Archives For project management

group of 4 people talking in a circle and talking with text "improve you library communication in 20 minutes with standup meetings"Internal communication has been a sticking point in for every library department I’ve worked in. Even within a team, employees felt like they didn’t know what their colleagues were doing.

Solutions to internal communication usually involve a lot of reading and writing. There are internal newsletters, emailed updates, or project reports. All of this written communication takes a ton of time and energy, with only mixed results.

If internal communication is a problem in your library, I want to share an almost magical solution that you can start doing right away. Even better: this communication fix takes 20 minutes at most.

A few years ago, I learned about a great solution to internal communication problems at a fantastic project management training from Megan Torrance of TorranceLearning. I realized in the training session that internal communication isn’t a problem unique to libraries, and that project management strategies offer a fix for this issue.

Many software development teams start each morning with a quick standup meeting to explain to what they’re working on that day.

Standup meetings are a classic project management technique. The idea is to keep each other informed about new projects, let colleagues know if their help is needed, and share a team sense of achievement. Participants don’t need to literally stand up; the name standup just indicates that you’re not going to be in the circle long enough to get settled in.

The time investment to payoff ratio is stunningly good. Each person is given 60 seconds maximum, so the standup meetings last only as many minutes as there are people.

I wanted to try standup meetings out with my circulation department, but I needed to tweak the format to fit our service-oriented work.

The timing was the first thing to change. Daily meetings seemed way too often. For one thing, we cover a wide variety of schedules to keep the library open, so it’s a rare day that we’re all here at the same time. Instead of daily standup, I settled on weekly standup meetings with my access services team.

The standup meetings have been amazing for our team communication. In just a few minutes, the entire team gets a sense of our biggest accomplishments and the challenges coming up.

I borrowed the format Megan Torrance shared at the training. We gather around our ILL processing table every Friday morning, and in 60 seconds, each team member is asked to share:

  • What you’re working on
  • What you need help with
  • (If you want to share) something that’s going on in your personal life

This basic outline results in a lot of information packed into 60 seconds. For instance, a circulation manager might say:

“I’m working on hiring new student employees to staff the circulation desk. I might need your help with some of new hire training, because I’ll be out on vacation next week if my kid makes the gymnastics semi-finals.”

These two sentences give the team a heads up that new student employees will be joining the department, that they might need to lend a hand for training and orientation, and that their coworker has something exciting going on at home.

As a manager, I really appreciate the communal format of standup meetings. Everyone’s voice is heard and my staff are giving status updates to each other, not just to me. Everyone at the standup hears that reserve requests are flooding in or that interlibrary loan urgently needs extra processing help, and we’re able to create a quick plan to deal with it as a team.

The better understanding of current workloads we get at standup meetings helps us empathize with each other. When you know your coworker is dealing with rewriting loan rules, you’re able to empathize with her, hold off on less pressing requests, and understand if she’s slow to get back to you.

The empathy also extends to personal life. If you know that your colleague’s sister is visiting from out of town, you understand why he’s really motivated to get out the door at 5 o’clock sharp.

Of course, all of these things could be shared in casual conversation. The beauty of the standup meeting is that it sets aside a small amount of time to ensure updates are shared, and that information is shared equally with everyone at the same time. Staff who felt out of the loop before are assured a place in the circle.

I also believe that standup meetings help us get more done. Saying out loud what you plan to accomplish instantly creates a feeling of accountability, so we get to work right away.

How does your library department keep up to date with each other?

Standup up meetings are the best strategy I’ve found for my group. They’re quick, effective, and help us feel connected. If your library department could use an internal communication boost, invest 20 minutes to try out a standup meeting.

book cover for Catch-22 by Joseph HellerYour library career path has a catch-22: you can’t get a management position without management experience – but you can’t get management experience until you’re in a management position.

If this is your current dilemma, know this: you have a loophole.

We talk a lot about the difference between leadership and management. This distinction works in your favor for career development. Leadership comes from any position, so you can gain leadership experience even before you enter a management position.

When it comes time to apply for management positions, good hiring managers equate leadership experience with management experience. You can develop those skills in non-supervisory roles by getting leadership experience within (or even outside of) your library.

Manage a Project or Program

Look around your library for an upcoming project or program. Perhaps your library will soon start preparing for summer reading, banned book week, or creating a teen advisory board.

It’s easier to take on an established project than to create one from scratch, but a word to the wise: some librarians are a little territorial about their pet programs. Maybe Mona in Public Services has coordinated Banned Book Week since 1982 and would sooner pull a controversial book behind the desk than let you have a crack at it.

On the other hand, maybe Mona is completely over coordinating this event and ever since 1982, she’s been waiting for the day someone new would take it on.

