Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this series, librarians from the UT Libraries Arts, Humanities and Global Studies Engagement Team briefly present, explore and critique existing examples of digital scholarship. Our hope is that these monthly reviews will inspire critical reflection of, and future creative contributions to, the growing fields of digital scholarship.
It will come as no surprise that I, the English Literature Librarian, was a nerdy little bookworm as a child. I actively participated in the Book It! reading program, a literacy initiative sponsored by Pizza Hut. The premise of Book It! was simple: After completing five books and getting the sign-off from my teacher, I would “earn” a coupon for a personal pan pizza. When I was in 5th grade, I read enough Baby-Sitters Club (BSC) books in a single week to earn three pizzas. I felt a tinge of guilt because I had skipped early chapters in each book where the text was reused, word-for-word, from previous books in the series. It was always Chapter 2!
Every devoted Baby-Sitters Club fan knows the text was reused to introduce the characters and the premise of the series. There were over 200 books published in the span of 13 years – of course some of it would be repetitive! But let’s take it a step further. What if we could quantifiably demonstrate the reuse of Chapter 2 text, while also comparing stylistic and narrative changes across multiple ghostwriters and cultural trends? And how would you do this kind of analysis of 200+ novels, spin-offs, and graphic novel adaptations? Well, a feminist collective of scholars called the Data-Sitters Club (DSC) is attempting to do just that.
The Data-Sitters Club describe their project as “a fun way to learn about computational text analysis for digital humanities”. They created a corpus of Ann M. Martin’s influential young adult series and have analyzed it using a variety of DH methods and tools (Python, R, TEI, Voyant, just to name a few). The Baby-Sitters Club has had a long pop culture shelf-life for Gen X and Millennial readers, with the recent Netflix reboot (which was sadly canceled after two seasons) and the podcasts Stuck in Stonybrook and the Baby-Sitters Club Club. According to the publisher Scholastic, the series has been in print since 1986 and has sold more than 190 million copies. Given the series’ immense popularity and continued pop culture influence, the books are a gold mine for researchers interested in gender, race, class, and sexuality, but, like much of girl culture, the books haven’t been the subject of serious research.
So the Data-Sitters Club saw opportunity for new research, while also making DH more accessible, especially to women and other marginalized groups often sidelined in DH projects. The DSC does this through a series of 16 blog posts on their GitHub site, written to mimic the narrative style of the book series, including titles that riff off the originals. Each blog post covers a use case for the BSC corpus and features a different tool, coding language or technique. Two of my favorites are DSC #2: Katia and the Phantom Corpus and DSC #5: The DSC and the Impossible TEI Quandaries. (A running joke throughout the blog is that later posts refer the reader back to “Chapter 2” to explain the corpus and how it was created, an intentional reference to the Chapter 2 in the original series that reused text to explain the series’ premise.)
One thing you won’t find on the DSC GitHub site is the corpus itself. The team scanned print books to create a legal corpus, but as of right now, it’s not available publicly online. The DSC has used the project as an advocacy tool to promote the loosening of ebook copyright restrictions to build literary corpra for private research. In partnership with the non-profit Authors Alliance, they wrote to the Librarian of Congress asking for exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 to access the full BSC corpus. Of all the DSC blog posts, I found DSC #7: The DSC and the Mean Copyright Law to be the most fascinating – and frustrating.
I would recommend the Data-Sitters Club blog to any emerging DH scholar or librarian looking to try a new tool or method. Much of the content is highly technical, but the fun, approachable tone of each blog post makes the content accessible. I hope they are able to get legal access to the full ebook corpus so we can see more research on the Baby-Sitters Club books and better understand their cultural impact on a generation of women and girls.
“When you lose a language and a language goes extinct, it’s like dropping a bomb on the Louvre.” –Linguist Michael Krauss
Language is so central to humanity that it frequently takes on the involuntary characteristics of breathing or eating—words seemingly form in our minds and fall effortlessly from our mouths or onto a page in a way that can go without notice or concern. It’s only when we lose our ability to communicate that we realize how important a shared language is to our collective experience, and a better understanding of ourselves.
Such is the inspiration at the heart of the Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America (AILLA), a digital repository of multimedia resources in and about the indigenous languages of Latin America, founded in 2000 at The University of Texas at Austin and located today at the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection.
The archive’s mission is the preservation of the wealth of recordings of natural discourse in the indigenous languages of Latin America made by native speakers of the languages, frequently in collaboration with linguists and anthropologists, during the past fifty to sixty years. Most of these languages are endangered, and all of them are at risk of being replaced by dominant languages. Some of them, in fact, like Tehuelche, a Chonan language of Patagonia, have lost all speakers since the recordings housed in the archive were made.
According to the World Bank, there are some 560 different languages spoken in Latin America, most of which are spoken by Indigenous Peoples. Some, like the Mayan languages K’iche’ (Guatemala) and Yucatec Maya (Mexico), have speakers numbering in the hundreds of thousands. But there are examples that more fully demonstrate a need for preservation, such as Guató (Brazil) and Kawésqar (Chile), each having fewer than 10 living speakers.
AILLA’s collections represent over 420 Indigenous languages, and include audio and video recordings, some with transcriptions and translations in Spanish, English, and to a lesser extent Portuguese, as well as photographs, maps, charts, and written works of all kinds. The recordings include narratives, songs, conversations, prayers, ceremonies, oral histories, interviews, and grammatical elicitation. Written materials include grammars, dictionaries, word lists, ethnographies, field notes, journals, correspondence, theses and dissertations, published and unpublished academic articles, essays, and manuscripts, as well as original literary works in indigenous languages, such as poetry, short stories, and novels. There is ongoing work to incorporate textbooks and teaching materials for bilingual and ethno-education and for language reclamation programs into the archive,
“Every language is like a cosmos, containing vocabulary, stories, songs, spiritual beliefs, ceremonies, games, jokes, food ways, and patterns of thought which form a worldview that is unique in the history of humanity,” explains AILLA Manager Susan Kung.
