Capstone ePortfolio: Joanna Russell Bliss 

Second Term: Spring 2020

May 5, 2020

Communication without face to face interaction.

Today is Reading Day at SMU, a day to take a break between in-person classes (that don't exist anymore) and in-person final exams (which may or may not take place). Usually Fondren Library is buzzing with activity today, as students cram and review a semester's worth of information. But the building is closed down, and students are studying in place, as it were.

As a team, SMU Libraries has been discussing how to reach out to students and encourage them from a distance. Our marketing department asked us interns to create a couple of videos to post on social media. I put this one together via Animoto.

Good luck to all SMU students as they approach finals week. Pony Up!

April 30, 2020

The strangest semester ever comes to an end. What's next?

I have turned in the last of my assignments, and I should be celebrating the end of another successful semester in grad school, while preparing to help the students at SMU face another grueling finals week through events at Fondren Library.

Instead, I have been helping them find access to resources online, and we have been brainstorming ideas on how to connect with Mustangs as they are spread around the world, rather than gathering in our learning commons. Seniors prepare to graduate without being surrounded by friends, most likely without a job to look forward to or plans for the fall.

It is strange to come to the end of term with a whisper instead of a bang.

[Image description: A photograph of the quad at Southern Methodist University, a large grassy area in front of Dallas Hall, pictured in the background. Students sit on the quad in groups of 4 or 5 people, while others cross it on foot.]

I live close to campus, and my family took a drive around the quad this past weekend. It didn't look all that different from the above photo -- two students were tossing a Frisbee back and forth. Someone was relaxing in a hammock. A child was riding a bike with her family.

And then I looked closer. Half of the groups were families, and only one or two clusters were made of college-age students. Everyone was at least six feet apart, and none of the women were wearing any makeup. No group was bigger than four people. Most people looked more exhausted than relaxed.

It's wearying to not know how or when to move forward. The governor is apparently starting to open the state back up tomorrow, but universities aren't mentioned in the plan, only public libraries. While I know that SMU is making tentative plans as they learn more about local and state governments are proposing, I worry about the possible spikes I have read as predicted if we open the campus too soon. And then I see the other end of the pendulum -- the predicted loss of students whether or not we reopen, particularly of international students, and whether higher education can survive at all if campuses don't reopen by August. And if we do open, what will it be like?

Perhaps there is a downside to all of this information? (That's so strange to say as an information student.)

Today, I will take a deep breath and celebrate what I have accomplished and completed. Tomorrow, I'll return to work, and at the end of the day, I'll do the same. I'll keep doing that until things change. Or they continue to remain the same. 

After all, tomorrow is another day.

Associated Press. (2020, April 7). Even if campuses open this fall, colleges worry many students won't return. MarketWatch.

Cher, A. (2020, April 14). Countries risk second wave of coronavirus infections by easing restrictions too early, says expert. CNBC.

Wood, G. (2020, April 27). There's no simple way to reopen universities. The Atlantic.

Dallas Hall [image]. (2015, February 5). In: SMU receives Top 25 rankings in Princeton Review's 2015 "Colleges That Pay You Back." Southern Methodist University blog.

Garrett, R. T., Morris, A., & Barragan, J. (2020, April 27). Gov. Greg Abbott's stay at home order expires Thursday, and many Texas businesses may open Friday. Dallas Morning News.

Paxson, C. (2020, April 26). College campuses must reopen in the fall. Here's how we do it. New York Times

March 28, 2020

Leadership during a crisis.

I find it strange and fitting that my current readings for INFO 5300 (Management of Information Agencies) focus on leadership. We are certainly facing challenges our modern society has never faced before, causing some leaders to struggle and others to shine. 

I have continually been impressed with how the leadership at Southern Methodist University, particularly SMU Libraries, has responded to the coronavirus. As our readings emphasized and I previously have written, communication is always important in any organization, but it is particularly important when facing the unknown. In my last week on campus, there was a lot of confusion about what might happen, whether we should worry/work from home/have all classes go virtual/shut down the buildings. 

While all of these questions were being discussed, the leadership at SMU Libraries was communicating in a variety of ways, via email and meetings (in person and then via Zoom). We started getting frequent updates from our Dean on March 11. They weren't daily, but they were detailed. Within a week, she began sending daily updates; if there wasn't new information from the campus leadership, she'd send information specific to the libraries, or encouraging notes about how to get through this, both as a team of employees and as individuals -- even something for a chuckle, like when she shared the below image from the Chattanooga Times Free Press (with proper citation of the source, of course).

[Image description: A cartoon titled "Where's Waldo: Social Distancing Edition." The cartoon features Waldo easily found in a socially distanced group of five people.]

The director of our building, and the Associate Dean for SMU Libraries, was even better. She immediately set up daily meetings to communicate changes in policy and for facilities, to discuss what we needed to do for the students and for each other, and to determine how best to continue serving our students and faculty given the current situation. Only once students were back in class and the daily changes had slowed did she reduce the daily meetings to twice weekly, while noting that she would still let us know immediately about major changes or situations.

