Even before entering the Perry-Castañeda Library, visitors can easily recognize that something isn’t normal. The bank of doors through which students normally criss-cross as they enter and exit the building have a web of stanchions to direct traffic in very specific ways. It’s a subtle change on the exterior that is an indication of what is happening inside the library in this very abnormal semester.
The energy at The University of Texas at Austin with three-quarters of the student population missing is just a pale shadow of what one would feel at any time at the height of a normal semester. Those who have lingered on the Forty Acres after commencement between summer sessions can attest to the feeling of emptiness that contrasts the otherwise bustling walkways, din of voices and, of course, traffic, of the regular class calendar.
In the waning days of each semester, as campus enters the gauntlet of finals, the Perry-Castañeda Library is normally splitting at the seams with students lighting up gate counts at all hours, especially overnight as they make the last surge toward the end of the long term.
Not this year, though.
The health crisis dictated a new, if temporary, way of life at the Libraries and around the university. When campus closed last March and the very real possibility of an extended hiatus settled in, we really had no way to conceptualize what the fall would look like, but as we progressed through the early months of the crisis, it became increasingly evident that the new academic year would not resemble any that we’d ever experienced before.
Early in the pandemic, the Libraries had to reorient to services and resources that could be provided remotely, or in service of remote productivity. Consultations and other research help, along with liaison activities became teleconference affairs. Because library stacks were closed to guard against viral transmission and physical resources wouldn’t be readily available, the Libraries coordinated digital access to many of the items that would remain dormant on the shelves through our partnership in HathiTrust – a collaborative of academic and research libraries preserving 17+ million digitized items. Due to copyright concerns, this meant that those physical items owned by the Libraries that were available digitally through the partnership could temporarily only be used in digital format to guard against any violations that could end the Libraries’ overall access to the repository.
Libraries’ staff continued to provide remote support for research help and the Libraries’ Chat service saw an initial sustained bump in activity. Teaching and learning staff – who normally do a fair share of in-person instruction and support for classroom learning – found innovative ways to participate at a distance. One librarian worked with an Undergraduate Studies first-year class professor to become more embedded in the course than usual in an effort to ensure that the students felt just as connected to and knowledgeable about campus and the Libraries as they would during a normal semester. In addition to supporting the research component of the class, the librarian hosted an online scavenger hunt in ZOOM as a engaging way for students to learn what resources and services the Libraries have now and in post-pandemic times.
While use of the physical collections necessarily flagged, one of our underutilized services saw a huge increase in traffic. The Libraries’ Captioning and Transcription Service helped respond to the shift to web-based learning by ramping up efforts to meet the needs of online classes with accessible transcription and captioning for campus. In March, the service racked up about 15,000 minutes of captioning; by end of the spring semester they were closing in on 20,000, and peaked just over 45,000 minutes in September.
By August, after months of migrating our services and resources to a primarily online-based enterprise, the Libraries and the rest of campus reopened with limitations for the fall semester. While a significant segment of resources and services were only accessible through our website, the decision was made in coordination with UT administration to reopen limited library spaces, primarily for scaled-back in-person services, and as a setting for student study and participation in online classes. The entry level of the PCL provided for those needs for the first few weeks before a decision was made to expand study areas to the 4th and 5th floors of the building. The historic reading rooms at the Life Science Library – the Hall of Texas and the Hall of Noble Words – were both opened solely for student study and online classes for those students who returned to campus for the semester.
Facilities staff from the Libraries spent a painstaking amount of time over the summer in preparation for the return of students to the PCL, reorganizing furniture to encourage social distancing, installing a forest of wayfinding directions for managing the flow of people through restricted spaces, erecting plexiglass dividers as protection for frontline workers and locating sanitization stations strategically throughout the building for users.
Capacity at PCL was initially set for 400 on the entry level, but expanded to 700 when the upper floors of the building were reopened for additional study space.
“The fall semester planning and preparation that was conducted over the summer proved to meet all of our needs and expectations,” says Geoff Bahre, Libraries’ Manager of Facilities and AV. “We planned to have approximately 700 patrons in PCL at one time for which we purchased personal protective equipment (PPE), and designed our spaces to support that number.”
A capacity counter was displayed at the PCL entry and replicated on the Libraries’ website to let visitors know whether they would be admitted, but visitation to the reopened spaces began at low levels and never elevated to a point where capacity limitations had to be enforced, remaining below 50% the entire semester.
“This semester the library has been considerably less busy, and quieter,” says Evening Service Desk Supervisor Stephanie Lopez. “Normally we see thousands of people a day wandering through the building and chatting with friends or asking for research help for projects, but none of that is happening now.”
Thanks to legwork over the summer, the Libraries were able to modify the retrieval service – Pick it Up – so that the campus community would have access to the bulk of physical collections, except that portion restricted by the HathiTrust agreement. PCL became the hub for distribution, and people were able to get their hands on sought-after volumes that had been embargoed by the crisis, while quarantining plans were instituted to insure that our resources weren’t inadvertently contributing to the spread of the coronavirus.
While the limitations are not optimal for everyone, users have been understanding.
