By Daniel Arbino, Librarian for U.S. Latina/o Studies
They are colorful, vibrant, tongue-in-cheek, eclectic, expressive, melancholic, and political. They are self-published, sold, traded, and given away. Extremely rare, but inexpensive. And now, they are on display. The University of Texas at Austin’s Latino Studies has a flashy new exhibition in the halls of the Gordon-White Building (GWB). Made up of self-published poetry, essays, photographs, short stories, and artwork, Dissent: Zine Culture (And the Voices You Wouldn’t Hear Otherwise) highlights the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection’s U.S. Latinx Zine and Graphic Novel Collection with over forty zines.
The term “zine” is derived from fanzine, a form of expression that started in the 1930s among science fiction fans. Zines took off in the 1960s among countercultures, particularly those invested in socio-political activism that may have identified with civil rights movements, the Chicano movement, Feminism, LGBTQ+, etc. From the 1970s to the 1990s, zines continued to grow, especially through punk communities. Now, zines are more popular than ever, with a variety of subject matter that can be disseminated using twenty-first-century technologies like social media or Etsy.
What makes zines so important is that they provide an outlet for groups that have been overlooked or silenced by mainstream society and, by extension, publishers. Through self-publishing, creators of cultural content have autonomy over their content and design. This would resonate with the intersectionality flourishing within Latinx communities.
The origins of the U.S. Latinx Zine and Graphic Novel Collection started in the summer of 2017 with the single purchase of Chifladazine at the Lone Star Zine Fest in Austin. Since then, the collection has grown in its size and uniqueness with additional purchases made on trips to San Antonio, New York City, and Albuquerque. Other zines have been purchased online over the span of two years. The collection currently consists of 259 zines, graphic novels, and chapbooks that focus on U.S. Latinx zine creators. Some Indigenous writers are included as well. The Benson’s oldest zine is from 1984, but the majority were published within the last decade.
One particular interest has been on different, but inclusive, Latinx voices, with a special privilege given to feminist and LGBTQ+ expressions. Within the collection, there zines about Xicana veganism, traditional knowledge systems, gentrification, immigration, and body positivity that dismantle ways in which mainstream society thinks about these topics. Their relevance underscores the fact that zines provide a documented record of opposition, hence the exhibition title.
Curated by Mallory Laurel, the Director of Outreach and Communications for Latino Studies, Dissent: Zine Culture (And the Voices You Wouldn’t Hear Otherwise) recognizes the power that self-publishing has as a means to challenge accepted mainstream ideas while attracting the attention of students with their eye-catching formats. The exhibit is thematically structured around seven different themes: health & body, love & relationships, politics & protest, place & identity, medicinal folklore, St. Sucia Zines, and zines that come in different shapes and sizes. Though each scope is different, all aim to enunciate new modes of representation; all refuse to accept silence.
While this particular collection is new, the Benson has a history of collecting ephemeral materials such as Puerto Rican graphic novels, Brazilian cordel literature, Cuban historietas, and cartoneras. Our goal is to offer a wide breadth of materials from Latinx and Latin American populations. To that extent, Latinx zines and graphic novels participate in a hemispheric attempt to use self-publication as a means to articulate perspectives on community and identity. In housing zines at the Benson, we show creators that we value their message, support and promote their work, and want them to succeed. To our patrons, we want to emphasize the inclusivity of our collection and of our space.
The Dissent exhibition will run until December 10, 2019. Patrons can visit the Benson Latin American Collection to access our other zines and should continue checking back periodically as the collection grows.
Durante el verano, LLILAS Benson y el Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen (MUPI) en El Salvador agregaron otra iniciativa digital a su portfolio de colaboración. Desde 2012, las dos instituciones han trabajado juntos para digitalizar archivos relacionados a la Guerra Civil Salvadoreña (1980–1992), gracias al generoso apoyo de la Fundación Andrew W. Mellon. Continuando estos esfuerzos, esta nueva iniciativa también exploró el potencial de las humanidades digitales para destacar una de las colecciones más impresionantes de MUPI: los bordados testimoniales de refugiados salvadoreños.
Los testimonios sobre la violación de derechos humanos se presentan en diferentes formas, y el fundador y actual director de MUPI, Carlos “Santiago” Henríquez Consalvi, ha procurado preservar la diversidad. Poco después de la firma de los Acuerdos de Paz de Chapultepec en 1992 que pusieron fin a la Guerra Civil Salvadoreña, Santiago dirigió una campaña para rescatar el patrimonio cultural creado antes, durante y después del conflicto armado. Esto ha incluido propaganda política, publicaciones y las grabaciones de la estación de Radio Venceremos. Desde su fundación formal en 1999, MUPI ha continuado esta preservación y ha expandido su enfoque para incluir varios temas sobre la cultura e historia salvadoreña.
La colección que ha crecido más recientemente, y el enfoque de esta nueva iniciativa, consiste de bordados testimoniales creados por campesinas salvadoreñas refugiadas en Honduras durante la guerra civil. Estas piezas fueron creadas para comunicar al mundo las experiencias vividas de los refugiados, y muchos de los textiles se enviaron a grupos y organizaciones de solidaridad en Europa y Canadá para ello. Gracias a una campaña internacional reciente, más de veinte obras han sido repatriadas y enviadas a MUPI. A través de talleres en las comunidades rurales de El Salvador, MUPI ha renovado el aprecio por esta tradición cultural, promoviendo el arte y los esfuerzos de repatriación a través de una exposición titulada Bordadoras de Memoria en la capital.
Ahora que los bordados están volviendo a casa, MUPI está utilizando tecnologías digitales para continuar el trabajo de abogar por los derechos humanos que estas mujeres comenzaron en la década de los 1980s. Para alcanzar y educar a un público más amplio e internacional, específicamente jóvenes descendientes de salvadoreños en los Estados Unidos, el Museo trabajó con el personal de Estudios Digitales en LLILAS Benson (LBDS) para recrear Bordadoras de Memoria en línea. En junio, el equipo de LBDS viajó a San Salvador y capacitó al diseñador gráfico de MUPI, Pedro Durán, en el uso de la plataforma Omeka para que pudiera reconcebir la exhibición digitalmente, utilizando fotografías preliminares de los bordados. El equipo también aprovechó la oportunidad para hablar sobre otras herramientas de código abierto que el personal de MUPI puede usar en su trabajo con jóvenes locales.
La visita también lanzó otro proyecto archivístico pos-custodial para ambas instituciones. Dado el tamaño de algunas obras (la pieza que se muestra arriba es más de 2.5 metros de largo), el proyecto requirió un flujo de trabajo completamente diferente en la digitalización y entrenamiento en nuevos equipos. Capacitados por el personal de archivos pos-custodiales (PC) de la Colección Latinoamericana Benson, el equipo de LBDS trabajó con el personal de MUPI para iniciar la digitalización y la descripción archivística de los bordados. El equipo de PC espera incorporar la colección al portal Latin American Digital Initiatives a finales de este año, así que estense atentos.
Over the summer, LLILAS Benson and El Salvador’s Museum of the Word and the Image (often referred to by its acronym, MUPI, for Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen) added yet another digital initiative to their long-standing partnership. Since 2012, the two institutions have worked closely to digitize archival materials related to the Salvadoran Civil War (1980-1992), thanks to the generous support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. While continuing these efforts, this time around the collaboration explored the potential of digital humanities tools to showcase one of MUPI’s most visually compelling collections—embroidered refugee accounts.
Testimonies of human rights violations come in different forms, and MUPI’s founder and current director, Carlos “Santiago” Henríquez Consalvi, has actively sought to preserve the diversity. Soon after the signing of the 1992 Chapultepec Peace Accords that ended the Salvadoran Civil War, Santiago directed a campaign to rescue cultural heritage created prior to, during, and after the armed conflict. This has included political propaganda, periodicals, and the Radio Venceremos station recordings. Since its formal foundation in 1999, MUPI has continued this preservation and expanded its collecting and educational scope to include various topics in Salvadoran culture and history.
