Administration, Management, and Finance

Ensuring libraries' future through sustainable thinking: an interview with Rebekkah Smith Aldrich

For the past several years the library world has been abuzz with the concept of "sustainable thinking." Yes, we all want to help the environment and also ensure that libraries are on board too. But beyond being just a feel-good catchphrase, how does sustainable thinking translate into concrete action? Rebekkah Smith Aldrich explores exactly that in her new book, and in this interview she discusses how many libraries are taking the initiative in areas ranging from community outreach and programming to building design. 

You’ve done quite a bit of writing for various publications, including your regular column for Library Journal, but this is your first book. What was different about doing this kind of long-form piece? What were your biggest challenges?

At first, I thought to myself, no problem, it’s just like writing a series of articles like I do for Library Journal. I did the math, figured out my word count and went for it. But that approach really didn’t work. There is an element of storytelling necessary to make the case, build buy-in and inspire people to keep reading so they are primed for the work ahead.

It took me several tries to find the right “arc” to the story. Each chapter required that I have a plan, that I was purposefully helping the reader walk through the story as it had evolved for me over the past decade. Ensuring I carried the thread throughout the work rather than writing several 800-word essays that might come across as disjoined was important. The work was to balance the enormity of the topic with a call to action that then led the reader to pragmatic steps that library leaders could relate to, regardless of the size of their library. Keeping things simple, well-defined and justified definitely took more time than I had anticipated. 

How did your experience as a founding member of New York Library Association’s Sustainability Initiative guide your book?

Thanks to the NYLA Sustainability Initiative (NYLA-SI) I have had the opportunity to think out loud and to get honest feedback from my peers. That was incredibly helpful while writing the book. I would throw ideas out VENN DIAGRAM DEPICTING THE DEFINITION OF THE TRIPLE BOTTOM LINEthere sometime and get the thumbs up, other times… crickets. That’s when I knew I wasn’t connecting on a particular point. That peer feedback has been invaluable.

The other great thing about the SI is that I get invited to speak on the topic all over the state. I’ve been able to fine tune my talking points and get real time reactions from hundreds of library leaders – directors, staff and trustees. It has also meant that I have a front row seat to what is going on around our state and get first-hand accounts of what’s working, what’s not and what challenges leaders are coming up against. That inspires me to ensure the work I’m doing is as relevant as possible. The theory of this stuff really only gets us so far. If library leaders don’t have examples to draw from, success stories to point to and sparks of inspiration to get them going we can’t accelerate fast enough to meet the challenges that are facing us.

What we routinely hear from library leaders after an introductory workshop is: “What do I do next?” That drove me to stop just pontificating and our committee has really thought through how a library leader would proceed. We are talking about a huge mindset shift for not just individuals but whole institutions. While I have great faith in my colleagues to do this work, we can all use some help and guidance to accelerate the pace of what needs to happen. There is a definitely sense of urgency that is lacking in the profession. If people feel too overwhelmed they will be immobilized. The experience with NYLA-SI has taught me to break it down into bite-sized chunks and develop step-by-step assistance to help library leaders ramp up on the issue.

The NYLA-SI has been a huge reality check for me: even in the face of such a large topic we must keep things simple.  
One of the foundational ideas in your book is that the sustainability of libraries, which is extremely dependent on things like community support and visionary leadership, has a close relationship to the sustainability of our planet. Would you briefly explain why you believe the two are so intertwined?

As Rachel Carson famously said in Silent Spring, “Nothing in nature exists alone.” Libraries do not exist alone. Library leaders do not exist alone. We are all connected to the wider world around us. As libraries we need to be embedded, in an authentic and meaningful way, into the lives of those we serve. That means understanding the status of the building blocks of life, that means awareness of the wider world around us. The library is how we translate our desire to be of service to our fellow citizens. We cannot be relevant if we do not understand what people are currently dealing with or facing in the future.

If we are to truly convey to those we serve that we care about their well-being and that we are trusted institution that are good stewards of their trust and tax dollars there needs to be an inherent commitment in our libraries to environmental sustainability. If we are careless with natural resources, if we do not respectfully dispose of unwanted items, if we do not help to educate others of the effects of our actions on the natural world there will not be much left for us to do in a few decades other than disaster response. We will be on the front lines of helping more and more citizens with what may have been preventable problems or issues we should have learned to adapt to.
At a time when it seems like many libraries are stuck in a perpetual battle for survival, a yearly fight just to stave off cuts in funding, how do issues like social equity and justice come into play?

