Libraries at University of Nebraska-Lincoln


Date of this Version



Published in Journal of Library Administration, Vol. 48(3/4) 2008 Available online at C 2008 Central Michigan University. doi: 10.1080/01930820802289441 Used by permission.


Subject specialist librarians play a role in providing resources and services to distance students. The authors surveyed subject librarians and distance librarians, examining how and to what extent subject librarians provide service to distance learners.

The Guidelines for Distance Learning Library Services (Association of College and Research Libraries [ACRL], 2004) state that it is the responsibility of the originating post-secondary institution to meet the teaching, learning, and research needs of distance students and distance faculty. Within the institution, the library has primary responsibility for distance learning library services. While the guidelines include a section that outlines the role and activities of the librarian-administrator or distance librarian, subject specialist librarians are also identified as participants in providing resources and services to distance clientele.
Subject specialist librarians, or subject librarians, perform multiple activities in academic libraries. Traditionally, these have included reference, instruction, collection development, and liaison with faculty and students within academic departments. While these broad activities have not changed markedly in several decades, the technologies librarians use to accomplish these assignments have undergone significant diversification. At the same time, the library clientele base has changed from primarily residential to a mix of residential students and distance students. The professional literature includes many articles pertaining to subject specialist librarians, and the literature discussing the development of distance learning library services is extensive. However, few articles focus on subject specialist librarians who participate in providing distance learning services.
The authors’ research was based on a survey of subject librarians and distance librarians, examining how and to what extent subject specialist librarians provide services to distance students and faculty. The primary research question was, what is the role of subject librarians in providing distance learning services? The methodology used was a survey distributed to academic librarians whose assignments or job titles are subject specialist librarians and/or distance librarians, with the commonality being service to distance students and distance faculty. The survey population was reached via electronic lists or e-mail LISTSERVS. Messages were sent to librarians subscribing to electronic lists in social science, humanities, and science/technology disciplines, as well as to a list for distance librarians.
Findings from the study will contribute to the understanding of subject librarians’ current practice in serving distance learners. Findings will also inform the library community about additional approaches to support the scholarly and information needs of distance students and faculty.