Its most recent growing collection—and the focus of this newest collaboration—consists of remarkable embroidered testimonies created by refugee Salvadoran peasant women in Honduras during the civil war. These pieces were meant to communicate to the world the refugees’ lived experiences, with many of the textiles being sent to solidarity groups and organizations in Europe and Canada at the time. Thanks to a recent international campaign, over twenty artworks have been repatriated and sent to MUPI. Through community workshops in El Salvador’s countryside, MUPI has striven to renew appreciation for this cultural tradition, promoting the art form and subsequent collecting efforts through an exhibition titled Embroiderers of Memories in San Salvador.
Now that the testimonies are making their way back home, MUPI is using digital technologies to continue the advocacy work these women began in the 1980s. In an effort to educate a broader and international audience, specifically El Salvadoran-descendant youth in the United States, the Museum worked with LLILAS Benson Digital Scholarship (LBDS) staff to recreate Embroiderers of Memories online. This past June, the LBDS team went to San Salvador and trained MUPI exhibition designer Pedro Durán on how to create digital exhibitions in LLILAS Benson’s Omeka platform so that he could reconceive his design online using working scans of the embroidery. The LBDS team also took the opportunity to introduce MUPI staff to other open-source digital humanities tools that could enrich MUPI’s active engagement with local youth groups.
The visit also launched another post-custodial archival project for both institutions. The initiative required an entirely different approach to digitization and new equipment training, considering the size of some of these artworks; for example, the piece pictured at the beginning of this blog was over 8 feet long. Pre-trained by the Benson’s post-custodial (PC) staff, the LBDS team worked with MUPI staff to start the archival-quality digitization and item-level description of the embroidery collection. The PC team hopes to incorporate the collection into LLILAS Benson’s Latin American Digital Initiatives later this year, so stay tuned.
Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen
Carlos “Santiago” Henríquez Consalvi (MUPI Director)
Carlos Colorado (Digitization Coordinator)
Pedro Durán (Graphic Designer)
Jakelyn López (Archive Coordinator)
Dr. Jennifer Isasi (CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow)
Albert A. Palacios (Digital Scholarship Coordinator)
Traveling internationally to secure unique and distinctive
acquisitions for UT Libraries and to make essential academic connections for UT
Austin is one of the true joys of serving as Middle Eastern Studies Librarian.
In June of this year, I traveled to Istanbul, Turkey, for two weeks. I focused
on collecting Arabic titles published in Turkey and investigating study abroad
opportunities for graduate students in the Middle East and Islamic Studies programs
I had the pleasure of flying into the brand new Istanbul airport, located on the opposite side of the city from the stalwart Atatürk Airport that I knew so well. I arrived at the end of Ramadan, which meant that I got to enjoy Bayram (the Turkish name for the festival celebrating the end of Ramadan) sales. I stayed in the neighborhood of Kuzgüncuk, a small, religiously diverse section of the city on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, just before the first bridge. There were several local book and magazine sellers, as well as produce vendors. It was from one of the local produce vendors that I learned of a children’s bookfair happening on the Asian side of the city, and I made a plan to visit it in the coming days.
While in Istanbul, I was able to receive a title for which I
had been hunting in Egypt, Majallat al-Qaḍāʾ al-Sharʿī. There are only a
handful of copies of this title around the world; yet, it is a crucial source
for the social and legal history of early 20th century Egypt. So what makes a “rare” book in Islamic Studies, like this one?
Researchers at U.S. universities
may often conceptualize a rare book as something necessarily old, a “first
edition,” a banned title, etc. These are all potential markers of a rare book
or special material, but they are not the only factors that librarians consider
when making acquisitions for their collections. Consider government/official
publications. They are often ephemeral in that they arere published for one run; they are often difficult to find because they are
seen as an archival burden for someone else (presumably the government or
organization); and, on top of all that, they may on the surface appear dull,
dry, or irrelevant to deep (particularly historiographical) analysis. Even if
one decides to go after government publications, it can be nearly impossible to
track them down for these reasons. When I do manage to track them down, I’m
often asked, why this?
Thanks to this acquisitions
trip, I managed to obtain a copy of Majallat
al-Qaḍāʾ al-Sharʿī, a briefly-issued
publication of a judicial training school in Alexandria. It includes articles
by figures who would end up shaping the Egyptian judiciary for decades to come,
and provides insights into the political history of early 20th century Egypt.