It’s tough out there, financially, politically and socially. The only way forward on any of those topics – for both PLATFORM FOR SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITY INVESTMENTlibraries and communities – is for libraries to actively co-create communities in which citizens have respect, understanding and empathy for one another.

Funding doesn’t come from a machine, it comes from people. Whether that be from director taxpayer decisions in the voting booth, municipal governments that allocate a portion of their budget or private donations – people are behind the decisions about library funding.

Library leaders are responsible for not only creating library services and programs that inspire the community to invest in the library, but to work collaboratively with their neighbors to help their community thrive. The coalition building, the partnerships that help realize shared goals in the community – that is what inspires opinion leaders and decision makers to invest scarce tax dollars into our libraries. You can’t only venture out of your library and speak to others when you need something. You need to be genuinely invested in the community’s success and a community cannot be successful if it is not socially equitable.

In the book there is a chapter on what I call the “Three Es of Sustainable Libraries”: Empower, Engage, Energize. These three actions describe how library leaders should approach their work to inspire people inside of the library organization and community members. In twenty years what I have observed is that this attitude in how we interact with others has a fascinating energy exchange – if your work is focused on empowering, engaging and energizing others they, in turn, will do the same for your library. I have found this to be a “secret ingredient” for many of the most successful libraries I have worked with. 

What are some pieces of advice you can offer libraries about more effectively demonstrating and communicating their importance to the communities they serve?

First I believe we need to “walk the walk.” We cannot just tell people we are committed to intellectual freedom, diversity, social responsibility or the other Core Values of Librarianship – we need to “live it.” Our policies and practices should reflect our commitment to these values. How we spend funds on behalf of the community should reflect our commitment to these values. The partnerships, programs and services we create should reflect our commitment to these values.

Examples of this can include simple things, like the food we serve at events – is it healthy? Locally sourced? – to more complicated things like how we operate our facilities or how we build new facilities. Is human health obviously valued in these choices? Are natural resources respectfully utilized? Are we humane to our staff? Do they make a living wage? Do they have access to affordable healthcare? Are our services and programs designed to advance larger community goals? Do our boards of trustees reflect the diversity of the community that we serve? These are just a handful of examples of the non-verbal choices we make that communicate what kind of organization we are.

In traditional communication channels – annual reports to the community, newsletters, social media – it is imperative that we, ourselves, state why we do the things that we do. I feel libraries make too many assumptions about what the community-at-large truly understand about the work that we do. We need to state that we are contributing to economic development by doing x, y, x. We need to clearly articulate our values. If we don’t do it, no one else will. There is no one else but ourselves to blame for our mushy messaging over the past twenty years. We need to get better at this, and fast, if we want to continue to maintain and grow our capacity to be a positive force in the world. That is a major theme of the book and I spend a lot of time delving into this.
What are some promising changes in the library world that give you hope for the future?

I see so many awesome things happening in our world right now! A great example is that the fine free debate is finally graduating from a financial issue to a social equity issue. I am so impressed by my book copver for Sustainable Thinking: Ensuring Your Library’s Future in an Uncertain Worldcolleagues who have stood up for their communities to make the case that fines are a barrier to access for children in poverty.

The Living Building Challenge was on the cover of Library Journal last year, that is a huge statement that the library profession is paying attention to the right things. I’m also keeping my eye on Hayward (CA)’s 21st Century Library project; when completed, Hayward’s new library will be among the largest “Zero Net Energy” public buildings in the nation.

The makerspace/breakerspace/repair café movement is so inspiring. I love that we are challenging people of all ages in our communities to learn how things work, to fix their own stuff, to create and invent new things and methods. In the book I talk about how critical it will be for us to inspire people to work together to find community-based solutions so we can adapt in the face of some pretty severe disruptions that are headed our way (and some are already here). We cannot be effective at this unless we cultivate a spirit of innovation and collaborative problem solving. I get seriously annoyed when I hear library leaders that are dismissive of this trend as just the latest “shiny.” This is one of the greatest examples of how libraries empower their communities and future generations. It is one of the best talking points out there of how libraries contribute to sustainable, resilient and, ultimately, regenerative communities.

The number one thing that gives me hope is the spirit and fortitude of my colleagues and the volunteer trustees that govern our libraries. People who keep trying. People who keep innovating. People who keep fighting for the right things on behalf of those we serve. We are all in this together, both in library world and more important, in the big wide world around us. Libraries are critical partners to the success of our communities and it is an exhilarating time to be a part of this work.

Sustainable Thinking: Ensuring Your Library’s Future in an Uncertain World is available at the ALA Store

Solving the dysfunctional library: a conversation with Jo Henry, Joe Eshleman, and Richard Moniz

Frankly, it’s not something we like to talk about. There is an unfortunate stigma to acknowledging workplace dysfunction, let alone trying to grapple with the problem. But negative behaviors such as incivility, toxicity, deviant behavior, workplace politics, and team and leadership dysfunction not only make the library a stressful workplace, they also run counter to the core values of librarianship. So what's to be done? In their new book on the topic, Jo Henry, Joe Eshleman, and Richard Moniz take a close look at these negative relationship-based issues and suggest workable solutions. In this interview they discuss their collaboration and how library staff can handle workplace conflicts.  

What was the genesis of the book? Why did you decide to write a book on this topic?

As frequent collaborators, we had always touched on different topics related to leadership and management when we got together. At one point we started more concretely discussing the possibility of updating Richard’s textbook Practical and Effective Management of Libraries. It's a solid work for understanding management principles. That said, it didn’t really get after the most difficult challenges librarians and library managers might face. In talking it through we decided that we specifically wanted to a photo of Tug of War by  -Jacky Liutackle the really tough issues. We all saw various examples of dysfunction either in our own libraries or in other organizations that we had interacted with. We all knew colleagues that had dealt with challenging situations. With that in mind, we felt as though we could both learn a lot and maybe help others by diving deep into the topic.

You’ve all collaborated on writing projects before. Was there anything different this time around? How do you keep track of who’s doing what?

That’s true. We really enjoy working as a team. All three of us have a passion for librarianship and we each bring a different perspective. While one of us may take the lead on a given project, book ideas have typically been generated through vigorous discussion.  Once we have a project, we divide that writing by individual interest and set our internal timelines.  Jo is definitely the leader when it comes to keeping us on track. If there was ever an excellent project manager, it's Jo. Joe is our “big idea” person on the team. He challenges himself and the rest of us to not settle for an easy answer. Often times, he will raise unique points “outside the box” that make our projects deeper and more interesting. Richard can be pretty driven when it comes to keeping on track and he frequently brings his practical experience as a library director to bear on issues. We love the talks that we have as we often get together/email while working on a project. There was not a lot different this time around other than an increased trust factor. We don’t want to let each other down and we try to bring our best selves to each project. We think we did that this time as well.

Because of technology, human beings are more connected to one another than ever before; yet basic communication skills seem to be worse than ever. Why do you think that is?

We see both good and bad examples in the workplace and with our patrons. One can definitely see that the younger generation tends to be “plugged in” all the time and may, as a result, have lost a bit of the connection and skill sets for face to face communication which has been shown to be a more robust communication method.  The book even touches on these generational differences in the realm of workplace incivility.  For example, millennials would rather move on in a dysfunctional workplace than try to adapt or find a solution.  We also discuss communication distortion and how sending and receiving messages can lead to misunderstanding.  Utilization of technology in communication may contribute to these misunderstandings.  Also, there is a loss of “humanity” itself when communicating through technology.  (Think of things such as feedback from sound, gestures, or body language.)  Finally, in the book we address how some of the problem in libraries lies in the fact that the profession has such strong roots but is also going through such radical change. We think that part of the challenge may be resistance to change.

book ccver for The Dysfunctional LibraryIn the book, you write, “Conflicts are a normal part of life and the library workplace.” What are some key steps that both managers and staff can take to deal with conflicts better?

There is a whole lot we could say about this but one central point of the book is the need for civility and respect. It is very important that individuals within an organization build rapport, understanding, and learn to appreciate what each person brings to a given team. Conflict should not be avoided when it arises but dealt with in a manner that is respectful and well-considered. Conflicts between individuals should never be allowed to fester. This requires a certain amount of trust. If that’s lacking there is little hope of resolving the conflict.

What advice would you give to a librarian who needs to report toxic behavior or harassment?

