Who’s your subject librarian? Your academic research process just got easier


Patrick Markovich (left) and Sarah Holmes (right) work at the Performing Arts Library. Kent State’s libraries have librarians in each department available to help students with research.

Olivia Young

University Libraries employs subject librarians designated for each academic department at Kent State in support of teaching and research.

Subject librarians are available for all students — undergraduate and graduate — and can simplify the academic research process.

The idea behind subject librarians is to have someone focus on a particular area of a research field. These librarians stay up-to-date on the latest information sources within their field of study, said Humanities Librarian Tammy Voelker. 

A common problem with students, especially younger ones, is that they grow up with the idea that they can have access to anything very quickly, said Business and Entrepreneurship Outreach Librarian Karen MacDonald. The easy solution is to Google it. And even if they can’t Google it, they still expect information to be right there, and it’s not.

That’s where subject librarians come into place. 

“We’re also the ones that are actually selecting materials for the library in that area. Not just the materials we have, but the research tools we have as well,” Voelker said. “Since that is our area of focus, then we can be a resource for the students who are studying in that area.”

Voelker is the subject librarian for English studies, modern and classical language studies and applied linguistics. She provides library instruction, reference services and collection development for each area, as well as research consultations in the humanities field.  

MacDonald said her primary role is to support the College of Business and is its main contact for library assistance. 

“I think the students who utilize my services are directly related to the fact of who promotes my existence,” MacDonald said. “A lot of times if a faculty member has me come to their class and talk about resources and things like that, I end up getting those students coming to see me.”

The issue is the lack of acknowledgement of their existence. 

“A lot of people just don’t know,” MacDonald said. “I think that a lot of people think the library, especially an academic library, is some place for history books and English literature, and if they’re in business school, they think they don’t need anything.”

People don’t even realize that the library has so many business resources. If you’re looking for business information, we have databases that have financial information, consumer marketing information and people just don’t even realize it, MacDonald said.

Ken Burhanna, assistant dean for the University Libraries, began as the interim subject librarian for chemistry and physics. A new science librarian will be starting in November to take over his duties.

Burhanna said subject librarians provide research consultation support in their academic department, which could involve helping an undergraduate student work on a paper or assisting a faculty member with an application. The subject librarians will help link them to the research they need to find.

“Sometimes it’s answering a question, sometimes it can be sitting down with them,” Burhanna said. “We often will sit down with a student after interviewing them ahead of time and our goal for that meeting is that the student will leave with some research in hand and, more importantly, with a strategy of how to proceed.”

Our goal, especially with students, is to help them learn how to use the information and resources in an effective and efficient way, Burhanna said. 

For more information regarding subject librarians and a list of each subject librarian and their academic department, visit http://www2.kent.edu/library/about/subject-librarians.cfm. 

Contact Olivia Young at [email protected]