Let’s say you’re a junior, staring down the barrel of a massive research paper at the end of Fall semester. You know what you’re writing about, but you’re just not sure where to start with your research – it feels too overwhelming. You remember your library instruction class during your FFC, but that was two years ago! And you love asking the librarians at the Reference Desk when you need the call number for one specific book, but you’re fairly certain this isn’t a question they can answer in just fifteen minutes. What’s a Panther to do? Schedule an Individual Research Consultation (IRC) with your Subject Liaison Librarian, of course!

Did you know that the Leatherby Libraries has twelve Subject Liaison Librarians, who each have specific colleges and/or departments that they work with specifically? I sat down with Ivan Portillo, Health Sciences Librarian, to explore the work that librarians do in their Subject Liaison work. Another way to think of Subject Liaison Librarians, Ivan said, is to think of them as specialists in a given field. Each librarian is given one or more area they’re responsible for – this can be as narrow as a single department, if that department is relatively large, or an entire college (as in the case of Taylor Greene, who serves as the Liaison for the College of Performing Arts). Subjects aren’t assigned willy-nilly: each librarian takes on areas that they already have some familiarity with and interest in, either from an undergraduate degree, or another source of experience and knowledge. Once a librarian takes on a subject, they focus the bulk of their librarian work helping students and faculty in that subject.

One of the main ways that Subject Liaison Librarians help students is through the Individual Research Consultation. When students need research help that will take longer than the fifteen minute maximum that librarians can offer at the Reference Desk, their best option is to meet with the Subject Liaison who works with the department or college that the class they’re in is offered through. This specialist will be able to sit down in a one-on-one meeting with the student, armed with a wealth of knowledge about the best research practices, most up-to-date resources, and strategies for nailing that research paper in that specific class. Their specialized knowledge helps students get the best research results.

Subject Liaison Librarians also work for their assigned subject areas by helping out faculty. As Ivan, who works a great deal with faculty, explains, this help consists of both making faculty in their subject areas aware of what the library and librarians have to offer, and providing research help to the faculty. That’s right, even faculty need research help, too! Faculty are experts in their field, and librarians are experts in finding the exact right pieces of information precisely when they’re needed. Together, that makes for a formidable article-writing team! Because the Harry and Diane Rinker Health Science Campus, where Ivan is the embedded librarian, has almost no undergraduate students, his time is split fairly evenly between helping graduate students and helping faculty. Because of that, Ivan has been a collaborator on a number of articles and other publications with faculty, as his Subject Liaison research skills have been crucial to these publications.

Finally, Subject Liaison Librarians are able to act as advocates for their given subject area(s). This can take the form of suggesting library events that will be of interest and use to students and faculty in their subject areas, requesting that the library subscribe to a new electronic database, or ordering new books. (We’ll discuss this last bit, Collection Management, in our next and last blog post in this series.) As Ivan puts it, “We’re essentially the voice of our department, so that the rest of the library knows what they (students and faculty in the department) need.” If you’re looking for expert research help, look no further than your friendly Subject Liaison Librarian!