Librarianship and Project Management Skills

I am almost a year into my tenure as a Health & Life Sciences Librarian at UCLA, so I’m starting to get a hang of things. I have a better understanding of our resources, I am able to dissect a research question more efficiently, and I am figuring out how my library actually works. My guess is that all of these, and more, will become even easier while providing more challenges along the way.

This is also about the time where I reflect on the coulda, woulda, shouldas from library school. While I did work at a library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I didn’t work there enough to truly understand how the library worked as a system and how individuals were serving this system. And while I stick by the benefits of laziness, especially in graduate school, there is one class I wish I took in my program: Administration & Management of Libraries and Information Centers (I especially wish I could have taken it with the amazing instructor Melissa Wong!)

First, I will first explain why I didn’t take it:

  1. I wanted to graduate ASAP. So I took enough classes to meet the minimum credit requirement.
  2. I wasn’t sure if I needed this class given my experience in the corporate world.
  3. I was (and still am) interested in reference and instruction, so I was afraid this would veer away from that focus.
  4. I wasn’t even thinking about being a manager in library school – my brain wasn’t thinking that far ahead. I was just trying to learn as much as I could about my interests as well as the mushy stuff (theory, library history, etc.) that I wouldn’t necessarily learn on the job.

Now, I shall debunk the above (hindsight is always 20/20):

  1. Yes, I did want to graduate ASAP, and I did enjoy all the classes I took, but there are one or two I could have done without.
  2. Experience in the corporate world ? libraries. Also, the individuals working in the corporate world are different than those working in libraries, especially when it comes to project management. I will expand on this more later.
  3. Understanding how libraries are administered and managed is the oxygen to navigating a library system. I didn’t really connect this before, but if I’m going to do reference or instruction or collections or whatever, these functions rely upon a larger structure which is essential to understand and critique.
  4. I did enjoy the mushy stuff. However, I think it would have benefited me to be a little more practical and learn the nuts and bolts about the administration of libraries. After all, if we think about the world and how socioeconomics, identity, and global politics affect us today, our place in the world starts becoming a little more situated as opposed to feeling independent or out of context. My point is, structure matters.

I want to talk about project management and librarians a little here. Keep in mind, this is based upon my less than two years experience working part-time at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and less than one year at UCLA. These are large academic research libraries. My experience is limited, however, I do think I’m onto something here. And that is: Most people do not initially go into librarianship to lead or manage.

I think many of us have had pretty library fantasies that are indeed wonderful. And I fully support this because this is where we came from. But we need to go back to Ranganathan’s fifth law of library science: a library is a growing organism. Libraries are different today than they were 10 years ago and 10 years before that and so on. Technology has accelerated the capabilities and possibilities for libraries, however, it is difficult to keep up. Because of this, project management skills are necessary. My first foray with project management was when I dove into my first job out of college as an IT consultant. I was slammed with project management methodology and project managers that were successful implementers. While there were, and still are, many things I despised about the corporate world, project management is a great skill for any individual to have within any type of organization.

I have noticed that many librarians (myself included) can get bogged down in the details of tasks instead of zooming out, looking at the landscape of a project, sketching out a timeline, determining project phases, corresponding tasks, and project members. However, those that work in corporations, especially consultancies, go into these fields to be project managers. I don’t think it’s bad that this isn’t the first priority of many librarians, but I do think it’s bad to ignore its importance.

When I go to conferences, I haven’t see many papers or lightning talks about project management specifically, and I wonder how librarianship could evolve if this was a focus. I have seen plenty about specific projects, but not as much about the tools they used to manage and implement them. The Project Management Institute has a Project Management Professional (PMP) certification. This is a certification that helps people make the big bucks and in companies. Is there an equivalent for libraries? Can there be one? Also, how can this be harmonized with leadership institutes and meeting the needs of marginalized populations? Is there a way that library science graduate programs can include this in curriculum?

It’s very possible that taking Administration & Management in Libraries and Information Centers would not have given me project management expertise. However, I do think it would have led me there earlier if I did take the course. Either way, I am glad I have been able to process and integrate my different career experiences to my work today. So far, my career in librarianship has been very rewarding, and I am confident that learning and building upon project management skills will make me a stronger librarian.

