Capstone ePortfolio: Joanna Russell Bliss 

Fourth Term: Fall 2020

December 7, 2020

Experimenting with software platforms for digital and print presentations.

One of the themes in my class on the hyperlinked library was to experiment with technology in order to learn about it. Certainly that's how I have learned about writing HTML for websites (it's amazing what you can learn from fellow content managers after a simple Google search). So I tried to embrace that mantra when approaching my final projects for this class, working with two platforms that were new to me, Canva and Prezi. I have also added here some platforms that others used but I didn't have the opportunity to experiment with this semester; I want document them here with the hope that I can try them out for another project at some point in the future.


This graphic design platform blew me away. Not only did I use it for the Director's Brief I turned in for INFO 5960, but I also used it to create the slides and recording for my presentation on information literacy for INFO 5330, embedded below.

I've worked with Publisher for a long time now to create print publications for marketing projects. Canva's templates are much more clean and polished than anything Microsoft includes in its free templates -- and their images available for use in projects are far better as well, even at the free level that I was using. 

Pros: Easy to use; great looking templates for multiple formats; easy branding across multiple projects. 
Cons: It helps to understand design software and elements; difficult to export recordings of presentations (I had to use Zoom to record the above presentation playing in my browser to save and submit a video of the presentation)


I'd heard about this platform for creating presentations before from work colleagues, so I was eager to see how the platform worked and what the final product would look like. I used it to create my Virtual Symposium for INFO 5960, which is embedded below.

I found the site intuitive for use, and with a little experimenting, I was able to create a flow through the slides that would work whether one was looking at the slide presentation or a recording, as I ended up creating both.

Pros: Easy to use; creates interactive, slide-based presentations
Cons: Can only be used for slide-based presentations; had to sign up for paid subscription in order to download a video of recorded presentation

These other platforms are possible places to create content in the future. Thank you to my fellow students who experimented with them and shared their results!

    • Canva: As mentioned above, it's a great graphic design platform. They do have some interactive slide templates similar to Prezi; my classmate Molly did a 3-2-1 Canva presentation for her virtual symposium.
    • Flipboard: Used to collect and post links to material online; might be a good way to share content on various topics for courses. My classmate Kay did a Flipboard on themes in our class
    • Glogster: Used for creating virtual posters; the site is geared toward educators. My classmate Christine did a poster on "Flybraries," explaining the different types of organizations that use that label.
    • Padlet: Used for collecting virtual notes or posts, whether individually or from a group; I've seen it used in virtual presentations to collect feedback from attendees as well. My classmate Jodi used Padlet to post thoughts about her favorite points from our class.
    • Piktochart: Used for creating infographics, including for graphic slide presentations. My classmate Jen created an infographic on trends in libraries
    • Powtoon: Used for creating cartoon-based/animated videos; could be used to explore/explain basic concepts or for marketing purposes. My classmate Deana did a 3-2-1 video to cover the main themes from our class

November 6, 2020

Helping first generation students succeed -- on and off campus.

As with so many campuses, we approach another finals week trying to determine how to help students when they will most likely not be on campus during said finals week. Students will be away from campus for 9 weeks -- that's a long time to have to continue to study and work without their usual support environment. We are particularly aware at SMU that first-generation students are even more at risk in that situation, when they may not have a family at home that understands what the students need to succeed, or what resources are available at campus to help them succeed.

So the Friday after the election, when everyone was still refreshing various apps incessantly to see if a winner had been called yet, several student success groups gathered in an outside space, socially distanced with tables and other props, to remind first gen students all the resources available to them once they left campus. I was there to represent SMU libraries, with a cutout of my boss, Jonathan (our Undergraduate Success Librarian), a sign advertising our Research and Writing Lab (offered in conjunction with the campus Writing Center), and my laptop displaying the research guide that I'd created in the preceding week for first-generation students.