“Most people are just happy that we’re open. We’ve definitely had a few folks upset with some of our changes, but that’s been pretty rare and we’re very grateful,” continues Stephanie Lopez. “The comments we get at the desk are from people who are so happy to be checking out books again, and from students who are glad for a change in scenery for their ZOOM classes.”
In order to gather information about how efforts to adapt to the crisis were being taken in practice, Libraries’ Assessment experts took stock of patron perspectives in a user survey late this semester. The Libraries received mostly positive marks, with some expected criticism of limited hours, space, stacks access and safety concerns. Some of the participant feedback included:
“Could not look through books because the section I wanted to look was on a restricted floor.”
“It was difficult wearing a mask for multiple hours.”
“I love that I could request books and that they would be ready at the desk when I arrived! Thanks so much to library staff for keeping that up for us.”
“I think you should be able to study with at least one other person. It makes it hard to do well in school without studying with somebody.”
“I noticed a lot of students take off their masks once they were seated. I think the PCL had great safety measures put into place, but I think they should have done better ensuring people followed them, especially the mask wearing.”
“I think longer hours would be an amazing addition since so many facilities around campus are closing earlier.”
“I think the way you have been conducting things is great. The online counter that keeps track of many people are at PCL is really helpful. Y’all should keep that even after COVID-19 is over.”
Regardless of the extent to which the Libraries were able to transition in the face of crisis, the prevailing feeling is that everyone is anticipating a return to regular operations.
“I used the libraries far less than I normally would if we weren’t in a pandemic,” explains Associate History Professor Aaron O’Connell. “I usually browse the stacks, and even hold class sessions at PCL to do research methods hands-on work. None of that was possible this past semester, so naturally, I am eager for PCL and the rest of UT to return to normal.”
The University of Texas Libraries have launched a new online platform that will provide staff with the opportunity to curate custom digital exhibits from content available through various existing digital repositories.
The Libraries have been developing online exhibit content for over 20 years, but lacked a comprehensive plan for sustainment. The complementary nature of Spotlight – which is a plugin for Blacklight software that is used for other Libraries’ online toolsets like the Collections Portal and the GeoData Portal – provides the opportunity to develop a more cohesive strategy for enhancing the lifespan and value of digital exhibit work hosted by the Libraries.
“One of the things that we really valued from our original efforts at creating online exhibits were the varied approaches each curator took to highlighting their content,” says Allyssa Guzman, project lead and Digital Scholarship Librarian for the Libraries. “We wanted to maintain that flexibility in framing content and purpose of the exhibits moving forward.”
After a website redesign in 2017, Libraries developers settled on an interim solution for creating small-scale curated digital collections using Omeka, a free, open-source content management system for online digital collections. The implementation of Omeka allowed the Libraries to both reformat and enhance existing digital collections and build new digital exhibits that included underlying metadata and contextual information that would made identification and discovery much more robust.
The initial phase of the Digital Exhibits platform involved the migration of existing Omeka-developed content, as well as some digital content from the Benson Latin American Collection into Spotlight, and planning for the reformatting of content from legacy efforts onto the new platform, which in some cases will involve the migration of digital materials into the Libraries’ DAMS.
Curating digital exhibits from the extensive distinctive collections at the University of Texas Libraries serves purposes with benefits in excess of what can be derived from in-person physical exhibits. Like traditional exhibits, these digital collections will allow for supplementary context from experts in relevant fields of study and raise awareness of the rich and diverse holdings of The University of Texas at Austin. Additionally, the digital facsimiles will be more broadly accessible and remain persistent with the lifespan of the platform, and will allow for the augmentation of scholarship relevant to the digital collections.
The malleability of the platform allows for content to be presented with degrees of discernment. Collections Highlights will allow for small-scale samplings and introductions to different aspects of collections, and Exhibitions will provide an opportunity for curators to plumb the depths of primary sources.
Staff are also exploring the use of the Digital Exhibits as an enrichment tool for classroom learning. Albert Palacios, Digital Scholarship Coordinator at the Benson Latin American Collection and one of the project managers, has previously used special collections and exhibit development as a way of engaging students in archives, and the Digital Exhibits platform will allow for further experimentation with this method.
“The Exhibits portal empowers us to easily curate teaching collections for class assignments and semester projects,” explains Palacios. “Unlike our previous exhibition platform, we will also be able to incorporate digital scholarship projects, such as interactive maps, social network visualizations, and dynamic timelines, into our exhibitions.”
Already, plans are in the works to expand the functionality of Digital Exhibitions. The platform is already configured for Spanish translation, and work is underway to implement Portuguese translation, as well, both of which are universally-beneficial, but are fundamental for application to the collections at the Benson Latin American Collection. Staff are also working on developments to support streaming media, geographic information system data and discoverability improvements.
“Spotlight will continue to be developed by its creators and other users, and holds strong potential for being an elegant, robust platform for our short- and long-term exhibition plans,” says Jenifer Flaxbart, Libraries’ Assistant Director of Research Support and Digital Initiatives. “It will provide a means for a broad range of users to engage with our collections in support of research, instruction and intellectual curiosity.”
If there’s a single lesson to take away from this year, it’s that libraries are a lot more malleable than their long history may have given them credit for.