Cautiously, I may say that the UT Libraries will
be the sole North American institution with the full set of volumes for this
title (they are in processing now).
During my time in Istanbul, I also had opportunities to explore
new and old publications and to learn more about the current frontiers of
Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies scholarship. I visited the Hilye-i Şerif ve Tesbih
Müzesi (museum of manuscripts honoring the Prophet Muhammad, and prayer beads)
to see excellent exhibits of stunning manuscript illumination and religious
arts. I also stopped in to the official government Turkish manuscripts
publications office to check on the latest Arabic
and Ottoman editing developments. Additionally, I had the pleasure of meeting
up with a PhD candidate from Princeton University, to hear about her research
and projects and to get the impressions of a junior scholar on the state of
research in Turkey and other parts of the Middle East.
As my trip continued, I reflected on how book buying can be
simply wandering around––somewhat aimlessly––and relying on serendipity
(although I admit to wandering neighborhoods known for bookshops; I cannot
leave everything up for chance). I found myself in awe of the materials
selection available in the average bookshop.
Stopping in at one in Üsküdar (Asian side of Istanbul), I found books in Turkish,
Arabic, French, English, and German; translations of seminal works such as the
biography of Muhammad Ali; Turkish conference proceedings that fill gaps in our
collection; a large and diverse children’s section; premier Turkish Studies
scholarship; and popular hero fiction.
There was a sign in the bookshop that read “3 books, 10 Turkish
lira.” The shelves below it were a gold mine of popular fiction that will
augment UT Austin’s Turkish literature collection and expand the options for
our students to read during their intensive study of the Turkish language. I
was able to procure them at a fraction of the price we would normally pay
through other venues.
Additionally, I had the pleasure of meeting up with Murteza
Bedir, Dean of the Faculty of Divinity and Professor at Istanbul University. We
spoke about our research projects, upcoming conferences, recent publications in
Islamic Studies, and Turkish Islamic Studies graduate programs.
Professor Bedir also took me to the symposium on the history of
science in honor of the late Fuat Sezgin at Istanbul University. Scholars from
around the world—Turkey, U.S., Uzbekistan, and others—presented their latest
research and reflected on Sezgin’s contributions to the field. It was quite a
time to be in Istanbul.
I continued my work making critical connections as the PCL and the UT Libraries Middle Eastern Studies librarian for
both collections and scholarship opportunities by meeting with Recep Şentürk,
professor of sociology and president of Ibn Haldun University in Istanbul, and
some of his advanced graduate students. We met at the university’s Süleymaniye
campus, housed in an Ottoman-era madrasa next to the Süleymaniye Mosque,
following their class on Abu Hamid al-Ghazali’s Ihya’ ‘Ulum al-Din.
Professor Şentürk knows of my interest in Arabic critical editions produced in
Turkey, and graciously brought the first publication of the Ibn Haldun
University Press—Mulla Gurani’s commentary on the Qur’an—to share with the UT
Libraries. UT is the first university library in the world to acquire this
edition, and I look forward to following the publications of this new press.
I am grateful for, and awestruck by, the generosity and
hospitality with which I was met in Turkey, and which made my trip possible. I
extend my sincere gratitude to the UT Libraries and the Center for Middle
Eastern Studies for supporting my travel and acquisitions in Istanbul this
“I am a Libra (Virgo cusp) with VI — The Lovers destiny”: Celebrating the Birth and Life of Gloria Anzaldúa by Julia Davila Coppedge
Image of Gloria Anzaldúa by Annie F. Valva.
Seventy-seven years ago, on September 26th, Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa was born to migrant farmers Urbano and Amalia Anzaldúa in Raymondville, Texas. As the oldest of four, she helped work on ranches and farms to help support her family. It was during this time in the Valley that she first learned about discrimination against Mexican Americans. Anzaldúa would later leave South Texas, living in other parts of the state, and in Indiana and California. She would also spend a large part of her career traveling internationally. But, her experiences growing up in the borderlands would influence her writing for the rest of her career, as she alludes to, when states that “I am a turtle, wherever I go I carry ‘home’ on my back.”
a self-described “tejana patlache (queer) nepantlera spiritual activist.” Her contributions to U.S. American
literature, U.S. feminisms, queer theory, postcolonial theory, and Chicana/o
Studies cannot be overstated. Anzaldúa
won many awards in her lifetime including the National Endowment for the Arts
Fiction Award (1991) and the Lambda Lesbian Small Book Press Award (1991).
