Capstone ePortfolio: Joanna Russell Bliss 

Third Term: Summer 2020

August 10, 2020

One presentation down, and plenty to come. I hope.

On the day I was celebrating the 1st year anniversary of working at Southern Methodist University, I presented the culmination of the largest project I worked on during the spring semester, at the Cross Timbers Library Collaborative Conference, with my supervisor at SMU, Jonathan McMichael. 

One of the things that was most challenging was that I haven't been able to attend a conference as a librarian. I've attended webinars and virtual conferences, but it's difficult to know what would normally be done during a presentation as compared to what we had to do -- present virtually, from two different spaces on campus. And even during the presentation, it was hard to read the room, literally. Is it normal to only have 15 attendees? Are they following what we are saying? Am I talking too fast? Are my glasses too big -- can they see my face well? Is my video even showing to the attendees?

(To see what our attendees saw, here is the video from the virtual conference.)

That said, I felt fortunate to be able to present what I have been working on throughout the spring and summer. And at least one attendee said the presentation motivated her to evaluate their juvenile collection, using the tools we mentioned during the presentation. Overall, it felt like a success.

July 14, 2020

What exactly is the new normal?

And I thought March and April were difficult. 

Here in Texas, the COVID numbers are soaring after two and a half months of a reopening that included two weeks of protesting in June. Dallas doesn't seem to be as bad as Houston (yet), but it's difficult to measure the level of risk when the county doesn't release its information on ICUs. And schools at every level, without definitive direction from the state, still have not committed to how education will look, leaving parents, students and teachers/faculty to worry endlessly about whether everyone will be safe.

[Image description: The COVID-19 Risk Level graphic produced by Dallas County Health and Human Services, which denotes that we are currently in the "red" risk level, labeled as "Stay Home, Stay Safe."]

I'm thankful that I know my classes through UNT will be online, as the plans for on-campus classes look a little confusing. But as of today, no plan has been announced for what fall classes will look like where I work at SMU, and they're supposed to start in five weeks. The lack of announcements (and the trickle of what has been announced) has led faculty and students to plead, through the student newspaper, for university leadership to consider the lives of everyone on campus and to go online for instruction.

(And this doesn't take into account what we're dealing with as parents, considering the options between more schooling at home, or putting our children at risk by having them return to a building where they'd be sharing a small space with 20 other children. I cannot even imagine what the plan for the elementary school library would be.)

I am grateful that SMU Libraries has done a great deal of planning to make our reopening last week as safe as possible. But even with the library limited to current SMU summer students, faculty and staff, it has been a challenge to guarantee student compliance with mask requirements. What will happen if/when we have our full number of undergraduate students in the fall?

Our biggest challenge now is that there are no definite answers. Research often leads to new directives and new questions. Our society is used to instant gratification and information, including -- especially -- at the library. And we're at a bit of a loss without that. 

Champagne, S. (2020, July 2). Texas won’t specify where hospital beds are available as coronavirus cases hit record highs. Texas Tribune.

Dallas County Health and Human Services. (2020, May 11). Today's COVID-19 risk level [image]. DCHHS website. Retrieved on July 14, 2020, from 

Eggers, D. (2020, May 3). Flattening the truth on coronavirus: All your questions about the pandemic, answered. Sort of. New York Times.

Hixenbaugh, M. & Ornstein, C. (2020, July 10). 'All the hospitals are full': In Houston, overwhelmed ICUs leave COVID-19 patients waiting in ER. NBC News

Keomoungkhoun, N. & Marfin, C. (2020, July 13). We asked 3 Texas doctors: Should you send your kids back to school this fall? Dallas Morning News.

Nadworny, E. (2020, June 29). The wild card for an in-person fall: College student behavior. NPR.

Rentería, P. (2020, July 8). OPINION: Now is not the time to be selfish — The problems with a return to campus. SMU Daily Campus.

