Our libraries faced many challenges and experienced many victories as they worked to achieve their project goals in very compressed timelines. Looking at six very different projects, we distilled the experiences of planning and executing a project into a series of lessons learned. These insights will help you avoid some of the project stumbling blocks faced by our libraries and create an environment for success for your own innovative program pilots. As the projects unfolded, several program-specific themes arose across multiple projects. We have compiled additional lessons learned based on those themes, in four areas:
Brand your Project
Start with a catchy project name or tagline, and create branded materials that promote the project and the library. Studio Rhode libraries created everything from t-shirts to bookmarks to promote their projects.
Use “Old School” Communication Tactics
Social media is an important part of any library marketing strategy, but it should not be the only way you connect. Overwhelming numbers of Studio Rhode program attendees learned of the programs by talking to library staff, from newspaper and radio ads, and from libraries’ print newsletters—not from social media.
Integrate Technology into Existing Programming
If new technology seems overwhelming or it is unclear how it fits in at the library, think of ways to integrate new technology into popular, well-established programs. If you have a strong knitting program or active book clubs, consider how technology can enhance those programs. Tools are great, but if they don’t have a purpose then what’s the point?
Create the Environment for Success
Take advantage of your current assets and successes to potentially draw larger, more consistent crowds. Tap into existing demands by pairing new programs or services with something established and popular. Promote your project or set up equipment in high-traffic areas to increase awareness and participation.
Anticipate Scheduling Problems
Delays and scheduling problems will happen. To various degrees, every one of our Studio Rhode libraries had to revise their schedules because of other library events, community partners, or circumstances beyond their control—from the weather to the feeding schedule of zoo animals! Plan for less-than-best-case scenarios from the outset and approach your project with flexibility and a sense of humor.
Pivot if Necessary
Sometimes, and despite best efforts, a project as planned is too big—or ultimately not possible due to uncontrollable new circumstances. It’s okay to take a breath, step back, and break the project down into smaller efforts. Starting with something smaller or simpler keeps the project momentum strong.
One Thing at a Time
The project will likely change over time, but remember that new ideas can be saved for the future. Patrons or library staff may be excited and share lots of additional ideas, solutions, or additions to the project. Do not fret about earmarking new project ideas for later; focus on the task at hand and give it time to take hold.
Paper Is Sometimes Best
Use paper surveys after your programs or workshops to gather feedback rather than providing a link to an electronic survey. Projects that used paper surveys, done in real-time, had much higher survey completion rates than those that asked for online surveys to be completed after the fact.
The Buck Stops With...Who?
New projects will require dedicated staff time for purchasing materials, researching, developing and running programs, finding volunteers, organizing partnerships, and doing outreach. The team leader should assign point people to project activities and most importantly, check-in with them throughout the project window. Many of our project teams quite smartly divided project work amongst members. A lack of clear team leader, no communication plan, and general staffing issues, however, stymied several teams who did not necessarily have a contingency for completing activities in these circumstances.