Have you had experience with project management programs? What are your thoughts about integrating these concepts with librarianship?

 

Classroom Woes: What to do when class does not go as planned

As librarians and teachers, there have been times in the classroom where we have encountered testing situations. We have all had our good and not-so-good classes, but for the most part, we come out of those classrooms feeling confident that we showed and taught students the resources that will be most useful to them. We have also interacted with students and faculty of different backgrounds and different personalities.

However, what happens when you walk into a classroom and can immediately sense the tension between the students and professor? The sense of distrust and disrespect that both sides have for each other?

At that moment, what do you do?

  • Assert yourself and take control of the room, because it is obvious that the professor is not going to.
  • This type of control will be different for every librarian, but for me, it is about having a strong tone of voice that you are comfortable in, making sure that all the students feel involved in the conversation, and not letting the side conversations take over.
  • If it’s not in your personality to be strict or harsh, then don’t.
  • Put your frustration aside, because at this moment, it is not productive or useful to anyone.

Some would say that it is the professor’s responsibility to make sure that their class is respectful and attentive. However, when it is clear that it is not the case, the responsibility is on you.

So, what happens after? What do we learn? As someone who was put in this position a short time ago, here is what I did.

  • You cannot blame yourself for the atmosphere. Sometimes librarians get caught in the middle of these bad situations and we cannot do much except do our job.
  • Reflect on the situation. I keep a personal log to reflect on my library instruction sessions. I have found it useful in keeping track of what I have taught and my progress as a teacher.
  • Do not feel pressured into having more library sessions for this professor.

With everything being said, I was glad to have experienced this situation. Even though I was not happy in that moment, it allowed me think quickly on my feet. All my previous teaching experienced allowed me to quickly gauge the situation and prevent it from getting worst. Has anyone else experienced something like this? What was your reaction in the moment?

 

 

 

 

 

Developing a Peer Support Group

There’s been a lot written here on ACRLog about the importance of mentorship, and I echo what many others have said: there is enormous value in learning from and being supporting by experienced librarians. There’s a separate kind of mentorship, one that doesn’t necessarily fall under the traditional mentor-mentee model, that has also been hugely beneficial to me as a first-year librarian: peer support. Quetzalli wrote a few weeks ago about the value of peer-to-peer relationships, and it inspired me to reflect on my own experience as a member of a newly formed Early to Mid-Career Librarian Support Group at my library.  

Last semester, a few of my colleagues at the University of Virginia convened a group for early- to mid-career librarians to share advice, ideas, and support. The group operates autonomously and informally. We meet every few weeks for a discussion, and anyone can contribute to the agenda or propose a project.  Our first meeting was a chance to introduce ourselves and discuss our career trajectory and what we wanted to get out of the group. While some people were looking simply for camaraderie and support, others were looking for more concrete advice on how to do to do things like pursue a research agenda or how to more purposefully develop their career. These early conversations have informed the direction the group has since gone. We’ve surveyed group members about their research interests, invited senior administrators to discuss professional development, and coalesced around some bigger documentation projects that I will discuss below.

While plenty of opportunities for collaboration and support arise naturally throughout the course of my daily work, having a more formalized avenue for this kind of peer support is especially valuable. Because of the size of my organization, there are people I still haven’t met yet, particularly in departments that I don’t work with closely. This group allowed me to connect with people across areas of the library that I wouldn’t normally encounter in the course of my workday. It’s also a great way for me to avoid some of the isolation that I can sometimes experience in a small branch library. Because meetings are kept collegial and informal, I’m able to start building some of the relationships that happen more easily if you see someone in an office every day.

