Brenna Helmstutler, subject librarian for the School of Information Studies (iSchool) comes to Syracuse University with 13 years of subject librarian experience at Georgia State University. While at GSU, she provided subject librarian services in various areas, including education, psychology, public health, and journalism as needed, and worked in middle management overseeing the health sciences team of subject librarians for six years.
She says, “I really love working with particular schools, especially professional schools. There’s a lot to get involved with, I can share my experience as a subject librarian, and my enthusiasm for outreach and working with faculty, as well as students. One thing that appealed to me about this position was that it would be a return back to working with a professional school, and certainly working with the iSchool, that was even more of an interest.”
Her publications include “Now You’re a Manager: Quick and Practical Strategies for New Mid-Level Managers in Academic Libraries,” which describes team building, team personality types, facilitating a positive work environment, coaching, and management challenges in an academic library setting. Her main research interest is scholarly impact, which includes developing scholarly metrics programs, citation metrics, and altmetrics.
The following are questions from an in-person interview:
What do you consider to be the role(s) of a subject librarian?
I believe it’s very multifaceted. Going primarily from my prior experience at Georgia State, I was involved in several different areas. A main area was offering library instruction: I would do an instruction session, usually geared towards a specific assignment or project for the class, and work with the students after the session in a consultation setting, to follow up with any questions they may have that are particular to their project or their topic.
I also would do consultations, based on students contacting me or faculty referring a student to me. In working one on one, I either reinforce the instruction that was done, or introduce research skills and work with the student on developing their own research skills.
Another important role is collection development, which I think has changed a lot since I started as a subject librarian 13 years ago. There’s a move away from randomly ordering books to looking at the needs of the department. There is a greater focus on eBooks, which offer increased access, and we will review journals or databases for possible addition to the collection. If faculty hear about new databases that offer content in their research areas or the student research curriculum areas, I’m happy to present them for consideration and potentially offer free trials for faculty, student, and librarian evaluation purposes.
Another part of a subject librarian’s role is outreach and engagement with the department, which includes activity such as communicating via emails, but also attending events in the department to learn more about the research that’s going on. One thing I would like to do is offer office hours in the iSchool, so that’s something I’m going to look into further.
Ultimately the connection is the root of all those, connecting with the iSchool and working with them as a partnership, not only with the faculty but the students and staff, so they can take advantage of what the library has to offer, and the services I have to offer. This can only enhance the research and curriculum, and it will also help me; the more I’m engaged with the iSchool, the better sense I will have of collections, research, what’s being done here, the needs and interest of the iSchool in general.
Being a subject librarian is a very exciting role because the same thing doesn’t happen every day! It keeps things interesting and challenging.
What kinds of projects work well with a librarian research/information session?
Any class that has a research component to it, or has an assignment that involves library resources, research skills, the research life cycle, would be a natural fit for a session; if, for example, students are required to work with specific resources like scholarly articles that they may not really know how to retrieve from the library. I’m pretty open to working with any classes generally. I’m really approachable, and anxious to just get involved and jump right in!
What kind of support could you provide to an online class?
I think it’s essential that librarians work with online instruction, the nature of online instruction classes and programs should mirror the in-person experience as much as possible. You can show students the research guides, share screens for different databases in real-time, give them your contact information and communicate willingness to work with them (research consultations) in person, email, phone, online.
I’ve come in during a synchronous session, but certainly, again, if the scheduling isn’t optimal for a librarian to come in, having a video available asynchronously of the librarian can also work well. As long as [students] have that connection, even if it’s not in real-time, it’s still valuable.
What are the advantages to creating a research guide for a class?
There’s quite a few. In the past I would typically do a research guide for a specific class if the subject guide was maybe too general for it. The guide would not only organize my [in-class instruction] talk and my work with the students, but it would also help students navigate back to the guide after the session.
If for whatever reason a library instruction session is not possible, a research guide is the next best thing; it’s very customizable and very easy to edit if there’s any last minute changes. I have a couple of class research guides now, and I’m definitely interested in adding more to those, not only as I conduct library instruction geared toward a particular assignment, but also other research guides that might be useful for the iSchool in general or for certain departments. If there’s a need that we’re not already fulfilling, maybe a new topic would be well served with a research guide. My contact information is always on the guide if they have questions. I’m open to any suggestions for those guides.
How can instructors incorporate research guides into their courses?
Instructors can link to the guide within Blackboard or whatever platform they’re using. They can show it during the class or add the link to the syllabus.
Is there a research guide you’ve created recently that you’re particularly proud of?
There’s a guide that I worked on last semester with the IST 605 online courses, and at the time the guide was customized for the class. At the end of the semester, Tasha Cooper, Collection Development and Analysis Librarian, and I decided to expand the scope of the guide into one that could serve as a subject guide or topic guide, and could be used by more than just the 605 class. The course is Reference and Information Literacy Services, and the library session topics entail evaluating databases and search strategies, which are definitely applicable with many disciplines. I’m in the process of expanding that guide.
Is there anything you’ve already been involved with at Syracuse that you’re excited about?
Certainly the survey on the potential faculty designated area that would be in the library is of interest to me, and I hope it’s of interest to the iSchool. There would be a lot of positives to the space: working with other schools on campus, interdisciplinary ties to each other, there could be a lot of collaboration there, a lot of potential.
I’m also planning on presenting a workshop this semester on scholarly impact for the iSchool. These metrics can be used in promotion and tenure narratives, and also in candidate searches and benchmarking. Graduate students can use metrics to identify top authors in the field and top articles in the field. There are quite a few tools within SU’s subscription databases and open source tools available as well.
Faculty and students may benefit from the workshop and/or an individual meeting where they can discuss their own research.
Editor’s Note: Brenna will be holding her workshop on scholarly impact metrics for the iSchool on March 21st, from Noon to 1:00 PM in 347 Hinds Hall (Katzer Room).