How to find time for benchmarking or other cooperation?

Taking part in library development and projects should be a natural activity for any library staff member. The great challenge is to find time to dedicate to such important tasks. A regular week in the library consists of lots of planned activities, meetings, events, things that just appear and must be solved on the spot, and then there is not any time left. It is easy to ignore tasks not visible in the plan of action or calendar. These tasks often seem “less important” and ends up out of sight, out of mind — regardless of how exciting and useful the project/task is. This happens both to in-house projects and international cooperation, and is also our experience in the benchmarking project –- it is difficult to find time.

Our project started in 2013; the initiative came from the library director of the University of Eastern Finland; the other two library directors supported the project mainly by agreeing on their staff spending their time. None of us has a budget or dedicated time for this project, we have had our normal tasks all the time – except during the site visits and some face-to-face meetings. We have kept costs, and use of time to a minimum as we mainly work online. The funding sources for the visits came from Erasmus staff exchange program and from the libraries’ budgets.

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Karen and Ghislaine taking a look at a handout in Brussels.

The project has clear goals and a project plan that give direction and deadlines. Our project is a best-practice benchmarking that aims at improving services; it is a process much more than a traditional project. The work is loosely organised; there is no leader – or we are all leaders. The three of us are equal in all decisions, our roles are based on our personalities and competencies, and so it must presumably be in a project of this character.

So how much time have we spent?  Since January 2014 (the main project period) we have used roughly 5 % of our total work time each:

  • Library visits: 3 weeks
  • Work together at EAHIL meetings: 3 days
  • Skype monthly meetings and preparations: 3 weeks
  • Planning the workshop for Edinburgh: 1 week
  • Planning the presentation and writing the full-text article for Seville: 1 week

These scheduled activities are roughly 8,5 weeks for each of us – out of the 156 weeks in the 3-year periods. The problem is to find time for individual activities like reading and preparing between our meetings.

 

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Tuulevi writing in Kuopio

 

Collaboration tools have been important to be able to spend time effectively both during and between meetings. The most useful tools we’ve used for cooperation have been these:

  • Dropbox for all kinds of data: meeting agendas and minutes, collected data, plans, photos and so on
  • Google Hangouts for online meetings and collaborative writing
  • WordPress blog for communicating our results

The blog was originally intended to document library visits in Trondheim, Kuopio and Brussels, but has become an important help to keep focus and progress. We use the blog as a planning tool, where each blog post explores and describes new topics, with deadlines and a responsible person. Parts of online meetings are used to finalise and publish new blog posts.

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Ghislaine and Karen with Frédéric Brodkom in Louvain-la-Neuve

To work on an international project, with limited resources, is challenging but also rewarding. It requires self-discipline to allocate time, but also support and understanding from colleagues and supervisors. It is important not to be frustrated from insufficient time, or when meetings and deadlines have to be postponed.

We have learned a lot from the project, from working together and from sharing with other EAHIL colleagues. So far the benchmarking project has been a continuing process of evaluation and development of the libraries’ functions and staff competencies as well as learning about different ways of managing a library.

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