We would say to take care of yourself mentally. That could mean a number of things. First, you need to be careful not to blame yourself for being stuck in a terrible situation. We are proponents of mindfulness and one type of meditation we recommend is loving-kindness meditation. We think it is important to reach out to others that you trust to share what you are experiencing. If you plan to report an issue to HR or another higher authority be careful to document facts about the situation or situations. Unfortunately, sometimes toxic behavior is so embedded in an organization that the best thing you can do is find a healthier workplace.

How can library leaders harness instability and change for a more functional workplace?

Library leaders need to embrace that aspect of change that taps into creativity and humanity.  Realizing that good and open librarians are welcome to change and showing the benefits of accepting change up front are key factors here.  In addition to leading by accepting change themselves, library leaders need to realize that change is one of the things that makes us human. Doing the same things day to day or over a long period of time makes us robots and also makes the librarian position one that can be considered to be automated and phased out.  The most functional librarian is one who is invested in aspects of their job that tap into their own needs and passions. This is not to say that some of the day to day tasks need to be completely eliminated, but merely to point out to library leadership that embracing and facilitating change can make us more engaged.

Learn more about The Dysfunctional Library: Challenges and Solutions to Workplace Relationships at the ALA Store.

Delivering a Data Strategy in the Cauldron of Business As Usual

Guest blog by the co-authors of The Chief Data Officer’s Playbook, Caroline Carruthers (Group Director of Data Management, Lowell Group) and Peter Jackson (Chief Data Officer, Southern Water).

Being a Chief Data Officer in the current climate is a rather interesting place to be, it can feel a little like dancing on quicksand while you have to learn to juggle wriggling snakes. So in order to help people interested in this area, whether you are a new CDO, well established data hero or just wondering what all the fuss is about, we have worked on a set of articles to answer some of the questions we are asked at nearly every conference we go to. While we can’t promise you a solution to all your data related problems handed to you on a plate, we can promise that once a week you can look forward to another concise, interesting and easy to read article to help you on your data and information related journey.

One of the most difficult tasks for the new CDO is developing a Data Strategy while the organi\zation continues to operate (and must continue to operate) using and abusing data, continuing with bad habits around data and often with a lack of governance and planning. This has been likened to performing open heart surgery on a runner while they are in the middle of a marathon, in reality it’s more like patching them up, giving them water to keep them going and a clear map to get them to the end of the race. In most situations for a new CDO the organisation probably feels that it has been operating quite happily without this new person for a very long while. So, for the new CDO it may feel like they are sitting in the corner talking to themselves. Alternatively the CDO may be met with comments like ‘Yes, we tried that before and it didn’t work’ or ‘ IT/ Finance/ Procurement/ Marketing (delete as appropriate) won’t like you doing that’ or my personal favourite ‘that’s not how we do that here’.

What is the context of Business As Usual? In most cases (unless the organisation is a start-up) it will be:

  • a legacy data environment: siloes of data, multiple records, ‘duplicates’, weak data governance, no useful meta data, heavy MI and no BI.
  • legacy systems: burning platforms, bespoke developments, hard to maintain and manage, reporting systems remote from end-users, no true data management systems
  • legacy business processes: evolved over time, limited by technology and data available at the point in time, containing many work-arounds
  • multiple suppliers: of software and systems
  • legacy IT department: focused on building stuff rather than delivering and supporting software-as-a-service, internal networks as opposed to cloud
  • legacy ‘transformation’ process: based on project governance and waterfall, struggling with agile and innovation. Not able to adapt to transformation being data driven rather than technology driven

The task for the new CDO is how to steer their way through this bubbling cauldron and deliver a data strategy. One approach is to break the task down into two parts: an Immediate Data Strategy (IDS), a tactical approach to deliver support for BAU, gain quick wins and temporary fixes and to prepare the way for the second part. The additional benefit of the IDS is the delivery of incremental value to the organisation through its data, avoiding the hypecycle on the way (the next article deals with this in more detail). The second part is the Target Data Strategy (TDS), the strategic approach. The new CDO cannot sit back and deliver the TDS over a two to three year window, the organisation will probably be expecting some results now, so it is just as important to set realistic expectations as it is to provide some tactical delivery through the IDS. One piece of advice, don’t call these tactical deliveries ‘Projects’ instead refer to them as ‘Initiatives’, this might engender a more agile approach.

