Interview with Robin Hastings

Robin Hastings is the Director of Technology Services for the North East Kansas Library System. She manages the library’s network, social media, and staff training initiatives there. She has taught a course for Library Juice Academy on project management, and will be teaching it again next month. Robin agreed to be interviewed here, to give people more of a sense of what they can expect to learn from the class, and a little bit about her.

Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed, Robin. To start out, I’d like to ask you to tell us a bit about your background, and how you came to teach a class in project management.

Thanks, Rory. I’ve been working in libraries for 15 years now and have been leading projects in those libraries for the last several. I started at the Missouri River Regional Library in 1998 as the assistant to the Computer Services manager, eventually becoming the IT Manager there. While in that position, I led our library’s changeover to the Google Apps service at the same time I led the switch in our Public Computer Center from the SAM time management program to Envisionware. Between those two projects and the others that followed, I immersed myself in the idea of project management – I wanted to be able to consistently complete projects for the library successfully and so I read and attended many different classes and workshops on project management in general. I also started to use the GTD (Getting Things Done) time management system and it has a project focus as well, so it all kind of came together for me. I’ve written a couple of articles and posts on managing projects using both traditional and GTD-based project management methods and have led a couple of workshops on the topic as well, so when I had the opportunity to do it in the online environment, I jumped on it!

Sounds great. So why don’t you give us an outline of the class? What will people come away from it knowing or being able to do?

The class begins with a brief lesson on what project management is, what the various types of project management methods are and how they can relate to projects in a library. I focus the rest of the class on traditional project management, but touch on how GTD-based project management and Agile project management handle the issues involved with managing projects as well. The meat of the class is in the 5 phases of project management – I take each of those phases and relate them to real-life projects that the students are doing – many past students have left the class with a complete set of project documents to help them navigate a real project they are working on. I also provide an “example” project for students to use if they don’t have one of their own to use in class. We go through each of the 5 phases, with lots of templates and example documents for them to use as starters for their own projects and then finish the class up with discussions of how to apply the project mindset to their libraries. Every student leaves the class with lots of tools to help them in future projects for their library.

Can you describe how these tools helped you complete projects effectively and efficiently in your library?

Mostly, the tools I use for project management help me plan out projects in a thorough and consistent way. Going through each of the phases of the project management method makes me consider all the bits and pieces that will be required by a project up front, so that I can be sure to plan for each of them. Also, having the documentation from previous projects to refer back to when starting a new project is incredibly helpful. It takes just a couple of projects under your belt to make you a firm believer in documenting and saving project materials!

What is the range of projects in a library where a project management approach can be helpful?

That’s a great question and one I try to cover in the class! If you use the GTD method of project management, anything that takes 2 or more steps (looking for phone number, making a call) is a project. The more traditional use of project management methods, though, is on anything that will take more than 10 or 20 hours. There is some overhead in using these methods – documentation and such – so pulling out a project charter and work plan for something that will take just an hour can be overkill. Anything that requires any planning, though, is fair game. Usually, the bigger projects – from implementing a new service in the library to website design/redesigns to new building projects are perfect for project management activities. I’m not sure I’d use this approach to creating a planning document like a strategic plan, because you’d spend all your time planning to plan, but for just about anything else, project management helps keep your projects under control. Another thing I stress in class is that few projects (maybe a new building project, not much else) requires all 45 steps in a full, traditional project management process. Pick and choose what will be helpful and ignore the rest!

This sounds like a very helpful class. I’d like to change gears though and ask you about your other interests and activities in libraries. What are your other interests?

In libraries? I’ve always worked on the techie side of libraries, so I’m very interested in public access computing issues, tech planning and patron education about libraries and technology. I’ve always believed that people who support the folks doing the various jobs around the library should get their hands dirty and do those jobs occasionally too, so I’ve worked my share of circulation desk hours, a few reference desk hours and even put some time in at the teen zone in my old library. I really think that what we do in libraries is important work and I like to do my part to keep them running smoothly and providing service to everyone. Outside of libraries? I read. A lot. I also knit and play a bit of World of Warcraft. I cook, too, but I’m still just a dabbler. 😉

So, a question that I often ask in these interviews, which relates to your other interests. If you could teach any other class for Library Juice Academy, what would it be?

There are a couple that come to mind, actually. Because of my experience working so many different desks, I have a real interest in customer service in libraries – walking that fine line between serving the patron in front of you and still being a good steward of the library’s resources. The other topic that immediately springs to mind is a “what you need to know about technology to lead a library” sort of thing. I do a month-long module on that sort of thing for new library directors in Kansas – expanding that to cover all the things that library leaders and leaders-to-be should know about the technology in their libraries would be a fun class to lead!

Both sound potentially interesting. Thanks for your time and willingness to be interviewed. I hope you have another good class next month.

Thank you, Rory, for providing me the opportunity and platform for doing this! I’ve learned something from the folks who take my class every time I’ve taught it and I hope to continue learning (and passing that stuff on, of course) in future classes!

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