There’s still time left in the summer to take in a few books and an exhibit currently on view at the Perry-Castañeda Library has some suggestions to offer.
“Vacation in a Book” features staff-selected volumes with a broad travel theme for your summer leisure reading pleasure. Staff offer recommendations for everything from a 16th century travelogue to fantasy stories in which the characters travel to another land.
Graduate research assistants in Teaching and Learning Services Ginny Barnes and Natalia Kapacinskas supplemented recommended items with other adventurous materials from the Libraries’ collections (including an oddity about cats in Istanbul available through our Kanopy streaming service).
As with all of our displays, “Vacation in a Book” highlights our deep circulating collections, this time in a fun and summery way to highlight the varied interests of our staff.
On view on the third floor of PCL through August 3.
Liaison Librarian for Physical and Mathematical Sciences Lydia Fletcher is currently co-chairing the STEM Librarians South conference, which brings together information professionals and academics from across the Southern U.S. and beyond to share their ideas, current research, best practices, and unique insights that help librarians advance the cause of STEM education and research.
When not organizing conferences, Lydia provides research, teaching and publishing support for all students, faculty and staff in the departments of Physics, Mathematics, Astronomy, Statistics & Data Science, Computer Science and Electrical & Computer Engineering.
She graciously agreed to answer a few questions about her work and experience for us.
Tex Libris: First love — librarianship or science?
Lydia Fletcher: Definitely science! Especially space science – I wanted to be an astronaut for a really long time, and I went to Space Camp when I was 10. Some of my favorite memories as a kid involved going to Johnson Space Center in Houston. I couldn’t get enough of the place! But at some point I got more interested in history and literature, and even though I was always excited by whatever NASA was doing, for a while I focused on other things.
Lydia Fletcher: Definitely science! Especially space science – I wanted to be an astronaut for a really long time, and I went to Space Camp when I was 10. Some of my favorite memories as a kid involved going to Johnson Space Center in Houston. I couldn’t get enough of the place! But at some point I got more interested in history and literature, and even though I was always excited by whatever NASA was doing, for a while I focused on other things.
Where did you study?
LF: I did my BA at the University of Texas at San Antonio and did a Master of Studies degree at the University of Oxford in the UK. Both of those were in English, and it wasn’t until I started working in libraries and got my MSIS here at UT that I realized that I could work with scientists as a librarian. And that I love it!
When did you join the UT Libraries, and what drew you to Texas?
LF: My three year anniversary with the UT Libraries will be on August 15! Some days it feels like I just got here, and other days it feels like I’ve been here forever. Texas is home for me – I’m from San Antonio – and UT is an exciting place to work. I love getting to interact with the researchers here, especially the folks at McDonald Observatory.
Speaking of, you undertook a reorganization project for observatory a few years back. What did that entail, and what was the experience like?
LF: The folks out at McDonald Observatory wanted to make some improvements in the Otto Struve 82” Telescope (the original 1939 telescope) building ahead of their 80th anniversary this summer. The library collection had spilled out of the library into the hallways and they wanted me to help them clear those hallways. I got to spend a week at McDonald Observatory – which was amazing! – and at the end we identified materials to be brought back to Austin. I also helped them get former director Harlan Smith’s collection displayed more prominently and created a display collection of works by and about McDonald Observatory. It was a great collaboration and I’m very proud of how the library looks now.
What are your responsibilities?
LF: As a liaison librarian, I support students, faculty, and staff with their research needs in the departments I liaise with: Astronomy, Computer Science, Electrical & Computer Engineering, Mathematics, Physics, and Statistics & Data Science. At the moment that looks like working with faculty to make sure they understand some new National Science Foundation Open Access mandates, but it also includes a range of reference and scholarly communications support.
What aspect of your job is the most fulfilling?
LF: Solving puzzles for people. Sometimes I get reference questions where someone has an incomplete or incorrect citation, and I really love figuring those out. Or looking for a translation – recently someone wanted a translation of an article written in the Soviet Union in the 40s. I tracked a translation of it down to a microfilm held by the British Library and was able to scan a copy for the researcher. That was fun!
Your studies were in the humanities, but you’re immersed in science now. What are the differences you see in the discipline-specific approaches to research and general library use by STEM and humanities folks, and do you recognize any differences in styles within the departments you liaise with?
LF: Scientists are so different from people who do research in the humanities. Scientists use different materials from those in the humanities – most scientists rely on journals instead of books, but they also need things like datasets and specialty software. So, most of the students from those areas look to the libraries for computers where they can access all those things. I love that the Libraries IT staff do such a great job making sure we provide software like Mathematica and LaTeX. Of course, there are outliers even among scientists – Math researchers tend to be different from other scientists, and actually more like humanities researchers in that they love books!
What do you think the prospects are for wider adoption of open access practices by STEM faculty and researchers?
LF: It’s a little funny for me to talk about Open Access adoption because the departments I work most closely with – Physics, Math and Astronomy – are already committed to not just Open Access publishing but Open Science principles like data sharing. It’s almost universal to see Physicists and Astronomers making versions of their articles available as preprints, and most Astronomical data is publicly available. But they’ve been doing it for a long time already – the Arxiv preprint server was developed by Physicists in the early 1990s. I definitely think other disciplines will adopt open practices, but it will take some time. It doesn’t happen overnight. We just have to keep working on sustainable models and promoting them.