The IDS should listen to the organisation’s data pain and try to deliver high profile quick wins. The tactical initiatives of the IDS should blend into the strategy of the TDS, and not run down a rabbit hole or blind alley. The IDS should help build up the narrative and vision of the TDS.

The six key elements of the IDS could be:

  1. Stability and rationalisation of the existing data environment
  2. Data culture and governance
  3. Existing and immediate data and IT development projects
  4. Data exploitation and integration
  5. Data performance, quality, integrity, assurance and provenance
  6. Data security (especially with GDPR in mind).

While the new CDO is delivering the IDS they should be pushing the TDS through business engagement, the organisation needs to be prepared, ready and believe in the changes that are coming. The CDO should also be using the IDS to show the ‘art of the possible’ to a data illiterate business to help the business engage with the new data possibilities. Through the IDS they should be running Proof of Concepts, feasibility studies, data science initiatives and building a narrative around the vision of the TDS for all levels of the business.

Finally, six tips on how to succeed using the IDS and TDS approach:

  1. Use internal communications to sell the vision, don’t allow a vacuum to form
  2. Seek every opportunity to communicate the vision. Do not be frightened of becoming a data bore.
  3. Socialise the data visons and the changes that could be coming, especially the controversial ideas, locate the data champions to support you
  4. Engage the organisation’s leadership and find your senior sponsors, they will be crucial
  5. If you can’t explain it, you’re doing something wrong, ‘it’s me not you’
  6. Win hearts and minds, often a good argument is not enough to win the day.

The book is available to purchase now. This post first appeared in a somewhat different form on the Facet Publishing blog.

Homelessness and libraries: an interview with Ryan J. Dowd

It may surprise you to hear that staff at public libraries interact with almost as many homeless individuals as staff at shelters do. But as Ryan J. Dowd, who has spent most of his career as Executive Director of a large homeless shelter near Chicago, observes, "Libraries are one of the few places in a community where everyone — homeless and not homeless — are likely to mix." He advocates for an empathy-driven approach to these individuals in his new book The Librarian's Guide to Homelessness.

You open your book by discussing some of the myths surrounding individuals who are homeless. In your view, which myth is the most pervasive and damaging?

I think there are two pervasive myths that contradict each other, and each cause a different type of damage. One myth is that homeless people are nothing like housed people. This “othering” of homeless individuals really allows us to view them as less than human, less than citizens and less than deserving of assistance. The related myth, though, is that homeless individuals are exactly like housed people. That simply isn’t true. A homeless individual has had a lot of different experiences that effects worldview, communication style, etc. If you assume that a homeless individual interacts with the world exactly like you do, then you are completely unable to empathize with the unique circumstances they face.

What is the Homeless Golden Rule and why do you write that it's the most important thing in your book?

The Homeless Golden Rule is that you should treat your homeless patrons no better or worse than any other patron. This is so important because homeless individuals are used to being singled out and treated as “other” (and usually “less than.”). Being singled out (and discriminated against) is a massive trigger for conflict with homeless patrons. Simply not treating homeless patrons discriminatorily removes a massive source of conflict.

When there's a difficult situation to deal with, often one's default is to immediately shift into problem-solving mode rather than taking a moment to empathize. What are a few pieces of advice you would give librarians for confronting difficult situations with empathy?

The first step is to slow down. Talking to an angry patron (homeless or otherwise) is uncomfortable, and so people try to rush the situation in order to get out of it. This is a mistake. Homeless individuals are constantly rushed and ignored, so when you try to rush the conversation, you send a clear message that they are not worthy of your time or attention. This is a trigger that escalates the situation, which—ironically—causes the confrontation to take much longer than if you took a little time to listen. So few people take the time to listen to homeless patrons. When you do that, it really resolves a lot of problems down the line (and saves time!).

Let's say a library patron approaches you to complain about a homeless individual. So now you have two overlapping situations to handle. What do you do? 

The first step is to determine whether the non-homeless patron’s complaint is legitimate. At one library I talked to, the patrons call the police every time a homeless patron even enters the library. That is simply an elitist misunderstanding of the role of the library as the last truly democratic public space in our communities. On the other hand, if the non-homeless patron has a legitimate concern (e.g. sexual comments) then that is a totally different matter. So, basically, if the concern is legitimate, then library staff should address the problematic behavior. If the concern is not legitimate, library staff should do their best to explain the role of libraries in serving everyone across the socio-economic spectrum (easier said than done, of course!).