Finally, conversations in this group have led to projects that would be overwhelming undertakings without the support of many people. For example, one of the most consistent themes that came from our early conversations was a desire for more robust documentation, especially among newer employees of the library. As we compared our on-boarding experiences, it became clear that we had all experienced some version of the same thing: not feeling sure how to do something and asking around until being directed to email a certain person or pointed towards documentation somewhere we never would have thought to look. As a group, we decided to pool our collective knowledge and document everything we wish we had known for future new employees. Working together, we compiled information about the University, the Library, digital spaces, physical spaces, money, time, and travel, for future employees to reference during the on-boarding process. The resulting document lists basic information like where to find forms or how to get access to certain pieces of software, but it also explicitly outlines some of the library’s conventions, like when to use which communication tool, that are not immediately obvious to people who are new to the organization.

While this type of documentation is often compiled by supervisors or administrators, it was actually really useful for it to be generated by people so close to the experience of being new, because we were able to remember what we had to figure out on our own. It’s easy to forget how overwhelming it is to be brand new to an organization, and easy to forget all the things we expect people to know without explicitly telling them.  The group dynamic also really helped us flesh out this document, since we all had overlapping but not quite identical lists of things we thought needed to go into it. Whether or not documentation like this already exists at your institution, I think there is value in asking newer employees what they wish had been spelled out for them when they started and sharing it with new hires. Having a pre-formed group that you can consult with will make this process that much easier.

Creating space in your organization for peer support groups can lead to collaborative projects, like this one, that might not have happened without all of us getting together and talking through some of the challenges we’ve experienced as early career librarians. It can also make employees who work in isolation, physical or otherwise, feel less alone, and open up space for us to ask questions and bounce ideas off each that we might not yet feel comfortable discussing with mentors who are more experienced. I imagine it could also be a useful concept to apply at all levels of experience, such as first-time managers or administrators, as they navigate new challenges. Do you have a peer support group, formal or informal, at your institution?

Energy and Expectations

Sunday evening I went to a hot yoga class. It’s my way of starting off the week feeling refreshed and relaxed, which is much needed these days. The usual class instructor was out sick, but rather than cancel, the studio assigned a substitute teacher. She was perfectly kind and good at yoga instruction, but the energy of the class was just off. Far fewer students showed up than usual (it’s typically a packed class and I’m already starting to recognize a few regulars). The substitute instructor was much more subdued than our usual teacher, had different suggestions for poses, and didn’t cue our regular water breaks. No one really replied to her well-meaning questions and comments with more than a polite smile or nod of the head, and at one point her frustration with our non-communication came out in a kind of snarky comment which she quickly apologized for stating. It was still a good hour of exercise for me, but I’ll admit that the usual relaxation and freedom from anxiety weren’t quite there. I was trying to adjust to this new teacher’s unique instructions, energy, and expectations, rather than just allowing myself to “be.”

Those of you who teach probably know where I’m going with this story. As I made the sweaty, dehydrated walk to my car I realized how much of what I was feeling in class is likely akin to what students must feel during one-shot library classes. They may be in an unfamiliar setting (the library classroom), with a teacher they’ve never seen before (me!), whose personality, communication style, and pedagogical approach might be completely different (or just different enough) from their regular professor’s that it throws them off (partially or completely). The class might feel slightly or totally different than what they usually do on this day at this time period, and they are likely having to make their own adjustments to their environment and their temporary instructor. Having their usual professor in the classroom with them certainly helps mitigate some of the discomfort, but the vibe of the class is just fundamentally different.

There’s nothing wrong with different. Different can be good, but we have to acknowledge it. I know that the first (and sometimes the only) time I meet with a class it’s going to be awkward. When I first started teaching  that awkwardness really got to me and I overcompensated by being extra perky and outgoing. I was performing “teacher” in an effort to distance myself from the awkwardness, but all I really managed to accomplish was to distance myself from my students and emotionally wear myself out. These days I embrace the awkwardness. I acknowledge that this class is likely out of the ordinary for students. I give us all a chance to get to know one another and recognize that this class meeting may feel a little odd, but we’ll all still learn together. Yes, it does cut into content and “teaching time,” but it’s become an integral part of my practice, and–I believe–a valuable precursor to connection and learning. It’s made me more accepting and understanding of both myself and the students in these situations. I realize that we’re all figuring out each other’s energies and expectations together.

How do you embrace the awkwardness in your teaching?

You say you want a resolution…keep going!