We’ve previously covered the Herculean effort by University of Texas Libraries’ staff to pivot from their natural in-person work environs to a distance service, then a subsequent limited return to the former, but a lot of that agility was due in no small measure to underlying efforts that were already underway when the health crisis washed over campus and the country.
Strategically, this institution has been focusing on the idea of the library as a platform: not just a storehouse for books or website of searchable journals, but an active ecosystem where resources, tools, services, spaces, expertise and community intermingle with a constantly variable presence of users to spin off scholarship and innovation back into the world. This idea factory of ever-evolving components works at its best when it creates opportunities for discovery through constant interaction of the various parts.
With the pandemic creating greater physical distance between the parts, though, it’s become essential that we focus on those tools that could best allow us to reach our users where they are, be that in an apartment in West Campus, or on the other side of the globe.
Last year, we announced the launch of a pair of systems designed to organize, preserve and create accessibility for digital iterations of physical materials that otherwise would only be available to people who could visit the Forty Acres. Our Digital Asset Management System (DAMS) was deployed in September, 2019, and in November, we published the Collections Portal on the Libraries’ website. The culmination of these two projects proved to be far more fortuitous than we could’ve imagined.
A couple months later as leadership at the Libraries was fleshing out a new strategic plan that placed special emphasis on the concept of Libraries as platform, the first case of coronavirus was discovered in the Pacific Northwest. Then, in March as the spread of the pandemic began to accelerate, The University of Texas at Austin announced first the delay of spring classes, followed quickly by a directive to move all but the most critical staff to remote work away from campus, and to shift to online learning for the remainder of the semester.
More than ever, the adaptability of the Libraries to changes in user behaviors was the institutional characteristic that needed to be positioned in response to the extraordinary situation that fell so quickly upon us all. And refocusing our collective energies on tools with the greatest potential to serve the largest number of people while considering the long-term goals of the Libraries made these new systems a natural priority for applying institutional resources.
At its most basic, a Digital Asset Management System is a locally-developed digital repository designed to store, describe and manage digital assets of the Libraries. Digital assets are comprised of a primary digital files like scanned images, book pages, audio or video recordings, with varying component parts: metadata, or data about the data that includes information about the origin of the file, specifications and descriptive data used for locating the asset; additional secondary files that can be machine-readable and/or provide additional technical information; and derivatives, such as thumbnail images, other file versions, and PDFs.
The DAMS serves as the central preservation and management hub for Libraries’ digital assets, built by the Libraries Information Technology Support (LITS) team in coordination with staff library professionals, who also manage the operations of the system. The DAMS project began in 2016, and in an effort to prioritize two of our most notable collections, staff at the Benson Latin American Collection and the Alexander Architectural Archive began preparing digital collections for the system.
“The digital asset management system was many years in the making,” says Jennifer Lee, Director of Discovery and Access. “And for many, many years before that it was just an idea, like an item on a collective wish list. Now, it’s become a reality. And over the past seven months in particular, we’ve made excellent progress on adding content.”
The Collections Portal
The Collections Portal serves as an access point on the Libraries’ website allowing users to undertake remote research and study utilizing rich resources that have previously only been available in person or through more time-intensive digitization on demand processes.
Developed in 2018-19 by LITS in close coordination with other Libraries professional staff as a logical progression from the DAMS, the Portal provides students, faculty, researchers and the broader public access to collections that have not been directly available in the past, and the project’s infrastructure creates a framework for a more consistent stream of new digital content in the future. Each item in the portal also contains contextual data – drawn from the DAMS – in order that users may learn underlying information about the material, locate physical counterparts and determine reuse rights for digital files.
The relationship between the DAMS and the Portal can create confusion since both systems deal with the same assets, but it’s useful to think about the interrelationship between the parts. The DAMS is the back-end storage and management environment, where preservation, description and accessibility of the resources are controlled. The Collections Portal draws on the information contained within the DAMS to make some of the content that exists there discoverable and accessible for remote use through a public web interface. The dual structure allows for our staff to determine what is suitable for partial or full public access based on issues like copyright or embargo status.
“These two are separate but closely connected software systems,” explains Mirko Hanke, Digital Asset Management System Coordinator, who has been one of the driving forces behind efforts to refine and build out the systems. “This overall architecture of having two separate systems allows the curators to choose which of the content they’re managing in the DAMS they want to make publicly available.”
Both systems were implemented by LITS staff using open source software components and they built software to bridge the two systems from scratch.
The basic workflow for getting items from the shelves into the systems involves digitization, file management, metadata creation and ingestion.
The Libraries has been digitizing physical materials for decades, including thousands of items that were digitized previous to the development of the DAMS, and those files can be retrieved and processed for inclusion in the new systems. Accessing the digital forms of materials can extend the life of fragile special collections and makes near-immediate global access possible. Physical materials are often reformatted as digital files in their entirety to minimize handling and ensure future access to unrequested sections at a later date. Additional processes in digitization allow for the enhancement of usability of the digital iterations, as well, including optical character recognition, making scanned documents searchable and information contained within more easily findable. The automation of many digitization processes makes pagination and file structuring more manageable and speeds up ingestion and thus accessibility of content.