AILLA collaborates directly and indirectly with Indigenous communities to archive their linguistic cultural heritage and coordinates the digitization of fragile analog materials in Indigenous languages so that they can be added to the archive. The archive accepts any material that was written or spoken in one of the indigenous languages of Latin America by native speakers of that language, on any topic, in any style. AILLA also collects materials of cultural and academic interest that are written about the indigenous languages of Latin America, and especially values items of interest to indigenous communities, like teaching materials and literary works.
An essential focus of the work at AILLA is to make these resources available to a global audience via unrestricted online access. Rapid technological development and an expanding internet has increased the reach of resources that were once kept in private offices and homes so that they can now be shared with speakers of the languages, scholars and interested audiences worldwide. By building out a broader global audience for these resources, the hope is that expanded access will extend and/or guarantee the life of at-risk languages.
“We want to support indigenous efforts to reclaim their languages and develop [their] literatures,” says Susan Kung. The archive makes it easy to publish indigenous works to a wide audience. It also serves as a medium of collaboration and communication, in addition to providing a repository for resources.
AILLA was founded in 2000 at The University of Texas at Austin by Dr. Joel Sherzer, Professor of Anthropology, and Dr. Anthony Woodbury, Professor of Linguistics, working in collaboration with a group of their graduate students, and with technical support from Mark McFarland, the former University of Texas Libraries Director of the Digital Library Services Division. AILLA’s pilot site was funded with seed money from the College of Liberal Arts, and the first online digital repository was built with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Today, AILLA’s primary support comes from the University of Texas Libraries and the Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies, and AILLA is at the heart of the LLILAS Benson collaboration and its Indigenous languages initiatives.
Over AILLA’s 20-year history, staff have worked to make academia and the general public aware of the importance of archiving priceless and irreplaceable linguistic cultural heritage and to develop and promote best practices in this field. These endeavors, along with AILLA’s efforts to digitize and archive significant collections of indigenous language documentation materials, have been generously funded by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Science Foundation.
To explore AILLA’s collections, visit ailla.utexas.org. The catalog information is open access, but you must register for a free account to stream, view or download media files.
If you are a speaker of an indigenous language and are interested in creating an archival collection for your language, please write to us at email@example.com.
The only constant is change, as the old saying goes. As technological and social change affect how we interact and engage with one another, it’s critical that libraries continually seek information about the evolving expectations of our community. Observations and usage trends provide valuable data that help orient our direction, but sometimes the best way to surface user expectations is to just ask.
At the end of February, the Libraries launched a campus-wide survey to a random sample of students, faculty, and—for the first time—staff. If you happened to be among those who received an invitation and responded, we offer our thanks. If you didn’t get an invite, maybe we’ll catch you next time. The Libraries typically undertake a survey every 2 or 3 years to make sure we’re keeping tabs on how we are doing—it’s a great way to see what’s working well, what we might consider changing and in some cases, what we might stop doing.
The 2022 survey is particularly important because it is the Libraries’ first survey since prior to the pandemic. The original plan was to implement the survey in fall 2020, but things felt too different, too anomalous at that time to get an accurate picture. Many of us were not on campus, and many of our circumstances were strained or unusual. We wanted the survey to represent longer-term trends—inasmuch as those exist anymore—rather than a snapshot of perceptions during the campus’s most restrictive COVID-related policies. The last time we surveyed the campus was in spring 2018, so there’s an eagerness to see what has changed and what has stayed the same over the last four turbulent years.
For the first time, we developed and wrote our own survey instrument. This has long been a goal of mine, not because there aren’t great survey instruments available to libraries, but because we wanted to be able to tailor our questions to our unique population and circumstances. Past industry-standard instruments that we’ve used such as those created by LibQUAL and Ithaka S+R allowed us to compare trends at UT to national trends—which is a valuable exercise—but this time we wanted to focus on the perceptions, experiences, and needs of the Longhorn community. With support from folks around campus (especially the staff in IRRIS) and a seasoned assessment team, we took on the challenge of writing, administering, and analyzing our own survey, designed to provide us with actionable feedback.
In the coming months, we’ll be using this space to share some of the findings from the survey as we work through our analysis, and eventually, we will have full results to share with the public. Topics that you can expect to see addressed here include longitudinal insights (i.e., where we see trends and perceptions evolving over the long term), spotlights on insights gleaned about different demographic groups, and other interesting tidbits. We won’t just tell you what we find interesting, though—we want to highlight what we’re doing with the results. Expect to read about areas that we want to investigate further with focus groups and interviews, and changes that we’re putting in place based on what we learn.
A sneak peak of a survey item focused on satisfaction shows that for the most part, folks are pretty happy with us…in particular, happy with the Libraries’ services. But there is more still to be learned from a thorough review of the data:
Does that hold true across all demographic groups?
What can we learn about those who aren’t satisfied?
These are the kinds of questions we’ll be asking ourselves and our users, as we sift through the results. We invite you participate in an ongoing exploration of the data we’ve collected so that we can learn even more from the process of analysis as we seek to improve the work of these Libraries.
The Libraries’ roadmap for success depends largely on hearing both the praise and criticism of our users, so take an opportunity to help improve your UT Libraries by providing your own input, feedback and observations as we plan together for the best possible future.
The Benson Latin American Collection recently inaugurated Martín Fierro: From Marginal Outlaw to National Symbol in the Rare Books Reading Room. Co-curated by Graduate Research Assistants Melissa Aslo de la Torre and Janette Núñez, this exhibition examines the Argentine epic poem El gaucho Martín Fierro and its legacy on the 150th anniversary of the poem’s publication. Ryan Lynch sat down with Aslo de la Torre (MA) and Núñez (JN) to talk about their process.
You write that the Benson has over 380 copies of El gaucho Martín Fierro and La vuelta de Martín Fierro. How did these books come to the Benson?
JN: A big part of this collection came from two collections that the Benson purchased. One would be the Martínez Reales Gaucho library, purchased in 1961. That contained about 1500 books, pamphlets, and articles and literature of the Argentine cowboy, and more than 300 editions. The other one was the Simon Lucuix library, purchased in 1963. The collector had over 21,000 volumes on Uruguay and the Rio de la Plata area.
Why do you think Martín Fierro has remained so popular?
JN: The book was published nineteen years after the Argentine constitution of 1853. In that constitution, there was a government policy that encouraged European immigration as an effort to “clean ” races and also populate Argentina. The gaucho became a representation of this struggle of people who were feeling threatened and feeling the consequences of European immigration.
MA: [Martín Fierro] was not the only poem that was written in the voice of a gaucho, but one of the differences is that this one really makes the gaucho the hero in a sort of tragic tale. It was therefore taken up by different groups of people as a symbol of someone who stands for freedom, someone who was oppressed by the government, sort of a hero of the people.
It transitioned from mass popularity to being used by the literary elite to create a political national identity. And in that way, it got really inscribed into popular culture. There are images of a popular tango musician [Carlos Gardel] dressed as a gaucho. These two cultural products [tango and gauchos] are very, very different, but we can see as the gauchos diminished in number, they were used as a symbol of Argentine identity.
The exhibit focuses largely on the work’s legacy in Argentina. Can you talk about its influence outside of Argentina, such as in Brazil and Uruguay?
MA: Gauchos existed in the Rio de la Plata area, it wasn’t just these artificial borders—it spanned the entire region. A gaucho in Argentina was very similar to a gaucho in Uruguay.
One thing that I thought was interesting was that during the period when José Hernández was alive, there was a lot of political turmoil and he was exiled in Uruguay and Brazil; he started writing the poem in Brazil. There was this movement across these borders.
Who should visit this exhibition?
What was the most interesting thing you learned in the course of doing this project?
JN: For me, it was how heavily the government was involved in spreading the poem. When I found out that we had this poem was translated into over 70 languages, I had an idea that it was really popular internationally, but they were all published in Argentina. Something we’ve mentioned before is how it became so popular. I think it was really a true combination of both the mass public and the government. If either one wasn’t on board with this particular poem, I am not sure it would have been as popular as it was.
What is your favorite item in the exhibition?
MA: One of my favorite items is a version that was written for a juvenile audience that is annotated. I appreciated the annotations because there’s so much gaucho language in the poem that was part of what made it successful, but part of what makes it difficult to understand even if you’re a Spanish speaker. It is interesting, one, because you can see how the poem is taught to young Argentines, and two, it makes it understandable for us as readers.
We’ve talked a lot about how we chose to frame this and what we chose to focus on. All of it was driven by the holdings, but there are gaps. This is a very masculine, ideal image of this national identity. I would have loved to have more about who were the female subjects in the poem, how they were treated.
Do you think this experience will inform your careers in archives and libraries in any way? If so, how?
MA: For me, I think it definitely will. This was my first time creating an exhibition and I really had to think about how there are so many access points to materials in archives and rare books.
Previously, my work has been in providing reference, so I had to think about instruction in rare books and archives. How do I teach someone about these materials? How do I help tell a story? What kind of framing am I providing to this knowledge? That’s really one of the reasons that I chose this program and that I am interested in for my career—how is cultural knowledge framed by archives and museums, and what is it communicating to audiences?
JN: I agree. Creating an exhibit is so different from providing reference. It’s putting it out there and then hoping it conveys the messages that we want it to convey.
Also, it was my first [time] to put my experience of working in libraries and archives and my Latin American academic experience together. I do that when I do reference or processing, but putting an exhibition together is really thinking, what is my previous knowledge of Argentine history and politics? And what are my gaps, and how do I use my background to build on that?
Another point is working collaboratively. We were able to bring both of our different experiences to put this one project together. Librarianship is very collaborative work—that is what they teach us at the iSchool. Being able to put that on something that wasn’t just a class project was a great experience as well.
Ryan Lynch is Head of Special Collections and Senior Archivist at the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection.
Melissa Aslode la Torre is a master’s student at the School of Information at UT Austin (iSchool).
Janette Núñez is a dual-degree master’s student at LLILAS and the iSchool.
Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this series, librarians from UTL’s Arts, Humanities and Global Studies Engagement Team briefly present, explore and critique existing examples of digital scholarship. Our hope is that these monthly reviews will inspire critical reflection of and future creative contributions to the growing fields of digital scholarship.
This post was written by Sarth Khare, the Global Studies Digital Projects GRA at Perry-Castañeda Library and a current graduate student at the School of Information.
Josef Koudelka is one of the most respectable names in documentary photography. To many photographers like me, his work is as perfect as it gets. His enigmatic images immortalize the slivers of rare moments, spaces, and events that he witnessed in his extraordinary life. Whether they are of Warsaw Pact troops marching in Prague, of Roma Communities in Romania and Spain, or the large panoramas of landscapes across cities, his photos have the mystical power to transport the viewer into the time and world the photo was taken in.
Ever since I got to know about his work, I would go online and look for his photos. I would easily spend hours, looking for the shades of grays, the composition, angles and emotive expressions that made his work so rare. But I never got the clarity or satisfaction that one would get by looking at a physical print up-close. The materiality of the paper, the grains shining through and the rich gradience in the tones always seemed to be absent in the digital scans of his work that were available online.
In the middle of the global pandemic, the National Library of France announced an exhibition “Josef Koudelka. Ruins” which ran from September 15, 2020 to December 16, 2020. The exhibition highlighted panoramic landscapes taken by Josef Koudelka over 28 years across various archeological sites across the world.
What was most exciting about the exhibition was the accessibility it provided during the pandemic. The physical curation of the exhibit was translated to an online tour using 360° shots. Anyone in the world could access the exhibition and travel through sixty points of view, including, through zooming tools, the ability to look at prints from close and far. One can read the texts on the picture rails along the prints, but more than that, from within the 360° shots itself, viewers can click to view high-resolution scans of the prints.
This online experience completely changed the idea of exhibitions for me: I could simultaneously experience the detailed nuances of Koudelka’s photographs while I could also enjoy moving in a world that was designed around them.
I felt elated with this experience—that galleries and curators alike are striving to reproduce a similar sense of awe online. The push towards this novel approach was two-fold. Firstly, the need of making the exhibition reach people during the pandemic, and secondly, the current tools and technologies that can make this dematerialization of space possible across the internet. 360° virtual tools have been used in real estate and architecture for a while now but have only recently become sophisticated enough to get realistic renderings of spaces. Overlaying such 360° visualizations with high-resolution scans of the static images was a missing piece of the larger puzzle—and what makes this tour so engaging and memorable.
Although the tour mimics the exhibition in all mannerism, and I believe it is one of the most perfect renderings yet, I can’t say that it was ideal in all means. To physically be in a space with such larger-than-life panoramic images and seeing their juxtaposition is an extraordinary experience. It teleports the viewer from the gallery into the space of the image and has the power to change the viewer.
Traveling within the computer screen, however, can become repetitive. But these are current limits of our technology. Within these limitations, this digital exhibition is a milestone. With the growth of virtual reality, I feel that future reproductions that build on this exhibition would become more integrated and holistic.
I witnessed the exhibition, from my home in India, without having to go to France, and experienced the details and depth of the work of a master whom I truly admire. I must have already spent more than 10 hours roaming digitally along the exhibition spaces of the National Library of France. And I continue doing so now: long after its physical counterpart has ended the digital exhibit is still on display.
UT Austin is also very lucky because the Harry Ransom Center is the home to about 200,000 original prints of Magnum Photos. Magnum Photos is the world’s most influential international photographic cooperative of which Josef Koudelka is a part of. One can access their archives and see the collection details at the following link: https://norman.hrc.utexas.edu/fasearch/findingAid.cfm?eadid=00502
With the arrival of Vice Provost and Director Lorraine Haricombe, the Libraries leaned into Open Access as a strategy for equitable access to resources and as a budgetary countermeasure in a the face of skyrocketing publishing costs. A facet of the work that has gotten extra attention is Open Educational Resources – OERs – defined by the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition as “teaching, learning and research resources released under an open license that permits their free use and repurposing by others. OERs can be textbooks, full courses, lesson plans, videos, tests, software, or any other tool, material, or technique that supports access to knowledge.”
In the fall of 2019, the Tocker Foundationprovided $355,000 for a collaborative project between the UT Libraries, the Austin Public Library (APL) and Austin Community College (ACC) to promote the adoption, development and distribution of OERs. Funding from the gift subsidized the hiring of a dedicated librarian to develop and execute a plan for broad adoption of OERs at UT, as well as for the award of open education grants, education and training on OERs and joint promotion of open education with partner institutions APL and ACC.
In fall 2020, the Libraries hired Ashley Morrison – a former UT iSchool alum and GRA who had landed a permanent position at the North Carolina State University Library, but whose interest in open education called her back to Austin – to become the first Tocker Open Education Librarian at the university.
A little over a year after pioneering the position at UT, Ashley talks with us about her love of open access and OERs, the foundation she’s building and perceptions of the enterprise so far.
Tex Libris: How did you become interested in Open Access and OERs?
Ashley Morrison: I first learned about open access and open education as movements in graduate school, but conceptually, democratized access to and production of knowledge is something that always spoke to me (and was a big part of why I wanted to become a librarian!). As a first-generation college student who was responsible for most of the cost of my education, it’s easy to understand the power and potential of OER to transform course material access and have a positive impact on the financial well-being of students. While textbooks and course materials are just one factor contributing to the rising expense of higher education, it is a tangible and addressable obstacle through the availability and adoption of OER and other OA materials.
TL: What is your assessment of the OER landscape at UT? In what ways can OERs benefit students/faculty/researchers at the university?
AM: There is a small but growing community of UT instructors, staff, and students who already use and advocate for the adoption of OER, and they are my partners in driving awareness of OER on campus. Through my personal interactions and through more scaled survey-based outreach, we know that faculty at UT are largely receptive and willing to consider OER as required course materials. We also know that they often need more support to make such a big change to their curriculum, and I love being able to offer some of that support as they search for, evaluate, and adapt OER for use in their classrooms.
