UW Libraries Blog

April 17, 2020

Spring Quarter Survival Tip: Get to Know Your Subject Librarian

UW Libraries

Do you know YOUR subject librarian? Have you ever utilized the Libraries’ consultation services for help with your research?  While UW maintains remote learning, our UW Libraries staff will be here to help you, huskies!  Beyond helping users find the electronic books and resources they need, Librarians are talking with students and faculty on the phone, online and over email to offer a wide range of support.

Elliot Stevens

Elliott Stevens, UW’s English Studies and Research Commons Librarian, gave us some insight into how subject librarians work with students and faculty, what online consultations look like, and some of his most useful research tips.

What is a subject librarian?

There is a designated librarian for every department at UW and literally hundreds of subjects, providing years of expertise and interdisciplinary practice. Subjects are kind of a starting off point for working across disciplines. For example, on any given day, my expertise in English could lend itself to a class on gender, women and sexuality studies or French literature for comparative studies. Every day is different.

As a subject librarian for English, I track what is happening in the department and monitor our library catalog to keep up with relevant journals, new books and to see what people are writing about. I update our English LibGuides. Specializing allows us to build a knowledge base over time, to understand trends and be aware of new resources as they become available, which can often save someone hours of research time.

What is a research consultation? 

Research consultations typically connect a subject librarian with a student for personalized help with research–identifying or narrowing a topic and finding resources in the Libraries or online (databases, etc.).  However, UW Libraries staff and librarians offer all kinds of one-on-one consultations for help with things like writing, guidance on copyright, publishing, creating citations and more. Remote consultations are not new–even when the Libraries are open, many consultations happen online; this is a routine part of what we do.

What happens during a research consultation?

Typically, I start with a research interview to collect information, find out what the student is interested in and what they’ve already consulted.  This can be done over email or on the phone. Once I have a sense of their interests and goals, I do my own research before we meet or talk again to review what I have found, and to point them to other possible resources.

For example, today, I met with a student on ZOOM, who came to me for guidance on a major research paper for her English honors program this quarter.  We spent about an hour talking about what she’s done already, and what she’s thinking about, and then I tried to get a sense of how she uses the libraries. Then I shared some of the tips and best resources to help with her particular project.

What do students need to prepare before a consultation?

All you need is curiosity and a willingness to talk to your Librarian. You do not need to have a topic. You do not need to have an outline or anything prepared ahead of time, but coming with a sense of what you’re most interested in and want to learn about is always helpful.

What are some tips that you share with students during a consultation? 

My best advice is outlined in the blog “7 Essential Tips for Research”.

How do you work to support faculty?

During routine operations, I will often lesson plan with faculty in order to visit their classes and do research instruction with students. I also order the books, journals, and databases that they need for teaching and research. 

What do you love most about your job?

It’s endlessly educational. To constantly get close to human ingenuity and creativity and curiosity–it’s a very special thing to experience every day. 

It’s endlessly educational. To constantly get close to human ingenuity and creativity and curiosity–it’s a very special thing to experience every day.  Through research, people are adding to human knowledge, or critiquing human knowledge, and that’s a very noble, important pursuit. 

I hope that every undergraduate will graduate feeling like they can do the work of an analyst, that they can really delve deeply into things, be organized, be creative, and pull information together in a cohesive way. If I can help someone to gain confidence and advance their analytic skills, that it is very satisfying.


As this quarter of online learning continues, reach out to UW Libraries for a consultation with a subject librarian or other Libraries staff.  No matter your question or topic of research, a skillful member of the UW Libraries team is here to help– chat with us online, on the phone or over email!

About Elliott Stevens

In addition to being the English subject Librarian, Elliott Stevens supervises the Student Squad (the student workers in the Research Commons), teaches classes and collaborates on Libraries workshops and events with colleagues. He has an MFA in fiction writing from the University of Kansas and an MLIS from the University of Rhode Island.