Monday, May 11, 2009

Digital Library Federation Forum and Duke visit

While the most important thing I learned at the Digital Libraries Federation Spring Forum is that eating barbecue everyday will make you gain weight, I'll focus on some library themes here. The Forum was held in Raleigh, North Carolina, but the Sheridan Libraries attendees also visited the new learning commons at Duke University.

Project Manager Group Preconference
About 20 conferees from the Project Manager Group gathered for a half-day preconference on Monday. This group was recently formed to share best practices and to provide a support group for those of us who are new to digital project management. The most useful presentation I heard was from Tito Sierra of North Carolina State University who talked about having a formal "project retrospective" meeting at the end of a project. This structured meeting gives the team a sense of closure, identifies problem areas that can be addressed in future projects, and celebrates what went right. It is important to provide a safe environment for this meeting so that participants to share openly. The guidebook that Tito uses for his project retrospectives is Project Retrospectives by Norman L. Kerth.

I gave a presentation about communicating with stakeholders and managing expectations. This seemed to strike a chord with other participants as most of us have not done an exceptional job in identifying all stakeholders and thinking about how we communicate with different groups. A good source that I have discovered is on the Mind Tools site. Both the Stakeholder Analysis article and the Stakeholder Management and Planning articles provide good background reading. My presentation focused on how I had mis-handled some of these things and what I had learned from the experience. Surprisingly, more than one person thanked me for owning up to problem areas--they said that too many conference presentations only talk about how wonderful a project is.

Duke "Link" visit
Several of the JHU participants visited Duke University after the Forum to get a tour of their learning commons called Link. The Link has been open for one academic year and has been a rousing success. The Link offers flexible classroom and group study spaces as well as a welcoming environment for students to meet informally. Each of the classrooms and group study spaces have wall-to-wall white boards, tables and chairs that can be easily moved to new configurations, and plenty of a/v support. In addition, the common areas have a variety of types of tables and chairs to facilitate informal groups. Wi-fi coverage was well designed as was access to electrical outlets. There is also a support desk to troubleshoot problems and facilitate teaching and learning.

One of the first things our hosts said about the Link is that it is a "service model, not a physical space". They thought carefully about what services they wanted to provide to students and faculty and configured the space accordingly. It has been wildly successful, and they have had a number of interesting surprises. For example, several professors have been most impressed by a sort of rolling, portable lectern available in the classrooms. You can adjust the height and move it to where you need to be. It was almost an afterthought in the planning phase, but it has proven to be a big hit.

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