[Image description: A cardboard cutout of a male librarian, wearing a tag that says, "Hello! My name is Jonathan;" an actual female librarian (wearing a mask) encouraging SMU Mustangs to "Pony up!" by giving what appears to be air quotes; a sign for the Research and Writing Lab, with further information that is unreadable; and a table that has a sign with a QR code, a basket of stress-relief balls shaped like brains, and a laptop open to a research guide for first-generation students.]

While the event was attended sparsely by students, I met a few that were thankful for the resources we offer -- one woman came up to the table and told me she knew we offered lots of help because she chats with us frequently; several others scanned the QR code for our research guide to save the resources for later. And I met several campus leaders from other offices that were eager to learn about our services, including a new diversity officer with whom I exchanged information and discussed the possibility of special workshops for first-generation and minority students.

As 3:00 rolled around and we all began wiping the sweat off of our brows, we were happy in the knowledge that we had helped at least a few more students, and we'd educated both students and staffers about services on campus. I packed up my cart, put (the cardboard cutout of) my boss under my arm, and trekked back to Fondren Library to wrap up the day.

September 17, 2020

Civic engagement through the academic library.

When people consider the library as the center of the community, they often think of the public library. But through my classes this semester, we are exploring ways that the academic library is a central part of a college or university community as well.

For example, SMU Libraries has been leading voter education and civic engagement on campus:

I wanted to be a part of our voter education push this fall, and I got my chance on Constitution Day, September 17. As an educational organization that receives federal funding, SMU celebrates Constitution Day every year. In partnership with the SMU Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility, SMU Libraries passes out pocket Constitutions and encourages discussion of the Constitution.
Constitution Day on the lawn by Dallas Hall, across from Fondren Library at SMU. On the left, Adria Richmond, dressed as George Washington, quizzes students and passersby about the Constitution. On the right, Adria, Candy Crespo, and Rylee Bailey, of the Maguire Center, and Joanna Russell Bliss, of SMU Libraries, stand behind the voter registration table.

[Image description: Constitution Day on the lawn by Dallas Hall, across from Fondren Library at SMU. On the left, Adria Richmond, dressed as George Washington, quizzes students and passersby about the Constitution. On the right, Adria, Candy Crespo, and Rylee Bailey, of the Maguire Center, and Joanna Russell Bliss, of SMU Libraries, stand behind the voter registration table. Photo taken by Dr. Rita Kirk of the Maguire Center; used with permission. ]

Obviously, any event held during a pandemic creates a series of challenges. Decisions were made to hold the event on the lawn across from the library in order to celebrate outside. Two tables were set up to separate the two components of the event and to keep our distance. One featured a quiz that students could take about the Constitution. If they completed the quiz on their phones or laptops (via a QR code on the table), they could be signed up for a raffle for a year of free parking on campus. The other table had information about registering to vote: Links to confirm current registration, printed out forms to file new voter registration, and people that could counsel how to request absentee ballots for various states.

While traffic was much slower than usual due to lower numbers of students on campus (most students are only on campus every other day due to COVID restrictions), we felt the event was a success. Not only did we have 35 students that qualified for the raffle after taking our Constitution quiz, but we also noted that 30 students had approached the voter registration table with questions about how to register or confirm registration, how to vote via absentee ballot, and how to vote in person near or on campus. Combined with several other events in the preceding and following weeks, several librarians and library staffers from SMU Libraries registered or confirmed registration for hundreds of students. 

September 8, 2020

Learning about leadership from prior Presidents.

The idea of leadership has (unsurprisingly) come up in my class on library management, and it's reappearing this fall in my class on academic libraries. It's a common question, What makes a good leader? And there's usually not one universal answer, as leadership is often defined by how someone reacts to a situation, particularly a crisis. (Which I first wrote about last spring.)

Lately I've been reading Doris Kearns Goodwin's (2018) book on Leadership in Turbulent Times. She takes the knowledge she's gained by studying the lives of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson, and she shows how they demonstrated leadership through their early lives, career setbacks, and political crises like the Civil War and the Great Depression.
Lincoln before and after the Civil War

[Image description: Photographs of Abraham Lincoln before and after the Civil War. No one had history and stress written across his face quite like Lincoln.]