On a day to day basis, how does librarianship's advocacy role fit in with serving the homeless?

I think that any effective advocacy begins with a relationship. When you take the time to hear the stories—and learn the names—of homeless patrons you immediately become a more effective advocate. The revolution is in the relationship.  

What are some first steps that libraries can take to partner with outside organizations?

Let’s start with the idea of hiring a social worker. I think it is great for libraries to have social workers, but I am totally against libraries hiring social workers. A far better approach is to partner with a local nonprofit to provide the social worker. There are several reasons for this:  1) A social work agency will do a better job hiring a good social worker, 2) A social work agency will do a better job supporting and supervising a social worker, 3) A social worker operating in a sea of librarians will not have adequate moral and technical support; if that person works for another agency, s/he can get advice from co-workers back at the main office.  4) When another agency has staff based in the library, there are more people caring about the library. That is huge.

Learn more about Dowd's book at the ALA Store.

Though fictional, The Public, a new film written and directed by Emilio Estevez, deals with these very real issues. The opening film of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, it stars Taylor Schilling, Alec Baldwin, Jena Malone, and Jeffrey Wright alongside Estevez. It centers on a group of homeless library patrons in Cincinnati. When brutal weather fills the city's emergency shelters to capacity, they refuse to leave the downtown public library at closing time, leading to a standoff. Check out the official trailer below.

The No-nonsense Guide to Project Management

Read an exclusive interview with Barbara Allan in which she discusses writing her new book, The No-nonsense Guide to Project Management, and offers advice on the skills needed for both small and larger, complex projects.


What research did you do for the No-nonsense Guide to Project Management?

My earlier book on project management was published by Facet in 2004 and this provided a starting point. A lot has changed since then so I carried out a huge amount of online research in the academic and professional literature, as well as searching the websites of library and information services to identify good case studies. In addition, I researched the current professional project management literature to gain their perspective. Finally, and this is the most enjoyable part, I contacted library and information workers as well as people teaching project management to gain their perspectives.

What is your experience of project management?

I’m lucky as I have had lots of experience of project management and I have always gravitated towards projects and volunteered to get involved in them. Some examples include: closing a library; moving libraries; creating a new library and information service; introducing new ICT systems; designing and developing both e-learning and traditional courses; introducing new working practices and contracts; leading an institutional-wide programme with a budget of more than £2.3M.  Like most people, I have also experienced many projects in my home life: moving house; DIY projects; organizing celebrations and parties; organizing holidays. Basically, the same skills that are used in these domestic projects are essential for professional projects too.

Do you get stuck when writing?

Yes, I sometimes have so many ideas and examples buzzing about my head that it is hard to sort them out. When this happens, I tend to go for a long walk with my dog and think it through. Alternatively, I get out my Post-It Notes™ and takeover the kitchen table as I spread them about and work out the connections and contradictions between different ideas.

 How does the new book differ from your previous book on this topic?

There are many major differences. I think the first one is that standard project management methodologies such as PRINCE2® and Agile are now commonly used in library and information services. In very large and complex projects, library and information services (or their parent organisation) regularly employ professional project managers often on a contract basis and they use these standard methodologies which means that a wider group of people learn about them. Another difference is that a wide range of technologies are used in project management. For example, specialist software packages, such as MS Project, may be used to help manage the project and these provide a wide range of reports which come in very useful at meetings. Collaborative software which enable teams to work together and jointly produce reports and other outputs are very useful particularly in international projects where team members may be working in different geographic regions and time zones. In addition, social media has made a huge impact both in terms of supporting team working and also in publicising the project. Both crowdfunding and crowdsourcing are used by some libraries and I found this a particularly interesting topic to research.

Does this mean that all project managers need to use these technologies?

This is a really good question. It depends on the size of the project. If you are leading a small project involving relatively few people then you can manage it using everyday tools such as your diary and a spreadsheet. However, you may choose to use specialist software as a way of learning how to use it and gaining an additional skill for your CV. In contrast, if you are leading a large and complex project then I think it is vital to use appropriate tools as a means of managing and sharing the project information.

What has stayed the same in project management in the past decade or so?