Know your office politics and be open with your boss. Say something like, “I was wondering if I could take ownership of a program. Banned Book Week is coming up, and I was wondering if that might be a good choice. If not, I’m open to taking on anything else you need coordinated.”

You can also take on a project. Projects are different than programs: they have an end date, and they’re usually not about service delivery to library users. Examples of projects might include weeding the reference collection or finally RFID tagging the DVDs in storage.

Whether it’s a program or a project, running it takes time management, sustained effort, and coordination of multiple factors – all very necessary leadership skills.

Service to the Profession

What’s your library niche? There’s an excellent chance that there’s a specialized committee out there, waiting for your professional service. Angela Semifero, a library director, joined a committee early in her career as a YA librarian to plan a teen services conference. Her role started small, but after a few years of gaining experience she became the conference chair.

Joining a committee is easy peasy. Trust me: the committees want you, especially if you’re willing to take on a smidgen of accountability. In the United States, you can volunteer for your state level library association or at the national level with ALA (timely alert: the committee volunteer form is due November 6).

Service to the profession is a great way to develop and demonstrate leadership skills. As with Angela’s case, there’s often an opportunity to take a chair role on the committee. Also, building a network outside of your own library shows future hiring committees that you have the crucial leadership ability to establish connections between people.


Animated clip from The Hunger Games with Katniss struggling to volunteer as tributeAre you hungry for more in your career? Do you want additional training, growth opportunities, and a way to make an impact?

Volunteering is an amazing way to develop your career. Like libraries, nonprofit organizations operate on a shoestring. In many cases, they rely on skilled volunteers – which means there’s an opportunity to develop your skillset and step into a leadership role.

A few years into my library career, I realized that I had somehow sidestepped anything to do with instruction. This gap in my resume would make it really hard to shift into a different job in most academic libraries. To fix this, I started volunteering as an adult literacy tutor. I was passionate about the cause, and the literacy organization gave me extensive training in adult learning. Eventually I even took on a leadership role mentoring other tutors. I developed my career while making a difference in my community.

Check out VolunteerMatch to find a volunteer opportunity that matches your interests, commitment level, and availability.

Supervise Students, Pages, or Volunteers

“Wait,” I bet you’re thinking. “The title of this post is about how to get leadership experience without managing employees.”

Yep. Absolutely. And in reality, supervising temporary part-time employees is far different than managing permanent staff. As Ask a Manager points out, the expectations and commitment for these times of workers is very different. This leads to less pressure on the person supervising them.

That lower amount of pressure means that taking on this kind of responsibility is also the absolute best way to prepare yourself for that next step. When you supervise even a small group of pages, there’s a lot to learn about hiring, training, and performance management.

Supervising student employees at an academic library was my first taste of formal management. I took it super-duper seriously, transforming a neglected office into a place where student employees were extensively trained, held accountable for their work, and (gasp!) given semesterly evaluations and feedback. This gave me the experience and credibility to take on more formal management in my next library role.

Frame It as Leadership

Back to that catch-22: you want future hiring committees to look at your resume and understand that you have leadership experience.

Make sure you understand how your experience contributes to your ability to take on a leadership role. Cindy Fesmeyer, a public library director, said of her professional skills, “They include everything I picked up along the way by just living my life. From home ownership and motherhood to volunteering on the Boards of Directors of a few organizations I liked, I picked up skills by participating in my various communities and helping take care of business.”

Be ready to sell how volunteering, managing a project, or coordinating pages prepared you to take on a next-level managerial role. Check out our guide for library managers on how to identify emerging leaders, and think about how your experiences demonstrate qualities like engagement, conviction, and invention.

The library profession needs you as a dynamic leader, so get out there and beat that catch-22! Share with us in the comments how you got (or plan to get) library leadership experience.

Renovation Realities

Eva —  April 2, 2014 — Leave a comment

We just finished a small renovation project at my library. The library is about 53,000 square feet, and the renovation affected about 8,000 square feet, but it was an important area–right in front of the entry, so it affected everything. (Click on over to our flickr to see the befores and afters.)

New seating, new flooring.

New seating, new flooring.

The whole project started with flooring; the main entry is a high-traffic area and the carpet was very worn. As part of our strategic plan we were examining the use of space in the library, and decided to put together a group of employees to evaluate the way our residents interact in that main space, do some research, conduct some site visits, and brainstorm ideas on what we could change to improve our service. They then met with the designers, Library Design Associates, who took their ideas and desires and wishes and came up with a great plan for a consolidated service desk area to replace the three separate service points we had before. The end result is beautiful, I think, and that’s due almost entirely to the work and contributions of the people on the committees.

