Thursday, May 14, 2015

Project Management for Librarians

I’ve been in public libraries for 9 years now and I have never met a librarian who said they got into this profession because they like business. I’m sure these librarians exist somewhere out there, but I’d be willing to bet you won’t find too many of them in the public sector. Most of us public librarians have chosen this path because we just want to help people. For myself, it’s about lifelong education that has attracted me to this position. In spite of what others outside the profession may think, a Master of Library Science (affectionately called library school) didn’t teach us the Dewey Decimal system, most of us knew that already. Instead, it taught us about information, organization, and leadership. I learned a lot in library school, but nothing compares to what I’ve learned over the course of the last month - and I think many librarians would benefit from the same lessons.

Libraries like hosting programs. Programs get people in the door, they make us feel engaged with the community,and, if nothing else, they break up the monotony of shelving books and answering questions. But the amount of time and effort we put into programs and classes can often yield mixed results of few participants who really enjoyed the program. Most may think this was just a result of a marketing problem, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. The real problem started several months prior when the program was just an idea in a librarian’s mind. The problem? Project Management.

I’m fortunate to work in a library with a digital media lab that has pretty much everything you would need to create movies, music, podcasts, etc. About six months ago I came to my managers and said, “hey, we really need to ramp up programs for this space!” At the time, the digital media lab just failed to catch a lot of attention. My idea for programming was met with enthusiasm and lots of questions:
  1. Who is the program going to target?
  2. What would participants learn?
  3. How do you know that what you are teaching is what the target audience needs to know?
  4. When will this class be?
  5. How do you know that is a good time for the target audience?

The questions continued and, after the first two, I was feeling deflated! I had created a program based on observation of what I thought my target audience would like to know, but I never actually asked. Needless to say, I tabled the programming for a little bit so I could conduct some research.

One of my managers, with experience in project management, pointed me in the right direction to get the answers I needed to those questions. Just as it is true with training, projects need to have goals and/or objectives. I knew I wanted to boost the foot traffic of the digital media lab, but by how much? Gosh, did I even have solid numbers of how often it gets used?

Fast forward a couple months later and I was able to create a solid plan that would lead to accomplishing a set of goals.  I called this plan my Statement of Purpose. This written document detailed the how the digital media lab and how the organization wanted it to grow. The goals that were incorporated into the document were measurable and , in further detail, I exacted how each of these goals would contribute to the growth of the digital media lab.  Finally, I assessed the risks. Every project has risks and it is important to identify what these risks are. If the risk outweighs the potential benefits, then there may be cause to create a new plan. In my case, the risk was the amount of staff time devoted to a project to make it succeed.

Now, with goals firmly in place, I can easily assess what takes top priority and what should be tabled. Staff time is an organization’s greatest asset and it shouldn’t be spent on half-baked ideas. Ideas are great, but they need to be backed up with evidence. Use project management to let an idea fully cook and you’ll see, the numbers don’t lie.

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