What are you reading this summer?
LF: I just finished “American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race,” since I’m so excited about the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
Still want to travel to space? Mars mission perhaps? Or the Space Force?
LF: If anyone at NASA or SpaceX is reading this and looking for a librarian to go to Mars, they can definitely call me.
The Perry-Castañeda Library got a bit damp from the recent wet weather. A little too damp, actually.
On Friday, May 3, the Austin area experienced a series of thunderstorms beginning late in the afternoon that dumped a little over 4 inches of rain in the span of a few hours; not a remarkable amount in normal circumstances, but enough to create problems when you have a hole in the side of your building due to a ground-level construction project.
As a result, the unfinished drainage system being incorporated for the construction of the university’s Admissions Welcome Center wasn’t able to handle the volume of water and allowed a significant amount of water entered through the site and into the operational areas of the basement (1st) level at PCL.
“This is not unusual or considered a failure of the system; it’s simply an in-progress state,” said Jill Stewart, associate director of Project Management and Construction Services. “Due to the nature of incomplete work, the site had not been graded in such a way to purposefully direct water away from the Welcome Center site.”
By that evening a student who noticed pooling water on the ground floor reported it to Libraries staff, and when facilities and preservation personnel were notified of the emergency they activated protocols to protect materials and enlisted the contractors to tackle the larger problem. Staff stayed into the early morning hours to assist the contractors in sandbagging the vulnerable construction area and coordinating with a water damage vendor to begin remediation of the affected spaces and prevent further spreading of moisture into other areas of the building.
Roughly half the floor was affected by flooding, including the InterLibrary Services, several offices for Libraries technology staff and the Texas Digital Library, and the area behind the service desk in the Map Room.
Given the dramatic nature of the incident, the Libraries collections and building fared quite well. The only library materials damaged were ten maps which were triaged and treated for water damage on the night of the flood — all of which have been salvaged for future use— and other items that were at nominal risk were nonetheless relocated for protection. The building level itself was inspected and treated to ensure the containment of moisture with a battalion of dehumidifiers and fans deployed throughout the floor, which ran nonstop for the days required to fully dry out the space.
Director Lorraine Haricombe was laudatory of the staff’s quick response to the emergency.
“We all, of course, wish this had not happened, but I am thankful that our library – and our University – can count on such dedicated and resourceful staff to respond when these things do happen,” said Haricombe.
“A number of staff members at PCL on Friday stayed long past their scheduled shifts and others came in from home or other locations, despite the downpour that evening, to help deal with flooding in ILS and the Map Room. Their efforts made it possible to move hundreds of collection items out of harm’s way and minimize damage to the collection.”
Aside from some temporary inconveniences to relocated staff and the chagrin of principals on the construction project, we consider ourselves pretty lucky. The concerted response by all involved has resulted in a speedy return to normal just in time for summer break.
“Now, when a young architect tells me about a project he’s proud of, I say, ‘Get photographs!’” — Frank Welch, On Becoming an Architect
Texas architect Frank Welch developed this outlook after one of his seminal creations – The Birthday in Sterling County, Texas – was plastered over in a renovation by a new owner, against the entreaties of Welch himself.
The Birthday was especially personal to Frank Welch as it was the first project for which he’d been given virtual carte blanche to design a building. So when he learned in 1997 – on the eve of receiving a major award for his work – that the current owner of the iconic building was planning to encircle Welch’s creation with a renovation of the original structure, he felt a profound sense of loss.
“I think the appropriate longhair word for what happened to the Birthday would be transmogrified. That was when I began to realize that nothing does endure,” recounts Welch in On Becoming an Architect.
Frank D. Welch was born in Sherman, Texas in 1927. An early affinity for drawing led him to art classes, where he honed his artistic abilities and developed a love for photography and architecture. By the time he graduated high school, he’d begun to think about becoming an architect.
In 1944, Welch enrolled at Texas A&M as a liberal arts major, but joined the Merchant Marine in order to avoid the draft, but after a 6 month stint and subsequent resignation, he was called up for Selective Service anyway. He served 18 months, then returned to College Station and enrolled in the architecture program.
Though recognized primarily for other strengths, A&M was a little-known bastion for modernist architecture. Welch posited that it was the prevailing aesthetic that made the area a natural fit for the school: “Architecture, coupled with technology, could improve people’s lives. Modernist design might have been urbane and sophisticated, but it appealed to the practical bent of an agricultural and engineering school.”
Welch earned his bachelors in 1951 and after accepting a one-year Fulbright Scholarship to France, returned to Texas to work at the firms of noted architects O’Neil Ford and Richard Colley, both of whose papers are also included in the Alexander Archives; Welch’s time with the two had a significant influence on his style, but it was Ford who brought him to the firm, and who made the greater impression on him. “Most important to me,” says Welch, “I would, from the exposure to Ford, become an architect with a template: a model that guided me. From him I learned how to put building parts together in a direct, logical manner. Throughout my career, I would repeatedly think to myself, ‘How would Neil do it?’”