Is it too late in January to talk about New Year’s Resolutions? Because, strangely, I don’t recall hearing much from friends or social media feeds about any of it, did you? January seemed to just slip into 2018 unobtrusively.  I investigated news sources citing “New Year’s Resolutions” for a more statistical snapshot, and looky there, a decline indeed!

Maybe all the obvious and tremendous work to be done in the world is too overwhelming. Is there a list even capable of containing it? The very concept of a list — resolution, checklist, done, contained, control – feels inadequate in the face of such chaos. We should learn better that our work here is never done.

In the spirit of one of those new year’s articles, I too am doing away with resolutions, preferring to work where I am with what I’ve got.  What I’ve got is a need for perpetual action.  Revolutions, if you will, marked by a sense of continuity, evolving, moving, growing.  Where what counts is not volume amassed, nor time spent, but meaningful motion.  A way to keep going through the change I wish to see in the world, and through the inevitable blocks that judgement and insecurity so often bring.  While it may frustrate me and bore you to repeatedly use these path-finding, me-centering approaches to problem-solving, repetition plays an important part in my New Year’s revolution.

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In my early library days, when introversion prevailed, I habitually avoided eye contact and small talk. Strangers, acquaintances, colleagues, it didn’t matter.  Better, I thought, just to keep my head down. Sometimes, I’d vary it by looking over at something that [hadn’t] distracted me just then, or up as if trying to remember something I’d [not really] forgotten. Always with a twinge of guilty knowing. For the sake of professional collegiality and my actual desire to make new friends, I gradually chipped away at this habit through repetition.  I still do avoid sometimes, and then I remember to begin again.  One step at a time.  That kind repetition led to other, larger personal growth in my work.  This year’s revolution takes that growth to places and relationships in my life that need work.  The revolution comes by recognizing work-life balance as in motion, arriving, and moving again.

This year both my father and mother experienced serious health events, throwing me way off balance.  This meant gathering siblings, uncomfortable conversations, and a lot of travel.  Just as in work (e.g. meetings, uncomfortable conversations, and conference travel), I’ve struggled to navigate the boundaries of our respective competing needs, expectations, and disappointments.  Moving through this new reality has meant accepting each of my parents where they are (which I’m pretty good at), and also staying regularly connected with them (which I’m not really good at).  When I slow down my thinking of the ends, and go through the process of the means, as I often do at work, I find that I’m actually quite good at connection.  For me, the focus on initiation is what unlocks the door to connection.  When I apply my strengths as an activator with individualization to this more personal context, it allows me to examine my own expectations and ask, “What is enough for me?”  That revelation clears the way for initiating those connections each time, and time again.

There remains a necessary element in this, which is more physical at its core.  This year’s resurgence of two movements, #MeToo and The Body is not an Apology,  have a hand in my thinking on this.   So, too, did seeing my father, once a tall, towering cowboy, confined to the limited view and mobility of a wheel chair.  As my own body grows old, I’m also confronted with physical realities that no longer respond to introverted solutions of my youth.  In fact, those solutions manifest all manner of outward, physical ailments.  No surprise, as New Year’s resolutions go; this requires more moving of my body. My advice for revolutionizing exercise comes down to — you guessed it — initiating.  Finding physical continuity, less in regularity than in ongoing beginnings.  Each time you stop, start again. Initiate more physical connections with friends, family, and colleagues, whether in something as small as a touch of hand in greeting or conversation, to something  as large as a constant, even pestering, persistence to schedule a meal with friends at my actual dinner table (rather than Instagram).

Straight to the soul and thighs with this Sunday #supp

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Bringing this around full circle to my library, its current strategic areas of focus share a need for acts of initiation.  It only just occurs to me, the intention for calling this a strategic focus map (not a strategic plan) carries that revolutionary quality of shifting in and out, adjusting, and constant motion.  Hidden within these focus areas, I see specific calls for my own initiation. While I often talk about better communication, collaboration, and the breaking down of silos in the library, my experience shows individual initiation more powerfully connects people and ideas together.  Initiating these kinds of connections in very real, physical space and time serves not only this strategic work, but creates relationships of trust, well being, and workplaces that continue growing.