Requests for digitization are made either through a formal submission or directly to Libraries’ Digitization Services, with special priority given to our two notable special collections – the Benson Latin American Collection and the Alexander Architectural Archive – both of which are heavily used by the public and thus have significant back catalogs of digitized materials, making them fertile resources for populating the DAMS and Collections Portal. Special consideration has also been extended to time-sensitive projects, such as those slated for exhibition loan or items that are being or have been retired from other access points.
Once files have been digitized, they are passed through specialized workflows based on the type of content and its historical origin that add and/or enhance metadata, secondary files and derivatives to create singular digital assets that can then be ingested into the DAMS and potentially projected out to the Collections Portal.
Staff professionals working with LITS professionals have developed scripts and processes that can help to speed up the packaging of digital assets both for newly digitized items, but also from previously digitized materials that exist from earlier Libraries efforts. There is ongoing work to track digitization, management and ingestion processes to create ongoing improvements to the workflows.
Hitting the Gas
Realizing the important potential of the two systems for remote users in response to the health crisis, the Libraries reconfigured workflows and redirected staff to accelerate work already occurring to populate and invigorate the DAMS and by extension, the Collections Portal. The first order of business was to formalize workflows to prioritize the digitization and processing of materials.
Resources at the Benson and Alexander Archive proved to be low-hanging fruit for their outsized use in research and because of existing expertise in digital preservation, so projects originating from those collections received significant attention.
Staff at the Benson Latin American Collection have been working on a project to digitize the Genaro García Collection – the Benson’s massive foundational collection, acquired in Mexico City in 1921 by university representatives on a diplomatic visit. The Libraries will next year be celebrating the 100th anniversary of that acquisition as the establishment of Latin American collections on campus, so the effort to provide online access to this important collection made it a priority for addition to the Collections Portal.
“Because we’ve established some good local practices for collection creation and we have a set of well documented requirements on the DAMS ingest side, it becomes much easier to develop batch processing workflows to prepare scans and metadata for upload into the DAMS without manipulating each collection object, one at a time,” says David Bliss, Digital Processing Archivist at the Benson Latin American Collection.
A team-based approach was coordinated by Latin American Archivist Dylan Joy. Staff Photographer and Library Specialist Robert Esparza spent several months carefully digitizing the Genaro García Imprints and Images collections in their entirety, following a process developed locally at the Benson. Concurrently, GRA Diego Godoy compiled item level metadata based on a template developed by Metadata Librarian Itza Carbajal. Bliss then worked to develop a script for ingesting the scans and accompanying metadata from the collection into the DAMS, bypassing hours of monotonous and error-prone work in favor of a process using existing metadata in a hands-off approach that occurs in minutes instead.
“We didn’t just wake up one day and decide to make our file naming practices more consistent and systematic or suddenly realize that we should be gathering good metadata,” says Bliss. “This kind of scripting work is only possible because significant resources were dedicated to equipment and project staff.”
Benson staff, in coordination with Libraries’ Content Management and Digitization Services teams, have worked prodigiously on the Benson Rare Book Collection, including the high visibility Primeros Libros – the first books published in the Americas prior to 1600; so far, 21 full volumes are published to the Collections Portal, with more in process. Libraries Technology Coordinator Benn Chang worked with Benson Latinx Studies Archivist Carla Alvarez to make newly available several hundred previously digitally-preserved photographs in the George I. Sánchez papers, which are now part of the Collections Portal, as well.
“This work really does take a village and there is no one singular workflow or approach that suits all collections,” says Benson’s Head of Digital Initiatives Theresa Polk.
At the Alexander Architectural Archive, staff have been working to process both newly-digitized and legacy digital assets. “Architectural collections staff have worked closely with Digitization Services to adjust our workflow to include ingesting assets and metadata into the DAMS,” says Archivist for Access and Preservation Stephanie Tiedeken. So far, over 21,000 assets have been ingested into the DAMS from the Alexander Archives and Architecture & Planning Library’s Special Collections, and over 2,000 of those have been published into the Collections Portal, including 270 publications and over 1,800 digitized drawings or photographs.
Archive staff are also working to move legacy assets into the DAMS. The Alexander’s GRA, Alyssa Anderson, recently completed a project to ingest 262 legacy images of scanned drawings and photographs from ten sites, primarily missions, in Texas and Mexico images and create MODS metadata. Now that these items are in the DAMS, they are more usable and visible to researchers.
Head of Architectural Collections Katie Pierce Meyer worked with Mirko Hanke and staff from Digitization Services to develop a process for ingesting legacy digitized photographs from the David Reichard Williams collection, a regionalist and architect who documented vernacular architecture in Texas in the 1920s and 1930s. Colleagues from Libraries’ Branch and Borrow Services transferred data from finding aid, added descriptions of photographs, bringing expertise and fresh eyes to these historic images of buildings and places across the state.
Building on transformation processes and documentation work previously done by David Bliss and Benn Chang, and working closely with Mirko Hanke, Pierce Meyer was able to take the data, map it to DAMS metadata fields in the data editing tool OpenRefine, then export it and create individual metadata files for each image. The image and the metadata files could then ingested and published in large batches.
After materials were ingested from the David Reichard Williams photography collection at the Alexander Archive and became available via the Collection Portal, colleagues in Content Management conducted quality assurance on the ingested data and enhanced the metadata. Finally, Alexander Architectural Archives’ Curator Beth Dodd introduced these published assets to historic preservation professionals and donors to the Alexander Archives, who provided additional information to further describe and enhance information about the buildings in the photographs. Over the course of the project, the crowdsourced assistance of many participants have been instrumental to ingesting assets and enhance the metadata, making for a more robust and discoverable resource for future researchers.
“The Williams project has been a particular example of a collaborative, iterative process to transfer our legacy assets to the DAMS and publish them to the collections portal. It has also been a great learning opportunity and we are taking what we have done here to inform future collaborative work with our collections and metadata transformation” says Katie Pierce Meyer.
Another extremely visible digital collection has also played a significant role in the growth of DAMS and Collections Portal content. The PCL Maps Collection – which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year – is perhaps the most heavily used of our collection, largely due to the 70,000 items that are available through the Libraries’ legacy website. Visitation to the online maps has accounted for over 50% of all Libraries’ web traffic at points, and has exceeded 5 million views with consistent frequency. The Libraries’ launched a new website in 2018, and have begun to migrate the Maps Collection into the DAMS where it will be available through the Collections Portal. The legacy website remains active largely to maintain access to the collection, so ingesting the digital content from the Maps Collections is another high priority for the overall project.
The migration of the collection into the DAMS is providing the opportunity to greatly improve upon the associated metadata and, in some cases, to provide even higher quality digital scans for use by researchers. “In the DAMS we can store and serve larger format images, which is a great improvement and there are established organization standards, where the legacy site grew organically from its early adoption roots,” says Maps Collection Coordinator Kat Strickland. “Many of the maps in the collection have made their way here without any context. So being able to show somebody the image and describe with more robust metadata is also going to improve discoverability for people.”
“The DAMS is going to benefit users because collections can be organized in a way that will help users find the context of individual maps by linking to a subcollection of related maps.”
When the university shuttered operations in March and physical access to the Maps Collection was halted, only 77 items had been migrated to the DAMS. A short seven months later, there are over 14,000 maps in the system and Libraries’ staff are currently working on metadata for another 11,600 to make those available.
That experience mirrors the shift in focus since remote work has become the prevailing mode of service at the Libraries and online content has become the primary resources for users. In March, there were approximately 2,500 digital assets available through the Collections Portal. Today, there are over 20,000 assets available through the Collections Portal, and those numbers are expanding apace as more resources are committed to the work and staff adapt innovative approaches to their processes.
“There’s been an eightfold increase in content since March, which is just amazing progress and wouldn’t have been possible without the support of many colleagues,” says Mirko Hanke.
Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this series, librarians from UTL’s Arts, Humanities and Global Studies Engagement Team briefly present, explore and critique existing examples of digital scholarship. Our hope is that these monthly reviews will inspire critical reflection of and future creative contributions to the growing fields of digital scholarship.
Katie L. Coldiron is the Global Studies Digital Projects GRA at Perry-Castañeda Library and a current graduate student at the School of Information. She also has an M.A. in Latin American Studies.
Arab migration to the Americas is a unique phenomenon, particularly in the context of northern South America. While Arabs came to the Americas fleeing such events as the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the Armenian Genocide, they mainly went to the countries of the Southern Cone and Brazil, which are known for welcoming more immigrants than their other Latin American counterparts. Colombia and Venezuela, which are referred to as sister countries, tend to be portrayed outside their borders in a negative light, rather than for that which makes up their rich and diverse cultures. This post is an effort to highlight a group of migrants that came to Colombia and Venezuela and remain there today, both assimilating into their respective countries while also keeping their traditions alive. Furthermore, the existence of these digital primary resources provides a necessary means of continuing academic research in the midst of a global pandemic. The ability to have first-hand accounts readily available of a particular diaspora is a privilege of the digital age, and a mechanism of democratization for the cultural record.
Instituto de Cultura Árabe de Colombia
Through my research into the Arab-Colombian diaspora and conversations with prominent scholars on the subject, I was put in touch with Odette Yidi David of Barranquilla. The city of Barranquilla became a hub for Arab migration to Colombia in the early 20th century due to its proximity to the Port Colombia. Yidi David is a fourth generation Palestinian barranquillera and a scholar on the subject of Arabs in Latin America and the Caribbean. Currently she divides her time teaching at Barranquilla’s Universidad del Norte and serving as executive director of the Colombian Institute of Arab Culture.
