Administrative and Management Skills

Project Management for Children’s Librarians Who Hate Details: You Can Do It!

I have undertaken a really big grant project in my current position. It launches tomorrow. It was supposed to launch last week, but I got Covid the week before, which could not have been worse timing. I had to push everything back a week, which was really frustrating and disappointing. I want everything to START already!

I went to library school over twenty years ago, and my educational focus was on youth services. We did not cover a lot on grant or project management. I don’t know if things have changed in MLIS programs since the late ’90s (I’m sure they have), but I thought I’d offer some of the insights that I’ve gained.

Also, I want to offer some guidance to people who, like me, do not have a naturally organized, administrative bent. One of the reasons that I chose to be a children’s librarian in the first place was because of the creativity it requires, as well as its fast pace, and lack of repetition. I think there might be others like me out there in Children’s Librarian Land. It’s really important that we don’t let the thought of having to handle a million little details stop us from taking on these big projects. We dream big. We can figure out ways to bring those dreams to life.

Tip 1: Double your timeline. This one is critical. I’m eternally optimistic about how much can be accomplished in a certain amount of time. I am wrong. It takes a heck of a lot longer to get everything “signed, sealed, and delivered” than I generally anticipate. This is ESPECIALLY true when you are dealing with contracts. Triple the time you think it’s going to take to get a contract in place! Oh, contracts! Why are you so difficult?

Tip 2: Read the Contracts. Speaking of contracts, yes, you actually have to read them. Contract people and lawyers put stuff in them that they think you’ll already know about, so they don’t mention them to you verbally. These things can impact your timeline and your budget. I would say triple the amount of time you need to get your contracts drafted, approved, and signed. That should give you plenty of time to deal with any details that need to be covered in them.

Tip 3: Don’t think that you’ll be able to do it all by yourself. Not only to I underestimate the amount of time a project is going to take, I also underestimate the amount of help I’m going to need. I always think that I’ll be able to handle everything. This is wrong. Inevitably, I need to involve other people. If you plan for that, you can talk with them ahead of time and see how much time they are going to need to get the task done. Double their time estimate. We all think we can just whip something off. We can’t.

Tip 4: Write out your project and go over it in person with someone who does have an administrative brain before you submit it. If you’re like me and you overestimate what you can do, you underestimate the amount of time that it will take, and the amount of work that it will take to accomplish it, it is imperative that you go over your project in minute detail with someone who has project management experience and is a candid truth-teller.  You need someone who can see the potholes in the road ahead. To get someone with experience to really take the time to look over the project with you, I would suggest blocking off several hours for an in-person meeting and being very specific with them about what you need to hear. You don’t just want enthusiasm and positive feedback. You want reality.

Tip 5: Don’t freak out when it seems like nothing is going to work. If it seems like everything is stuck, just think about your plan. What is the next concrete thing that YOU can do to move the project ahead? A lot of project management is waiting on other people to do the things that you need them to do. This is extremely frustrating. You can poke and remind them, but at a certain point, you have to trust them to do it, or find a work around. Focus on what you can do instead of flipping out about one detail.

Dream big! Don’t let the details stop you! The projects that we bring to our community can be life-altering for participants! Do what it takes to make it happen! Just give yourself a lot more time than you think you need to get it all ready!

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