Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Barbara Allan is senior lecturer in student learning and management learning at Hull University Business School. In the book Project Management: Tools and Techniques for Today's ILS Professional the author has not only taken general project management tools and techniques to consider their use in the information and library field, but also has used her rich experience in both management of academic and workplace libraries and involvement in a wide range of projects.
Project work is becoming more and more widespread in all types of institutions, library and information ones no longer being an exception. The purpose of the book is pragmatic: “to provide a practical guide to library and information workers who are involved in project work either as a project manager or as a member of a project team”, therefore it is written in a clear and concise way with a lot of practical examples and hints how to deal with unusual or complicated situations. The book consists of three parts (Introduction; The project life cycle, systems and processes; Projects and people) and two appendices, where the most popular terms of financial side of the projects are explained and the short list of the main literature resources are presented (references are also given in the end of each chapter).
The first part covers not only an introduction to the book itself, but also to the topic. Types of projects and project work are described, the main features of project management explained as well as projects’ critical success (or rather – failure) factors presented to sensitise from the very beginning the library and information professionals not only about the rewarding side of the project work, but about the possible “pitfalls” as well.
Barbara Allan uses a common definition of a project: “it is a specific activity that involves innovation and change within the library and information service and has a clear aim, set of outcomes and start and end date”, adding later that most likely project will be implemented with limited staff, budget and time resources. The definition is widely accepted, no doubt, but when the author presents a list of examples of projects library and information units are likely to be carrying out, some doubts begin to come up. This list includes, among others, such activities as moving a library, developing a new information service, creating a new intranet site, merging two libraries, developing a new marketing campaign, re‐cataloguing a collection, etc. Yes, all these activities lead to a change; they are restricted in time, human and financial resources but are they not a part of a regular operation of any ILS unit? One may say that moving a library or re‐cataloguing does not happen daily but are we going to call “project work” any activity that is not routine? How to draw a line then between management and project management – or is it totally blurred out today?
Part 2, “The project life cycle, systems and processes” covers the main project stages: project initiation, project plan, project implementation and project evaluation and implementation. The initiation stage is given a very brief description undeservingly. The author states that “the idea for a project may originate in a number of different ways” and lists some of them (wish of management to implement changes, request of government or local authorities, initiatives of professional groups, etc.). Many projects today emerge as a need to have additional funding. The funding bodies have their programs that usually reflect political, social, economical and other goal. To fit into these requirements libraries have to match their needs with the requirements of a donor and/or society at large. This is a challenge that requires creativity and flexibility first of all. What is missing in the book is a chapter on creative thinking, generation of ideas, mind mapping, ways to respond to the wider social challenges outside the LIS institution and to benefit from this. To be a part of a project also means to apply for funding of a project. To be a successful applicant in a highly competitive environment requires more than be a good executive. Types of projects presented in the book are mostly of executive nature (which does not exclude creativity at all but requires first of all to perform what is prescribed already and not to generate a new idea).
Part 2 gives a very detailed and precise view of project planning and implementation, evaluation and dissemination. Chapter 6 is devoted to the “money side of the projects”. Many projects are funded by external sources. Good knowledge of these sources, especially European ones, is an extremely valuable inside the organization. Barbara Allan supplies the readers of the book with an extensive list of the funding bodies within the UK but possibilities to look for the European Union (EU) funding are presented only as an option to apply for European Social Fund. There is no special library program in the European Commission any longer indeed (the Telematic for Libraries program ended several years ago) but there are certainly more possibilities for libraries to implement their projects with the EU support:
Information society technologies, a thematic priority within the 6th Framework Program, is one of the most relevant. PULMAN (www.pulmanweb.org), CULTIVATE, CALIMERA (www.calimera.org), COINE and many other successful pan‐European library projects, both completed and still running, are best examples of that. In addition to the EC research programmes (6th Framework is a administered by the Directorate General (DG) for Research), there are also other programmes which libraries, museums, archives, other educational and cultural institutions should also consider worth exploring and applying, eg. EC Technology‐enhanced learning and access to cultural heritage and, in particular, Digital Heritage and Cultural Content (Digicult), which funds the development of intelligent systems for dynamic access to and preservation of cultural and scientific resources http://www.cordis.lu/ist/so/learncult/home.html
The DG for Education and Culture http://www.europa.eu.int/comm/dgs/education_culture/index_en.htm is responsible for a whole set of programmes, such as Culture 2000, Socrates, Comenius, Gruntvig, Lingua, Minerva, Leonardo da Vinci, Youth, elearning, a programme for the effective integration of information and communication technologies (ICT) in education and training systems in Europe. DG Information Society http://europa.eu.int/comm/dgs/information_society/index_en.htm, in addition to the IST programme that was already mentioned, is responsible for such initiatives as eEurope, eTen, eContent. If libraries are not to take part in the projects shaping today’s and tomorrow’s European landscape, there is a danger that they will be marginalized in an information society which, if based solely on ICT without a proper attention to the information content and competencies of the citizens – the role that libraries are best positioned to fulfill – can only increase the information divide and social exclusion.
Chapter 7 “Using ICT to support the project” is very useful as it introduces tools of virtual communications and project management software such as MS Project, PRINCE2, describing their advantages and disadvantages.
Part 3 of the book focuses on human resources, skills and expertise of the staff. Useful hints are provided on managing intercultural differences and barriers that are crucial to overcome for a smooth run of a project. EU‐funded projects require “a European dimension and networking”, These issues are thoroughly described in part 3 of the book with an emphasis to intercultural communication. Working in partnership often is a challenge as each partner has his own interests and aims that sometimes have to be “sacrificed” to achieve common goals of the project. Chapter 11 about knowledge, attitudes and skills as well as education and training required for a good project manager and participant should be read also by ILS educators in order to prepare future specialists for the project work which is, as Barbara Allan puts it, “now a core activity for many library and information professionals”.
The book is recommended to ILS managers, specialists and educators as a useful resource to both develop and increase expertise in project management.