All posts by Texlibris

Staff Highlighter: Haleigh Wyrostek

Meet Haleigh Wyrostek (Hay-Lee Why-Ross-Tech), PCL User Services Coordinator, and mostly landlocked marine biologist…


What’s your title, and what do you do for the Libraries?

User Services Coordinator (Sr. Library Specialist) at the PCL. I supervise the student assistants of the check-out desk and other various circulation and reference-based tasks.

What motivates you to wake up and go to work?

The student employees at the desk! Without doubt.

What are you most proud of in your job?

The relationships I’ve made with my colleagues and the students who work at the desk.

What has been your best experience at the Libraries?

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the sense of community I’ve gained through working here is the best part of the experience. With my coworkers, assuredly, but also with the students and faculty members I interact with at the desk. Everyone has opened their hearts to welcome me and that is not easy to do. I am very grateful, thank you everyone.

What’s something most people don’t know about you?

I ride motorcycles and scuba dive.

Favorite body of water? Why? (Sorry…this is a bit of cheat question.)

Atlantic Ocean! I’ve visited the ocean (mostly in Florida) my whole life and quickly became enamored. I actually got my BS in marine biology because of my love for the ocean.

Dogs or cats?

Dogs

Favorite book, movie or album?

Sooo hard.

Author – Anne Rice

Movie – Pride and Prejudice (2005)

Album – Parachutes by Coldplay

Cook at home, or go out for dinner? What and/or where?

Cook at home, mac and cheese!

What’s the future hold?

Due to the big changes I’ve experienced in my personal life lately, I take it day by day. I’ve been thinking about grad school. In terms of work, I look forward to learning more about the inner workings of the organization and its role in the university community overall.  I dream of strengthening the relationships between circulation staff and librarians. 

Documenting the Cold War Site Launched

hero image from Document the Cold War website

The Libraries, in partnership with the Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies (CREEES), recently launched the Documenting the Cold War site. The site serves as a hub for all digitized archival materials related to the Cold War from the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Archive, which are housed in the university’s online repository, Texas ScholarWorks.

This open access online archive was initiated by CREEES Director Mary Neuburger in an effort to digitize significant collections of primary documents from the the LBJ Presidential Library that enhance our understanding of the Cold War. Neuburger and her students coordinated with European Studies Librarian Ian Goodale to digitally-preserve identified materials. Goodale created the new site with Global Studies GRA Jyotsna Vempati, who crafted and implemented its design and user interface.

While select documents from the LBJ collection can already be found online, the project focused on the digitization of National Security country files from the former Eastern Bloc. Because these documents are open record, the LBJ Presidential Library has allowed unlimited scanning and open access presentation of such documents.

The site currently contains links to the Prague Spring Archive, to a site for newly-digitized files relating to Poland, to the complete collection of digitized documents in our institutional repository, to a site on documents relating to Yugoslavia, and to an additional site on English-language propaganda magazines published during the Cold War.

“We hope the site will further expand access to the amazing digital scholarship and digitized archival materials at UT,” says Goodale, “and that the resource will continue to be used as a research aid and pedagogical tool by users at UT and beyond.”

Brazilian Cordel Literature at the Benson

poster for Influencers: Cordel, Politics, and Activism in Brazil

Widely recognized as literature of the people, the cordel (plural: cordéis) is a Luso-Brazilian literary form. The rhythmic, lyric poems are generally packaged as inexpensive chapbooks aimed at common folk. Cordel literature is practically synonymous with Brazil’s agricultural Northeast, a historically poor and drought-prone region. 

While the cordel is a form that is almost synonymous with the verses written inside, it is strongly associated with the woodcut prints that adorn many covers. Often produced by self-taught artists, the cover art and other prints by these printmakers are much sought after by collectors.

You can currently see many examples of this form in Influencers: Cordel, Politics, and Activism in Brazil, an exhibition at the Benson Latin American Collection. Scheduled to correspond with Brazil’s bicentennial year and federal elections, this exhibition thinks especially about the role of politics in cordel literature, and of cordelistas as political actors and influencers. 

Influencers draws from the Benson’s collection of around 10,000 chapbooks and was curated by Head of Special Collections Ryan Lynch. It is open for viewing through June 30, 2023. Check public hours for the Benson at https://www.lib.utexas.edu/about/locations/benson.