In 1959, Welch opened his own firm – Frank Welch & Associates – in Odessa in the basement of his brother-in-law’s clothing store, and a year later moved the practice to Midland, where it operated until the mid-1980s. Welch moved the firm to Dallas in 1985, and continued designing buildings until his death in 2017. The firm primarily designed residences but was also active in commercial and public projects, with notable projects like the Midland Episcopal School (1963), the Forrest Oil Building (1974), the Blakemore Planetarium (1972), the Purnell House in Dallas (1981), and the Nasher-Haemisegger House in Dallas (1997).
But it was the hunting cabin at Sterling City that Welch designed for John and BLee Dorn that was his masterwork. The Birthday was taught in classes and the building quickly came to be seen as an icon of regional architecture. When TSA decided to present Welch with the organization’s distinguished 25-Year Award in 1997, they did so for the first time in tandem with another remarkable feat of Texas architecture, the Kimbell Museum – the only time that it has been given to two built works.
Above his work in the field, Welch’s interest and background in writing and literature led him to pen multiple volumes and contribute to several others, including On Becoming an Architect: A Memoir(2014), Thirty Houses, 1960-2012: Selected Residential Works of Architect Frank Welch(2015), and his essential work on another iconic American architect, Philip Johnson & Texas (2000). He also served as adjunct faculty at various institutions – Rice University, University of Houston, University of Texas at Arlington and University of North Texas – and received accolades throughout his career, including the John Flowers Award in recognition of his writing and the Medal for Lifetime Achievement from the Texas Society of Architects, and Welch was the first recipient of the O’Neil Ford Medal for Design Achievement.
The Frank Welch Architectural Collection at the Alexander Architectural Archive presents the history of Welch’s firm spanning a period of over 50 years of practice (1959-2012). The university received the initial donation of materials for the archive in November 2011, consisting of research and reference materials (manuscript and photographic) and oral interviews pertaining to Welch’s book Philip Johnson & Texas (2000). Another, considerably larger donation was received in May 2012.
Currently processed materials indicate that the collection includes 150 linear feet of manuscript and photographic materials, 649 rolls or drawings (approximately 29,000 sheets) and approximately 10,000 slides of architectural projects. Most of the manuscript materials (ca. 1960-2010) are project files – or client files – and specifications. Professional papers include original research and writings, correspondence, clippings, association and committee papers, jurying and teaching materials and award entries. Office records are represented by business correspondence, phone message and work order books, and reference files. These include information on other architects and firms as well as architectural, landscape, and decorative resources. Personal papers are limited almost exclusively to correspondence.
Uri Kolodney is the Hebrew, Jewish and Israel Studies Liaison Librarian as well as liaison for Film and Video at the UT Libraries. He recently took time to talk about his love of books and traveling abroad in search of rare volumes in a brief interview.
When did you start at the Libraries, and what made you decide to become a librarian?
Uri Kolodney: I started working on my Masters in Information Science (MSIS) at the Information School in Fall 2002, and got a job at the Libraries a couple of months later on December 2002. Worked as a GRA until my graduation, and started a full time position on September 2004.
I always loved books and reading and was a pretty nerdy child with thick horn-rimmed glasses and all. When I was 14 I even cataloged my own book collection at home (LOL). When I grew up I worked as a book restorer and paper conservator and also owned a book restoration business. Did that for around 15 years, and then decided to move to the States and get a librarian degree. So basically I worked with books all my life….
Do you keep up with your preservation skills? Also, I assume you have a pretty large personal library. What’s your favorite personal volume?
UK: I still keep my preservation ‘tool box’ with all kinds of scalpels, scissors, and knives, but I didn’t use it since I closed my business in Tel Aviv.
Favorite volume – tough question… I’d probably say the Hebrew translation of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey… and also The magic of walking (English) – a great book from 1967 about my favorite outdoor activity.
Can you characterize your current job responsibilities?
UK: I am currently wearing two hats at the library – I manage the Hebrew/Jewish/Israel studies collection, and I also manage the library’s budget (across all subjects) for film & video. For each of these main areas, I am responsible for research support, scholarly communication, digital scholarship, collection development, engagement, and outreach.
Tell me a bit about your collections strategy for your subject areas. How do you decide what to buy, and how do you acquire it?
UK: The decision in what areas to collect has to do with the actual scope of the current collection, current research on campus, and the bibliographer who was/is curating the collection. When UTL started collecting Jewish and Hebrew resources almost 100 years ago, naturally the first items acquired were rabbinic literature, Kabbalah, Jewish history, philosophy, and law. By now we hold almost every seminal text in these subjects. During the years, different librarians collected in various subjects according to their own professional and personal connections, as well as their own interest. Those before me concentrated on Jewish items in Hebrew and Yiddish published mainly in the US, South America, and South Africa, with less attention to modern Israeli resources. Faculty and student requests are a great selection tool, as they reflect the current intellectual interest on campus. This intellectual ‘activity’ should be reflected in the collection. Communicating with ‘my’ faculty members, I know what are their research topics, so I’d select items that would fit their preferences. Sometimes, collection decisions have to do with cooperative initiatives among colleagues and universities across the US. For example, when it comes to Israeli cinema, my peers know that I am ‘taking care of it,’ so they would not duplicate efforts. On the other hand, I know that Ohio State and Arizona State collect extensively in other areas (literature/poetry and fanzines respectively), so I would be much more selective when it comes to those subjects.
