Importance of Subject Expertise in Academic Librarianship

The debate of whether or not academic librarians need to have subject expertise, that is advanced post-graduate degrees in specialized subject areas  or professional creative experiences and knowledge, in addition to the standard masters degree in information studies, is not new. Nor are the known benefits of why the profession of academic librarianship and academic communities thrive when librarians have this additional knowledge. Simply put the benefits are the following:

  1. Credibility with Faculty
  2. It affirms that academic librarians deserve the same academic rights as faculty and reinforces the academic status of academic librarians
  3. Subject expertise enables a “deep understanding of research, methods, trends and information resources” in specific subject areas – benefiting collections, resources, references and support networks
  4. Subject expertise reinforces communication and collaboration between librarians and library users (students and faculty) and gives librarians a better understanding of their users’ needs
  5. An in-depth understanding of the research process ensures required resources are available
  6. Subject expertise advances job performance in a variety of ways for academic librarians and the projects they undertake for their communities.

But ‘why’ is this still a debate in the profession of academic librarianship? Who are the voices that object or question the need for subject expertise in the profession? Faculty,  students , administrators or librarians themselves? And why would they object? There remain many questions and reasons, not all have been openly discussed or reviewed. The education of academic librarians is one area which, as we know, seldom happens in the master programs for information studies but is an apprenticeship which is gradually acquired on the job as new librarians learn what is needed to achieve success and promotion. Many students in information studies finish their degrees in MLS or the equivalent knowing little about ‘academic freedom’ or ‘collegial governance’ or ‘research or scholarship in the field of academic librarianship’ or what it means to advance in the profession of academic librarianship in Canada. In many specialized collections, libraries and projects, subject expertise as well as the professional skills of a librarian, are often combined – but not necessarily widely promoted or advanced or openly supported. Why not?

Select Readings:

Gilman, Todd and Thea Linquist, “Academic/Research Librarians with Subject Doctorates: Experiences and Perceptions, 1965-2006” Libraries and the Academy vol. 10:4 (October 2010): 399-412.

Mayer, Jennifer and Lori J. Terrill, “Academic Librarians’ Attitudes about Advanced-Subject Degrees” College & Research Libraries (January 2005): 59-73.


This entry was posted in Academic freedom, Academic governance, Academic Librarianship, Academic libraries, Academic Status, Collegiality, Education, Subject expertise. Bookmark the permalink.

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