Posts Tagged group project
Whew, what a summer. In a previous post, I mentioned the policy paper I was working on with a couple classmates regarding how public libraries (our primary focus; we discuss academic libraries, as well, though) should deal with ebook issues. We sort of fizzled out on trying to professionally publish it (I think we’re all too preoccupied with job-hunting), so I figured I may as well post it here, at least.
The 2 minute PowerPoint presentation giving the most bare-bones highlights imaginable for those who don’t want to plow through our 28-page paper.
The Assessment Plan
Like the marketing plan, the assessment plan was much easier to construct than the project plan, again because both have a much more limited scope: in this case, did the marketing do its job and is the plan producing its intended results. We also had enough familiarity with the project as a whole and our issues from the previous portions that we knew what questions to ask in advance of beginning the plan, which greatly helped facilitate this process.
Still, a few outcomes needed to be adjusted for precision. The assessment certainly stressed any existing inadequacies from our project and marketing plans, I learned. This makes me wonder, when planning a project “for real” (that is, outside the guidelines of a course) if the assessment plan should be developed alongside or even prior to the other plans, if possible.
Also, there is a point of uncertainty regarding Desk Tracker and how its data is input. The problems of self-reporting have come up in class discussions before, namely that people forget to record reference interactions until well after the fact, if at all, producing a skewed set of data. The virtual reference should not suffer this problem, as any statistics can be traced back to the logs, but walk-in and phone reference may still suffer, even though those two modes of contact are only tertiary to this particular project’s aims.
The Marketing Plan (.doc)
In the course of developing the marketing plan, I found it seemed rather simpler than the previous project plan. A marketing plan, at its core, has only one or two purposes: to make people aware of something and then to get them to use it. The much more varied project plan, meanwhile, had a number of different intended outcomes depending on which phase and aspect of the plan was under consideration.
The marketing plan also felt simplified by the combination of the presumed lack of budget and the fact that the service will be digital. Online marketing outlets—email, the websites, Facebook—will be noticed by those already inclined to dealing in dealing communication. Unfortunately, I noticed that this same strength also undercuts the ability to attract those who are not accustomed to using the library remotely and who might not receive or might not bother to read mass university mailings. Flyers can be overlooked as well, but at least they may become an object of curiosity when appearing in a strong enough number.
I have learned that it can be surprisingly challenging to decide which user group to ultimately focus on when more than one is available: the actual “users” of the service (the ones who will be IMing and emailing the librarians) or the librarians and library staff themselves, who have to be sold on the idea to make it work. Part of the intended Virtual Service Desk concept is only relevant to those metaphorically behind the desk, and part of the motivation for this project in the first place was stated to be improving work flow. However, the library’s mission and the goals of the library staff with whom we spoke are explicitly to provide strong customer service, and so that is what we went with.
An issue that we initially faced in the project plan reoccurred: we were again hesitant about assigning specific tasks to specific people, some of whom we have never met and have only a vague idea of their job duties, never mind trying to pin down deadlines for them. I find it hard to reconcile the main assignment priority of “doing a project plan to learn how to do it” with “doing a project plan that librarians may actually consider using.”
The Project Plan itself
In the process of trying to work out much of the logistics of the project plan, numerous questions about the library’s organization arose, up to and including what actual stake our primary contact even had in the project. It was very frustrating trying to assign tasks (or even determine the project’s key stakeholders or champion) without having the deeper understanding of the Health Sciences Library as a workplace that actually working there would give. I felt like we needed to include a disclaimer alongside many of the assignments that we were uncertain of how much of that particular duty a person of such-and-such job title should undertake. For example, I’ve learned that as head of reference services and at a middle management level, Brad Long would be the one to get the ball rolling on training, but this still leaves the uncertainty as to how much of the training development he would truly be involved in as opposed to delegating. It makes me wonder how true consultants are able to adequately get a grip on the mechanics of their client companies.