For the mainstream Hebrew/Jewish/Israeli collection I rely on vendors’ catalogs, and once every few months I’d sit down and select relevant titles. I also select items ‘on the fly,’ or when the opportunity arises – either through correspondence with vendors, special offers, unique item that come up in an auction, etc. By now vendors I work with in Israel already know what I’m looking for and would let me know if anything that falls under my criteria comes their way. Consuming all sorts of media content in Hebrew (newspapers/blogs/social media), sometimes I would learn about a new ‘cool’ publication which would be a good candidate for the collection. Jewish resources in English are obviously purchased locally, and are much easier to get. Acquisition trips are another way to enrich the collection with unique items that cannot be purchased remotely online. Networking with vendors and collectors in the ‘field’ allows me to put my hand on rare items which I could not get any other way. These items are what makes our collection so special, as in many cases we are the only holders of these items.
Currently the prioritized subject areas I collect are Israeli cinema and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – that means everything which is and about these topics, either in Hebrew or English. Rarely I’d collect in other languages as well. Other topics of importance are Jewish and Israeli literature.
As for film & video, I solely rely on faculty and student requests, as our priorities in this area lie with teaching and curriculum needs on campus. Sometimes I would cooperate with subject liaisons and we would share expenses according to our funding policy. All of these purchases are done online, communicating with distributors, production companies, and individual directors/producers.
How do Libraries collections in your subject areas complement other notable special collections on campus, say for instance the Gottesman Collection or Isaac Bashevis Singer papers at the Ransom Center, or the Texas Jewish Collections at the Briscoe? Do the presence of those local collections impact your own area collections practices?
UK: While the Briscoe mainly holds personal archival collections of notable individuals, the UTL collection would hold the actual published works by those individuals, or works they have owned. For example, the Briscoe holds the Henry Cohen papers. Cohen (1863-1952) was a prominent Rabbi in Galveston between 1888 and 1949. But his personal library was donated to UT Libraries in 1948; it included over 5000 volumes related to rabbinical literature, Jewish history, as well as general sociology, psychology, and literature. Upon receipt, the Hebrew portion of the collection was named “The Henry and Mollie Cohen collection of Hebraica and Judaica.” During the years, when collections were moved around and re-arranged, this collection was included in the general PCL collection.
Another example is the HRC South African Judaica collection. While this collection mainly holds books, the PCL collection of South African Jewry complements it with many rare and unique holdings of South African Jewish periodicals. My predecessor in this position, Nathan Snyder (1944-2009), had personal and professional connection in South Africa and managed to build a unique collection of South African Jewish periodicals.
In my collection efforts I am trying not to duplicate holdings which already exist at the Briscoe or the HRC, as my goal is to strengthen our current collection with items not yet available on campus. Yet, since HRC and Briscoe holdings do not usually circulate, in some instances one could find a circulating copy of a specific title at PCL. From time to time, if I come across an item which would complement existing subject areas at PCL, I would definitely consider it for purchasing, even if it would not fall under current collection priorities.
Tell me a bit about your acquisitions trips. How do you decide when and where to go, and how have you established or built relationships with vendors overseas?
UK: Since the distinct language I collect is Hebrew, the only geographical area appropriate for international travel is Israel. Materials in other languages that have to do with Jewish, Hebrew, and Israel Studies could be purchased remotely either in the US or Europe. Depends on budget, I would usually go once a year during summer, usually around June. This is the time when the Israeli “Book week” is taking place around the country, and it is a good opportunity to come across alternative/non-mainstream items with reduced pricing. Sometimes I would plan my trip around specific conferences or film festival, in order to take advantage of opportunities to meet vendors and colleagues. Book fairs or film festivals present one-time opportunities, with limited edition publications which could not be purchased once the event is over. For example, in July 2016 I attended a reception at the Jerusalem Film Festival and managed to put my hand on a limited edition of the first issue of a new Israeli cinema periodical. It was never sold in the marketplace, and ceased publication in 2017, after its second issue was published. UT Library holds both issues and is the only institution outside of Israel to do so.
When I go on an acquisition trip, I would usually take one week to visit the big cities (Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa), and by now I know to which stores or markets to go to and where I could find what I am looking for. The second week I would travel to more remote or less-known locations, such as special book stores in kibbutzim, or institutions and organizations which are in the ‘periphery’ of the country. Planning the trip, I would schedule with individual collectors or vendors who live and work away from the main cities, and these are usually the locations where I would find the most valuable ‘treasures.’
Another aspect of an acquisition trip is the invaluable networking with colleagues and vendors. During the years I managed to establish professional relationships with both mainstream, well-established vendors, as well as individual collectors, book shops’ owners, and auction houses. Since the marketplace is pretty small, it’s easy to make contact and get introduced. The personal face-to-face encounters are always the best way to get to those unique items I am looking for. Sometimes I would make the contact via email while planning my trip, and then would meet ‘in the field.’ Then, while visiting and meeting face-to-face, more contacts are ‘revealed’ and since I’m already there, I could go and pay a visit to newly introduced vendors. For example, just last month, during a private vacation in Tel Aviv, I accidently realized via social media that a well-known local collector is selling his collection. While paying him a visit two days later, I got introduced to other vendors and collectors; when I came back to Austin, this encounter already proved to be useful, as I have purchased additional materials from those new acquaintances.
I’m sure over the last 15 years, you’ve seen the Libraries undergo a lot of changes. What hopes do you have for the future, and what parts of the library tradition do you expect to (or want to see) hang around?