Anzaldúa died on May 15, 2004 due to
Diabetes-related complications. It is fitting we celebrate Anzaldúa’s life in
the middle of Hispanic Heritage
Month, which is observed September 15th – October 15th.
at UT Austin
received her master’s degree in English and Education in 1972 at UT and
returned in 1974 to pursue a PhD in Literature. In the foreword to the third
edition of This Bridge Called My Back:
Writings By Radical Women of Color, she reflected on her stuggles at UT: “As a
Chicana, I felt invisible, alienated from the gringo university and
dissatisfied with both el movimiento Chicano and the feminist movement…I
rebelled, using my writing to work through my frustrations and make sense of my
While at UT
Austin, Anzaldúa also taught a class called “La Mujer Chicana.” During this
time she struggled to find materials that reflected the experiences of her
students, which drove her to edit the anthology.
“When Borderlands was published there was
hardly a public discourse addressing multiculturalism. Anzaldúa’s persistent
mixing of cultures, languages, and even writing genres, as exemplified in the
structure and content of Borderlands,
was blasphemous. The ‘cultural wars’ were in full force inside and outside the
academy. The 1980s and early 1990s was an era of the mainstream academics
fighting to preserve the Western canon and of political mobilization by
conservatives to add an amendment to the Constitution establishing English as
the official language of the United States…. Under these historical conditions
the publication of Borderlands was an act of courage was well as innovative
intervention to continue advocating for cultural diversity, the inclusion of
sexuality in all academic and political production, and a call to social
justice based on inclusion rather than exclusion.”
2012, twenty-five years after it was published, Borderlands was banned in the Tucson Unified School System in
Arizona, as a part of a law banning Mexican American Studies in public schools.
Pérez and Cantú said the ban “affirms the value of the work even as it attempts
to deny it.” This policy was lifted in 2017 after a federal judge in Arizona ruled
In 2001, just
three years before she died, Anzaldúa
reflected on the work of feminists of color in the foreword to the third
edition of This Bridge Called My Back,
saying “Yes, collectively we’ve gone far.” She continued, “But we’ve lost
ground–affirmative action has been repealed, the borders have been closed,
racism has taken new forms and it’s as pervasive as it was twenty-one years
ago.” Eighteen years later the fight of People of Color, the LGBTQIA+
community, and working class people continues.
Emma Pérez says of Anzaldua’s work, “Long after the end of this century, her philosophy will endure. Gloria was an unassuming philosopher-poet whose words will inspire generations. She articulated our past to make sense of our present…She looked to the past to excavate hope for the future.”
This hope is
reflected in Gloria Anzaldúa’s words, which inspire us today and are a
testament to her lasting impact and legacy:
Lee Benson Latin American Collection is home to the personal archive of Gloria
Anzaldúa, which contains “personal
and biographical materials, correspondence, written works, research materials,
photographs, audiovisual materials, and artifacts” documenting her life and
“The Benson Collection is also composing a complete
bibliographic list of Anzaldúa’s personal library of more
than 5000 books. This is an ongoing project, and interested researchers should
contact the rare books
reading room for this information.”
“Inez Hernandez Tovar and Gloria Anzaldúa discuss
the political context and cultural work of Chicana writers. They explain that
the Chicano movement provided some Chicano and Chicana writers the support and
forums necessary to share their work. While mainstream publishing presses
ignored minority voices, Chicanos and other groups were creating their own
journals. These journals helped legitimate bilingualism among Chicanos as a
vehicle of Chicano expression. Chicanas and Chicanos felt free to publish works
written in a mixture of Spanish and English that reflected the language(s) they
felt most comfortable in.”