Read, Hot and Digitized: Dasubhashitam – ‘An Uncommon App’ for Telugu Speakers

Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this series, librarians from UTL’s Arts, Humanities and Global Studies Engagement Team briefly present, explore and critique existing examples of digital scholarship.  Our hope is that these monthly reviews will inspire critical reflection of and future creative contributions to the growing fields of digital scholarship.

This post was written by Jyotsna Vempati, the Global Studies Digital Projects GRA at Perry-Castañeda Library and a current graduate student at the School of Information.


A Telugu (pronounced ˈteləˌɡo͞o) literature classic – Bāriṣṭaru Pārvatīśaṃ, is a novel that I brought along with me despite the strict luggage weight limits of international flights so that I have a piece of my childhood and home with me in a new country. But if I am honest, this was my way of ensuring that I don’t forget how to read and write in my mother tongue. Although the biggest of the Dravidian language family with over 80 million speakers and 4th most spoken language in India, the future of Telugu is in danger from the proliferation of English and other less-regional languages in Telugu speaking regions. 

Many believe it is time to take deliberate action to preserve a language that has a rich history and culture, and many compelling literary works that date back to 575 CE. While there is still a sizable reader base for Telugu literature, there is a rising need to make these texts more accessible and visible in today’s digital era. And in comes the first of its kind Telugu audiobook application – Dasubhashitam.

Founded by Konduru Tulasidas and his son Kiran Kumar, this ‘uncommon app’ draws its essence from multiple disciplines that include Literature, Behavioural Science, and Non-Dualism. It promotes personal, professional, and spiritual wellbeing through original content in a style that is simple and straightforward. The app contains free content as well as paid literature works, which can be accessed through subscription plans.I think this app fills the gap by providing an opportunity for those who speak Telugu but face difficulty in reading the script to reconnect with their roots, thus reviving the language from its slumber.

The Dasubhashitam app is paving the way to immortalize the works of both renowned and new authors by creating an ecosystem where people connect Telugu texts to audio content. It contains literary works in various digital formats such as audiobooks, ebooks, podcasts, interviews, and albums within categories like short stories, novels, poetry, wellbeing, and educational content. The audiobooks need a mention of their own due to the deep cultural context within which they’re recorded and presented. Not only is a book read out loud, but some audiobooks of play scripts also have accompanying musical notes that add a touch of the popular Telugu cinema experience, transporting one back to the age of black-and-white films. Another noteworthy aspect of this app is that it offers the opportunity for individuals to suggest a book to digitize, or submit their audiobooks to the app for hosting (after a strict copyright and quality check, of course).

As a student of User Experience Design here at UT, I cannot help but comment on opportunities for improvement when it comes to the user experience and usability aspect of the mobile application. I find that the app’s heuristics are yet to be optimized to make the content more accessible to their user base. Especially, ramping up the in-app search and filter options, standardizing the transliteration of the literary title to the English alphabet (romanization), having uniform navigation gestures across and refining the information architecture would surely minimize user pain points and add value to the overall experience.

This spectacular enterprise is carving out a presence for itself rapidly and, all-in-all, the kind of content and initiatives undertaken by the creators clearly reflects their intentions, namely,  to promote the wellbeing of their users. I look forward to witnessing the great potential of this piece of technology, especially as some of the notable names in the world of Telugu literature are available on the Dasubhashitam app.

I’m also delighted to discover that UT Libraries hold a great collection of Telugu literature. One might be encouraged to read one of UT’s print versions of these titles alongside the audio book on Dasubhashitam!  See for example the Telugu writings by:

P. V. Narasimha Rao, the former Prime Minister of India

Madhubabu,renowned Telugu detective novel writer

Gurajada Venkata Apparao, popular Indian playwright

Kandukuri Veeresalingam  (Vīrēśaliṅgaṃ), prominent social reformer and writer from the Madras Presidency, India.

Ervin Sewell Perry and Carlos Eduardo Castañeda

The Perry-Castañeda Library is named for two former University professors, Ervin Sewell Perry and Carlos Eduardo Castañeda.


Ervin Sewell Perry
1935-1970

Ervin S. Perry, the first African American to be appointed to the academic rank of professor at the University of Texas at Austin, was an associate professor of civil engineering at the time of his death in 1970. He received the M.S. degree from the University of Texas at Austin in 1961 and the Ph.D. in civil engineering from the university in 1964, working in the areas of materials science and structural mechanics. Before his untimely death, Dr. Perry was a prominent figure in engineering. In 1970, he was named to receive the National Society of Professional Engineers’ first “Young Engineer of the Year Award.” He had been similarly honored at state and county levels by the Texas Society of Professional Engineers.

Ervin Perry was graduated from Prairie View A & M University in May 1956 with a B.S. in civil engineering and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. After two years of military service, he taught at Southern University in Baton Rouge before deciding to pursue graduate work. He first came to the University of Texas at Austin in the summer of 1959 when he entered the graduate school to study civil engineering. He took a brief hiatus from his studies to serve on the engineering faculty at Prairie View A & M University. From the summer of 1960 until December of 1970, Ervin Perry was connected in some way with the university and brought distinction to himself and his institution.

He was awarded the M.S. in civil engineering in June 1961; he chose the title, Bond Stress Distribution in Concrete Beams and Eccentric Pullout Specimens, for his master’s thesis. Three years later in May 1964, Perry was awarded his Ph.D. His dissertation, A Study of Dynamically Loaded Composite Members, described his research in the areas of materials science and structural mechanics.

Ervin Sewell Perry was born on a farm in Coldspring, San Jacinto County, Texas, in 1935, a twin son of Willie and Edna Perry. He grew up with four sisters and a twin brother. The close-knit family was inspired by their father and schoolteacher mother to move toward higher education: all of the Perry children hold degrees from Prairie View A & M University, where their mother attended school.

Headlines over the state carried the news when Ervin S. Perry was named assistant professor of civil engineering in the Fall of 1964, the first African American ever appointed to this level of academic rank at the University of Texas at Austin. Widely sought by other top-ranked colleges, Perry elected to stay in Austin and to make noteworthy contributions to his own university.

Early in 1970 Dr. Perry became ill and went to M.D. Anderson Hospital in Houston for treatment. He resumed his teaching later in the year, but illness recurred that fall in Berlin, Germany, where he was representing the university at an international engineering conference, presenting papers based on his research on the basic properties of concrete. Ervin S. Perry died at the age of 34 in December 1970.

View the biography of Dr. Perry in the Handbook of Texas Online


Carlos Eduardo Castañeda
1896-1958

Carlos E. Castañeda played a central role in the early development of the Benson Latin American Collection, which is considered one of the world’s foremost repositories of Latin American materials. He was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Texas at Austin where he earned the B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees. Dr. Castañeda was librarian of the Latin American Collection from 1927 until 1946 and is given principal credit for acquiring the incomparable private collection of Garcia Icazbalceta of Mexico. Recognized as an authority on the early history of Mexico and Texas, Dr. Castañeda served as a part-time associate professor of history from 1936 to 1946, when he was named professor of Latin American history, a position he continued until his death in 1958.

Carlos Castañeda was born in Camargo, Mexico, in 1896. He attended schools in Matamoros until the sixth grade when his family moved to Brownsville. He quickly learned English and was graduated with highest honors from Brownsville High School in 1916. Orphaned at the age of fourteen, young Carlos assumed the responsibility for himself and his four unmarried sisters. After graduation he taught in a school at Las Palmas.

Castañeda enrolled in the University in 1917 as a student of engineering and took a part-time job working for Dr. Eugene C. Barker in the History Department. This work with Dr. Barker led Castañeda to discover history and to change his major. He was graduated with an A.B. in history in 1921 and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. After graduation he taught in the public schools of Beaumont and San Antonio before returning to the University of Texas at Austin to work on his M.A., which he completed in 1923. His master’s thesis was titled A Report on the Spanish Archives in San Antonio, Texas .

Carlos Castañeda was an associate professor of Spanish at the College of William and Mary from 1923 to 1927. He returned to the University of Texas at Austin and was named librarian of the Genaro García Collection, now the Benson Latin American Collection, in 1927. He retained this association while serving as associate professor of history from 1939 until 1946 and developed that collection into one of the most distinguished in the United States.

Castañeda was granted his Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin in 1932. His dissertation, Morfi’s History of Texas, is a critical edition from an original manuscript by Fr. Juan Augustin Morfi that Dr. Castañeda discovered within the archives of the convent of San Francisco el Grande in the National Library of Mexico. In 1946 he was named professor of Latin American history, a position he continued until his death in 1958.

View the biography of Dr. Castañeda in the Handbook of Texas Online

Meng-Fen Su Honored with Emerita

In recognition of her 20 years of excellent service to the UT Libraries, President Jay Hartzell granted former East Asian Studies Liaison Librarian Meng-fen Su “Emerita Status,” an honorary designation conferred upon retirees to recognize their contributions and accomplishments over their university careers.

Meng-fen came to UT Libraries in 2000 after serving as a cataloger at Ohio State and at Harvard-Yenching Library. 

During her tenure at university, the East Asian Studies collection has more than doubled in size (from 91,000 volumes to 190,000) and has been carefully curated to create a more representative balance between Chinese, Japanese and Korean materials. 

Her reserved demeanor belies the fact that she was an expert at networking to bolster resources. For example, Meng Fen established the first Taiwan Resource Center for Chinese Studies in 201 by building a collaboration between the Libraries and the National Central Library in Taiwan. She submitted multiple successful grants to garner support for both physical (Reference Materials Distribution Program) and digital (Korean Studies e-Resources grants) materials from the Korea Foundation, and also forged relationships to receive publications from research institutes throughout East Asia – the Academia Sinica, the National Museum of Taiwan Literature, Waseda University and the Korean Film Council, to name a few.  

Congratulations and thanks to Meng-fen Su for her devotion to her work on behalf of the university and to the Libraries.

Preserving Endangered Languages

“When you lose a language and a language goes extinct, it’s like dropping a bomb on the Louvre.” –Linguist Michael Krauss

Language is so central to humanity that it frequently takes on the involuntary characteristics of breathing or eating—words seemingly form in our minds and fall effortlessly from our mouths or onto a page in a way that can go without notice or concern. It’s only when we lose our ability to communicate that we realize how important a shared language is to our collective experience, and a better understanding of ourselves.

Such is the inspiration at the heart of the Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America (AILLA), a digital repository of multimedia resources in and about the indigenous languages of Latin America, founded in 2000 at The University of Texas at Austin and located today at the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection.

The archive’s mission is the preservation of the wealth of recordings of natural discourse in the indigenous languages of Latin America made by native speakers of the languages, frequently in collaboration with linguists and anthropologists, during the past fifty to sixty years. Most of these languages are endangered, and all of them are at risk of being replaced by dominant languages. Some of them, in fact, like Tehuelche, a Chonan language of Patagonia, have lost all speakers since the recordings housed in the archive were made.

According to the World Bank, there are some 560 different languages spoken in Latin America, most of which are spoken by Indigenous Peoples. Some, like the Mayan languages K’iche’ (Guatemala) and Yucatec Maya (Mexico), have speakers numbering in the hundreds of thousands. But there are examples that more fully demonstrate a need for preservation, such as Guató (Brazil) and Kawésqar (Chile), each having fewer than 10 living speakers.

AILLA’s collections represent over 420 Indigenous languages, and include audio and video recordings, some with transcriptions and translations in Spanish, English, and to a lesser extent Portuguese, as well as photographs, maps, charts, and written works of all kinds. The recordings include narratives, songs, conversations, prayers, ceremonies, oral histories, interviews, and grammatical elicitation. Written materials include grammars, dictionaries, word lists, ethnographies, field notes, journals, correspondence, theses and dissertations, published and unpublished academic articles, essays, and manuscripts, as well as original literary works in indigenous languages, such as poetry, short stories, and novels.  There is ongoing work to incorporate textbooks and teaching materials for bilingual and ethno-education and for language reclamation programs into the archive,

“Every language is like a cosmos, containing vocabulary, stories, songs, spiritual beliefs, ceremonies, games, jokes, food ways, and patterns of thought which form a worldview that is unique in the history of humanity,” explains AILLA Manager Susan Kung.

AILLA collaborates directly and indirectly with Indigenous communities to archive their linguistic cultural heritage and coordinates the digitization of fragile analog materials in Indigenous languages so that they can be added to the archive. The archive accepts any material that was written or spoken in one of the indigenous languages of Latin America by native speakers of that language, on any topic, in any style. AILLA also collects materials of cultural and academic interest that are written about the indigenous languages of Latin America, and especially values items of interest to indigenous communities, like teaching materials and literary works.

An essential focus of the work at AILLA is to make these resources available to a global audience via unrestricted online access. Rapid technological development and an expanding internet has increased the reach of resources that were once kept in private offices and homes so that they can now be shared with speakers of the languages, scholars and interested audiences worldwide. By building out a broader global audience for these resources, the hope is that expanded access will extend and/or guarantee the life of at-risk languages.

“We want to support indigenous efforts to reclaim their languages and develop [their] literatures,” says Susan Kung. The archive makes it easy to publish indigenous works to a wide audience. It also serves as a medium of collaboration and communication, in addition to providing a repository for resources.

AILLA was founded in 2000 at The University of Texas at Austin by Dr. Joel Sherzer, Professor of Anthropology, and Dr. Anthony Woodbury, Professor of Linguistics, working in collaboration with a group of their graduate students, and with technical support from Mark McFarland, the former University of Texas Libraries Director of the Digital Library Services Division. AILLA’s pilot site was funded with seed money from the College of Liberal Arts, and the first online digital repository was built with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Today, AILLA’s primary support comes from the University of Texas Libraries and the Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies, and AILLA is at the heart of the LLILAS Benson collaboration and its Indigenous languages initiatives.

Over AILLA’s 20-year history, staff have worked to make academia and the general public aware of the importance of archiving priceless and irreplaceable linguistic cultural heritage and to develop and promote best practices in this field.  These endeavors, along with AILLA’s efforts to digitize and archive significant collections of indigenous language documentation materials, have been generously funded by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Science Foundation.

To explore AILLA’s collections, visit ailla.utexas.org. The catalog information is open access, but you must register for a free account to stream, view or download media files.

If you are a speaker of an indigenous language and are interested in creating an archival collection for  your language, please write to us at ailla@ailla.utexas.org.

Read, Hot and Digitized: New Era of Post-Pandemic Photo Exhibitions 

Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this series, librarians from UTL’s Arts, Humanities and Global Studies Engagement Team briefly present, explore and critique existing examples of digital scholarship.  Our hope is that these monthly reviews will inspire critical reflection of and future creative contributions to the growing fields of digital scholarship.

This post was written by Sarth Khare, the Global Studies Digital Projects GRA at Perry-Castañeda Library and a current graduate student at the School of Information.


Josef Koudelka is one of the most respectable names in documentary photography. To many photographers like me, his work is as perfect as it gets. His enigmatic images immortalize the slivers of rare moments, spaces, and events that he witnessed in his extraordinary life. Whether they are of Warsaw Pact troops marching in Prague, of Roma Communities in Romania and Spain, or the large panoramas of landscapes across cities, his photos have the mystical power to transport the viewer into the time and world the photo was taken in.   

Ever since I got to know about his work, I would go online and look for his photos. I would easily spend hours, looking for the shades of grays, the composition, angles and emotive expressions that made his work so rare. But I never got the clarity or satisfaction that one would get by looking at a physical print up-close. The materiality of the paper, the grains shining through and the rich gradience in the tones always seemed to be absent in the digital scans of his work that were available online.  

In the middle of the global pandemic, the National Library of France announced an exhibition “Josef Koudelka. Ruins” which ran from September 15, 2020 to December 16, 2020. The exhibition highlighted panoramic landscapes taken by Josef Koudelka over 28 years across various archeological sites across the world.  

What was most exciting about the exhibition was the accessibility it provided during the pandemic. The physical curation of the exhibit was translated to an online tour using 360° shots. Anyone in the world could access the exhibition and travel through sixty points of view, including, through zooming tools, the ability to look at prints from close and far. One can read the texts on the picture rails along the prints, but more than that, from within the 360° shots itself, viewers can click to view high-resolution scans of the prints.   

This online experience completely changed the idea of exhibitions for me: I could simultaneously experience the detailed nuances of Koudelka’s photographs while  I could also enjoy moving in a world that was designed around them.  

I felt elated with this experience—that galleries and curators alike are striving to reproduce a similar sense of awe online. The push towards this novel approach was two-fold. Firstly, the need of making the exhibition reach people during the pandemic, and secondly, the current tools and technologies that can make this dematerialization of space possible across the internet. 360° virtual tools have been used in real estate and architecture for a while now but have only recently become sophisticated enough to get realistic renderings of spaces. Overlaying such 360° visualizations with high-resolution scans of the static images was a missing piece of the larger puzzle—and what makes this tour so engaging and memorable. 

Although the tour mimics the exhibition in all mannerism, and I believe it is one of the most perfect renderings yet, I can’t say that it was ideal in all means. To physically be in a space with such larger-than-life panoramic images and seeing their juxtaposition is an extraordinary experience. It teleports the viewer from the gallery into the space of the image and has the power to change the viewer. 