The most obvious benefit of OER for students, and what gets most people interested in OER, is the eliminated or significantly reduced financial barrier to access course materials. Most OER is available at no cost, and printed materials are generally available at the cost to produce them. But what I’ve heard others say and I definitely observe to be true is that with OER, you come for the free access, but you stay for the pedagogy. The open licenses conferred to OER by their creators allow anyone who uses them to make copies and customize the resources freely. That means they can be translated into new languages, modified to better reflect the student body of a particular institution or classroom, updated with new research or case studies, and more. It also enables faculty to engage students as editors and creators in the production of OER. Students can contribute to open textbooks, create open websites, and more. Students are not just knowledge consumers but knowledge creators, and that’s a really transformative concept for many of them.
TL: What projects have you undertaken since you took on the job?
AM: This year has been a busy one! There are a few projects that have been especially fulfilling, including a partnership between UT Libraries and students in Natural Sciences Council and the Senate of College Councils that produced our first faculty recognition program, the Affordable Education Champions. Through this campaign, we invite the student body to nominate faculty whose choices to assign free or low-cost materials have had a real impact on them.
I also really enjoyed working with colleagues from the OER Working Group to launch our first OER-focused instructor learning community, with grant funding from the Faculty Innovation Center providing small stipends to our participants. We spent six weeks with the ten selected instructors discussing OER and other affordable course materials as tools to foster inclusion in their classrooms, and we hope to offer more communities like this in the future.
Finally, one I’m very excited about this year is the Open Education Fellows pilot program. This program is designed to offer our small cohort of faculty fellows financial and programmatic support in their effort to adopt or adapt existing OER or develop new resources to fill gaps in the OER landscape.
TL: What sort of reception have you received from potential stakeholders on campus?
AM: It’s been a very encouraging reception! From students to staff to faculty to administration, open education is generally received with curiosity and interest. This isn’t to say that there aren’t some concerns expressed, but most stakeholders I’ve spoken with are open to learning more about the financial and pedagogical benefits of using OER in the classroom.
TL: Do you coordinate with institutions outside of UT? If so, how does that influence your local strategy?
AM: Yes! I’m very lucky that the open education community actively seeks collaboration, which makes a lot of sense given that connection is a principle of open education. I am regularly in touch with a small group of librarians called the OER Ambassadors, which is a program facilitated by Texas Digital Library. More recently, I’ve also helped convened an informal group of practitioners across the UT System, which aligns strategically with the Momentum on OER (MOER) effort sponsored by the System. Each of these groups is really valuable because they give me a chance to connect with colleagues doing similar work, though each of our OER programs may be in different stages of maturity. I learn a lot from hearing what’s worked well for others, what’s been challenging, and how they’re implementing best practices and in some cases mandates from legislation related to OER. These colleagues are incredibly generous, and their insights have directly informed the development of many of our OER programs at UT.
TL: How did the health crisis impact your work? You came on in the middle of the pandemic, at a time when OERs would’ve been really beneficial, but I imagine that you were also limited in opportunities to hit the ground and start building networks.
AM: While the pandemic did inhibit my ability to knock on doors and host physical programming that was central to UT’s OER advocacy efforts in previous years, my experience was that it engendered a great sense of empathy between faculty and students that opened them up to conversations about OER in a way that they may not have been before the pandemic. There is a heightened sense of awareness of the struggles we’re each facing right now, and for many members of our UT community and their families, financial vulnerability has been a really evident challenge. I have seen faculty go to great lengths to mitigate any of the struggles that they can for their students – from being more flexible about assignment deadlines to revising testing procedures to reevaluating course materials that cause financial burdens for some students. While faculty continue to have so many of their own challenges to address during this health crisis, I have seen them prioritize the well-being of their students repeatedly. OER has been one tool for doing this.
TL: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve recognized since you arrived? What’s the biggest opportunity?
AM: One of the biggest challenges I’ve observed is that while so many faculty are interested in using OER, the right OER isn’t there for every class just yet. This especially comes up in my conversations and searches with faculty teaching upper-division courses. It’s not surprising since most of the large-scale, funded OER projects are aimed at introductory level courses, but it’s still disappointing when someone is really excited about adopting OER and just can’t find what they need. In those cases, we explore other free and affordable options, like searching UT Libraries’ vast collections to identify licensed materials that would be free for students to access. These faculty are also often interested in developing their own OER to address these gaps in content, which I see as one of UT’s greatest opportunities to impact not only our students but anyone, anywhere who wants to learn. However, developing OER takes a lot of time that our faculty often don’t have, and the work is not always recognized through the existing reward structures of the university (such as promotion or tenure). The Open Education Fellows pilot program is our first step to seeing what it would take to support faculty authors and OER publishing projects, and I’m very excited to learn and identify opportunities to scale that program in the future. With funding, I’m optimistic that we can enable UT community members to create more open, public knowledge.
TL: What do you hope to achieve in the short-term – next couple of years – and what about the long-term?
AM: I mentioned already my hopes for scaling OER adoption and development through the Open Education Fellows program, but beyond that, another short-term goal I have is to support faculty who are interested in assessing the impact of adopting OER and other free resources in their classrooms. Studies outside of our institution overwhelmingly show that students enrolled in courses using OER perform as well or better than students enrolled in courses using commercial textbooks. Some studies are even able to demonstrate that the impact to outcomes like final grades are outsized for historically underserved groups like first-generation students, students with financial need, and BIPOC students. I’m eager to partner with faculty interested in replicating or expanding on these studies and contributing to the scholarship of teaching.
A longer-term goal is really more about a cultural shift, and I believe we’re at the start of it now. I want OER (and affordability, more generally), to be a key part of the University’s strategic priorities. It makes sense to have the UT Libraries guide our campus OER efforts as a thought leader and programmatic coordinator, but open education won’t be a formidable movement on campus without administrative support outside the Libraries. It is critical, for example, that faculty contributions related to OER – adopting, adapting, developing, and co-creating with students – are formally recognized and valued in promotion and tenure guidelines. I am optimistic that the work of the Sustainable Open Scholarship Working Group will advance this conversation and lead to more institutional support for OER, but the shift we need will take time at a university of our size.
TL: Given user familiarity with traditional publishing, how do you change minds about the fairly novel concept of OERs?
AM: It’s definitely easy to think of OER as the wild west of publishing – no peer review, no quality control, no graphic design value. But that’s not the case! So far, the most effective way to ease minds has been to actually show people high-quality examples of OER in the wild. I often point to examples from OpenStax, though they aren’t the only publisher of beautifully-produced, peer-reviewed OER with the ancillary materials that instructors often value. (And to be clear, not all OER is like this, just as not every commercial textbook is.) The point is that OER can look a lot like the proprietary textbooks they may already be using, and doing hands-on exploration is the only way to determine if any kind of course material is right for you, whether it’s published openly or commercially.
The Benson Latin American Collection dressed up and campus lit up for the opening of the newly-named Ann Hartness Reading Room.
On Thursday, March 24, the Benson hosted a dedication ceremony for the renovated space in recognition of former head librarian Ann Hartness, who is renowned for her 38-year career at the Benson and her contributions to Brazilian studies. The space naming is the result of a generous gift by Hartness’s son Jonathan Graham and daughter-in-law and Elizabeth Ulmer, who are both graduates of UT’s School of Law,
The couple is directing a portion of their gift to establish the Jonathan Graham and Elizabeth Ulmer Fund for Library Materials on Brazil, an endowment to enhance the Benson’s Brazilian studies collection. The remainder of their gift will match other donors’ gifts to new or established endowments in any area at the Benson.
“My mother raised three boys in two different countries, moving back and forth while balancing her family, her education and her work,” says, Graham. “I’m just so proud of her, because when I think of the arc of her life, at a time when women from her background essentially followed their husbands, she made her own very distinctive career.”
The reopening of the Hartness Reading Room extends the Centennial Celebration of the Benson, which began last year. In honor of the Benson centenary and the occasion of the reopening, the UT Tower was lighted orange.
Hartness joined the Benson in 1970, working as a cataloger of Latin American periodicals. She helped with the transition as libraries moved towards digital services and resources, and eventually worked her way up to director. Throughout her tenure, she increased the depth and breadth of the library’s holdings in Brazilian materials. She retired in 2008 at age 73.
“Ann Hartness is synonymous with Brazilian collections at the Benson,” says Benson Director Melissa Guy. “It was through her tenacity, in-depth knowledge, and personal relationships that the library built a strong foundation for the study of Brazil at The University of Texas at Austin.”
The Benson’s main reading room is frequented by students, faculty and scholars from around the world, and it is the very room where Jon Graham spent countless hours studying as a teen and later as a Texas Law student.
“It was a refuge to study in one of the graduate student carrels in the Benson Collection. It was a quiet place to read, wander and collect my thoughts. This is a perfect way to honor my mother,” he says.
To learn more about the Jonathan Graham and Elizabeth Ulmer Fund for Library Materials on Brazil and other giving opportunities at the Benson Latin American Collection, contact Hannah Roberts at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This guest post is authored by Antara Gupta as part of our series in support of Open Education Week. Because we can’t limit ourselves to just one week, we’re excited to celebrate open education throughout the month of March.
Antara Gupta is a third-year Neuroscience major also pursuing certificates in Spanish and Social Inequality, Health & Policy. She is an active member of the Natural Sciences Council, Health Science Scholars DEI Subcommittee, and Delta Epsilon Mu. In her free time, she loves cooking, thrifting, and exploring new coffee shops!
College is celebrated as a haven for life-long learners. It is a bustling site for exploration and ingenuity, a place where you can discover something new about yourself or about the world. Students come in with big dreams such as:
Learning how to start a business.
Working in a renowned lab.
Taking a class with a celebrated film professor.
But ahead of many stands a looming barrier. Textbook fees. Lab fees. Online homework portal fees. On average, a full time undergraduate student spends approximately $740 on books and supplies during the academic year. Oftentimes, these funds are not advertised until after the student has already enrolled in a class. This puts low-income students at a significant disadvantage as they face apprehension that a class they enrolled for will potentially put them over their budget. How can we call such an environment a “bustling site for exploration” or a “haven for life-long learners” when concrete boundaries – on top of tuition – exist?
Fortunately, these problems have been noticed by the UT community, and the university– along with multiple organizations–are doing their due diligence to make changes. S.B. 810 requires that UT identifies courses which have open educational resources (OER), and a list is generated on the Co-op website for each semester.
But UT hasn’t just stopped there. As a member of the Natural Sciences Council (NSC), I remember being introduced to the initial versions of S.R. 1808, a bill to directly identify OER classes on the course schedule. As someone privileged enough for additional class fees to not be a major concern when deciding my semester schedule, it was eye-opening to learn about and consider the struggles that many other students go through. I was shocked that we had not implemented something like this already. However, NSC along with other college councils took steps to change this and voted in favor of the bill. With the implementation of this bill, any class with a total cost of less than $45 will now be identified on the course schedule as providing OER. This initiative will make open educational resources more transparent and accessible by allowing students to skip the process of searching for such classes through the Co-op website or through their own research.
S.R. 1911 has further incentivized OER classes by supporting the creation of a University-Wide OER Faculty Award Program for professors who provide low-cost or free materials for their classes. Additionally, to continue dialogue and create an open forum for discussion, the UT Austin OER Working Group meets periodically to discuss current issues and initiatives related to OER. They invite anyone (students, staff, and faculty) to come and provide input during the meetings. Learn about how to join if you’re interested in getting involved.
