Libraries as Project Organizations


This post comes from guest blogger Robin Hastings, library technologist and library services consultant at NEKLS.

Librarians have been undertaking projects since there have been libraries – and possibly even before. So how do you know if you are working on a project? There are many definitions of what exactly a project is, but most of those definitions have at least three things in common:

  1. They are finite in that they have an end date.
  2. They are limited in that they have a specific set of people or resources or money that is assigned to them.
  3. They are something more than just operational duties that keep the library running.

While projects have been around as long as libraries have existed, the discipline of project management is somewhat newer. The idea of putting together “best practices” around doing projects came about in the middle of the last century and project managers have been refining and perfecting the phases and processes of project management ever since.

Libraries, of course, can get projects done without going through the processes of project management. They can even get them done well, with everyone agreeing on the success of the effort, but using the best practices of project management will help streamline efforts and promote success for every project undertaken. Breaking down the effort of a project into the five distinct phases of project management and using some subset of the 42 processes included in those five phases gives projects and their managers a boost toward success that just jumping in and starting to work willy-nilly might not.

One of the parts of project management that I think does the most to help libraries create successful projects is the feasibility study process in the Initiation phase of a project. Before you begin to pour resources into a project, do a reality-check – does the library have the time/money/people/skills/political will to do this project and do it well? This single process can help libraries avoid projects that are doomed to failure, which only improves the ratio of successful projects a library produces.

Of course, that’s just the beginning of the road to a successful project. Once you are done with the feasibility study and have determined the project is a good fit for your organization, you then just begin working on the single most important step for a successful project – planning!


Planning Projects – the How and the Why

In my experience, the best way to ensure a project is successful is to spend some time planning the project out before just jumping in and starting the work. Planning involves a bunch of different activities and can take some serious time and effort to do well – but it’s worth it! Committing to spending the time to plan and really think about what is going to go into your project will pay off in the end.

A proper project plan involves several of the project processes that have been developed by the Project Management Institute as the official project and culminates in a project charter that lays out the plan in a way that both the project manager and the project workers (and other stakeholders, if needed) can follow and understand.

A proper project plan also includes a bunch of documents and ideas that aren’t necessarily familiar to most librarians. Creating Gantt charts and working through your WPS in order to make sure you know what it is needed to be done and who is going to do it isn’t something that most of us were taught in library school (unless you took project management in library school, in which case – congratulations, not every program has that available). There is, however, a way to pick up the concepts you need to make your projects successful – the Innovative Project Management Bootcamp.

In the upcoming Project Management Bootcamp that I will be leading in September, there will be lots of opportunities to practice your planning skills. I intend for folks to end the camp with a fully fleshed out and workable project plan and definite directions for how to manage the plan as the project work gets underway. Check it out now to see if it will work for you!


About Robin

Robin Hastings is a library technologist with nearly 20 years of experience in her field. She worked as an IT worker, then Manager, for a public library in Missouri before moving to KS in 2012 to become first the Director of Technology Services, then, after receiving her MLS in 2016, the Library Services Consultant for the Northeast Kansas Library System (NEKLS) based in Lawrence, KS. In her job, she provides technology and general service assistance to public, academic and school libraries in the 14 county Northeast Kansas region. For fun, she writes. She has had several articles published in Library Journal, Computers in Libraries and various ALA related publications as well as 4 books on library technologies.