 Traveling within the computer screen, however, can become repetitive. But these are current limits of our technology. Within these limitations, this digital exhibition is a milestone. With the growth of virtual reality, I feel that future reproductions that build on this exhibition would become more integrated and holistic.   

I witnessed the exhibition, from my home in India, without having to go to France, and experienced the details and depth of the work of a master whom I truly admire. I must have already spent more than 10 hours roaming digitally along the exhibition spaces of the National Library of France. And I continue doing so now: long after its physical counterpart has ended the digital exhibit is still on display.  

I invite everyone reading this to click on the link below and experience this extraordinary event themselves.  http://expositions.bnf.fr/koudelka/  

UT Austin is also very lucky because the Harry Ransom Center is the home to about 200,000 original prints of Magnum Photos. Magnum Photos is the world’s most influential international photographic cooperative of which Josef Koudelka is a part of. One can access their archives and see the collection details at the following link:  https://norman.hrc.utexas.edu/fasearch/findingAid.cfm?eadid=00502

One can also access Koudelka’s photobooks at the Fine Arts Library here at UT Austin. All of his major publications are available here including the forementioned project “Ruins” – https://search.lib.utexas.edu/permalink/01UTAU_INST/9e1640/alma991058227980106011

His seminal work “Exiles” can be found here as well- 
https://search.lib.utexas.edu/permalink/01UTAU_INST/9e1640/alma991021857199706011 

Tocker Librarian Ashley Morrison on the First year+

With the arrival of Vice Provost and Director Lorraine Haricombe, the Libraries leaned into Open Access as a strategy for equitable access to resources and as a budgetary countermeasure in a the face of skyrocketing publishing costs. A facet of the work that has gotten extra attention is Open Educational Resources – OERs – defined by the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition as “teaching, learning and research resources released under an open license that permits their free use and repurposing by others. OERs can be textbooks, full courses, lesson plans, videos, tests, software, or any other tool, material, or technique that supports access to knowledge.”

In the fall of 2019, the Tocker Foundation provided $355,000 for a collaborative project between the UT Libraries, the Austin Public Library (APL) and Austin Community College (ACC) to promote the adoption, development and distribution of OERs. Funding from the gift subsidized the hiring of a dedicated librarian to develop and execute a plan for broad adoption of OERs at UT, as well as for the award of open education grants, education and training on OERs and joint promotion of open education with partner institutions APL and ACC.

In fall 2020, the Libraries hired Ashley Morrison – a former UT iSchool alum and GRA who had landed a permanent position at the North Carolina State University Library, but whose interest in open education called her back to Austin – to become the first Tocker Open Education Librarian at the university.

A little over a year after pioneering the position at UT, Ashley talks with us about her love of open access and OERs, the foundation she’s building and perceptions of the enterprise so far.


Tex Libris: How did you become interested in Open Access and OERs?

Ashley Morrison: I first learned about open access and open education as movements in graduate school, but conceptually, democratized access to and production of knowledge is something that always spoke to me (and was a big part of why I wanted to become a librarian!). As a first-generation college student who was responsible for most of the cost of my education, it’s easy to understand the power and potential of OER to transform course material access and have a positive impact on the financial well-being of students. While textbooks and course materials are just one factor contributing to the rising expense of higher education, it is a tangible and addressable obstacle through the availability and adoption of OER and other OA materials.

TL: What is your assessment of the OER landscape at UT? In what ways can OERs benefit students/faculty/researchers at the university?

AM: There is a small but growing community of UT instructors, staff, and students who already use and advocate for the adoption of OER, and they are my partners in driving awareness of OER on campus. Through my personal interactions and through more scaled survey-based outreach, we know that faculty at UT are largely receptive and willing to consider OER as required course materials. We also know that they often need more support to make such a big change to their curriculum, and I love being able to offer some of that support as they search for, evaluate, and adapt OER for use in their classrooms.

The most obvious benefit of OER for students, and what gets most people interested in OER, is the eliminated or significantly reduced financial barrier to access course materials. Most OER is available at no cost, and printed materials are generally available at the cost to produce them. But what I’ve heard others say and I definitely observe to be true is that with OER, you come for the free access, but you stay for the pedagogy. The open licenses conferred to OER by their creators allow anyone who uses them to make copies and customize the resources freely. That means they can be translated into new languages, modified to better reflect the student body of a particular institution or classroom, updated with new research or case studies, and more. It also enables faculty to engage students as editors and creators in the production of OER. Students can contribute to open textbooks, create open websites, and more. Students are not just knowledge consumers but knowledge creators, and that’s a really transformative concept for many of them.