As I read through Goodwin's conclusions about lessons to be learned from Lincoln, I was struck by how her points (pp. 213-216) were similar to those raised by scholars in the library science community:

Acknowledge when failed policies demand a change in direction.

The first point is basically accepting that change may be necessary. While change management has been discussed in library management for at least close to 20 years (Hiatt & Creasey, 2003; Cameron & Green, 2004), it became a center point of the ideas that Casey & Savastinuk (2007) proffered in their work imagining Library 2.0. Rather than create policies etched in stone, authors like Casey & Savastinuk and Mathews (2012) argue for constant change at the library. 

This doesn't mean that there are no rules. It just means that the library evaluates programs and services on a regular basis, to determine what should be kept, what should be adapted, and what should be discontinued. How do we need a change in direction to meet our patrons' needs?

Gather firsthand information and ask questions.

Lincoln gathered firsthand information by talking to his soldiers, his cabinet, and sometimes anyone else that found their way into the White House. He may not have referred to this as vertical communication or a vertical team, like Casey & Savastinuk (2007), but the premise is the same: Put decision-makers in the same room as those that will be most affected by the decision. 

While Goodwin's example of Lincoln illustrates how the best leaders use a collection of opinions to inform their decision, the teams concept goes even further to empower people throughout the hierarchy. In his discussion of the teams-based model for libraries, Budd (2018) cites Neal and Steele (1993) when arguing for vertical and horizontal communication: "'The organization must promote and support unit-level and inter-unit discussion of improvements to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of services and operations,'" (p. 157).

Find time and space in which to think.

When you have a serious decision to make, you need time to reflect and consider your options before making a decision. Moran & Morner (2018) incorporate a thorough section on decision-making when discussing organizational planning; they note the importance of "[d]eliberation, evaluation, and thought" when making major organizational decisions (p. 98).

Exhaust all possibility of compromise before imposing unilateral executive power.

OK, deans or directors of libraries aren't determining how to move forward during a war, or how to avoid economic devastation for an entire country's economy. But at the end of the day, library leaders do have to sign off on decisions that affect a great number of people, like closing a library branch or incorporating new technology (Moran & Morner, 2018, p. 98). 

Peter Stearns argued in 1998 that people should study history because it develops "moral understanding;" by studying how people have weathered adversity in the past, we can be inspired to tackle the challenges we face today. This is a key factor in my interest in history – to contemplate what it must have been like to be Eleanor of Aquitaine (rebelling against sexist social mores as well as her husband) or Thomas Jefferson just after the Revolution (who somehow argued that all men are created equal while owning slaves) or myriad others who have come before us. Regardless of the differences in our situations, or the fact that I may disagree with their opinions, there are lessons that can be applied to the challenges I face in my work, my family, and every day life.

Brady, M. (1860). Abraham Lincoln [Image taken by Mathew Brady]. Library of Congress, Public Domain.

Budd, J. M. (2018). The Changing Academic Library: Operations, Culture, Environments (3rd ed.). Association of College and Research Libraries, a division of the American Library Association.

Cameron, E., & Green, M. (2004). Making Sense of Change Management: A Complete Guide to the Models, Tools & Techniques of Organizational Change. Kogan.

Casey, M. E., & Savastinuk, L. C. (2007). Library 2.0: A Guide to Participatory Library Service. Information Today, Inc. 

Gardner, A. (1865). Abraham Lincoln [Image taken by Alexander Gardner]. Library of Congress, Public Domain.

Goodwin, D. K. (2018). Leadership in Turbulent Times. Simon & Schuster. 

Mathews, B. (2012). Think like a startup: A white paper to inspire library entrepreneurialism [White paper]. Virginia Tech.

Moran, B. B., & Morner, C. J. (2018). Library and Information Center Management (9th ed.). Libraries Unlimited, an Imprint of ABC-CLIO, LLC.

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