“In this memoir-like collection, Anzaldúa’s powerful
voice speaks clearly and passionately. She recounts her life, explains many
aspects of her thought, and explores the intersections between her writings and
postcolonial theory. For readers engaged in postcoloniality, feminist theory,
ethnic studies, or queer identity, Interviews/Entrevistas will be a key
“This reader–which provides a representative sample
of the poetry, prose, fiction, and experimental autobiographical writing that
Anzaldúa produced during her thirty-year career–demonstrates the breadth and
philosophical depth of her work. While the reader contains much of Anzaldúa’s
published writing (including several pieces now out of print), more than half
the material has never before been published. This newly available work offers
fresh insights into crucial aspects of Anzaldúa’s life and career, including
her upbringing, education, teaching experiences, writing practice and
aesthetics, lifelong health struggles, and interest in visual art, as well as
her theories of disability, multiculturalism, pedagogy, and spiritual
“Ever since she can remember, Prietita has heard
terrifying tales of la llorona — the legendary ghost woman who steals children
at night. Against a background of vibrant folk paintings, Gloria Anzaldúa
reinterprets, in a bilingual format, one of the most famous Mexican legends. In
this version, Prietita discovers that la llorona is not what she expects, but
rather a compassionate woman who helps Prietita on her journey of
“Named for the Nahuatl word
meaning “their soul,” IMANIMAN presents work that is sparked from the
soul: the individual soul, the communal soul. These poets interrogate,
complicate, and personalize the borderlands in transgressive and transformative
ways, opening new paths and revisioning old ones for the next generation of
spiritual, political, and cultural border crossers.”
“The inspirational writings of
cultural theorist and social justice activist Gloria Anzaldúa have empowered
generations of women and men throughout the world. Charting the multiplicity of
Anzaldúa’s impact within and beyond academic disciplines, community trenches,
and international borders, Bridging presents more than thirty reflections on
her work and her life, examining vibrant facets in surprising new ways and
inviting readers to engage with these intimate, heartfelt contributions.”
“Mexican and Mexican American
women have written about Texas and their lives in the state since colonial
times. Edited by fellow Tejanas Inés Hernández-Ávila and Norma Elia Cantú,
Entre Guadalupe y Malinche gathers, for the first time, a representative body
of work about the lives and experiences of women who identify as Tejanas in
both the literary and visual arts.
The writings of more than fifty
authors and the artwork of eight artists manifest the nuanced complexity of
what it means to be Tejana and how this identity offers alternative
perspectives to contemporary notions of Chicana identity, community, and
This volume was dedicated
principally to Gloria Anzaldúa.
“Delgadillo analyzes the role of
spiritual mestizaje in Anzaldúa’s work and in relation to other forms of
spirituality and theories of oppression. Illuminating the ways that
contemporary Chicana narratives visualize, imagine, and enact Anzaldúa’s theory
and method of spiritual mestizaje, Delgadillo interprets novels, memoir, and
documentaries. Her critical reading of literary and visual technologies
demonstrates how Chicanas challenge normative categories of gender, sexuality,
nation, and race by depicting alternative visions of spirituality.”
“This collection of essays,
poetry, and artwork brings together scholarly and creative responses inspired
by the life and work of Gloria Anzaldúa. The diverse voices represented in this
collection are gathered from the 2007 national conference and 2009
international conference of the Society for the Study of Gloria Anzaldúa
(SSGA). More than 30 scholars, activists, poets, and artists contributed to EL
MUNDO ZURDO, whose release coincides with the SSGA’s second annual
international conference in San Antonio, Texas.”
“A collection of diverse essays
and poetry that offer scholarly and creative responses inspired by the life and
work of Gloria Anzaldúa, selected from the 2015 meeting of The Society for the
Study of Gloria Anzaldúa.”
“As self-identified lesbians of
color, Paula Gunn Allen, Gloria Anzaldúa, and Audre Lorde negotiate diverse,
sometimes conflicting, sets of personal, political, and professional worlds.
Drawing on recent developments in feminist studies and queer theory, AnaLouise
Keating examines the ways in which these writers, in both their creative and
critical work, engage in self-analysis, cultural critique, and the construction
of alternative myths and representations of women.”
Julia Davila Coppedge is the LLILAS Benson User Services GRA. She conducts in-person and online reference requests for patrons using library materials from the Special Collections and circulating collection. Julia is also a 2nd year Master of Science in Information Studies Candidate at UT Austin.
