Sunday, November 15, 2015

Libraries and Trello - How are librarians using it?

I am always trying out new tools to organize and improve my work and my current workflow involves the use of Google Keep , Dropbox and Google Now reminders (having moved away from Google tasks).

But I haven't had much experience with project management tools, but recently I began playing again with the light weight tool Trello.

Formally it is a electronic kanban tool. But if you are are not familiar with the concept you can see it as a digital version of post-it notice boards and it is very helpful for collaboration purposes.

The idea is pretty simple. You setup boards (corresponds to projects) which has lists. Lists (the vertical columns above) are broken up into individual cards. Each card typically corresponds to a task and you can assign people to each card and their photos will appear on the card.

You can further customize by adding colored labels to each card. Cards can have checklists, comments and can be populated via email. Lastly you can attach files via Dropbox, Google drive, One drive etc.

If you are into GTD (getting it done) methodology , a common idea is to have lists for "Doing", "Done", "To do" etc and dragging each card/task to each list as needed.

Like most productivity tools, Lifehack has a great guide on how to use it on a personal basis, from planning a vacation, setting up a family status board , planning a wedding, or pretty much anything you can think of.

In the past two years, Trello has become very popular in libraries. There are many reasons but the main one is that it's free with almost no limitations. There is no ads, no restrictions on number of boards you can create or members you can add etc.

Here for some of the ways they have been used for tracking workflows and/or project management

  • Package management & resource vendor negotiation
  • Electronic resource troubleshooting
  • Web site redesign project
  • Strategic planning, department planning
  • Marketing campaigns
  • Information literacy classes + faculty Liason work

For package management & resource negotiation 

I think given the nature of the tool, it's no surprise the technical service departments in libraries use it quite a bit.

Both NCSU and Duke University are examples of this and they recently held a webinar to talk about how they use it in technical services work.

I particularly like their package management board (See below). They color code cards based on publisher (e.g Sage, Elsevier) and you can then filter by cards to see for example cards to do with Wiley.

Another nice board is the board they setup for the license team for negotiating resources. There are as many as seven members on the team and the process for negotiating can get confusing.

There is clever use of checklists for negotiation that are all copied from a master template to help track the process.

For more see the article - Who's on First?: License Team Workflow Tracking With Trello

For Electronic Resources Troubleshooting

At Oakland University, Meghan Finch combines Trello with Zapier to organize tracking of requests involving electronic resources troubleshooting.

In the paper entitled "Using Zapier with Trello for Electronic Resources Troubleshooting Workflow", she explains that her board consists of the following lists

  • To Do
  • Tier II
  • Waiting
  • Completed
  • Get Done
  • How To
  • Honey Badger Tips

She has her own workflow setup on how to drag the cards from each list.

The issue here is how does she handle troubleshooting reports submitted by users? For sure she doesn't want to manually create cards for them in Trello.

She solved it by using a combination of Zapier and Trello's build-in feature to create cards based on emails.

In her library, her link resolver - 360link has a link to a simple online form for users to submit reports of problems with eresources.

The form once submitted sends an email to their e-resources mailing list.

She uses Zapier to automate the process of pulling out the data from the email sent to the e-resources mailing list and then sends another email to Trello to popular the Trello board which is all automated using Zapier.

If you are not familar with Zapier, it's similar to IFTTT , which allows you to automatic workflows between a large number of apps by creating trigger and actions that happen when the trigger occurs. (See my past posts on Zapier and IFTTT)

For website redesign projects

Amanda L. Goodman User Experience Librarian, Darien Library uses it for getting track of tasks for website design (among other things).

For Strategic planning or department planning

Megan Hartline writes "Transparency is one of the more challenging aspects of leadership. Letting people in your group and across your organization know what you’re doing, what your priorities are, and what projects are up next takes a huge amount of conscious communication." 

She then suggests Trello as a way to visualize and draw attention to the major projects each library department/unit or even the whole library is focusing on. 

The idea of a "At the glance" view of the major projects going on in a department or even over the whole library is pretty common in fact.

Below is NCSU's Serials Unit Projects board

Here's University of Minnesota Trello Board

Librarians doing IL and faculty engagement

This book briefly suggests that teaching librarians "create a course board for all course projects and assign students to different groups". It goes on to say that because all actions on each card is recorded, students can see the contributions by their fellow classmates.

More concretely Robert Heaton of Utah State University suggests that Trello can be used to keep track of work done by prior Subject Liaisons, so that the new librarian can benefit from a Trello board filled with information such as Faculty CVs, prior relationships and more.

For tracking of marketing campaigns

Champaign Public Library of Evelyn C. Shapiro writes

"I ran some experiments through the fall and winter and went full-on with this strategy for the spring and summer seasons. Now I have a visual "board" with every event and promotion, including a place to store—and serve up—all my content organized by event or promotion, with a separate "card" for each event. It's set up by season, with columns organized by month. Each card includes:

  • the marketing copy we're using in getting the word out
  • approved images (separate ones for website, lobby slide, e-news, Facebook, plus extras provided by presenters)
  • associated URLs (event bit.lys, related videos, subject-specific or book-specific "deep" links into our Polaris catalog, presenter websites)
  • collected notes from the presenter or the in-house staff sponsor of the event
  • any special acknowledgments that need to be included in promotions"


Regardless of the type of librarian job we do, we are consistently doing projects that potentially involve large number of collaborators. As such Trello seems to be a useful tool that can be used in many situations.

If you have been using Trello, how have you been using it? Is it easy to get buyin to use the tool?

Post publication note: Spotted this. Managing publisher’s open access memberships with Trello

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