UT has made strides in improving access to education for our university students. Through open education week, we are able to celebrate the progress and highlight faculty who have been integral in this process. However, our work here is not done. As we continue on our journey, we must remember that education – especially for tuition-paying university students – must be treated as a right, not a privilege.
Want to learn more about OER and opportunities to advocate for course materials affordability? Contact Ashley Morrison, Tocker Open Education Librarian (email@example.com)
On the night of March 24, 2022, the UT Tower will be lit in honor of the centennial of a crown jewel of our campus—the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection. Established as the Latin American library on campus in 1921, the collection is beloved by students and faculty, and visited by scholars from all over the world.
The collection was named in 1975 upon the retirement of revered head librarian and historian Dr. Nettie Lee Benson, who served as its director for thirty-three years, retiring in 1975. The stewardship of Mexico-born historian, archivist and educator Dr. Carlos E. Castañeda from 1927 to 1943 was similarly indispensable in the library’s earlier years. In 2011, the Benson joined forces with the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies (LLILAS) in a partnership known as LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections. This partnership has allowed for an expansion of the Benson in the areas of digital scholarship, post-custodial archiving and archiving of Indigenous languages of Latin America.
To honor the Benson Centennial, The University of Texas at Austin has invested in an interior redesign of the Benson’s main reading room—the first since its construction in 1971. The newly refurbished 6,734-square-foot room is the main entrance to the library and the heart of a place frequented by thousands of visitors each year.
The Tower lighting on March 24 coincides with the grand opening of this beloved space, renamed the Ann Hartness Reading Room, in honor of former head librarian Ann Hartness, whose thirty-eight-year tenure at the Benson enriched Brazilian studies and collections at the university. Its naming was made possible by a gift from Hartness’s son and daughter-in-law, who have also established the Jonathan Graham and Elizabeth Ulmer Fund for Library Materials on Brazil, an endowment to enhance the collection in the field of Brazilian studies. Graham and Ulmer have dedicated the remaining portion of their gift to create the Ann Hartness Benson Collection Matching Fund.
The Benson Centennial Tower lighting is a moment for hope—that this jewel of the University of Texas Libraries may continue to open its doors to the university community and beyond for many years to come, that we may continue to pursue digital projects that make our collections available worldwide through open access, and that support for the richness of this collection will be a means to continue its growth, its inclusiveness and its accessibility to an ever-expanding audience.
In observation of Open Education Week, UT Libraries is proud to spotlight a few of our talented faculty members who are on the forefront of the open education movement as open educational resource (OER) authors! Because we can’t limit ourselves to just one week, we’re excited to celebrate open education throughout the month of March.
We’re continuing the series today with Dr. Jeannette Okur (she/her/hers). Dr. Okur coordinates the Turkish Studies program in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, and teaches a variety of courses in language, literature, film, and cultural studies. She completed her doctoral degree in German Language and Literature at Ankara University in 2007, in a department known for its engagement in the field of comparative literature. Dr. Okur is interested in approaches to teaching ‘culture’ and ‘society’ in the foreign language classroom, approaches to teaching critical reading and writing skills, and interdisciplinary approaches to the study of literature and film. Her Turkish textbook and online materials for Intermediate level students of Turkish, titled Her Şey Bir Merhaba ile Başlar, were published this past year by the Center for Open Educational Resources and Language Learning (COERLL). Her current literary research explores the relationships between perpetrators and victims of political violence portrayed in transnational novels by Turkish- and Iraqi-Kurdish writers in exile.
Dr. Okur graciously shared her experiences developing and sharing OER in the interview below.
Do you recall how you first became aware of open educational resources (OER) or the open education movement more broadly?
Yes, I learned about COERLL and OER textbooks through a presentation given by Dr. Fehintola Mosadomi about her multimedia OER project, Yorùbá Yé Mi, which was later published in 2011. I remember her talking about the dearth of materials available for teaching Yoruba culture and language and how she sought to rectify that problem by creating online materials that would be affordable and accessible to the small, scattered groups of students learning Yoruba. This idea of an alternate route for publishing curricular materials for a Less Commonly Taught Language (LCTL) stuck with me; and after my first option for publishing Turkish language materials via a traditional copyright failed, I turned to COERLL to find out more.
Last year, you openly published Her Şey bir Merhaba ile Başlar! Can you tell us a little about this resource? What was your primary motivation for developing it?
Sure, Her Şey bir Merhaba ile Başlar is a set of openly licensed curricular materials designed to facilitate Turkish language learners’ progression from the Intermediate-Mid to the Advanced-Mid proficiency level. Informed by the “Flipped Classroom” and “blended instruction” models, these online and print-on-demand materials encourage learners to use language to investigate, explain and reflect on the relationship between contemporary Turks’ socio-cultural practices, products and their perceptions of family, love and marriage, environmental issues, art, film, and politics.
The Her Şey Bir Merhaba ile Başlar curriculum is composed of multiple components which exist over several platforms. All components are accessible on COERLL’s Her Şey Bir Merhaba ile Başlar project page. There, instructors and learners can access and use the media-rich textbook, the student guide, the teacher guide, and the WordPress/H5P site. Quizlet sets, YouTube videos, and other linked audio, video and print materials are built into the textbook itself. The primary organization of the course is through the Her Şey Bir Merhaba ile Başlar textbook and the WordPress site, which houses interactive, auto-correct exercises and activities, built in H5P and organized in modules that correspond to the four units’ lessons. The textbook is downloadable for free in PDF or adaptable Google Docs format and is also available for purchase as a print-on-demand book from Lulu.com and Amazon.com.