Before any demolition or construction began, we did a lot of planning. We knew we wanted to do the work soon after the new year, and worked backwards from there to come up with a timeline for decision-making and interim deadlines. We had some delays when our electrician had to back out of the project just before work was to begin, and of course we had the “usual” construction delays (stuff didn’t come when it was supposed to, stuff broke, snow storms), but because we built in some cushion, we remained largely on schedule.

This was my first big construction project here, and I am so proud of my staff and my patrons. We had to temporarily move an entrance, move checkin operations, and close the children’s library for two weeks, but everyone remained excited and in good spirits. It was great to see everyone pull together, and to see every day how they continue to work together as one library team.

We have just a few punch list items, including signage–we are heavily debating verbiage and wording right now!–but I think the renovation looks fantastic thanks to everyone’s planning and hard work. We plan to replace the rest of the flooring in the library over the next several years, using donations and money that we’ve been setting aside for just this purpose, so stay tuned!

photo credit: zen via photopin cc

photo credit: zen via photopin cc

Sprint triathlons are shorter than the Olympic race and seem like a blink of an eye in comparison to an Ironman event.  Upgrades are a sprint triathlon of sorts, you don’t need to plan and train as long as a new Integrated Library System (ILS) implementation, but you do need to be prepared. As there are three legs to a triathlon: swim, bike and run, there are three phases to an ILS upgrade: planning, testing and upgrade.   There is a bonus fourth phase if all went well – euphoria.

As a project manager for an ILS upgrade, this is not the time to be seen flailing.  You need to be strong with a clear message and plan; communicate the reason for the upgrade.  Is your library a beta tester?  Will the upgrade eliminate a problem or two?  Is there a new feature that you are excited to implement? Anytime there is an inevitable or upcoming change, you can expect a little  dissent and fear from your colleagues, patrons or funders.   Look at your annual library use statistics and find a time when the library has lower door counts and circulation.  You can’t predict blizzards and other natural disasters, but holidays, baseball season and other community events do effect your library.  Use data from your ILS , not your intuition and decide the best day and time to upgrade.  Once a date is set add to the project calendar multiple training dates and times for staff.  If your library is fortunate enough to have a training server to load and test the new software before “Go Live” let staff know when the software is going to be available to them.  Communicate any changes to the plan.

This phase in not only a test of your patience, but also your workflow, homegrown scripts and customizations. If you don’t already have a dedicated testing server then take advantage of any training that the ILS vendor provides.  If the upgrade has significant changes to workflow give all staff the opportunity and compensation to attend training sessions. If you do have a training server, issues that are revealed and dealt with before the go live date minimize frantic phone calls on day one. If your ILS has an offline mode, have planned fire drills practicing the procedures of circulation and patron  registration without the luxury of confirmation and verification, just in case the upgrade takes longer than expected. The  last thing you want to do is be blindsided or ill-prepared to handle everyday library business.  Keep track of questions that arise during this phase.  You might need to log these with the ILS support staff or  find “workarounds” to obstacles in workflow before the upgrade.

The big day has arrived, the upgrade went as planned and the phones are quiet. Unrealistic? No. If you planned,  tested and trained in the weeks leading up to this moment then show stoppers,obstacles and workflow kinks have already been worked  out.  Be relieved when the first complaint of the day is “How come my notices print in landscape instead of portrait?  It is wasting paper.”  Euphoria!

What’s your favorite part?

Eva —  February 5, 2014 — Leave a comment
photo credit: zetson via photopin cc

photo credit: zetson via photopin cc

What’s your favorite part about being a library manager?

I enjoy my job, but when I think about my absolute most favorite part, I have always enjoyed developing people. Not bossing people around. Not managing projects. Not pushing paper (all indications otherwise aside). Of all of the things I do as a manager, developing people is the most satisfying part for me.

In my last job before I became a library director, I was in charge of the library’s intern program. My job was to prepare them for their public library careers after they graduated. I loved talking to graduate students, finding out what their professional goals were, and then doing what I could to get them those experiences. I loved working with the other managers to place interns and find projects and assignments that would be mutually beneficial for the library and the intern. I loved the “Aha!” moments when interns would connect their theoretical classroom reading with practical public library experiences. I loved answering their questions, giving them advice, building them up and, in some cases, bursting their bubbles. I loved watching them leave us for their first librarian jobs, and I love keeping in touch and hearing/seeing how they continue to grow and impact their communities and the library profession.

I do less of this as a library director–the interns report to their own managers–but I still get to witness it and play a small role in developing the next generation of librarians. The other management stuff I do is great, too, but developing people is my absolute favorite part of being a library manager.

What about you, fellow leaders? Tell us in the comments what is your favorite part about being a library manager.