Written by: Gabrielle Milburn 

Two women chatting
Two woman chatting by Mentatdgt, licensed under Pexels 

Librarians have been an authoritative presence among the rows of literature for as long as the role has been established. There can be various beliefs arguing over the role of a librarian, from the idea that they only stock books and read all day, to looming the stacks and keeping the building quiet. From my experience as a student assistant working directly with UNT’s subject librarians, while librarians do much more than stock the collection and read all day, the reading part is only somewhat correct. It should be explicitly noted that these perceptions are not entirely true– I can safely say that none of the librarians that I have worked with have ever cracked open a YA novel and spent three hours indulging in just that. Still, there is a ton of research that subject librarians do find themselves reading for a certain objective in accordance to their projects or patrons.  

Many students are not aware that there are people to ask when they need help researching for their paper other than their professor. As the desk receptionist, I receive many phone calls asking for further information on research projects and how to find materials. The process will usually start with the inquiry and finish with my directing them to their subject librarian, who could help them with their research. The subject librarians not only are able to sit with the patron and provide a professional research consultation, but they might already be familiar with the assignment itself. Part of the subject librarian’s duty when they are assigned their department of research is to engage with the professors and faculty. With this outreach they can cement their familiarity with the subject and the potential assignments to come. 

Many might assume that the subject librarian would need to have a background in the subject to help their patrons. While that can put them in a great position to provide good service, subject librarians are not necessarily required to have a degree in the department they are representing. Melissa Fortson (2011) illustrates her experience as a new subject librarian very well in her article I’m No Expert: A New Librarian Becomes a Subject Specialist. She implies that the real secret is that although the librarian might not have professional experience with their subject prior to their position, they are trained and well-versed with the subject enough to help their patrons. They spend extra hours and effort to find the most helpful resources to help researchers through scheduling meetings or even provide helpful links in their Subject Guides.  

Now that you know what subject librarians can do for their patrons, you know who to reach out to for extra help on research, right? For UNT’s subject librarians, getting in contact with them is easy! If there is a specific subject or course that a patron needs help with, they can simply look through the Subject Librarians list and find which librarian covers which subject. This page even allows visitors to filter the list by searching for the subject and finding their librarian through there! Some librarians also lead their own classes on how to research using the university’s resources and library website. This is a service that can be offered for students and other patrons within the libraries as part of their outreach. It is important to reach out to the students, faculty, and other university patrons and promote the library’s support and services. After all, there is always a student struggling with research, from narrowing down their topics to navigating the website and finding the resources they need. Subject librarians are responsible for promoting their services and the backbones that support accessibility in research and instruction for all of our patrons. 

Our subject librarians are always open to discuss research opportunities! Need help getting in contact with them, or have any further questions regarding librarian and library services? Feel free to leave a comment and contact our Ask Us services for more information! 


Fortson, M. (2011). I’m no expert: A new librarian becomes a subject specialist. ALA New Members Round Table, 40(3). http://www.ala.org/rt/nmrt/news/footnotes/february2011/im_no_expert_fortson 

University Libraries. (n.d.). Subject Librarians. https://library.unt.edu/subject-librarinas/ 

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