Capstone ePortfolio: Joanna Russell Bliss 

Impact of My Professional Development

As I prepare for graduation this summer, I reflect back on my goals at the beginning of this program, to reconnect with the humanities and the act of learning. To determine how my technical skills and personal experience would apply to a new career in librarianship. And I've found that this vocation fits all of that far better than I ever thought it would.

My skills for categorization and organization have been confirmed by several classes. For example, while the semester-long project built for our Information Organization class was difficult, the process of creating the structure for my own collection on the Tudors was almost soothing in the chaos of spring 2020. I felt the same as I created a digital collection of photographs for my Introduction to Digital Libraries class that summer. While these classes confirmed that I would not want to work as a cataloguer all day, I liked the processes of organization that allowed for easy discovery, marking key terms and finding natural ways of categorization that would enable others to browse resources and find items easily.

My technical experience with WordPress as a content manager especially came in handy for a class on the use of technology to create community. Structured through a class blog (in WordPress) that encouraged us to message fellow classmates and connect through writing and responding to blog posts, the class helped all of us thrive during another tumultuous semester in the fall of 2020, as political upheavals, natural disasters, and personal struggles affected all of us. (The class was taken through San Jose State University, where many of my classmates were literally under fire as wildfires swept through Northern California in September and October.)

Our final projects, director's briefs shared through the blog, illustrated the myriad ways technology can be used to foster human connections. Mine explored the possibilities of technology labs for dance programs, researching what it would take to start such a lab at a library linked to a dance program, and reinforced my ideal subject librarian position: One where I could work with dance students to study and discover the choreographers of the past while using what they learn to experiment with movement for the future.

Classes that explored non-technical knowledge were not as easy, but they taught essential skills that I needed in my internship at Southern Methodist University. Having started working at SMU the week before my library classes began, the knowledge shared in our Information Access and Knowledge Inquiry class was used for every shift I worked at the reference desk, helping students and faculty access myriad types of reference materials, both in person and via chat. This also taught me the importance of humility and asking for help; it is nearly impossible to have an answer for every reference question in one's memory. Communities created through Slack and Teams at SMU made it easy to ask for help when unsure of the answer, and they particularly helped to strengthen the sense of community through our libraries after the work from orders in 2020.

As a teacher who left the classroom in 2000, the prospect of in-class instruction through SMU Libraries was daunting, especially after we had to switch to virtual instruction. But my class on instruction, taken in spring 2021 while I was preparing to teach virtually at SMU, helped to build a structure of studying one's population and their learning behaviors, considering the funding and marketing of instructional programs, and finally creating a lesson plan and materials for an in-person workshop.

In addition, the team of librarians at SMU had created a flipped learning scenario with a Canvas module introducing students to the basics of research and resource evaluation, as well as a research guide with a plethora of links related directly to the central assignment for the first-year research and writing classes. Being able to work with our librarian colleagues to understand the assignment and discuss our in-class approaches, while having in-depth discussions about instruction during my Zoom class every week, gave me the confidence to lead 5 virtual classes through a review of the Canvas module and to coach students through the early stages of background research and resource evaluation. While we hope to be back in person in the fall, I like the approach of flipped instruction even when we will be back in the classrooms together: Such a set up allows students to explore information literacy concepts on their own, to review them together in the classroom along with a demonstration of the library catalog and accessing databases through research guides, and then having a good amount of time to discuss with students one on one where they are looking for information, how they are finding and evaluating resources, and whether they feel successful in their searches.

Finally, one of the joys of my internship at Southern Methodist University is that it has allowed each of us to create the experiences we need for the careers we want. I have been able to work with librarians in subject liaison positions, researching the lack of diversity in children's literature collections for education students and faculty; in digital humanities, working as support staff for a digital humanities conference held in August 2020 and again in August 2021; in collections, assisting with a weeding project to remove books that are held in multiple libraries on campus; on a committee for continuing education, working to maintain the group's web page in preparation for virtual and in-person training in the fall of 2021; and on a committee for equity, diversity, inclusion and accessibility.

It is this last group that, while not directly related to any one class in my program, relates to the idea of librarianship overall, and how it needs to move forward. The EDIA committee has continually asked questions about how language – on the website, in policy, in external databases, in face-to-face interactions – needs to change in order to be more welcoming and inclusive. Such discussions have prompted me to bring these questions into other realms, like my women's leadership group for students and alumnae at the University of Missouri, where I have recently been named President-Elect for the upcoming academic year. I hope to take the myriad experiences I have had in my classes and my internship to learn and grow in such a position, strengthening our group by making sure we promote the successes of all women, particularly women of color and of underrepresented communities. This can only help me develop my career as well, as libraries change and grow for the better.
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