Yidi David founded the Colombian Institute of Arab Culture with the intention of constructing bridges between Colombia and the Arab world, as well as generating and sharing responsible knowledge about the Arab world in Colombia. The organization has offered Arabic language classes and talks on a variety of subjects pertaining to the Arab world, and even hosted an Arab culture festival in Barranquilla. With the advent of social distancing, I have noticed an uptick in content they are sharing about digital events, as well as resources and other activities to pass the time of quarantine. Many Zoom panels have also been shared through their social media outlets, including ones that feature Yidi David herself. The Institute also regularly hosts talks on Arab dance and even virtual dance classes. These posts not only provide means of diversion in a time in which not many exist, but also create larger awareness of the existence of the Arab diaspora in Colombia. While prominent families, beauty queens, and even the singer Shakira have brought notoriety to the diaspora, the Institute goes beyond a few notable faces to show that Arab culture is alive in the Colombian Caribbean. Their social media includes Instagram and Facebook.
Los libaneses en Venezuela
My research also led me to the blog “Los libaneses en Venezuela,” or “The Lebanese in Venezuela.” This blog is the product of Venezuelan-Lebanese journalist Tony Frangie Mawad, who regularly contributes to outlets like Caracas Chronicles. To create this blog, Frangie Mawad did recorded interviews with multiple Lebanese immigrants to Venezuela who arrived from the 1940s to 1960s, and chronicled their stories individually. Due to his familial ties to the Lebanese diaspora of Caracas, finding the individuals to interview was, in the words of Frangie Mawad, “only a question of picking up the phone and telling them or their kids about the project.” A photographer friend also helped Frangie Mawad with photographing the featured individuals. The accounts are very personal and are contextualized within the atmospheres of Lebanon and Venezuela at the time. The blog can be found here.
Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this series, librarians from UTL’s Arts, Humanities and Global Studies Engagement Team briefly present, explore and critique existing examples of digital scholarship. Our hope is that these monthly reviews will inspire critical reflection of and future creative contributions to the growing fields of digital scholarship.
Katie L. Coldiron is the Global Studies Digital Projects GRA at Perry-Castañeda Library and a current graduate student at the School of Information. She also has an M.A. in Latin American Studies.
La inmigración árabe a las Américas es un fenómeno único, particularmente en el contexto del norte de Sudamérica. Aunque es verdad que los árabes llegaron a las Américas huyendo de eventos como la caída del Imperio Otomano y el Genocidio Armenio, la mayoría fueron a los países del Cono Sur, los cuales son conocidos como mayores receptores de inmigrantes en América Latina. Colombia y Venezuela, los cuales se conocen como países hermanos, tienden a padecer de una imagen negativa en el extranjero, menos por sus culturas ricas y diversas. Este blog es un esfuerzo para mostrar un grupo de inmigrantes que llegaron a Colombia y Venezuela y hoy siguen allá, que igualmente se asimilaron en sus países respectivos, pero preservaron sus propias tradiciones. Además, la existencia de estos recursos digitales primarios provee una manera necesaria para la propagación de investigaciones académicas durante una pandemia mundial. El acceso a los recursos primarios de una diáspora específica es un privilegio de la época digital, y un mecanismo de democratización del archivo cultural.
Instituto de Cultura Árabe de Colombia
A través de mi investigación sobre la diáspora árabe-colombiana y conversaciones con eruditas conocidas de este tema, me puse en contacto con Odette Yidi David de Barranquilla, Colombia. La ciudad de Barranquilla se volvió un centro de migración árabe por su proximidad a Puerto Colombia. Yidi David es una palestina barranquillera de cuarta generación y experta del tema de los árabes en América Latina y el Caribe. Actualmente, ella divide su tiempo entre labores en la Universidad del Norte de Barranquilla y como directora ejecutiva del Instituto de Cultura Árabe de Colombia.
Yidi David fundó el Instituto de Cultura Árabe de Colombia con el propósito de “construir puentes de diálogo entre Colombia y el mundo árabe” y también “generar y compartir conocimiento responsable sobre el mundo árabe en Colombia.” La organización ha ofrecido clases del idioma árabe y charlas sobre una variedad de temas del mundo árabe. Además, hicieron un festival de cultura árabe en Barranquilla. Con el arranco del distanciamiento social, he notado que el Instituto comparte más sobre eventos virtuales, y también recursos y otras actividades para pasar el tiempo en cuarentena. Se comparten muchos paneles de Zoom en sus redes sociales, que incluyen a la misma Yidi David. El Instituto también tiene charlas de danza árabe y hasta clases virtuales de danza. Estas publicaciones no solo proveen una manera de divertirse cuando no hay otras opciones, sino también crean más conocimiento sobre la existencia de la diáspora árabe en Colombia. A pesar de que ciertas familias conocidas, reinas de belleza, y la cantante Shakira han traído fama a la diáspora, el Instituto va más allá que unas pocas caras conocidas para mostrar que la cultura árabe está viva en el Caribe colombiano. Sus redes sociales incluyen Instagram y Facebook.
Los libaneses en Venezuela
Mi investigación también me llevó al blog “Los libaneses en Venezuela.” Este blog es el producto del periodista venezolano libanés Tony Frangie Mawad, quien contribuye regularmente a medios como Caracas Chronicles. Para crear este blog, Frangie Mawad entrevistó a inmigrantes libaneses que llegaron a Venezuela desde los 40 hasta los 60, y registró sus historias individualmente. Por sus lazos familiares a la diáspora libanesa de Caracas, encontrar dichos individuos fue, en las palabras de Frangie Mawad “solo cuestión de levantar el teléfono y contarles sobre el proyecto o a sus hijos.” Un amigo fotógrafo también le ayudó a tomar las fotos de los personajes incluidos. Los testimonios son muy personales y se contextualizan dentro de los ambientes del Líbano y Venezuela de la época. El blog se encuentra aquí.