UK:Indeed, I’ve seen many changes during my time here, in services and spaces we offer, as well as in budgetary and curatorial priorities. Understandably, changes and shifts are part of life; also those in the workplace and the profession itself are unavoidable, and in most cases, highly appreciated by patrons. My hope is that the Libraries would continue to put patrons at the top of its priority list. Our patrons, students and faculty alike, are those who create and advance research, and we need to make sure we accommodate their needs, in any level and any field.
I like it that patrons see the Libraries as a hub on campus, and I like it that they see us as experts they could approach for help. I wish it would continue this way!
Later this summer, three UT researchers will find themselves in the Arctic. Dr. Emily Beagle, currently a CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow working with Research and Data Services in UT Libraries, will join colleagues from mechanical engineering, Dr. Josh Rhodes and Dr. Todd Davidson aboard the National Geographic Explorer for a 12-day sustainability and leadership training in Svalbard, Norway. The expedition, Climate Force 2019, equips leaders with resources and actionable solutions to fight climate change.
The Expedition will be led by renowned explorer Sir Rob Swan, the first person to walk to both Poles. Over 90 other participants will join them from more than 25 countries with backgrounds in entrepreneurship, sustainability, energy, and education. This is more than just a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore the Arctic. Participants will attend presentations and trainings given by other group members to share expertise, cultivate collaborative relationships and develop actionable solutions for a more sustainable future. Beagle, Rhodes and Davidson will be giving presentations on their energy related research while on the trip.
“We were invited to apply by Sir Rob Swan when he visited UT last year and then had several rounds of application essays and interviews before being formally accepted to the group.” Beagle says. “It’s an honor to have been asked to join such an esteemed and accomplished group of people that make up not only the Expedition leaders but also all the other participants.”
“As engineers and energy experts we will be the ones to develop the solutions needed to solve climate change so it is important for us to be there at the table for these conversations.” Beagle says.
Emily Beagle is a CLIR Fellow in Data Curation for Energy Economics currently in residence at the Libraries.
The Texas Archival Resources Online (TARO) consortium and the University of Texas Libraries have received a grant of $348,359 from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to enhance their efforts to provide researchers worldwide with access to collection descriptions of archival primary sources in libraries, archives and museums across Texas.
This grant builds on a 2015 NEH Humanities Collections and Reference Resources Foundations Grant which enabled planning in key areas including shared best practices, training documentation and outreach to current and potential members and users. Grant activities will include a redesign of the TARO web platform to improve functionality and appearance, a review of Encoded Archival Description (EAD3) encoding standards, work towards standardizing existing control access terms (geographic names and subject headings) and training to support participation for TARO members.
TARO was first supported by a research grant from the Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund (TIF) Board of the State of Texas in 1999. The University of Texas Libraries (UT Libraries) served as the requesting institution, with project partners including the Texas Digital Library Alliance, Rice University, Texas A&M University, Texas State Library and Archives, Texas Tech University, University of Houston and the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. With these grant funds, UT Libraries established the TARO website, outsourced encoding of several hundred finding aids and provided training to member repositories. Repositories began contributing their own hand-coded finding aids in 2002. UT Libraries continued to support TARO after that initial grant. In June 2018 TARO formalized its institutional home as a program of the UT Libraries and a permanent MOU was signed.
“Having the State Archives’ finding aids available online in TARO, a consortial environment, where there are many shared and related topics among the materials held by member repositories, provides untold opportunities for discovery of our unique resources,” said Jelain Chubb, Texas state archivist and director of the Archives and Information Services Division at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.
The grant will fund work through April 2022 and will be administered through the University of Texas Libraries. Libraries’ Director of Digital Strategies Aaron Choate will serve as the grant’s principal investigator. Members of the TARO Steering Committee and its subcommittees will carry out work as outlined in the grant.
“As a founding partner in TARO, UT Libraries has been proud to support the project over the years and we are excited to have the opportunity to work with the team to enhance the future of this vital collective project,” said Aaron Choate, Director of Digital Strategies at The University of Texas Libraries.
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Texas Archival Resources Online (TARO), a program of the University of Texas Libraries, is a consortial initiative that facilitates access to archival resources from member archives, libraries, and museums across Texas to inform, enrich, and empower researchers all over the world.
ABOUT THE NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE HUMANITIES
Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at: www.neh.gov.
Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this article, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Too often, the support that libraries provide to users goes unnoticed. Much like electricity or running water, the services and resources that backstop the central work of research and learning at the university don’t get much attention unless something prevents them from being available. Students routinely assume that the Libraries’ website just leads them to other websites that have the articles they need. Researchers who access journals directly from web searches in their offices can’t understand why going to those same links when they’re off campus generates a page requesting payment for a resource. Users rarely conceive how a book requested through interlibrary service can arrive in their hands from points across the globe in a few short days.
Libraries tend not to focus much attention on blowing their respective horns. Mostly they’re too busy bootstrapping the work they’re expected to do. But they’re also doing the unexpected, especially in areas of need associated with reliance on modern technology. So let’s take a look at how the Libraries Information Technology (LIT) team spends their time when they’re not keeping a website that serves 10 million people a year running or managing the hundreds of computers and providing support for the untold volume of hardware and software required by a top-tier academic library.
