Library services

Making the Most of your Library - a guide for English lecturers

Making the Most of your Library - a guide for English lecturers

“Much of this guide is aimed at helping academics of all levels of experience to communicate with library staff and to understand the possibilities and limitations of the services they offer.”

Making the Most of your Library – a guide for English lecturers


This guide is intended to answer the most common questions asked by HE English lecturers about library services. It will be particularly helpful to new lecturers and to those taking on a special responsibility for liaison with the library.

Library services have been and are going through a period of rapid change and development. They are no longer store-houses of printed information accessed via a catalogue, but rather gateways to dispersed collections in both print and electronic form, accessed via many different search and retrieval tools. Yet despite the growing prevalence of e-books, e-journals and web-based information, libraries are still a physical place where students and researchers expect to be able to find the materials they need and study them in an appropriate environment.

Libraries and English – a special relationship

As a text- based discipline, English has a special affinity with libraries. The monograph is still as important as the journal article and primary texts are usually read in print rather than electronic form. For English students, the library figures in their learning experience more markedly than for other disciplines. The library is the laboratory for English students.


computer_libThe English Subject Centre has therefore taken seriously concerns raised in the community about declining standards in the provision of materials for its students. As libraries struggle to fund the spiralling cost of science and technology journals and move towards electronic delivery, there is a fear that the more traditional book-based services needed by humanities students are being squeezed. To a large extent the quality of a library service is dependent on the resources its institution puts into it, and this is a matter which it is difficult to address from outside. Libraries are also affected by trends in what is now a global publishing market with pricing and formatting decisions being taken by multi-national companies for whom UK universities, let alone the English studies community within them, represent only a small fraction of their sales revenue.

Yet despite the fact that things like trends in global publishing and library funding are beyond its influence, the English Subject Centre felt that there was much to be gained by improving the liaison and understanding between libraries and English academics. It is for this reason that this guide has been produced.

About this guide

three_studentsThe guide does not supplement in any way those which individual libraries produce about their own services and collections. Rather it tries to answer some of the ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ in a way that indicates the possible or most commonplace answers in a way that will make lecturers better informed and more confident about approaching the librarians in their own institution. (NB: throughout this guide we refer to ‘libraries’ and ‘librarians’ but use this to include the variants such as ‘Learning Resources Centre’ and ‘Information Advisers’.) This information is therefore necessarily generalised, but we have tried to indicate who and what to ask at your own library.

What are subject librarians, what do they do?

girl_libA theme of this guide is the need to talk to librarians, particularly subject librarians. Most university libraries will have someone who is working in the subject librarian’s role, although they may have another title such as ‘Information Adviser’. But who are subject librarians and what do they do? Subject librarians work with academic departments to identify and address the library and information needs of staff and students in particular discipline areas. They typically providing user education sessions tailored to the needs of departments, manage the library’s collections to keep them effective and relevant and help users at all levels to make best use of library resources. In some institutions the subject librarian may be a ’one-stop-shop’ for the academic on any library and possibly IT-related matter; in others they may refer you to another member of library or computer centre staff.
We would encourage you to:

  • find out who the subject librarian for English is, either by checking your library’s website or asking at the enquiry desk
  • contact your subject librarian and, especially if you are a new member of staff, ask for a tour of the library and introduction to its online facilities
  • keep them informed about any problems or plans relating to teaching resources for your students.

lib_deskIf you are a new lecturer

Aim of the guide

Much of this guide is aimed at helping academics of all levels of experience to communicate with library staff and to understand the possibilities and limitations of the services they offer. For the new lecturer, the practicalities of making sure that books are available to students can pose considerable challenges, and it is easy to overlook the wider context of this task.

Integrating library use with teaching

lib_buildingUnderlying most English degrees is the aim of developing habits of study and reading in students. In a research environment, extensive bibliographies demonstrate mastery of the subject matter. Handed out to students they may be viewed as mountains that they cannot hope to ascend, so they see little point in even exploring the foothills. How is the lecturer to find a balance between the highly prescriptive (but realistic) reading list and the more scholarly one that encourages wider reading but may ‘put off’ the fainter-hearted? How far does the lecturer encourage students to go off and explore library resources and how far does s/he rely on anthologies? These are questions which surround the larger task of integrating library use with teaching and the flow of work through a module or programme.

Frequently asked questions

The following pages contain a series of answers to frequently asked questions about how to make the most effective use of your library services under the following headings: