Posts Tagged ‘Reflective writing’
In my last blog post, I thought about how I organised my time at work. But actually, as I mentioned, most of my work as Communications and Marketing Officer for the Library and Heritage Collections is project-based, and most of the projects I work on I’m usually also leading. For me, time management and project management are pretty much intertwined, so I couldn’t really tackle one subject without exploring the other…
Although I manage a range of marketing and communications projects, I don’t have a formal background in project management. Everything I know about project management comes from common sense, or from what I’ve picked up from other people.
So how have my project management skills developed? Well, back in 2010, when I started working towards CILIP Chartership, I wasn’t working in a management role. As a Library Assistant, I was required to support projects, but I wasn’t really supposed to manage them. But things don’t always quite work out like that…
The first marketing project I managed was back in December 2010. The Library’s previous Communications and Marketing Officer was absent, so I managed the production of all of the publicity materials to open our new special collections gallery. This was a challenging project – at this point I wasn’t working closely with archives and special collections and had little experience of publicising exhibitions. I had to liaise with the University’s central communications and procurement teams, as well as external design and printing companies for the first time. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention – the deadline for getting everything produced was early January 2011. Counting out the Christmas break, I had about 3 weeks to get a poster, leaflet and gallery opening booklet ready.
However, I knew that this was strategically important for our historic library and for the University, and the publicity materials were delivered on time, to budget and to specification. Due to the short timescales involved, there was no formal plan involved – I just made sure I prioritised this over all of my other tasks.
In 2011, I got more involved in managing our induction communications and I project managed a complete format change from our Library induction tours for new students from the previous years: the Library Treasure Hunt.
I developed the programme, came up with a range of questions and activities, and figured out how the Treasure Hunt would work operationally in the Library. The Treasure Hunt was part of the larger induction 2011 communications plan – I also led on other activities that year, including organising our stall for the International Students Fair and overseeing our stand on the first day of the Fresher’s Fair. The Communications and Marketing Officer and I discussed all of the activities that needed to be completed ahead of the induction period, and my colleague organised these into a Gannt chart (I’ll come back to this in a moment) so we could keep track of all of the different timescales involved in the project. I found that for a complex marketing project like this, having a visual idea of what needed to be completed when really worked for me.
The induction period that year went really smoothly as a consequence…
… and then the Communications and Marketing Officer left the Library and I was offered a promotion in November 2011. So after that, I wasn’t just picking up projects at the last minute when colleagues were absent, or leading on aspects of larger projects which someone else was managing. Now, it was up to me to plan and organise projects…
The first thing I decided when I took up my new role is that I felt that even smaller projects needed to be planned more carefully. One of the things I’d learnt from covering for my colleague was that it’s difficult to know what has and hasn’t been done if you’re not working to a plan. I also felt that having a project plan would make it easier to convey to my line manager what I was doing. So as soon as I started managing Library communications and marketing, I started to plan.
Every campaign I run now has a communications plan. They’re usually pretty straightforward. Here’s one I put together for this year’s MORE BOOKS campaign:
Essentially, I think about the activities that need to be completed as part of the project, the timescales I want them to be completed in, and then the staff members that will be involved. This involves considering which activities depend on other tasks being completed (I can’t expect a colleague to design a screensaver, for example, if I haven’t finished the campaign graphics), and the staff resource available.
Projects don’t always work out this way, of course. In the end, I put together the MORE BOOKS graphics and posters on the morning of Wednesday 14 November (5 days before the service relaunched, so not ideal) due to another project heating up. So when that happens and I’m not keeping to time, I sometimes do a backwards record of a marketing project. As well as planning forwards at the start of the project, I’ll record when things actually happened as the project progresses.
Here’s an example of the communications timeline I put together for the building development communications that dominated my work in 2012:
Having a record like this can be really helpful for analysing how successful particular publicity methods have been. For example, if I see a sudden spike in hits to our website on 13 February, I can tell that this is due to the link being circulated in the Vice Chancellor’s regular email bulletin, as well as the social media posts we published that day.
But these quick plans aren’t so good when you’re organising a complex project with a lot of discrete actions. An example of this would be communications activities leading up to the new academic year in October. Following my colleague’s lead, I used a variation on a Gannt chart when planning my work for Induction 2012, which helped me to work to a range of timescales and track my progress:
Down the left hand side, I’ve listed the main activities that need to be completed. At the top, I’ve plotted out the weeks between the beginning and end of the project. Then I work out when I think each activity should be completed by, but also (and here’s the big difference between that and the simpler communications plans) how long I think each activity might take.
This is a plan from very near the end of the project. How can I tell? Well, most of the bars are green, which in the traffic light system I use, mean they’ve been completed. Usually, I’ll adjust the bars if activities are completed earlier/later than planned, so the finished plan reflects the timescales I actually worked to. I felt that this worked really well for induction last year, and I’ll be using this same system in 2013. In fact, it’s a technique I’d like to use more, but I find that I often don’t feel like I can afford the time to set it up.
So what’s next?
I think the next big thing I have to tackle in this area is evaluating projects – I have very little time for reflecting on projects in any great depth at the moment, as I’m straight onto the next deadline. As and when more support is found for my role, this is something I’d like to do more of. I’d also like to undertake some training to further improve my skills in this area too!
One of the training needs I identified in my initial Personal Professional Development Plan for CILIP Chartership was to ‘improve my time management’. I’ve looked at how I cope with lots of deadlines to meet in a short space of time before, but I thought it might be a good idea to think about how the ways in which I organise my time have developed over the last couple of years and whether there are things I can do to manage my time more effectively.
I’ve always had to manage my own time at work. As a Library Assistant in the Academic Liaison team, I spent 10 hours a week assisting customers on the Help and Information desk. For a while, I digitised resources for taught modules for one morning each week. But apart from that I was given a range of tasks and jobs to do and it was largely up to me when I chose to do them, as long as they were completed. So I organised this by putting all of the activities which had a scheduled time into my Outlook calendar.
Let’s have a look at my Outlook diary…
That was then – November 2010:
And this is now – April 2012:
The obvious change is that the balance of what I spend designated time slots on at work has definitely shifted. In 2010, the vast majority of appointments were the green and orange hours on the service desks. Fast forward to 2012, and there are very few service desks, but I’ve traded them in for lots of meetings, one off appointments like the Staff Information Fair, and regular visits to other sites.
The good thing about having less desk slots is that I can manage my time so that I can try to create longer blocks of ‘free’ time (Tuesday, Thursday afternoon and Friday morning look quite empty in April 2012!) so I’m able to concentrate on detailed tasks such as design work. My 2010 diary, in comparison, wasn’t massively efficient as I kept having to interrupt tasks to go out to the service desks, and then just when I was getting into the customer service tasks, head back to my desk to pick up where I left off.
And the times where there’s nothing in my diary? Well, when I started working towards Chartership, a lot of the things I was working on were long-term Library activities – processing records for the institutional repository, checking reading lists, administering our student book request service – so I just tried to spend a bit of time each day on them. That’s certainly different now, because although there are things I do regularly (such as updating the Library webpages, creating notices, putting things onto our digital displays, etc), most of my work is project-based or made up of small individual tasks.
And for those kind of jobs, I have a ‘to do’ list.
Here’s what my ‘to do’ lists look like:
I absolutely love ‘to do’ lists. That hasn’t changed, since I started Chartership back in 2010. But the thing is, when I started writing these lists as a Library Assistant, they were usually fairly short and contained. A 2010 ‘to do’ list would only have perhaps six or seven items, because there wouldn’t be that many unique tasks to do.
Now, as you can see, my to do lists have become really long. I usually fill almost the whole page before I even begin – enough to add only one or two more things before I need to start a back up list (sometimes I have two or even three going at once when I’m really busy).
Let’s have a look at this list in more detail: there are three ‘statuses’. Items which have a massive tick at the front of them, perhaps unsurprisingly, are the activities I’ve finished. Jobs which have a heavy dash after them (but don’t have a tick at the beginning) are jobs that I’m in the middle of, or I’m working on, but haven’t yet completed. And then things which don’t have a dash or a tick are things which are still ‘to do’. So far, so straightforward.
But there are some problems with my beloved ‘to do’ lists.
Firstly, I’m pretty much inseparable from these lists. If I go to another site for a morning and I don’t have my reporter’s notebook which contains the list, then I am pretty much lost (in fact, I regularly email myself a mini-list when I know I’ll be away from my normal desk to avoid this very problem). But I think there’s probably an argument to say that something that I could access online might be more effective there.
Next, there’s very little prioritisation of the tasks on my ‘to do’ list. They pretty much go down in whatever order I think of them in. So as you can see, I don’t necessarily do the things at the top of the list first. And the time required to complete the tasks that go onto the list is massively varied. Putting up a pull up banner, for example, will take me 5 minutes. All of the design work, however, will take a good few hours, and will require some time when I’m not likely to be interrupted as I need to be able to concentrate.
And the other problem is – and this is probably the biggest – that not all of the tasks I need to do go onto the list. Some of them live in my inbox as ‘tasks’ – I’ll flag emails if I need to do something with them, and then mark them as complete when I’m done. But worse still, some jobs just remain in my head and seem to come back to me in waves, so I’ll forget and then remember them again at odd times, usually when I’m not in a position to do anything about them (like at 3am in the morning).
I’d also like some way of knowing when I actually completed things. This would be really useful because then I could match up particular publicity activities with web analytics, visitor numbers, etc.
So what’s next?
I read Jo Alcock’s Getting Things Done column in this month’s issue of CILIP Update, so I’ll be following this with interest. I could probably use my work calendar more effectively by blocking out time for particular activities, so I might start trying to do this more! I also think I can’t continue to avoid ‘to do’ list software… does anyone have any recommendations?
And next up, I’ll be blogging about how my project management skills are shaping up…
Back in August, I said I was aiming to get my work on CILIP Chartership (and I quote) ‘cracked by Christmas’. Didn’t happen. But I’m nearly there. I can see the light at the end of the Chartership tunnel, so to speak. I’m now aiming to submit my application sometime in February and this blog may be quite busy over the next few weeks. So I thought I’d post a quick update on where I am now, and what I still have left to do…
Where I am now
- I’ve updated my CV and tailored it towards my Chartership application
- I’ve drafted my final PPDP
- I’ve put together a select bibliography and I’ve added in some reflective annotations
- I’ve started organising potential evidence into a matrix matching my development activities against the Chartership criteria and I’m beginning to see how I might organise my evidence in my portfolio
What I still have left to do
- As I’m starting to focus in on the evidence I might submit, I’m realising that I could do with some more reflective pieces on some of the key areas I’ve developed in, such as writing and project management. So I may well be blogging about these soon!
- I need to colour code my PPDP to highlight section two and future development activities
- I’ve decided to include two organisational structure charts, from the beginning and the end of my Chartership progress. I need to annotate these to explain why I think it’s important to include both
- I need to decide on the final pieces of evidence I’m planning to submit
- I haven’t started my evaluative statement yet (I want to be able to link it to all of my evidence, so I need a good idea of what’s going to make the final cut first!)
- Lastly, I need to organise my portfolio, create a contents table and submit my Chartership application to CILIP
Looks like I might be pretty busy for the next month or so!
Earlier this month, I organised a one day training event on behalf of the CILIP Career Development Group North Eastern division committee. The day was entitled ‘Marketing Libraries : Strategic and Creative Communications for Information Professionals’. When the committee first came up with the idea of running an event on marketing, I found myself accidentally volunteering (one of my favourite hobbies) to take the lead on organising the day. Given that my job centres around communications and marketing, it seemed a little unfair not to help out!
Someone suggested the University of Sunderland’s strategic marketing workshop, and I was keen for the rest of the day to cover practical areas of library marketing and look at some of the toolkit steps being used creatively in different library contexts. So I contacted speakers, organised a venue, developed the programme – and co-ordinated other members of the committee who handled advertising the event, the booking process and payment.
And you know what? Marketing Libraries was the first time I’d done any of that stuff. I’ve organised training sessions before – I do it pretty much weekly at my Brownies group. Organising events is part of my role (I’m currently juggling six separate induction fairs over the next two weeks! I might try to blog about that). But I’ve never organised a professional development event before on that sort of scale.
So how did it all go? Well, the preparations for the day took longer than I expected. You know, organising the timings and writing the programme for a training day actually takes quite a while, because you have to make executive decisions on things like how long each session will last, when people will want breaks, which order the presentations should go in, etc etc. And then after you’ve done all that you still have to make sure the booking process and costs are sorted, write some vaguely attractive sounding blurb and make sure all the speakers are happy with how you’ve presented them and their session, before you can even tell potential participants that the event is taking place!
This ‘not really accounting for the time things would take’ thing continued into the days before the conference, when I suddenly realised there were lots of little jobs to do, like making sure the room was correctly laid out, buying gifts for the speakers, printing the event handouts, finding name badges… there is a lot of work that goes into a training day that you just don’t realise as a delegate attending. I think at future events I’ll definitely be more appreciative of the effort that goes on behind the scenes.
On the day itself? Well, everything went well on the whole (apart from when the projector decided randomly to time out twice throughout the day – why does technology never behave?). Although I was concentrating on making sure the event was running smoothly, the sections of the workshops and presentations I did catch were really interesting. Myself and Aude, the committee’s Secretary, shared the job of introducing the speakers throughout the day, which was probably the most terrifying part of all – having the confidence to speak to large groups of people is something I need to work on.
All in all, I get the impression that delegates seemed to enjoy the training day and took some useful information away from it – job well done. And the CDG North Eastern committee are satisfied that the event was successful and profitable, so I’m happy about that.
All that’s left now for me to do is look at the course feedback, and write a review for CILIP about how the day went. So I haven’t finished organising Marketing Libraries just yet!
Back in 2010, when I drafted my initial PPDP for CILIP Chartership, I identified the training and development needs to ‘understand the theory of librarianship’ and ‘understand the principles of cataloguing and classification’. So, almost two years after I noted this on my initial Chartership plan and a whole new job later, I undertook a module from a LIS Masters to address this (and see what the whole ‘postgraduate librarianship qualification’ thing was all about). From January to May 2012, I spent a lot of time thinking about Organising Knowledge, a subject about as far away from communications and marketing as you can possibly get…
What did I learn?
Well, actually, I did learn quite a few things that I didn’t know before. I now have a very vague understanding of a) what the acronym RDA stands for, and b) what it is. I also have more of an idea about the distinctions between cataloguing, classification, indexing and retrieval, for example.
But I also learnt that actually, I seem to have magically imbibed lots of information and knowledge about this area just from working in a library and being around librarians. I know how to search databases effectively now, apparently. I might not be able to actually catalogue something, but I’ve got a pretty good idea of what a catalogue record should look like, the types of information you might find in one and how to search through them to find the material you need. The Masters module didn’t teach me any of those things, but it taught me that I knew them.
I also found that getting my hands on the right information, quickly, is much easier for me now. I know this because the first assessed piece of work was a task around literature searching, and I decided to cover the same subject I studied for my undergraduate dissertation. When I did my dissertation in 2009, my main method of finding information was by finding a book or article on the subject, reading it, and then getting my hands on every single interesting item in the bibliography (and repeat). Not particularly advanced, but at least it was pretty comprehensive. This time, I was far more selective; I used citation tools to find out the most influential research, I used filtering to find out the oldest material on the subject. And I went way beyond the requirements of the task – ‘you much include one of each of the following: a book, a newspaper article, a journal, a journal article, a conference paper and a web site’ – I found exhibitions, blog posts, YouTube videos, teaching resources and dissertations. I don’t think I’d necessarily have written a better dissertation then if I could find information the way I can now, but it certainly would have made things much quicker.
How would I rate the module?
Well, I thought that the course was well organised and administered, but that the course materials could do with some updating. I would have liked to see more content about new, online technologies, which felt like it was added as an afterthought in some of the sections.
This was also the first course I’ve done via distance learning, and I found the teaching style (booklets, with required reading and activities) quite difficult to get to grips with. I’m not used to being told what to think about when I’m reading an article, or answering prescribed questions to check my understanding. I think I probably would have preferred studying this module if I had been on a full or part time course, with lectures, workshops and seminars.
And what about my performance?
I’ll admit – I didn’t read every page of every booklet. Bad Rachel. But when you’re studying alongside working full time, to go through all of the material comprehensively is tricky to fit in. I also feel like I need to work on writing reports based on the first assignment (I’m an excellent waffler).
So will I finish the MA?
No. Not right now, anyway. I probably have a more positive view on LIS qualifications than I did prior to studying the module, but I’ve learnt more about Organising Knowledge from working in a library (and in a completely different area than that covered by the course) than I would have done from this studying this module. So for me, an LIS MA still seems like an unnecessary, expensive and time-consuming hoop to jump through.
Did this course help me master Organising Knowledge? Not by a long shot. But it gave me a good overview of the history of this area and some of the theories and issues involved.
It might seem an obvious title, but that’s the subject of this post in a nutshell. Alternatively, I could have gone for ‘Why I’ll be blogging more regularly over the next few months’, but we’ll come to that in a bit. I will start instead by answering my first question by making a range of true statements with a few fairly lame excuses thrown in about why I have written precisely one blog post in the last six months (which goes against all of my own very good advice as a so called communications professional, but hey ho).
Why, Rachel, why?
- My new job as the Communications and Marketing Officer for the Library and Heritage Collections has been pretty hectic. I would liken it to spinning many many plates with one hand and juggling kittens in the other (yay, kittens!). I generally blog about work + I don’t have any spare moments at work these days to speak of + and I also don’t really want to be thinking about work when I’m not there because that would drive me bonkers = no blog posts.
- I bought a piano which I quite enjoy playing.
- I have been spending time writing things which are not blog posts. I’ve edited my children’s book and started to send it to agents and publishers. I also started writing book number two.
- I organised my first Brownies sleepover at which I got pretty much zero sleep.
- I have basically spent all my personal and professional development time on personally and professionally developing (rather than reflecting on them here on this blog. It’s not like I’ve been doing nothing, honest!).
- I have been fairly preoccupied with the series of unfortunate events which I have continued to find myself in on a personal level.
- I was progressing well in terms of my CILIP Chartership work, so I felt like I could afford to slow down with it for a bit.
- I spent two weeks completely glued to the Olympics.
- I just couldn’t really be bothered.
There you go, you have my reasons, for what they’re worth. And the reason why I’ll be blogging more regularly until the end of the year? Well, you know, it would be a bit weird to completely ignore my 2012 development activities in my Chartership application. And from October I will have officially completed the two year period of work experience since I registered for Chartership, which means that I can actually submit my application. It won’t be October, because I will be spending most of my time running round like a headless chicken with the arrival of all the new students, but I’m aiming to get it cracked by Christmas.
So watch this space…
Two weeks ago, I headed back to the town where I grew up on the south coast to spend three days working at a large public library. As a child, I used the library to take part in the summer reading challenge, and as a teenager, to revise for my GCSEs and A levels. I hadn’t been to the public library for a while, and as I woke up at my parents’ and walked to the library in the pouring rain on my first day of the placement, I wondered whether I would find it as I remembered it. There’s a lot of talk in the news and in the industry press about public library budget cuts and I was interested to find out how that was affecting the library and the services it offers. And I was intrigued to see what it was like to be behind a public library counter, rather than in front.
Whilst I was revisiting my old life, I found a library service which was changing and moving to new ways of working. These were the key points of change I picked up on during my time at the public library:
The budget the public library is operating on is massively and rapidly reducing. The county council library service had to make £1 million of savings in the last financial year and they’re looking at making the same cost saving this year as well. To do this, the library was attempting to save money where possible and had implemented lots of little income streams, such as asking people to pay to hire meeting rooms, selling greetings cards and auctioning rarer books for disposal. This was a difference between the public library and the university library, where I work, that I wasn’t expecting. Traditionally, libraries are seen as a ‘free’ service (although they’re not, of course. Customers pay for the public library service through their council tax and for the university library through their ever-increasing course fees). Beyond simply borrowing a book, there wasn’t much you could do in the public library which was free. This seemed a little sad from a customer perspective, but from the perspective of the public library’s tightening budget, necessary.
2. Staff and structure
The county council library service had recently undergone a major restructure in terms of staffing and structure. The public libraries throughout the county had been organised into tiers, determining their opening hours and levels of staffing. After the tiers came a major staffing restructure in March 2011. Collection management was centralised, whilst specialist roles such as the children’s librarians, reference librarians and community librarians were spread throughout the library service, working with a number of different branches. The remaining staff within the branches worked in front-line or management roles and were directly engaged with running the library they were based in.
It was interesting to talk to staff about the restructure and how it had impacted upon their jobs and the service that the library offered. I came away with the feeling that the staffing structure was becoming leaner, that several jobs had been lost, and that even visiting six months down the line, a few of the creases had yet to be ironed out. However, the public library staff seemed to be making the best of it and making it work. I was really impressed by the positive attitude demonstrated by all of the staff I met in the face of such big changes to their established ways of working.
The public library is currently preparing for another big change – they’re moving to self-service and RFID in November. This will mean an entire new customer service desk layout in the entrance level to the library, which houses the circulating stock out on the open shelves. Transactions will be handled by RFID machines, which will allow customers to borrow and return items, as well as check their Library record and renew items. There will be a small visitor desk created which will handle library registrations and enquiries, but on a much reduced scale.
I’ve seen RFID in action at a public library in the North East, and it’s spangly technology – the way that the self-service machines recognise a stack of items is pretty magical. The new kit will certainly have the wow factor, but it will mean a shift in the way customers experience the library service. I think that the word ‘service’ implies a personal element, rather than a machine. The library I work in operates on a self-service model and I feel that although it works well in terms of handling the volume of customers we see, we’re constantly trying to get across to students that Library staff are approachable and that we’re (as one of our ‘identities’ says – we don’t call it a logo, otherwise Marketing are down our throats!) here to help. The public library is a public service; by moving towards using RFID, the human element will be reduced and I think that’s a really important part of what public libraries do.
Bearing the first big change that the public library is up against in mind, and the fact that the public library is looking to save a million pounds before the end of the financial year, the move to self-service also rings alarm bells. Will this decision make the impact of budget cuts upon staffing even more drastic?
Over the next year, I’m going to attempt to revisit the public library to see how self-service works in practice and how staff are adjusting to this. I’m also going to try to monitor what the local press is reporting about what’s going on at the public library.
It’s true that change is inevitable, but not all changes are necessarily for the better. It will be interesting to see what kind of changes lie ahead for the public library and what kind of challenges and opportunities they bring.