Smatresk, N. (2020, July 13). Fall class options to support our students’ academic needs – An Official Notice from the President. University of North Texas.

SMU Libraries. (2020, July 13). Current status and services. Southern Methodist University.

Thiele, A. (2020, June 21). Faculty Senate President speaks out: SMU ‘does not believe that the threat of COVID-19 is lethal.’ SMU Daily Campus.

June 30, 2020

Committing to project management.

As my digital libraries class comes to a close and my project management class starts to build, I find that both are looking at project management as a series of tasks to complete, regardless of where the project resides (the library, the university, or elsewhere). Surprisingly, I found some of the best explanations on project management in my readings from the digital libraries class, where we read a series of articles from Frank Cervone (2012) that broke down the process we've been discussing in INFO 5306, applying the steps directly to a project for a digital library.

Because most of our project management readings have been more general, discussing the process as it could relate to any project, it was nice to see how Cervone explained topics like scope creep (2012a) or constraints (2012b) within the context of a digital library. It crystallized the readings I've had in my other class, and it confirmed my resolve as I work with my team to complete our semester-long project (a plan for a marathon in Fort Worth, TX; the Work Breakdown Structure I created for our project is below).

[Image description: The graphic I created for our Work Breakdown Structure. Planned work is divided into 5 categories: Site, Personnel, Marketing, Activities, and Safety and Precautions.]

That said, regardless of how much planning is put in at the beginning of the project, I do feel these digital projects have to be under their own staffer within the library. I think many libraries feel the urge to add such collections, but they underestimate the true cost of manhours when it comes to creating these digital collections, and it's often put on an existing staffer's long list of things to manage, meaning it becomes a struggle to both create and manage.

As I evaluated various digital libraries throughout the semester, I had thought it was the planning at the beginning (and throughout) that would determine the success of the library. But after comparing two different libraries with very similar mission statements, and realizing that one most likely had 5-10 times the staffers as the other, I found that Miller's (2018) article nails the conundrum of building a successful digital library: Building digital libraries relies on several interrelated components. As he states in the last page of the article, "Money is not the only challenge to developing digital initiatives either. A carefully curated combination of technical, financial and human involvement is paramount," (p. 133). 

I'd argue that the central changing factor at Miller's (2018) organization was the creation of his position; before that, the digital libraries at the organization had stalled without a central person to manage them and to make sure that they continued to evolve. While you need that magic combination of money, technical ability, and people, having a strong leader to drive these initiatives is what keeps such initiatives thriving and innovating, bringing more users to the sites and making the resources more findable.

Cervone, H. F. (2012a). Understanding the elements of a digital library project plan: part 1. OCLC Systems & Services, 28(2), 75-78.

Cervone, H. F. (2012b). Understanding the elements of a digital library project plan: part 2. OCLC Systems & Services, 28(3), 126-129.

Cervone, H. F. (2012c). Understanding the elements of a digital library project plan: part 3. OCLC Systems & Services, 28(4), 176-179.

Miller, A. (2018). Innovative management strategies for building and sustaining a digital initiatives department with limited resources. Digital Library Perspectives, 34(2), 117-136.

June 18, 2020

Discussing racism with children.

Recent events have prompted many of us who are white to learn more in order to do more and to be better. At SMU Libraries, we posted two different blog posts about anti-racism resources; I wrote our piece on the juvenile collection as I've been working on a diverse book project in that section since January 2020.

In a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times about racism, the author Ibram X. Kendi discussed the need to talk about racism with children: "When children ask a racial question and we don't want to talk about it, the message is that race and racism should not be talked about. White parents especially don't talk about it, because they believe that kids should be colorblind. But studies show that as early as the age of 2 children begin to define people based on race."

If we want to eradicate racism in the SMU community and beyond it, we need to discuss racism with our children, at home and in the classroom. We have found a few books at Fondren Library that might get those discussions started.

Newer posts: Fall 2020 / Older posts: Spring 2020

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