I think the basic idea of following the project cycle and working through each stage in a systematic manner is essential. The detailed process of documenting each stage is important as it means any change in personnel can be relatively easily managed. In addition, making sure that you have considered all the risks that may adversely affect the project and thought about how to reduce or eliminate the risk is important too. Finally, following standard procedures for managing the project budget is vital.


The project life cycle

Allan_blog image

Managing risks sounds a little scary. Is it?

I always enjoy the risk management side of any project. Basically, it involves thinking about five questions: What can go wrong? How likely is this to happen? What is the likely impact on the project? How serious is each risk? How can the risks be managed?Identifying the risks can be fun and sometimes teams come up with extreme examples which cause laughter. A key lesson is to allow time for unexpected events. For example, I was once involved in a library move and the initial movement of furniture resulted in an epidemic of fleas. Quite revolting and we had to call in professional pest control people to sort it out. Overall, we lost a lot of time but we had built that in as our contingency so the project still met its deadline.

What about the people side of projects?

Leading and managing the people side of projects is vital if the project is to be successful. It is particularly important in strategic projects such as merging two libraries or developing shared services where major changes are taking place. These strategic projects may take 2-3 years to implement and there needs to be a management of change process in place to help support everyone through the change.

In all projects, the project manager needs to identify and think about all the stakeholders who are involved in the project or may be affected by it. She then needs to work out (with her team) how to work with and communicate with this diverse group of people who will all have different needs, expectations and concerns. In the No-nonsense Guide to Project Management, working with different groups including virtual teams and also volunteers is explored with practical guidance on how to work effectively. Nowadays, many projects involve partnership working, e.g. working with local, regional or international partners, and it is important to pay attention to establishing, developing and maintaining the partnership if it is to be successful.

What is your advice to librarians entering the profession?

My advice is to gain as much experience as possible. Take up opportunities to be involved in project work and, if possible, sign up for training courses on project management. Project management is an important skill for all library and information workers and it is essential for anyone wanting to move into management and leadership positions. Finally, it offers very interesting opportunities to shape your library and information service and the services and products on offer.

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash (This interview originally appeared on the Facet Publishing blog).

Barbara Allan is an author and trainer. Her background includes managing workplace and academic libraries. She has spent many years working in business schools where her focus was on enhancing learning, teaching and the student experience, and the internationalization and employability agendas. Her qualifications include a doctorate in education (on the topic of e-mentoring and women into leadership). She is a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and was awarded a National Teaching Fellowship in 2008. A member of CILIP, she is the author of several Facet Publishing titles, including Emerging Strategies for Supporting Student Learning (2016), The No-nonsense Guide to Training in Libraries (2013), Supporting Research Students (2009), and Blended Learning (2007).

Books hot off the press, Meet the Authors at the ALA Store in Orlando

Located just inside the Shuttle Bus Entrance at the Orange County Convention Center, the ALA Store offers products that meet the widest range of your promotional and continuing education/professional development needs—as well as fun gift items. Make sure to carve out some time in your schedule during the conference to stop by and examine the many new and bestselling items available!

ALA Store hours:

  • Friday, June 24            12:00 pm – 5:30 pm
  • Saturday, June 25       8:30 am – 5:00 pm
  • Sunday, June 26          8:30 am – 5:00 pm
  • Monday, June 27        9:00 am – 2:00 pm

ALA Graphics will feature a selection of popular posters, bookmarks, and promotional materials, including new 2016 Teen Read Week and Banned Book Week items. And stop by early to get your pick of conference t-shirts—they sell out fast! We’ll also be introducing several brand new items and exclusive gifts:

  • Libraries Transform Expert Badges
  • CSK Book Award T-shirts
  • CSK Book Award Pashmina (limited quantity and only available at the Conference Store)

ALA Editions and ALA divisions are excited to offer several new titles hot off the press, such as “RDA Essentials,” by Thomas Brenndorfer; “Engaging Babies in the Library: Putting Theory into Practice,” by Debra J. Knoll; and “The Librarian's Nitty Gritty Guide to Content Marketing,” by Laura Solomon. Come by the ALA Store for these special Meet the Author events:

Saturday, June 25      

Sunday, June 26      

Remember that you can now find titles from ALA Neal-Schuman and Facet Publishing in the ALA Store. You can also get free shipping on all book orders placed in the ALA Store (posters, bookmarks, and other gift-type items are not eligible for this offer).

