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?

 

8 thoughts on “Librarianship and Project Management Skills”

  1. I gotta say as someone who was required to take a management class during my MLIS the course did not teach me any helpful skills – it was mostly intro to management theory (aka here read Drucker) and articles stereotyping the “younger generation” (which was me at the time) and how to work with or around them. This was a number of years ago now and perhaps other programs do it better; but my as my program was strong in so many other respects – and what I’ve heard from others who had to take a management class at other institutions – most are a waste of time.

    Your point that very few people enter library school with the aspiration to be managers is spot on. That’s why I feel now that the real issue in the profession is providing support for librarians who now want to be managers (or find themselves there through circumstance). As someone with ambitions to become an academic library director I find myself discouraged by the lack of resources and mentorship provided by our professional orgs. Not to mention the lack of positions to provide a clear path trajectory from front line to admin. There are support groups and cohorts – both formally through pro orgs and informally through social media – for people once they become a manager or director, but nothing to help people get there (if I’m missing something please tell me in the comments). With the increasing difficulty academic libraries are having filling their rapidly emptying director positions, I am surprised there isn’t more professional support.

  2. Nisha, thank you for writing this piece! This May I wrap up studies at business school because, (1) interested in management of libraries, I perceived the need for a more practical approach in our world, and (2) while talking to heads of top academic libraries during an ARL leadership symposium, the feedback from the innovators in the room was that we are in dire need of what you pointed out, among other skills (no surprise, I was the first librarian ever to be accepted into my current full-time MBA program). I have spent 10 years in public libraries, 2 in academic ones, and as painful as spending the last 4 semesters among business students have been (there’s so much of corporate culture I hate too!), I can say that the learning has been invaluable. Two of my courses revolved around consulting projects (I was lead for one of them), and this semester I opted for a PM class so I could master key aspects like scheduling and allocation of resources. My team’s class project (I am again the lead) is, in fact, presenting two workshops at our local public library (I’m in Southern AZ), one of them on PM basics and which I plan to advertise the heck out of within my iSchool. I look forward to sharing some of what I’ve learned in future library conferences and have been developing a syllabus for what I hope will be a PM course adjusted to librarianship. Going for a PMP does give you options in terms of employment, but I find that 1-2 courses are more than enough; you actually learn the lessons while implementing the principles–there just isn’t a substitute for that.

  3. I agree that it’s easy to get bogged down in the details! Project Management–especially that which is accessible and scalable for all sizes and types of libraries–is something that I happen to be passionate about. Check out this blog post that I wrote to accompany a presentation that my colleague and I gave: Productive is pretty: Maximizing project management tools for effective organizations and fun-loving people (http://theroughlyrightway.com/productive-pretty/). We also have have a post outlining 25 ways to use Trello in Libraries ( http://theroughlyrightway.com/trello-in-libraries/) which includes a link to Trello boards and workflows that are available for anyone to copy and use!

  4. Many yeast ago I wrote my dissertation on using project management tools for the implementation of an integrated library system. I have dabbled with project management off and on over the years including some training in project management and portfolio management. For various projects I have used some project management tools but not a complete project management program. I have been a director and then a Dean at a small and now medium sized academic library. I have found that the majority of projects in my libraries have not been complex enough to justify project management in all of its power. Some concepts are applicable but even then they have not been obviously necessary. It may different in a large research library. That is my experience for what it is worth.

  5. Doug, when I wrote that article for C&RL, I wondered if many libraries put the buzz phrase “project management skills” in their job ads while what they really meant was “being organized”…. Maybe “project management skills light” would be more appropriate? There is definitely overlap in the skills needed for a library tech implementation project and a huge building construction management project…it seems a matter of scale, I guess.

  6. Great to read this! I am a Library Director and PMP at a large community college. I fully believe libraries and project management are a perfect fit. We have applied PM and Knowledge Management within our library and college and it has been very successful.

  7. Nisha, great job! And Jane, I have red your article and included you in the references in the paper I am currently working on – the importance of use of PM methodology in libraries with a special emphasis on Macedonian libraries. I hold a MLS and MPM degrees and I am researching this topic. I will be following your work with a great interest. Greetings!

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