Despite his spare frame and quiet demeanor, Greg Lipscomb isn’t a wallflower, especially regarding his thoughts on the subject of libraries.
“The library is just in my veins,” he says. “I cannot imagine living in a society or a culture that doesn’t have a library.”
Lipscomb is the incoming chair of the UT Libraries’ Advisory Council and has just committed to a large planned gift for the Libraries, so I’m sitting with him to find out why.
He begins by recounting the period during his study at UT in the early 1960s when a confluence of history and wanderlust compelled him in a direction that would ultimately lead him on a fifty-year journey away from Austin, on an odyssey of professional work and travel that would brush against events of notable historical significance.
“It was at the end of 1961 – the end of my sophomore year – I was over in one of the massive reading rooms in the Tower with the beams above and the wide tables and so forth, and at the end of finals, I stood up and I went out and took on the world as best I could see it in my own interpretation,” says Lipscomb, “and I was gone from that sort of setting for 50 years.”
Lipscomb expresses that he wasn’t walking away from his college career or academic endeavor forever – he went on to graduate Phi Beta Kappa from UT – but the draw of civic responsibility was too compelling to ignore. This was the time of John Kennedy’s clarion call to public service, and the cacophony of protest was growing audibly across the campus.
“You have to realize that in the 60s, you could literally be in class — many times we had the windows open because there wasn’t air conditioning — and you could hear civil rights demonstrations out on Guadalupe,” he says. “And there was this pull. John Kennedy was in office and he was making politics elegant again for the first time since Roosevelt. And the notion of public service was big.”
The urge to be part of something larger than himself became too strong to dodge, and led him down a five-decade path which presented the opportunities that ultimately formed him as a person.
“I felt the need to play a concrete role in the changes that were happening, so I got involved in student politics,” he recounts. “I got involved in civil rights. I went off to the army because of Vietnam. I went around the world. I went to California and worked for Jerry Brown. Went to Washington and worked for the Democrats there. Went to Harvard for the Kennedy School,”
Lipscomb became an active leader in the student civil rights protests at UT, was elected student body president in 1964, and used his standing to make the final push to get the regents to integrate the dorms on campus. He and a carload of his journalism colleagues from The Daily Texan drove 800 miles to document the fateful march at Selma, Alabama. As a member of ROTC, Lipscomb landed in an intelligence unit at the Pentagon during the war in Vietnam. After hitchhiking around the world with his wife, he worked at the San Francisco Chronicle, which propelled him into California politics, including a position in Governor Jerry Brown’s administration. He later returned to D.C. as a speechwriter for the first African American chair of the Federal Communications Commission. Any pairing of these life events might be enough to mention; that they’re woven into a single period of a single life is remarkable.
Amid his extended interlude in the Beltway at the FCC, Lipscomb began to seek distraction through some of the intellectual rigor that he left behind in college. He surveyed his environs and eventually wound up bumping around the library at George Washington University (GWU). After being given broad access to resources there, he felt an obligation to do what he could to return the favor, and approached the library’s development office to make a donation. Library administrators thought that as someone with no significant ties to GWU, Lipscomb might provide a valuable perspective as chair of their advisory board. His acceptance of that role enjoined him to a cause in libraries.
“Several years later, I decided retirement was timely. I was burned out on Washington. It had changed in temperament.”
The experience at GWU also elicited a change in him. Lipscomb summoned the earlier version of himself, making a conscious attempt to return to the point in time when he walked out of the library back in 1961 to take on the world. He wanted to find a place to settle where he would have ready access to the knowledge resources of a library, and began to consider all the familiar places from his past.
“And then, in 2014, I came back to Austin and I sat down at the same place and picked right up where I left off. What I was reading, what I was writing,” he says. “It’s like T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets – ‘in my beginning is my end,’” says Lipscomb.
Lipscomb personifies this internalized value as “The Eternal Sophomore.” “That’s the kind of mindset I say with affection. You’re on the precipice, but your mind is still fresh, your attitude is fresh. And I saw the library reading room as a sort of cathedral, a sacred space. That’s sort of where I came back and picked up.”
“Coming back was a huge decision, and I came back humbled – and a little appalled at my arrogance sometimes along the way. Also proud of certain things and people I worked with, and causes I worked on. But I was ready to keep learning as a sophomore.”