My initial motivation for developing it stemmed from frustration with the existing teaching materials for the Intermediate level, which did not speak to the interests of my students or meet their practical learning needs, much less match the broader learning objectives I’d envisioned for my second-year Turkish language courses. Over time, I realized that my approach to scaffolding texts and facilitating vocabulary/grammar practice might appeal to other North American teachers of Turkish as well. From the beginning to the end of the project, I sought to create units that would do the following:
Introduce learners to culturally and socially significant phenomena in Turkey today and hone their cultural analytical skills through tasks that foster reflection, comparison, and articulation of findings.
Introduce learners to a variety of authentic print, audio and audio-visual materials aimed at native Turkish audiences and guide them to use (and reflect on) the reading, listening, and viewing comprehension strategies needed to understand these Advanced-level texts.
Engage learners in active recognition and repeated practice of new vocabulary and grammar items.
Guide learners through meaningful practice of oral and written discursive strategies specific to the Advanced proficiency level.
Why was it important to you to license your work openly?
Most teachers of LCTLs in North America spend countless hours creating and revising their own curricular materials and assessments each year, without ever being able to publish them, because no traditional publisher will ever make a profit off of their sales. As a result, much of these individuals’ life-long creative work disappears when they retire from the field – and is rarely shared with others along the way. Hence, it was important for me to license my work openly in order to be able to share it professionally (at all). I believe strongly that OER projects bring wider visibility to pedagogical work and facilitate professional development among the community of educators who engage in critical reflection of educational resources. Much attention has been paid to the student end of the equation, for it is certainly true that OER materials increase access to educational materials for a wider range of learners, especially those underserved by traditional educational opportunities. They help students, districts, and educational institutions save money; and because they often include more diverse perspectives and representation and can be updated or adapted quickly for specific learner groups, they improve student performance and satisfaction. Their accessibility also attracts informal learners; thus, they can serve as a gateway from informal learning to formal educational programs. But I think the innovative professional communities being built thanks to Open Educational Practices (OEP) are just beginning to be discovered. Just as open scholarly resources foster more scholarly research, open pedagogical resources foster pedagogical exchanges that are more detail-oriented and can yield practical, sharable outcomes.
What has been the biggest benefit of using OER?
That’s a good question, to which I don’t yet have a data-driven answer, because I’ve only just started using the materials in their published form in my classroom this year. I’m sure that the current published materials are 100 times more user-friendly and aesthetically pleasing than their predecessor pilot-versions, which involved hundreds of Word docs housed on Canvas and interactive exercises housed on a more antiquated auto-correct platform. Thanks to Nathalie Steinfeld Childre, COERLL’s graphic designer and web developer, the materials are now beautiful, seamlessly integrated via the media-rich textbook and the WordPress/H5P site, and much easier for my students to navigate, both in and out of the classroom.
However, I would like to learn more about other instructors and learners’ experiences with the materials. To my knowledge, Her Şey Bir Merhaba ile Başlar! is currently being used (at least in part) in second-year Turkish language courses at five universities and one university consortium in the United States. To learn more about how these users are implementing the materials and how satisfied they are with them, I hope to conduct a qualitative survey and/or interviews with instructor and student users in the next several months. I hope that this survey and interview data will give us better insight into how well the OER has met its goals.
What was the most challenging part of producing your own textbook?
There is definitely a learning curve to understanding how the various open licenses relate to each other, and what can and cannot be used in your work due to the particular license you’ve chosen. Beyond that, I sometimes found it very difficult to find written texts that were level-appropriate, interesting and openly sourced; and so I spent a lot of time seeking permission from newspaper columnists, editor-in-chiefs, and other authors to use their copyrighted material in this educational project. The concept of OER is not well-known in Turkey, beyond the realm of academia that is. Convincing some authors or institutions that their work would receive a wider audience and contribute to international language learners’ knowledge and understanding of Turkish culture and society (without detracting from their existing published status or profits) was a difficult task. In some cases, I succeeded, received written permission, and was able to integrate fantastic pieces of original work into the textbook; in other cases, my request was rejected. More often than not though, I simply got no answer – which COERLL and I decided to interpret as a “no”. Producing an openly sourced foreign language textbook requires persistence and patience and the ability to “think outside the box” when one cannot at first find exactly what one is looking for. It’s really a labor of love, I think.
How have your students responded to the material? Did you notice a change before and after using OER?
My students have responded positively to the material, and certainly like the fact that it is free. I have only been teaching with the materials in their current published form since August, and so haven’t been able to detect a huge difference in students’ response to the materials, although I think that the integrated nature of everything makes for easier navigating. I can say, however, that some of the content has already started to get old – and may be speaking less to students, especially undergraduates, who always want the latest and freshest examples of “culture”. That is an issue I will have to address in the next 2-3 years by updating and replacing some parts of the textbook.
What would you say to an instructor who is interested in OER but isn’t sure how to get started?
If they are foreign language instructors, I would advise them to attend the annual Language OER Conference hosted by the University of Kansas Open Language Resource Center and UT’s COERLL, because it offers them a convenient forum to learn about a variety of OER projects being developed by foreign language educators. In particular, they can learn a lot about why individuals have chosen particular technologies or platforms to house and organize their material. I would also advise interested foreign language instructors to work through COERLL’s Introduction to OER for Language Teachers, a series of modules on searching for, licensing, attributing, remixing, revising, creating, publishing, and sharing OER, or to start small by participating in COERLL’s FLIITE Project, through which they can learn to build OER lessons.