Long-time Geology librarian and revered Libraries’ icon Dennis Trombatore passed away this weekend after an extended illness.
His 35-year tenure as the fifth Geology Librarian at the university is remembered as a period of prosperity for the library and the Jackson School of Geosciences, and Trombatore’s contribution to those successes are recognized by faculty, researchers, students and colleagues alike.
“Dennis was not just our librarian, he was the scout,” says Mark Cloos, Getty Oil Company Centennial Chair in Geological Sciences. “In more than a few cases, he found resources for areas I’ve been interested in, which I probably wouldn’t have found on my own for months, if not years, and in some cases, probably never.”
“He contributed to every student that I’ve ever had, and he contributed to me personally, ” continues Cloos. “We had the good fortune that he worked in the library at the University of Texas for 35 years. That’s more than a third of a century that he enriched the entire scientific enterprise here.”
Born in Fort Hood and raised in Baton Rouge, Trombatore joined the Libraries in 1985 after receiving his B.A. (’75) and MLS (’77) from Louisiana State University and working in librarian positions at Loyola University and The University of Georgia at Athens. Trombatore’s lengthy career equaled in duration that of the university’s storied original Geology Librarian Thelma Lynn Guion, and spanned a transformational period for libraries which witnessed the advent of the internet and the proliferation of digital resources.
Trombatore was recognized for his lasting contributions to the university and its research with honors such as the Distinguished Service Award from the Department of Geological Sciences (1997), the University of Texas Staff Excellence Award (2001), the Jackson School of Geosciences Staff Excellence Award (2006), the William B. Heroy Award for Distinguished Service to the American Geosciences Institute (AGI, 2012) and the Jackson School of Geosciences Joseph C. Walter Jr. Excellence Award (2018). He was a member of Geological Society of America and the Geoscience Information Society, and past president of the Austin Geological Society.
His energies extended to professional pursuits that related to his role at the Libraries, as well, with numerous publications, reviews, field activities, committee participation, teaching and serving as a goodwill ambassador to visiting researchers, alumni and UT students alike.
“Dennis was more than a librarian,” says Vice Provost and UT Libraries Director Lorraine Haricombe. “He was a geologist in his own right, an explorer whose constant focus was on digging for resources – information, relationships and funding included – to build a library that would secure the university a leader in the field of geosciences. He was a librarian extraordinaire and will be sorely missed as a member of the Libraries’ family.”
Former Dean of the Jackson School of Geosciences Dr. Sharon Mosher announced last December the creation of a new endowment fund honoring Trombatore’s contributions to the college and the university.
The endowment recognizes Trombatore’s career at The University of Texas at Austin in building one of the great geosciences collections in the nation, as well as his work supporting the research, teaching and learning of those in pursuit of understanding of the earth sciences at the university.
“He carefully amassed invaluable collections, developed state-of-the art services and built a sense of community for the Jackson School family,” said Mosher. “Dennis Trombatore’s tireless efforts touched the lives of every student, research scientist, faculty, and staff member who had the pleasure of knowing him. The Jackson School wouldn’t be what it is without Dennis’s commendable efforts, for which I am profoundly thankful.”
When Vice Provost and Director of the University of Texas Libraries Lorraine Haricombe began her tenure as president of the Association of Research Libraries last August, she couldn’t have imagined that she would be facing the closure of the libraries at UT and the subsequent near-immediate conversion of library services and resources to meet the needs of a campus-wide transition to online teaching and learning.
So when the current health crisis ended any plans for a normal conclusion to the spring semester, Haricombe was not only dealing with a major leadership challenge on her own campus, but was the head of an organization that represents over 120 major research institutions across North America, many of which galvanized their research energies in support of global efforts to address the various facets of the pandemic. When The University of Texas at Austin shifted to remote operations in late March, Haricombe’s focus was on the Libraries conversion from a richly analog experience for campus users to serving a distant base of users through digital resources and support functions for research. At the same time, she was a lead participant in crafting the coordinated position and messaging of peer institutions in the U.S. and Canada.
Now that the libraries and institutions of higher education in the U.S. have forded the spring semester and begun to establish a local and national rhythm, Haricombe took some time to answer a few questions about her experience during this extraordinary time, and where she thinks the libraries can find silver linings among the clouds.
When did you realize that the Libraries would need to suspend operations? What was going through your mind about how this would impact our ability to serve the university?
Lorraine J. Haricombe: A confluence of several events on Friday, March 13 pointed to the seriousness of the pandemic in Austin and at UT. First, the early morning news about two cases in Travis County; second, the immediate closing of UT on that day and third, President Fenves’ announcement later that day that his wife had tested positive and that they would need to be quarantined for 14 days. I felt confident that UT Libraries was in a good position to respond to this crisis. Libraries had been working online for more than two decades. UT Libraries developed a roadmap towards a digital shift in summer 2019 which helped to transition essential services online in instruction, research support and learning. The COVID-19 accelerated the pace of implementation.
