Project Management and Librarianship

by Laura Newton Miller, Assessment Librarian
Carleton University

I did something a little different this past year while on sabbatical: I took an online community college course called Intro to Project Management. I kind of wish I had taken something like this earlier on in my library career. People who know me will attest to the fact that I was kind of “whiney” about it for the first few weeks (sorry about that- I wasn’t ready for the whole “grades” thing!) In the end, it turned out to be quite a useful experience.

I will be the first to tell you that there is way more that I can learn about project management and I am by no means an expert on this topic. But I thought I would share some thoughts in case any of you are interested in learning more.

A project is defined as a temporary, unique endeavour that has a definite beginning and an end. It is not part of regular operations (although when complete could move to that). We deal with projects all the time in libraries. A project could be the implementation of a new service, the renovation of a library building, or the introduction of a new technology. One could also use project management to work through a research endeavour. I can’t help but think we SOMETIMES muddle through things. Maybe there’s a way to do things better.

Project Management is the “application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet project requirements” and can be categorized into 5 “Process Groups”- initiating, planning, executing, monitoring & controlling, and closing (PMBOK Guide). A project can go off-kilter in any one of these groups. For a little taste of how one works through this, one could take a look at the initiating process. The main purpose of this stage is to align stakeholders’ expectations with the projects purpose, helping them understand the scope and objectives, and “show how their participation in the project and its associated phases can ensure that their expectations are achieved” (PMBOK Guide). Who are the stakeholders? They are members of the team who are working on the project. They are also those who could be affected by (or perceive themselves to be affected by) the project. Project Management helps to identify stakeholders (throughout the entire project lifecycle), how to understand their relative degree of influence, and how to balance their demands, needs and expectations.

Just taking this small (but very important) aspect of Project Management made me realize just how much we need more training in this. I don’t envision becoming a certified project manager at any point soon, but I am hopeful that my intro course will help me to do my job a little better.

If you are interested in learning more about Project Management:

Books– (a quick look in WorldCat shows that these are available in several libraries- hopefully one near you. I’ve linked below to Amazon)

A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide)– This is the go-to guide put out by the Project Management Institute. It’s a bit of a dry “what to do” as opposed to “how to do it”, so you may want to supplement with other resources, such as…

Project Management: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide – I appreciate easy-to-read things.

Video- YouTube channel: I find these videos short and helpful.

Research Articles (project management and libraries) (open access)

Horwath, J.A. (2012). How do we manage? Project management in libraries: An investigation. Partnership: The Canadian Journal of Library Information Practice and Research, 7(1).

Unfortunately the other few that I found in my quick search are paywalled, but there is an evidence summary of one article within EBLIP journal:

Sullo, E. (2016). [Evidence Summary]. Academic librarians at institutions with LIS programs assert that project management training is valuable. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, 12(3).

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

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