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Job shadowing: Rachel and Jen

In March 2019, using our job shadowing page, Rachel contacted Jen and arranged to shadow her at Leeds Beckett University. Rachel has shared her thoughts about the day. Jen is moving to a new role, you can find out more about her work with DILON here.


I approached Jen, Research Services Advisor at Leeds Beckett, for job shadowing as I am always keen to meet other librarians working in research support. My job as a Liaison Librarian at Leeds Trinity University involves both undergraduate subject support and also research support, so I like to make contact with people working in both areas. However, I come across research support librarians far more rarely, so I’m always eager to compare notes with them and pick up tips. Jen kindly invited me to shadow her for the morning at the Leeds Beckett Headingley campus.

I started the day by sitting in on a meeting with Jen and some of her colleagues. Topics covered at the meeting included: delivery of research support workshops; alternative provision of research support e.g. webinars; research cafes; and research support content on the VLE and the library website.

As a visitor, I couldn’t always follow the discussion 100% but I was able to spot a few similarities between our universities in terms of research support delivery. For example, we both work with the central Research Office in delivering a programme of workshops to support PhD students and staff. This has the advantage of sharing the responsibility for organising and promoting the workshops, rather than the library working in isolation. However, we have all found that this comes with occasional challenges such as communication issues and a lack of control over the workshop programme.

Next on the agenda was a meeting with academic librarian Kirsty Bower, who supports a similar subject area to mine (Social Sciences). Academic librarians at Leeds Beckett have been delivering generic study skills sessions for the first time this academic year, in addition to their usual subject specific information skills teaching. Kirsty felt this had gone quite well, and it was interesting to compare notes as my team have also been delivering more shared teaching with our academic skills unit, the Learning Hub.

Kirsty also told me about some departmental projects she had been involved in, including an initiative to diversify the curriculum, and the use of Open Journal Systems (OJS) as a platform for students to publish their coursework essays as Open Access articles. Kirsty was pleasantly surprised by the success of their OA Sociology journal, Critical Reflections, which had generated web traffic not just within the university but worldwide. As far as I’m aware, Leeds Trinity is not currently making use of OJS but I think it could be a great potential project for us.

To finish off the morning, I had a long chat with Jen over coffee about our roles in research support. Jen’s role is quite different from mine in that she is far more involved with the university’s REF submission and with research data management (RDM). While I do maintain my current awareness in those areas and try to integrate them into my work, my job is more focused on supporting researchers via workshops and 1-1 advice on more traditional library skills such as literature searching, EndNote and systematic reviews. I also find that undergraduate subject support and book ordering takes up a large amount of my time, whereas Jen’s research-focused role means her day-to-day work is very different from mine.

Despite the differences between our jobs, however, we discovered that our experiences of supporting research at two very different universities had a surprising amount in common. Here are some key points from our discussion:

Learning about research data management as a librarian

Jen and I had both noticed a lack of entry-level RDM training and resources aimed at librarians; most of what is out there seems geared towards researchers managing their own data.* Librarians seem to learn about RDM on the job, but it’s difficult to get those jobs without prior experience of RDM. While this applies to many aspects of librarianship, RDM in particular seems to have very few resources available for librarians learning about it for the first time. The fact that Jen and I had both noticed this knowledge gap certainly made me feel better although it didn’t provide any easy answers. I was also very impressed with how Jen has thrown herself into supporting RDM; she seems to have achieved a lot given the lack of available training.

Making sense of REF2021 policy

Jen and I both found REF (Research Excellence Framework) policy documents to be long-winded and confusing. Being more actively involved in REF preparations than I am, Jen said she had found the UKCORR mailing list to be very useful for comparing notes with other librarians about the practicalities of implementing the REF2021 guidance. I am subscribed to this list after a colleague recommended it, but tend to find the sheer amount of detail overwhelming, although it’s useful to have the emails on file to search back through.

Perhaps as a result of working in relative isolation with regard to the REF, we both found ourselves wondering at times, “Why isn’t everyone else in a constant state of REF panic?” There is a bit of a fear that some seemingly minor detail will be overlooked and it will mess up the entire REF submission. I imagine that this sense of responsibility is a bit more diluted for people working in large teams to support the REF.

Jen had also come across some interesting issues around non-traditional research outputs and how to record them in the repository – for example, dance and performance art, where there is no published output in the traditional sense. At Leeds Trinity, this is not an issue as we don’t really do research or teaching in these areas at present; I don’t envy Jen having to come up with solutions for this although I do find it really interesting to hear about.

Limits to what you can achieve as an individual

The need for higher level institutional buy-in regarding research support policies was something Jen and I had both observed. Individual librarians cannot reasonably be expected to implement a policy or create a particular “research culture” alone. Even if working as part of a team, librarians do not usually work at a level of seniority that would enable us to make large-scale changes. Generally speaking, change in universities comes from above, and requires long-term collaboration between library staff and the rest of the university.

Future plans

I also learned during the visit that Jen will soon be starting a new job managing the library research service at the University of Salford. It sounds like a great opportunity and I’m sure she will be brilliant at it.

Many thanks to Jen and her Leeds Beckett colleagues for being so welcoming and helpful during my visit. I would definitely recommend job shadowing to other NLPN readers – I learned so much, and it was local and free!

*I did some more research after our meeting and found a MOOC on RDM that looks useful and appears to be aimed at librarians as well as researchers; I will be looking into this over the summer.


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This entry was posted on April 24, 2019 by in Job shadowing and tagged , , , , , , , .

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