This is a global crisis unlike any we’ve dealt with in the last 100 years. When did you realize its magnitude, and how did that affect your decision-making process in the response?
LJH: The death rate elsewhere in the world followed by the crisis in New York quickly clarified the magnitude of the pandemic. In turn, Travis County, the City of Austin and the University of Texas influenced my response to make employee safety and health concerns a high priority. Despite the critical role of UT Libraries, I requested approval from UT administration to allow UTL employees to work from home “out of respect for their health and safety.”
When Fenves announced the transition to online classes, what were your initial thoughts about the Libraries’ role in supporting campus?
How do you utilize staff that are normally tasked with processing/preserving/transferring physical materials?
LJH: All our staff are equipped with devices to continue to work remotely. Many are being trained to do evolving projects and others that have been on the back burner.
How do you support traditionalist library users/patrons that are accustomed to in-person research or stacks browsing?
LJH: UT Libraries has access to many more online resources thanks to publishers and vendors opening up on a temporary basis online resources to students and faculty in higher education across the world. One key example is HathiTrust, a database that covers more than 40% of UT’s physical collection, digitally. Our librarians have provided LibGuides and resource pages to help identify critical and relevant resources.
Will this affect the long-term manner in which libraries are used or operate? If so, how?
LJH: Yes. Digital resources, their discoverability and access will be essential in an online environment where users now expect to have user-friendly access to their resources, anytime, anywhere. Libraries will require more flexible/agile structures to respond to different needs quickly that will necessitate a holistic approach to services, staff and space.
What are the challenges this exceptional historical moment present for libraries? What are the opportunities?
LJH: Among the key challenges is to change the perception of “what” libraries do (and can do). It will also be challenging to advance new models of service, skills, tools (e.g. AI) in a predominantly non-digital organizational structure. Despite a significant shift libraries are still challenged to create a compelling digital presence that corresponds to their successful physical learning space.
Opportunities: As long as universities exist there will be libraries; they will continue to have a physical presence but maybe fewer in number. Their focus will shift from a collections focus to user services with more embedded partnerships than transactional services.
Challenges offer exciting opportunities for workforce development (upskill, reskill, leadership development) to enhance physical-based services online or introduce new services, understand the new tools (and their biases), provide closer collaboration to help shape curriculum with information schools and partner with other professionals. This pandemic has elevated the central role of “what” libraries can do. Now we need to leverage the opportunity to constantly refresh our message to resonate with stakeholders and funders, e.g. how do we increase online research productivity and impact; how do library spaces facilitate innovative research and creative thinking; how does the library contribute to equitable student outcomes and inclusive learning environments?
What has it been like serving in your role as president of the Association of Research Libraries during the crisis? How did it affect your leadership, and what efforts has ARL undertaken to coordinate its efforts with member institutions?
LJH: ARL is strong and healthy. Despite the challenges higher education faced to move online, research libraries across North America have rapidly responded to the shifting needs of their communities and worked collectively to adapt, alongside public health officials, university administrators, and city officials, as well as research communities. In our favor, technological advancements have made information more easily accessible than ever before, and global collaboration is already part of everyday research. This crisis has surfaced exciting new opportunities for research libraries to have a leadership role, offer new services and collaborate/partner locally, nationally and globally.
At ARL, we continue to observe and share libraries’/campus responses that are consistent with the situation in which they find themselves. These (Zoom) peer-to-peer sessions have proved invaluable as we enter into different phases of crisis management and planning. Recently, I launched the new Plan Ahead Task Force to develop an Action Plan for the next 1-3 years anchored in the priorities ARL leaders have identified in a membership survey in April.
What sort of impact will this have on libraries’ relationship with the publishers? Are there implications for open access (esp. OERs)?
LJH: The COVID-19 pandemic has supercharged discussions around open access across the continuum from budgetary concerns for high priced journal subscriptions to transformative contracts that facilitate open access to scholarship. Many commercial publishers have made texts and other materials available as OERs however, this will likely cease once the semester ends. Libraries are well positioned to be catalytic leaders in developing OERs on their campuses, and at scale as consortia.
Hypothetically, assuming the health crisis runs its course (by time, therapies or a vaccine), where do you picture the Libraries in two years? How will they be the same? How will they be different? (as a byproduct of the crisis or just as a matter of strategic development)
LJH: I think libraries will continue to exist as central physical spaces. Our spaces are connectors of people and collaborators. Our services will (in part) be driven by user expectations. For example, do we return to a model of closed stacks until a vaccine is discovered to protect employees and satisfy user concerns of safety? How do we deploy data evidence decision-making to reinvest our resources where user data lead us. How can libraries collaborate at scale to find solutions in the “Digital Shift” (e.g. copyright, requirements for open information in licensing/procurement).
The digital shift will continue: we need to think holistically about our resources, services, skills, spaces and find new partnerships/collaborators to create a digital presence that corresponds to our successful physical learning environment. I see the changes as transitions through accelerated timeframes rather as “sudden stop/starts.” The future is here; we need to be in the moment.
“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.”
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.