The Libraries has discernible connections to complementary organizations on campus like the Harry Ransom Center and the Briscoe Center for American History; the historical ties to these collections are long-standing, and the Libraries is an ever-present supplementary resource for researchers at those campus gems. But our LIT team also provides the technical backend support for the HRC and Briscoe Center that allows them to focus efforts and resources on more essential work. They administer the Ransom Center’s staff portal that provides support for the professionals that care for the center’s world-class collections. And our team have helped to build and manage several sites that provide web access to the Briscoe Center’s high profile collections, including the archives of journalist Dan Rather and former Texas Governor Bill Clements and provide the digital versions of the center’s Sanborn Fire Maps collection.
LIT also plays a central role in developing digital scholarship tools with researchers and faculty from across campus, but especially heavily in the area of digital humanities. For more than 10 years, the Libraries has worked in the creation and management of Voces, a Latino/a experience oral history site developed by Dr. Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez of the Moody School of Communications; Voces celebrated a relaunch of their enhanced website last year. The Libraries worked with associate professor of English and comparative literature Geraldine Heng to build a web portal for to the digital resources collected through the Global Middle Ages Project for collaboration among scholars to weave together independent work into a cohesive resource. LIT has also worked with Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services (LAITS) to support the digital efforts of the Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America (AILLA), which will include resultant work from an NEH grant AILLA received last year.
Libraries’ technology expertise is also deployed in service of academic units around campus in support of learning and research on campus, by helping to provide access to departmental-specific digital collections. Faculty in the College of Fine Arts (COFA) relies heavily upon the Fine Arts Library’s digital image collections for teaching, and staff in the library coordinate with LIT to make those resources available through the portal to the Visual Resources Collection.
The support our LIT staff provides extends far afield of campus, too. Significant global partnerships — especially those connected to efforts at the Benson Latin American Collections — have been reliant on core contributions from the Libraries. Initial work developing a landing site (Kigali Memorial Centre) for the Kigali Genocide Memorial, where digital records of the survivor testimonies reside, were handled by Libraries’ IT staff in coordination with Benson archivists and KMC staff. The Libraries’ also provided the resources for the construction of Primeros Libros, an international effort by collecting institutions to digitize the first books published in the Americas. One of the most notable and controversial projects endeavored by the Libraries was to help facilitate the digital preservation of the Guatemalan Police Archive (AHPN), a cache of over 10 million documents that provides evidence of human rights violations in the Central American country between 1960-1996; LIT has helped to build, maintain and enhance the web resources of this project since its inception, ensuring that this important record won’t be lost to sociopolitical transitions in the region. More recently, staff from LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections and the LIT team have been building upon a project — initially funded from a 2014 Mellon grant award — that takes a more comprehensive approach to preserving the culture and history of Latin America. The Latin American Digital Initiatives (LADI) repository represents multiple collections shared through the practice of post-custodial archiving to catalog digital resources provided by our southern neighbors.
Beyond their hands-on expertise, Libraries’ technology professionals have accepted roles on various committees across campus to help guide university policies in technology and digitization, currently holding seats on the Central IT Executive Commission and Identity & Access Management Committee. Our staff are not just regarded for their excellence in libraries, they are recognized as leaders in the field.
The stereotype still prevails at times, but it’s worth reinforcing: the library is not simply a book storehouse. It is an active participant in the digital environment, and essential – though much of the time, behind the curtain – to the successful work of others.
Though the lights will on occasion go off, and the water may cease to flow, our committed experts doing their best to make sure that on normal days, things are working better than they should and library users are none the wiser.
Michael Shensky joined the Libraries last year as the GIS and Geospatial Data Coordinator to enhance the resources available from the Research Data Services unit with added expertise in Geographic Information Systems, which are increasingly becoming central to our online lives. Shensky took some time to talk about the importance of GIS and where he sees it in the future.
Michael Shensky: Whenever I’m asked what GIS is, and I often am when I tell people what I do for a living, I always start with a very simple definition and expand from there. I typically tell people that GIS is an acronym that stands for geographic information systems and that it is the technology that is used to manage the data behind many of the maps they encounter online and in mobile apps. I also find it helpful to explain that the “geographic information” part of GIS refers to geospatial data (data that features both coordinate information identifying a place on Earth and attribute information that describes something located at that place) while “system” refers to the software and hardware components that are used together to manage this unique type of data effectively.
GIS is incredibly important in our daily lives because it is used to guide and facilitate much of the work that local governments, state and federal government agencies, utility companies, non-profit organizations, and academic researchers carry out. If all GIS software were to suddenly stop working tomorrow, it would be very difficult for those who rely on geospatial data to effectively manage their operations and this would have a dramatic impact on the lives of everyone, not just GIS users. For instance, cities might have difficulty assigning work crews to conduct road repair work if they cannot access their database of pothole locations, fire departments might struggle to respond to the locations of emergencies if they can’t quickly look up the location of an address, and technology companies would see apps that include mapping functionality suddenly break as the data fails to load properly.
While most people do not realize the significant role that GIS software plays behind the scenes in the operations of many organizations, if they look closely enough they can find traces of its impact in their daily lives. If they come across a map when browsing the web, there is a very good chance that GIS software was used to design its layout and manage the data behind the features depicted in it. If a new store or restaurant opens in their neighborhood, it is likely that GIS software was used to analyze demographic and consumer spending data for their local area to determine that this would likely be the most profitable location. If they use the routing functionality built into their car dashboard, the street data used to route them was likely created or edited with GIS software. If they visit the website of their local city or county, it is quite likely they will find a web page designed specifically for sharing geospatial data that has been developed with their taxpayer money and which has been made publically available for anyone to download and use in GIS software.
