How to make your next library project beautiful

7 ways to make your next library project one you will recall fondly.
Apr 23
Title: How to make your next library project beautiful


When did you last describe your current project as ‘beautiful’?


Why don’t we use words like beautiful in our work?

We know beauty when we see it right? So why not beautiful library projects?

Wouldn’t you love to think back on a beautiful library project that you worked on 2, 5, or 25 years ago?

So where do you start, especially when you don’t get to decide what projects you do?

Well, I think it’s less about what projects you do, and more about how you do them - the work itself.

And you’re not short of project work, right?

So if you want to make your next project one that you will recall fondly in years to come, here’s 7 ways you can do that.

If you want to make your next library project one that you will recall fondly in years to come, here's 7 ways you can do that. #TheLibraryBoss

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How to make your next library project beautiful [Image]

1. Give yourself goosebumps

I know what you’re probably thinking...Goosebumps? At work? Me? With the projects I’ve got?


Your projects do not exist in a vacuum. Every project you’re working on contains the entire strand of your organisation’s DNA.

AUT Library wanted to reduce the risk of copyright infringement by academics. I was hired (a​​​​​​​​​​nd led 3 staff) to to encourage academics to use software that managed the copyright compliance of learning and teaching resources. No doubt, you are struggling to see how this project could give anyone goosebumps, right? I mean it's about copyright (yawn).

To transform the project from ho-hum to goosebump inducing, the Steering Committee ambitiously committed to ensuring that the reading materials of every first year paper complied with copyright, within 15 months. We couldn’t find any other academic library in Australasia that had done this. But we knew deep down that this was the right approach to take. It gave us goosebumps.

Implementing that dream created a ripple effect that altered the Library’s genetic makeup. It led to improvements in collection development, digitisation and copyright policies, relationships with staff across the University and a myriad of other things. The overall goal didn’t change - we were still encouraging academics to use the software, but our approach to it did.

Why not tweak your project to give yourself goosebumps? Start with what would give you goosebumps and see what happens.

2. Sell the sizzle

Selling is considered a dirty word in libraries. But it shouldn't be. Because to me selling means gaining support and supporters. And supporters are absolutely vital to the success of any project.

Sell the sizzle is about seeing the beauty of the project through the eyes of the supporter, whether that is the advisory board, team member or end user. 

It's less about the nuts and bolts, and more about creating a compelling story that resonates with supporters.

Gaining support for the copyright project was never going to be easy. Even though this was essentially a compliance project, we still needed to gain support from academic staff. 

So, this wasn’t going to be another compliance project where teaching staff were sent to a workshop and then left to figure out copyright on their own. They would receive individual support to make it as quick and easy as possible for them to improve their copyright practice. We were pleasantly surprised by how many staff wanted to know more!

In libraries, it may not be as effortless as Don Draper makes it out to be, but it can be done.

3. Dream with deadlines

We have the dream, our goosebump project. Next we need a plan to achieve that dream. A map that we, and others can follow.

The plan for the copyright project was simple. We had 4 things to do in 15 months:

  • 1
    Complete a copyright audit of 261 first year papers.
  • 2
    Work with staff to address any non-compliant areas.
  • 3
    Provide better workflows and supporting information so teaching staff are able to make better compliance choices in the future.
  • 4
    Reassure University staff at all levels.

A dream with deadlines doesn’t need to be complicated. But having and following a plan alleviates stress, optimises productivity and reduces misunderstanding, confusion and conflict.

4. In teams we trust

Trusting people to do the job they said they would do, and trusting their expertise are absolutely vital to a project’s success. Trust makes it easier to collaborate, solve problems, and produce backup solutions quickly.

The copyright project involved many people from across the University. We met often -individually, in small groups, and as a project team. We listened to each other, trusted each other's expertise, and supported each other.  Achieving 97% compliance 2 months prior to completion astonished everyone.

5. Eyes on the prize

When the end of a project is too far away to imagine it is easy to become distracted, unmotivated and disheartened. But in order to reach the end we need keep our eyes on the prize. We need to focus on the progress we make each day so we don’t become overwhelmed.

The core project team met daily to discuss their progress. As we began to see results, we updated faculties, leadership teams and the project team as a whole. There were times when we were disheartened, but we stayed focused with our eyes on the prize.

6. Toast tiny triumphs

Nothing gets you further in a project than recognition and appreciation, especially when it runs on the smell of an oily rag, as most library projects do.

Recognising and appreciating staff was an essential part of the copyright project. For example, teaching staff made a huge effort to become compliant and we showed our appreciation with certificates, morning teas, and sharing success stories at school and faculty meetings.

How well, and how often do you show your appreciation? What harm could it do to include it in your project’s daily to-do list?

Nothing gets you further in a project than recognition and appreciation, especially when it runs on the smell of an oily rag, as most library projects do. #TheLibraryBoss

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7. Keep calm and collected

It is not easy to keep your head about you when those around you are losing theirs. Projects are stressful enough without adding a panic attack, or emotional outburst. The world isn’t perfect, people aren’t perfect, and project plans aren’t perfect. Something is likely to go wrong or an unanticipated event will occur.

The copyright project was filled with uncertainty and many many unanticipated things happened. However, 3 things got us through the stressful times: our end goal, a clear understanding of the support we had, and unwavering trust in the expertise of our staff.


Your next library project doesn't have to be ho-hum.

It can be beautiful.

In the comments, tell me what beauty in library work means for you.

It can be something that enthralls you, excites you and give you goosebumps.

And now is the perfect time to start.

Spark Notes

  • Tom Peters' work ignited the potential I saw in re-imagining everyday library work. I often pause in my work to consider 'What would make this beautiful?' and I hope you will be inspired to as well. 🙂 
  • I've written previously about the individual support we gave to teaching staff in achieving copyright compliance.
  • Image by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash.