Subject Librarians: Shushing Isn't Their Superpower

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SUNY Geneseo's library is home to specialized faculty—subject librarians—who offer students a wide array of educational support. Understanding what they do and how to access their services can make a project or research paper less daunting and stressful. 

Each subject area has its own set of resources—journals, books, databases—and research techniques. A librarian who specializes in a subject is more familiar with these resources and research techniques, and this can help direct students to resources that are meaningful for a class assignment. (If you don't know who the subject librarian for your class or topic is, click on this link to the librarian page to find out.)

Whether answering a single question or providing support for the duration of a project, librarians offer personalized instruction to anyone who comes to them with a question. "Our approach is to use each interaction as an opportunity to teach students skills that can help them be confident with their research and assignments," says librarian Alan Witt, who specializes in business, history, and political science and international relations.

Don’t suffer

Subject librarians say students' biggest mistake is not asking for help early on. "If a student relies on Google searches or the "Quick Search" box on the library page, they'll spend too much of their time sifting through hits that may not be beneficial," says librarian Sherry Larson-Rhodes, who specializes in communication, geography, languages and literature, and INTD 105 courses.

A quick 15- or 30-minute meeting with a librarian at the start of a research project can help prevent students from heading down a non-productive path, thereby saving them time and frustration.

Subject librarians can help you:

  • Understand the difference between primary sources vs. secondary sources, and scholarly vs. non-scholarly sources
  • Scope out and outline a paper (figuring out what the topic should cover and what resources to use
  • Write a manageable research question
  • Use finding aids and databases effectively
  • Format discipline-specific citations

A confident approach

"If a student feels uncertain as to where to start a project, the first thing they should do is to ask their professor to clarify the assignment," says Larson-Rhodes. Then, they should either drop-in or make an appointment with a librarian.



Monique Patenaude, PhD
Director of Content Strategy & Media Relations
(585) 245-5056