And some undergraduates on campus might recognize him as a fixture in their world, or, perhaps, as a fellow traveler. Lipscomb’s loyalty to self-improvement through learning means he spends a significant chunk of his time on campus, much of it on the upper floors of the Perry-Castañeda Library.
“Within the closures of this building – if I had food and medicine – I could be here indefinitely,” he says. “Right now I spend about 20 hours a week – it’s a part-time job. I got up to that writing some personal stuff and just catching up on all the reading I never got to, the great reading.”
Lipscomb continued to feel a responsibility to the Libraries when he returned to Austin, wanting to carry through on the advocacy role he’d taken on at George Washington. He expressed interest to administrators at the UT Libraries, and was invited to join the council in 2014 where he has been a consistent participant not only at regular meetings, but as a vocal proponent and supporter both on campus and beyond.
Still, Lipscomb’s primary drive is in discovery and personal growth. That lengthy period of working on behalf of others has earned him the opportunity to focus on his interests, and he’s taking full advantage of it.
“The library to me is a great conversation,” he says. “I think of it in terms of books – but these books, they talk back and forth. And you can tell the mentor and the mentee — like in a translation of The Iliad or something — one passes on to the other. It’s the DNA of ideas. You can start out with just a germ of a phrase and watch it blossom into something right there.”
But even the bibliophile in Lipscomb recognizes the value of a diverse array of resources. He’s spoken extensively with library professionals about the transition to digital resources and the advantage it gives to preservation, and he’s been in active attendance at all of the public discussions in the last year related to a task force on the future of UT Libraries, where the conversation about the value of books and the impact of technology has real currency.
He especially appreciates the benefits that technology brings to research, particularly in making discovery significantly more efficient: “You can do it digitally. That’s a different training that I’m having to come up to, but I respect it. It’s easy to say, ‘Everybody’s just channel-surfing through nothing more than a paragraph or two.’ It’s a mile wide and an inch deep. But, also, you can search, you can go backwards and forwards. Software is beginning to mimic the brain, or learning as we know it.”
Whatever the challenges that have arisen since he was an undergraduate at UT, Lipscomb feels his experience all pointed him back to this place.
“I didn’t realize back in 1961 how much had been passed on to us in terms of the resources and the staff, the wonderful reading rooms – I didn’t realize until later,” says Lipscomb. “That’s when it occurred to me that I owed something.”
“The library function, role, the sanctuary, the passing on from one culture to another – it’s an optimistic enterprise,” he continues. “It says, ‘We have here your past, which is valuable, and you have to carry it forward.’ That’s what we do in the libraries. You owe current and future generations the gratitude that you received.”
“There is almost a Buddhist sense of circularity…returning to where you started. You come back and pay respects to the master that formed you. The mentor, the habits, the patterns, the depth of thinking.”
beginning of the academic year in the Fall is my favorite time on the 40 acres
when UT transforms into a small city of approximately 75,000 people within the
vibrant city of Austin. Despite the August heat, the excitement of new
students, staff and faculty is palpable as they navigate and explore the
campus, the opportunities and the resources available to them. This is exactly
where UT Libraries is a significant resource for you! Please check out our website to learn more about our library
materials, services, spaces and our librarians and staff who are ready to
assist you at every step of the way.
Perry Castañeda Library has the largest circulating collection on campus with
more spaces for collaborative work, group study rooms, tutoring and
technology-rich learning laboratories. The University’s Writing Center is
located here. There are several other disciplinary libraries around the
40 acres to suit your needs; learn more about the various library locations across
goal at UT Libraries is to facilitate knowledge creation whether you are a
student, an instructor, faculty or researcher. While this mission has remained
unchanged throughout the centuries, the way libraries deliver it has constantly
evolved. This evolution is also visible at UT Libraries where we have
constantly engaged our users to learn more about their needs. And it will
continue as new and emerging technologies impact our services and spaces while
policies in higher education will drive how researchers share their research.
In all of these scenarios
librarians and staff are ready to assist you. Everybody is welcome here!
words of wisdom to you: Make a librarian your best friend (forever); you will
not regret it!
I hope you have a successful and a productive year.