Given the organic nature of its development, how can standards be developed to manage the proliferation of GIS data?
MS: In the GIS world, there are open standards developed by non-profit organizations like the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) and there are often competing proprietary standards developed by for-profit companies like Esri, whose software products dominate the GIS industry in the United States and many other countries. While we are very fortunate that these standards exist so that there is agreement on how data should be structured and how it should be read by GIS software, there are downsides to having multiple standards to choose from. Having multiple standards to choose from puts GIS professionals in a tough position when we want to share data with others, since we often need to ensure that data is available in multiple standard formats to make it easy for other GIS users to work with the data regardless of whether they are using open source software or Esri’s ArcGIS software. This situation is further complicated by the fact that the popularity of specific standards can fluctuate over time and occasionally completely new standards are developed while older standards may fall into disuse and become functionally obsolete.
For the geospatial data in the UT Libraries’ collections that we are currently in the process of trying to make more easily accessible, we are aiming to share the data in every common standard format that we can. Our goal is to facilitate access to our data for all GIS users, regardless of which software they use or standards they prefer. This approach of making shared datasets available in multiple formats has become quite common on data portals operated by other universities as well as those developed by cities, counties, and federal government agencies. As any good organization would, we plan to stay on top of the latest geospatial data standards and ensure that we are making datasets available in the formats that GIS users expect to find and like to work with.
How did you become a specialist in GIS?
MS: That’s actually a really interesting question, because I sometimes look back on the last decade and wonder that myself. The career path I envisioned for myself shifted quite a bit during my college years and a few chance decisions that didn’t seem particularly significant at the time ended up playing a very substantial role in leading me to the position I’m in today.
As a junior, I was contemplating my changing my major to anthropology or geography since I had really enjoyed taking classes in both disciplines, and I ended up selecting geography partly because I knew that GIS was a required class in that program and that this class would provide me with a technical skill upon graduation. At the time, I had never used or even seen GIS software but I knew it was used to make maps and that sounded really interesting to me. I didn’t actually end up taking that required GIS class until my last semester as an undergraduate and I did I was a surprised to find it a little less exciting and more challenging than I had originally expected. Right after graduation I started applying for a variety of jobs that I thought I might qualify for and the first one I was offered was a paid GIS internship. I didn’t find the job all that interesting at first and during my first few months there did not see myself making a career out of GIS.
This initial lack of fulfillment actually even ended up being a contributing factor in my decision to enroll in a Geography graduate program – I wanted to develop new skills that would open up different job opportunities. While in grad school I continued to work at this same GIS job part time and found that I started to become more interested in the work I was doing as I was assigned more advanced and challenging projects. Because of the GIS skills I gained in this role, I was offered a GIS research assistant position during my last two years of graduate school and then ended developing my master’s thesis project from the work that I did in this role. By the time I completed the work for my master’s degree, my perspective on GIS had changed dramatically, and when I was offered a full time job teaching GIS classes and managing the GIS computers labs for the Geography department at California State University, Long Beach, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to advance my career in GIS. I ended up spending several years in this position which allowed me to further develop my technical skills, gain teaching experience, and develop an even greater respect for the value of GIS software in academic research – all of which prepared me for well for my current role here at the UT Libraries.
What sort of projects have you been working on at UT?
MS: I’ve been working on a few different projects since I started here at UT, the biggest of which is focused on developing a new geospatial data portal that will be part of the UT Libraries website. This portal will allow users to search for geospatial data in our Libraries’ collections that can be used with GIS software. We have been referring to this project internally as the “GeoBlacklight” project because it uses open source software of that name to provide a web interface and data search capabilities. We are optimistic that this project will be completed in the first half of 2019 and that it will be available to the campus community before the start of the fall semester. Once it is rolled out, visitors to the website will be able to search through a variety of geospatial datasets including georeferenced scanned map images from our PCL Map Collection and vector datasets developed from items in other collections like the Benson Latin American Collection and Alexander Architectural Archives. I’m really excited to be a part of this project because I know this portal has the potential to benefit everyone in the campus community regardless of their role and area of specialization. Once the portal is finished and made available, it should be easy for faculty to find data that they can use to develop instructional materials, for students to find data they can use in research projects, for Libraries staff to find data they can use to highlight notable collections, and for everyone in general to browse through when curious about the interesting maps and datasets we have available here at the UT Libraries.
addition to the GeoBlacklight project I have also been working on a program of coordinated outreach and education about GIS both internally within the libraries and externally with departments across campus. As part of this effort I have helped organize events like our recent Local Perspectives on the State of Open Data discussion panel which brought GIS experts from the City of Austin, Travis County, Texas General Land Office, and Texas Natural Resources Information System here to campus to share their thoughts on GIS and open data. I’ve also taught several GIS focused workshops that provided an opportunity for all members of the campus community to learn about GIS and further develop their geospatial research skills. In order to introduce library personnel to some of the capabilities of GIS I’ve also spoken at and helped organize a series of linked data information learning group meetings. I’ve been glad to see that this multifaceted approach has been successful in helping get the word out about GIS on campus and I’ve noticed that I am starting to hear from more and more people each week who are looking to learn more about how they might be able to use GIS in their work.