Stop by the ALA Store to learn more about our eLearning opportunities. You can also arrange for a live demo of RDA Toolkit—just contact us by June 20 to request an appointment.

Prices at the ALA Store automatically reflect the ALA Member discount, so there’s no need to dig out your Member number. And remember that every dollar you spend at the ALA Store helps support library advocacy, awareness, and other key programs and initiatives!

Continuing the Conversation: Hiring, Training and Supervising Library Shelvers

We just wrapped up Pat Tunstall’s three-part workshop Hiring, Training and Supervising Library Shelvers. This was a fantastic event with some great discussion! 

Pat’s slides for all three parts are posted below. If you didn’t have a chance to participate, check them out!

Continuing the Conversation: Creating Presentations that Don't Put People to Sleep

We just wrapped up Maurice Coleman’s workshop Creating Presentations That Don’t Put People to Sleep. Maurice did a fantastic job of leading this event, which included some great discussion!

The readings, resources and slides for the event are listed below. Have further questions or comments? Whether you participated in the event or not, feel free to chime in via the comments area below!

The Readings for Today’s Workshop:

Resources Mentioned During Today’s Event:

Maurice’s Slides:

New Workshop: Be a Great Boss: Kickoff to Your Year of Learning

Be a Great Boss: One Year to Success, a 2011 ALA Editions bestseller, is organized like a calendar along 12 monthly themes comprising 52 modules. Growing as a manager means learning by experience. Even so, professional development does not have to be haphazard. The book invites you to learn proactively, providing structure and a print companion on what can be a lonely journey.

In this season of goal-setting, make your commitment to improved management skills more social and register for the new ALA Editions Workshop Be a Great Boss: The Kickoff to Your Year of Learning. Starting January 5, author Catherine Hakala-Ausperk will present a series of four webinars over the next three months. With her as your guide, you will join fellow participants in a learning community, interacting in chat during the webinars and in email discussions in between sessions.

Catherine presented a Workshop in the fall. Her comment on the follow-up blog post is an example of the guidance that you can expect after webinar discussions.

This excerpt from the book shows the structure and some ideas of the program.

Be a Great Boss

Community Partnership: How to Raise Money and Build Relationships

Paul Signorelli is currently teaching the ALA Editions eCourse Community Partnership: Raising Money and Building Relationships. The course begins today, but its not too late to register at the ALA Store.

At a very important yet oft-overlooked level, every member of library staff is now a fundraiser in a very competitive environment. That’s because great fundraising comes from the building of great relationships, and all library staff members play a role in nurturing and sustaining positive and mutually beneficial relationships between libraries and the communities they serve—in good as well as in challenging times.

Fostering effective collaborations is at the heart of the ALA Editions’ Community Partnership: How to Raise Money and Build Relationships, which runs online from Monday, October 3 through Sunday, October 30, 2011. But don’t let the fundraising aspect scare you. We’re as much concerned here with the collaboration-relationship side of the equation as we are with the funding and in-kind gifts that result from those relationships.

There are wonderful resources to be explored here, including the Urban Libraries Council report Making Cities Stronger: Public Library Contributions to Local Economic Development. It’s as fresh today as it was when it was published in January 2007. We’ll be using it as an anchor to our explorations and discussions of how partnerships are developed and what some of our most creative colleagues have been doing to serve as active participants within their communities.

We’ll also have access to the complete version of Providing for Knowledge, Growth, and Prosperity: A Benefit Study of the San Francisco Public Library rather than the executive summary that is available on the Internet. Reading and discussing that document in conjunction with the use of other articles, short online videos, and PowerPoint presentations from several sources will help us recognize the benefits we bring to our communities so we can better demonstrate the worth of our organizations to our current and prospective community partners.

And we’ll finish this four-week interactive course with an in-depth look at one of the hottest recent library-business community partnerships—the e-reader project between the Sacramento Public Library and Barnes & Noble.

There will be plenty of other resources to explore, and the collaborations we develop will include the interactions among our learning colleagues from libraries across the country as we use an online bulletin board to share weekly assignment postings, engage in optional weekly office-hour chats, and produce resources we can immediately use in our efforts to create, nurture, and sustain partnerships that benefit our communities.

To register, please visit the ALA Store.

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