TL: What projects have you undertaken since you took on the job?

AM: This year has been a busy one! There are a few projects that have been especially fulfilling, including a partnership between UT Libraries and students in Natural Sciences Council and the Senate of College Councils that produced our first faculty recognition program, the Affordable Education Champions. Through this campaign, we invite the student body to nominate faculty whose choices to assign free or low-cost materials have had a real impact on them.

I also really enjoyed working with colleagues from the OER Working Group to launch our first OER-focused instructor learning community, with grant funding from the Faculty Innovation Center providing small stipends to our participants. We spent six weeks with the ten selected instructors discussing OER and other affordable course materials as tools to foster inclusion in their classrooms, and we hope to offer more communities like this in the future.

Finally, one I’m very excited about this year is the Open Education Fellows pilot program. This program is designed to offer our small cohort of faculty fellows financial and programmatic support in their effort to adopt or adapt existing OER or develop new resources to fill gaps in the OER landscape.

TL: What sort of reception have you received from potential stakeholders on campus?

AM: It’s been a very encouraging reception! From students to staff to faculty to administration, open education is generally received with curiosity and interest. This isn’t to say that there aren’t some concerns expressed, but most stakeholders I’ve spoken with are open to learning more about the financial and pedagogical benefits of using OER in the classroom.

TL: Do you coordinate with institutions outside of UT? If so, how does that influence your local strategy?

AM: Yes! I’m very lucky that the open education community actively seeks collaboration, which makes a lot of sense given that connection is a principle of open education. I am regularly in touch with a small group of librarians called the OER Ambassadors, which is a program facilitated by Texas Digital Library. More recently, I’ve also helped convened an informal group of practitioners across the UT System, which aligns strategically with the Momentum on OER (MOER) effort sponsored by the System. Each of these groups is really valuable because they give me a chance to connect with colleagues doing similar work, though each of our OER programs may be in different stages of maturity. I learn a lot from hearing what’s worked well for others, what’s been challenging, and how they’re implementing best practices and in some cases mandates from legislation related to OER. These colleagues are incredibly generous, and their insights have directly informed the development of many of our OER programs at UT.

TL: How did the health crisis impact your work? You came on in the middle of the pandemic, at a time when OERs would’ve been really beneficial, but I imagine that you were also limited in opportunities to hit the ground and start building networks.

AM: While the pandemic did inhibit my ability to knock on doors and host physical programming that was central to UT’s OER advocacy efforts in previous years, my experience was that it engendered a great sense of empathy between faculty and students that opened them up to conversations about OER in a way that they may not have been before the pandemic. There is a heightened sense of awareness of the struggles we’re each facing right now, and for many members of our UT community and their families, financial vulnerability has been a really evident challenge. I have seen faculty go to great lengths to mitigate any of the struggles that they can for their students – from being more flexible about assignment deadlines to revising testing procedures to reevaluating course materials that cause financial burdens for some students. While faculty continue to have so many of their own challenges to address during this health crisis, I have seen them prioritize the well-being of their students repeatedly. OER has been one tool for doing this.

TL: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve recognized since you arrived? What’s the biggest opportunity?

AM: One of the biggest challenges I’ve observed is that while so many faculty are interested in using OER, the right OER isn’t there for every class just yet. This especially comes up in my conversations and searches with faculty teaching upper-division courses. It’s not surprising since most of the large-scale, funded OER projects are aimed at introductory level courses, but it’s still disappointing when someone is really excited about adopting OER and just can’t find what they need. In those cases, we explore other free and affordable options, like searching UT Libraries’ vast collections to identify licensed materials that would be free for students to access. These faculty are also often interested in developing their own OER to address these gaps in content, which I see as one of UT’s greatest opportunities to impact not only our students but anyone, anywhere who wants to learn. However, developing OER takes a lot of time that our faculty often don’t have, and the work is not always recognized through the existing reward structures of the university (such as promotion or tenure). The Open Education Fellows pilot program is our first step to seeing what it would take to support faculty authors and OER publishing projects, and I’m very excited to learn and identify opportunities to scale that program in the future. With funding, I’m optimistic that we can enable UT community members to create more open, public knowledge.

