Shadowing of a Subject Librarian

On Thursday, 2nd August from 9:30am to 12:30, I shadowed Chris. Chris split the shadowing into three parts – one hour for general Q and A, where I asked him questions that I had prepared, one hour to look at his timetable and tasks, and one hour sitting in a meeting that he was part of.

The first hour was an informal conversation about Chris’s role as a Subject Librarian. He included details of his career path since starting to work at City Library. I spoke about my own plans for career progression and we talked about the interview process. He said, drily, that success somewhat depends on if you have a good day or not.

He then spoke about his relationship with the academic staff, and the meetings he attends. He said that everyone in the schools welcomed him and that he wanted to represent the students’ voice by being part of these meetings. Chris feels that his experience as a grade four and five employee, as opposed to someone who started at grade six, puts him in a unique place to contribute to these school meetings.

Time Management

During the second hour Chris showed me his timetable, and explained how it was up to him how to set out his week, in contrast to my role as a grade four Information Assistant. Chris explained that for some tasks, such as reading lists, it is not clear how long it will take, so you have to use judgement as to how much time to set aside for this task. He left a small part of his week without specified tasks for this purpose.

People Management

A skill needed frequently as a Subject Librarian is people management. He spoke about matrix management of information assistant colleagues.

The last hour was spent in a meeting with colleagues from another department on accessibility. Before the meeting, Chris asked me to judge the worth of this meeting in terms of his time and usefulness, and to feedback to him about the demands of others. I contributed to the meeting and I fed back to him afterwards, so perhaps Chris got something out of my visit.


This meeting helped me to believe that I could be a valuable member of a team that liaises with schools, academics, and students as I have a good insight into what the student experience is like from my work as a grade four Information Assistant. I now believe a little bit more that I could work in other areas of the library and to go for promotion. This made shadowing a worthwhile use of my time. In this way, it helped me to feel that a grade five post is something that I could actually do.

I would advise that both people involved in the shadowing think carefully before meeting about how the experience can be valuable for both of them.

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