areas
  3. Keep apprised of current issues and trends in collection development  for academic and research libraries
  4. Acquire knowledge of collection development tools and resources (GOBI/YBP, folders on g:drive)
  5. Keep up-to-date with University Library collection development procedures, standards, and requirements.


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

  1. Review circulation data
  2. Actively engage in physical collection management (includes de-acquisition)
  3. Actively contribute toward the development of criteria to inform broad collection management decisions
  4. Communicate and collaborate with the Collection Development community
  5. Analyze subject area or discipline in order to inform collection development


E.    Develop and maintain cooperative and constructive relationships and communicate 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. With Acquisitions Department, Collection Development Committee, and AUL for Collections, and Library IT.
  6. Wors with colleagues in CARLI, CIC, and other consortia activities.


F. Discover and recruit institutional scholarly output, research data, and other content for inclusion in the Library’s digital initiatives, scholarly communication programs, and special collections

  1. Collaborate 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. Collaborate with users and Digital Content Creation to identify and assess potential collections for digitization and online access and use

5. Professional Development

A.    Attend and actively participate in professional development events

  1. Attend professional conferences, either physically or virtually.
  2. Participate in webinars as an attendee and/or instructor.


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

  1. Review professional literature.
  2. Stay current with information from non-traditional sources, such as blogs and  videos.
  3. Use current awareness services and tools.


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

  1. Attend local seminars and workshops.
  2. Email or meet with colleagues to learn more about specific resources or services that they provide.
  3. Monitor and participate in relevant listservs.


D.   Identify and explore opportunities for providing new or improved services and tools to library users.

  1. Stay aware of new services being offered by other academic libraries.
  2. Test new tools that might benefit library users.


E.    Share discoveries with interested faculty, staff and students

  1. Provide brief updates at relevant committee meetings.
  2. Report back to colleagues after a conference.
  3. Regularly communicate with interested communities through blogs, email, or
  4. other social networking tools.


F.   Gain and maintain competency with necessary tools.

  1. Use collection management tools, such as Gobi and Excel.
  2. Use web development tools, such as OpenCMS and LibGuides.