TL: What do you hope to achieve in the short-term – next couple of years – and what about the long-term?

AM: I mentioned already my hopes for scaling OER adoption and development through the Open Education Fellows program, but beyond that, another short-term goal I have is to support faculty who are interested in assessing the impact of adopting OER and other free resources in their classrooms. Studies outside of our institution overwhelmingly show that students enrolled in courses using OER perform as well or better than students enrolled in courses using commercial textbooks. Some studies are even able to demonstrate that the impact to outcomes like final grades are outsized for historically underserved groups like first-generation students, students with financial need, and BIPOC students. I’m eager to partner with faculty interested in replicating or expanding on these studies and contributing to the scholarship of teaching.

A longer-term goal is really more about a cultural shift, and I believe we’re at the start of it now. I want OER (and affordability, more generally), to be a key part of the University’s strategic priorities. It makes sense to have the UT Libraries guide our campus OER efforts as a thought leader and programmatic coordinator, but open education won’t be a formidable movement on campus without administrative support outside the Libraries. It is critical, for example, that faculty contributions related to OER – adopting, adapting, developing, and co-creating with students – are formally recognized and valued in promotion and tenure guidelines. I am optimistic that the work of the Sustainable Open Scholarship Working Group will advance this conversation and lead to more institutional support for OER, but the shift we need will take time at a university of our size.

TL: Given user familiarity with traditional publishing, how do you change minds about the fairly novel concept of OERs?

AM: It’s definitely easy to think of OER as the wild west of publishing – no peer review, no quality control, no graphic design value. But that’s not the case! So far, the most effective way to ease minds has been to actually show people high-quality examples of OER in the wild. I often point to examples from OpenStax, though they aren’t the only publisher of beautifully-produced, peer-reviewed OER with the ancillary materials that instructors often value. (And to be clear, not all OER is like this, just as not every commercial textbook is.) The point is that OER can look a lot like the proprietary textbooks they may already be using, and doing hands-on exploration is the only way to determine if any kind of course material is right for you, whether it’s published openly or commercially.

Hartness Reading Room Opens

The Benson Latin American Collection dressed up and campus lit up for the opening of the newly-named Ann Hartness Reading Room.

On Thursday, March 24, the Benson hosted a dedication ceremony for the renovated space in recognition of former head librarian Ann Hartness, who is renowned for her 38-year career at the Benson and her contributions to Brazilian studies. The space naming is the result of a generous gift by Hartness’s son Jonathan Graham and daughter-in-law and Elizabeth Ulmer, who are both graduates of UT’s School of Law,

The couple is directing a portion of their gift to establish the Jonathan Graham and Elizabeth Ulmer Fund for Library Materials on Brazil, an endowment to enhance the Benson’s Brazilian studies collection. The remainder of their gift will match other donors’ gifts to new or established endowments in any area at the Benson.

“My mother raised three boys in two different countries, moving back and forth while balancing her family, her education and her work,” says, Graham. “I’m just so proud of her, because when I think of the arc of her life, at a time when women from her background essentially followed their husbands, she made her own very distinctive career.”

The reopening of the Hartness Reading Room extends the Centennial Celebration of the Benson, which began last year. In honor of the Benson centenary and the occasion of the reopening, the UT Tower was lighted orange.

Hartness joined the Benson in 1970, working as a cataloger of Latin American periodicals. She helped with the transition as libraries moved towards digital services and resources, and eventually worked her way up to director. Throughout her tenure, she increased the depth and breadth of the library’s holdings in Brazilian materials. She retired in 2008 at age 73.

“Ann Hartness is synonymous with Brazilian collections at the Benson,” says Benson Director Melissa Guy. “It was through her tenacity, in-depth knowledge, and personal relationships that the library built a strong foundation for the study of Brazil at The University of Texas at Austin.”

The Benson’s main reading room is frequented by students, faculty and scholars from around the world, and it is the very room where Jon Graham spent countless hours studying as a teen and later as a Texas Law student.

“It was a refuge to study in one of the graduate student carrels in the Benson Collection. It was a quiet place to read, wander and collect my thoughts. This is a perfect way to honor my mother,” he says.


To learn more about the Jonathan Graham and Elizabeth Ulmer Fund for Library Materials on Brazil and other giving opportunities at the Benson Latin American Collection, contact Hannah Roberts at h.roberts@austin.utexas.edu.