What are some of the interesting ways GIS will be used in the future?
MS: While it’s impossible to know exactly how the way in which we use GIS might change in the future, I think there are a few developments that are all but certain. One of the major developments I foresee is growing awareness of GIS and rapid improvement in the capabilities of open source GIS software like QGIS leading to greater adoption of GIS software in a variety of disciplines and industries. If this prediction proves accurate, the lowering of financial and technical barriers that currently hold people back from using GIS software would greatly benefit small businesses, startups, non-profits, municipalities with limited resources, and more. It should also have a profound impact in the academic world as it will make it easier for researchers to incorporate GIS into their work. I think we will see GIS software being used much more widely in fields like history, journalism, linguistics, ethnic studies, and in the humanities more generally. If this does in fact happen, it will not only open up new avenues for research in these fields but will also make it easier for those working in these different disciplines to work together with each other across departments because they are using a shared technology. Even in disciplines where GIS is already widely used, like geology, biology, geography, and anthropology, I think there will be increased rates of adoption, especially among researchers in developing countries who can start using open source GIS software without having to worry about expensive software licensing or significant software limitations. From my experience in a previous GIS position at another university, I saw firsthand how difficult it could be for researchers in my department to work with colleagues from universities in other countries whose institutions could not afford access to the same proprietary software resources until they all started using open source software to facilitate collaboration.
In addition to the many benefits I think we will see from growing awareness of GIS software and open source GIS software in particular, I think GIS technology will become more useful and powerful as technology continues to improve. Perhaps the biggest impact on GIS will come from new and emerging categories of mobile devices that will make it possible to view and interact with geospatial data in ways that are quite different from the manner in which we engage with geospatial data now on the flat screens of our computer monitors and cell phones. In the 9 years that I have been in this field, there have been several completely new categories of devices that have been released (smart watches, augmented reality glasses, and virtual reality headsets being the most notable) all of which can be used to display new types of maps and I think we will see these technologies mature in a way that will affect how maps are made.
Virtual reality is the currently the most significant of these technologies for working with geospatial data due to the availability of relatively affordable consumer grade headsets and their ability to give users a three dimensional immersive map experience. While I think virtual reality maps will become increasingly common and useful, I think augmented reality devices ultimately hold the most promise of any emerging technology. Right now augmented reality glasses are held back by their high price points, large size, and limited field of view but companies like Microsoft, Google, and Apple have all indicated that they are working on addressing these challenges. If any of these companies (or newer companies like Magic Leap who are also focusing on augmented reality technology) can create a wearable device similar in size to a pair of regular sunglasses, sell it for close to the price of a high end cell phone, and have it effectively overlay 3D objects on top of a user’s normal field of view, I think this would revolutionize how GIS professionals manage data and produce maps. It would also of course open up enormous opportunities for researchers who are looking for new ways to explore geospatial data and visualize their research findings. While a breakthrough like this may not happen this year or next, I think it is just a matter of time before our technology reaches this point and GIS software will have to adapt to facilitate the production of geospatial content for these new types of devices.
While I’ve been working in the Black Diaspora Archive (BDA) for just under two months now, I’ve already experienced and learned so much. BDA’s mission is to document the Black experience in the Americas and Caribbean. Under the guidance of our inaugural Black Diaspora Archivist, Rachel Winston, I’ve been given the opportunity to do my part in accomplishing this mission.
Currently, I’m processing the Judith Bettelheim Papers and making that collection available for researchers to use. Dr. Judith Bettelheim is a retired university professor, curator, and art historian, specializing in Afro-Caribbean festival and performance arts. Throughout her long and accomplished career, Dr. Bettelheim has helped to expand the field of art history beyond the limited lens of Western art and has pushed for the increased prominence of African and African Diasporic art in published scholarship.
Among other materials, the Judith Bettelheim Papers include handwritten field notebooks and interview transcripts from her trips to Caribbean nations, hundreds of photo slides of Caribbean festival performers, and research relating to her exhibitions and publications on Cuban visual artists like José Bedia and Eduardo “Choco” Roca Salazar. Being able to handle these records has allowed me to gain a better understanding not only of Dr. Bettelheim, but also of the people and places on which she’s focused so much of her life’s work. Preserving cultural heritage and making the records of historically underrepresented individuals and groups widely accessible is definitely a privilege, and it makes coming to work every day something to look forward to.
Beyond gaining valuable hands-on experience with archival materials and all the steps present in making them ready for research use, I’ve also been able to shadow Rachel in her daily work and better understand what it means to be an archivist not simply in theory, but in practice. And I’ve learned that depending on the day, it means a lot of different things – deinstalling exhibitions, providing reference support in the Reading Room, preparing materials for the next exhibition, visiting classes to discuss the work we do as archival professionals and how students can incorporate archival practices into their own documentary efforts, installing a new exhibition, and so on.
In my short time in the Black Diaspora Archive, I’ve already found myself involved with an active and dedicated community focused on providing a space for those who historically have not had any and a voice for those who have often been silenced. It’s been an inspiring and eye-opening experience, and I’m looking forward to becoming even more involved over the coming months.