Both women emphasized that our safety was more important than anything else. When working from home was on a voluntary basis at first, given personal needs with health conditions and child care, they both underscored that taking care of ourselves and our families was paramount. They acknowledged our importance as workers, but that our work was secondary to keeping our health and sanity.

I was last on campus only two weeks ago, but it feels like it has been an eternity. I am so thankful I work for an organization that has such strong leadership, women that have made us all feel as safe as we can while we adjust to our new normal.

Bennet, C. (2020, March 17). Much easier. Chattanooga Times Free Press.

March 5, 2020

Communication is key.

At this point, I'm halfway through the modules in INFO 5300, Management of Information Agencies, and I have to say that the one component that keeps coming up as vitally important is Communication.

Now I know I'm biased. I have multiple degrees in English, and I've been working as a writer in the marketing field for more than 15 years. But I can't imagine a library -- or any business, for that matter -- thriving without good and open communication. And this has been underscored by the three modules we've gotten through so far, on change, planning, and organization. Communication is an essential part of all three.

For example, a good business is always evolving and changing, and communication is essential when an organization is going through change:

      • Communicating with staff that they are valued, and that changing the structure of the library doesn't mean that they won't have a job.
      • Communicating with patrons that the library is changing to meet new needs and improve experiences.
      • Communicating with shareholders that their investment in your organization is a worthy endeavor.
The most successful example we read about for planning, in my opinion, was a library in Palatine, Illinois, that was constantly communicating with the community about their plans and progress (Schwartz, 2019). Their plan began through a survey of their constituents in 2016, where they learned their community wanted more books, movies and services.

After careful consideration of what the community wanted and how best to meet their needs, the library realized they needed more money. So they worked with the city to propose a tax increase, and then communicated with the people of Palatine about why they needed more money, and what it would pay for. Even after the referendum passed, the library continued to educate the community about their improvements, and they have implemented their transparency as a permanent aspect of their communications.

[Image description: A photograph of a sign reading "Picture Books" at the Palatine Public Library to tell patrons where the children's literature section is.]

And, of course, the larger the business or library, the more important communication becomes. Whether it's communication from the top to the bottom, or among teams and committees, good communication ensures that everyone knows what needs to be done and how each individual can contribute.

These are all things I've seen for myself, whether it's through working for smaller companies as a freelancer, or being part of a much bigger organization at SMU. Good communication has allowed me to plan for changes to websites and to build marketing plans with my clients from a distance -- my clients have stayed in California while I've moved from Los Angeles to Hoboken, NJ; Atlanta, GA; Bethesda, MD; and now Dallas. It enabled me to grow my position for one of my clients from simple content management to Director of Production, managing subcontractors and eProfessors across multiple timelines and state lines.

I will be shocked if communication does not continue to play a key role in our upcoming modules on human resources, leadership, and especially collaboration. And I look forward to seeing how my past experience in marketing communications ties into these new lessons on the management of libraries in the 21st century.

Schwartz, M. (2019). Clear & simple. Library Journal, 144(9), 24.

"Picture books," a photograph of the Palatine Public Library in Illinois by Anthony Auston, is used under CC by 2.0.

February 25, 2020

Assignments that teach pragmatic skills.

I'm wrapping up my second draft of my IOP for INFO 5200 this week. (That's the second part of my Information Organization Project, for non-UNT folks.) It's a project that we work on all semester, to show mastery of the ALA's 3rd core competence for librarians: Organization of Recorded Knowledge and Information. We're basically considering every step of the process to organize and build a database for a collection.

The assignment is turned in throughout the semester as we work on building the collection. Stage one was turned in at the end of January; it was about two pages long and primarily focused on user needs for our imaginary collection. But this portion of the assignment built another 13 pages, between the sections describing my ideal system of organization and database, as well as the reality of reshaping it after I started using the software, and a variety of appendices that demonstrate the organization of my information. 

[Image description: A screengrab of one of the tables from my IOP, enumerating how the metadata was structured for the organization assignment. The table lists 19 different field names, including Title, Author and Genre, as well as other descriptive data like field type and whether the field is searchable or required, number of maximum entries, and whether or not it uses a controlled vocabulary.]

The prep reading was heavy: Five textbook chapters and about 25 articles, plus ten written lectures and five video lectures. And I had another research assignment for this class due in the middle of the month, delaying my start on this section.

But here's the thing: This is the most realistic assignment I've had to prepare me for what I might do as a librarian. Read to learn about new technology. Juggle multiple projects and deadlines. Analyze and report on how we'll make this system work, since this is what we have to deal with, rather than an ideal software.

As much as I complained about the reading, and how much my forearms hurt the day after I typed the majority of my new section, I know this is one of the most pragmatic assignments I will ever have. And I can respect that. I appreciate that the work I'm doing now prepares me well for what I'll be doing once I have my degree.

Newer posts: Summer 2020 / Older posts: Fall 2019

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