Resourceful approach guides Harris
When Lorelei Harris was given responsibility for subject areas with which she was unfamiliar, naturally she fell back on her librarian training. Utilizing the resources at hand to educate herself in these new subjects, she quickly became a resource herself — all in a day’s work at the University of Lethbridge Library.
Arriving on campus in August 2007 in a term position, she was literally handed a potpourri of subject areas. Whether she had previous experience with the areas or not, Harris quickly got up to speed on such unrelated subjects as political science, economics and religious studies.
“Starting as a contract librarian, I was given whatever needed to be covered,” Harris says. “At the time I had quite a few different areas of focus and now that’s been streamlined somewhat. I’m working with Health Sciences now, and I’m still learning a lot about my subject areas.”
That tapering of focus is the essence of a subject librarian.
“Our role involves liaising with faculty, selecting material in a particular subject area and providing in-depth reference assistance for that subject area,” Harris says. “We also provide classroom instruction for students in our areas, teaching basic research skills or walking them through the nuances of advanced subject-specific research tools.”
Subject librarians are usually assigned based on educational background or interest in a particular field. Religious studies and Shastri were brand new areas for Harris, while health sciences was a more natural fit. Harris has a number of friends in nursing and a boyfriend in medical school.
“One of my favourite aspects of our work is going into the classes and teaching research skills,” she says. “I also really enjoy the advanced reference service, the one-on-one or small group meetings we offer, and dealing with the advanced
research questions they may have.
“I love working with graduate students. It’s exciting for me to get involved in their topic, and it’s fun to see the light go on when we’re able to find something they can use.”
A University of Western Ontario graduate, Harris earned both her undergraduate (media studies) and master’s (library and information science) degrees on the London, Ont., campus.
Her route to the library seems almost predetermined as she follows both her mother and grandmother into the profession.
Harris credits Judith Droessler, the longtime subject librarian for health sciences prior to her retirement, for easing the transition into her role. That tutelage has also helped her hit the ground running as she takes on a new challenge with the introduction of the Public Health program, which falls under the purview of the Faculty of Health Sciences.
“It’s exciting to start building up a new core collection in this area,” Harris says, adding she consults with Sharon Yanicki, who was integral in establishing the public health curriculum.
“From a library point of view, public health does have quite a bit of overlap with what we’ve been collecting in nursing so we do have a collection already. It’s interesting for me to try to learn where to pull out specific information with a public health focus.”
GET THE FACTS
• Harris was born and raised in Dorion, Ont., a small township of approximately 400 people, some 70 kilometres east of Thunder Bay
• While studying her undergraduate degree at Western, she participated in an exchange program where she studied history in Scotland
• Students or faculty may set up individual appointments with subject librarians for advanced research help. Harris can be reached at email@example.com
• Subject librarians also work as generalists, staffing the information desk and offering advice on all subject areas. “One of the big things is getting a student or researcher to think outside their subject area and think from other disciplines and when we are dealing with those disciplines every day, it really helps us do that.”