Settings dates in the timeline was also an exercise in frustration, as there didn’t seem to be room to really explore all the different possibilities that could occur. Of course, such is the way of life and that is why the plan needs to be flexible with room for continuous assessment to monitor for such deviations. This initial anticipated plan still feels incomplete to me: if they realized they needed to add a feature to some software at some point in their evaluation, I really have no idea how long it would take to write the code for that mystery feature.
There were numerous instances in which we were uncertain of our bounds, as well, which also slowed progress on the plan. When we considered, for instance, that exit survey questions should be created for chat reference sessions and that process had to go into the timeline, we were unsure if we were the ones who ought to devise the sample questions or only assign someone else to do it.
There is also the matter of how far outside the project team’s current conceptions we ought to go. When researching for the literature review, I found (and discussed) a number of software options, some licensed, some open-sourced, for performing chat reference or creating an FAQ or for collaborating with other libraries (a possible future goal beyond this project). However, it turns out they had already implemented a tracking software just prior to this project beginning, they have already planned on using Meebo for chat, and now they have a ticketing software in mind. They claim on the one hand to not have this project really thought out and to be curious about what other libraries are doing and what their options are, and yet it feels like they’re already locked in certain things regardless of what I find. I realize that having a software package picked out is a far cry from a fully-realized project plan, but it still leaves me a little uncertain as to what they really want from us.
My partner and I undertook the “virtual service desk” project at SUNY Upstate Medical Health Science library. The original scope of the project was to create a single service point for all reference communications, especially for email, which could then be distributed from that consolidated inbox to the appropriate staff member. There are also plans to introduce chat reference service and, hopefully, an FAQ derived from the transcripts.
At this time, we completed and turned in 3/4 parts of the overall project plan: the literature review, the project plan itself, and the marketing. Looking back, I definitely feel rather accomplished and prepared to create project plans in the future, should the need arise, though the process of getting to this point has certainly been a challenge.
Of course the purpose of the literature review is to find what has already been done and proven successful (or not) rather than potentially waste the effort of “reinventing the wheel” (a phrase I have often heard). While reading about the experiences of other libraries in creating a “single service point” was enlightening, I don’t think we ever saw documented another project exactly like this one. Chat reference is common enough, but all of the consolidated reference desks were physical rather than behind the scenes.
In actually writing out the lit review, it was difficult, we found, to ensure that we were building the proper narrative that we needed to guide the reader. We had all the material we needed and we had determined a set of themes and sequences to work around, but the execution fell a little flat. For example: Our discussion of developing core competencies, often touted by our literature, was folded into the overall section on training– because, well, you need to have training in those competencies and you have to determine the competencies before you can train in them! Perfectly rational but in retrospect the core competencies should have stood on their own, before the training section.
Of all the project planning sections, I think this one was actually the least novel, however. The preparation and execution of it were more or less just like doing a research paper, which any grad student has had copious experience with. The most I really learned from this process was the number of software (open-source, free software at that!) is available, either specifically for library purposes or adaptable to that end.
This past Wednesday our IST 511 groups presented our posters on contentious/unsettled topics libraries are currently dealing with. Our audience was each other, older library students, and some faculty and librarians who wandered in.
I found the poster session to be more fun than I had anticipated: it was neat to explain a topic I had become so familiar with [Dewey Decimal versus bookstores' BISAC for book classification] to those who stopped by and generally had no familiarity with it. I was actually a bit disappointed by the decline in visitors in the second hour (though that was anticipated) when it was my turn to stand by our poster and talk. I definitely didn’t have the problem of being swamped by 10 people at once.
The only part that could be considered a negative was the awkward moment in between someone arriving at the poster and when they would start asking questions. I felt I should be engaging them in some way rather than just watching them to gauge how fast they were reading, but of course they needed time to find out the poster topic in the first place. I suppose this is not as much an issue in busier poster sessions, though.
This was definitely a fun experience and interestingly different from a standard lecture-style presentation, both on the presenter and the presentee ends. Discussions often sprang up about the topic with both the presenters and other audience members thanks to the flexible, interactive nature of the session. This also forced us to really be on the ball with our topics and improvise quickly, as our listeners could easily interject a difficult question we hadn’t anticipated.