Katy Tuck is a graduate student at the School of Information and currently serves as an Ask A Librarian Graduate Research Assistant at the Perry-Castañeda Library.
One defining hallmark of the science fiction genre is its atmospheric world-building. Against the backdrop of a fictitious future, past, or present, set in realities distinct from, yet eerily similar to our own, Sci-Fi plots grapple with the big ideas pressing humanity. Though the setting or the characters may be unfamiliar to us, the underlying exploration of political and social themes in Sci-Fi are universally apropos and fitting for a strange time such as the current moment. While we continue to work and study from home, contemplating the uncertainties and possibilities of the future, now is an opportune time to be transported to these other worlds and dimensions through the PCL’s robust and ever-expanding Sci-Fi collection.
Former UT Library Director Harold W. Billings had a penchant for the Sci-Fi genre and amassed a sizable personal collection over the years. He generously donated this collection to the UT Libraries some time ago, and many of these volumes are still in circulation. In keeping with his mission to expand the Sci-Fi holdings of the PCL, librarians have continued curating and developing this collection over the years. Notably, Humanities Librarian Gina Bastone has expanded the collection to further reflect the diversity of authors and themes across the genre and recently added multiple ebooks to the PCL Sci-Fi Collection.
If you are looking for a place to delve into this reading, I recommend you check out the Science Fiction Library Guide, created by former Ask a Librarian GRAs Adriana Casarez and Victoria Pena in 2018 under the guidance of Gina Bastone, and updated in 2020 to include a fantastic list of Sci-Fi titles now available as ebooks. Included in this ecollection are several complete series to keep you engaged and transfixed by literature all summer. If you enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale, I recommend Margaret Atwood’s relevant MaddAddam Trilogy, which includes the Oryx and Crake (1st in series), The Year of the Flood (2nd in series), and MaddAddam (3rd in series) books. After a pandemic sweeps the earth, dramatically altering known reality, survivors must band together and relearn how to navigate life.
I also recommend award-winning author Octavia Butler’s Earthseed: The Complete Series, which explores themes related to social inequality, adaptability, and survival in a dystopian future. The series includes her works Parable of the Sower (1st in series) and Parable of the Talents (2nd in series). Butler was the recipient of several Hugo and Nebula Awards for her writing.
From Proto-Sci-Fi to Cli-Fi (climate fiction) to Afro-Futurism to Cyberpunk, there is something for everyone, all accessible from the comfort of home (or beyond!) until we can resume our normal library activities. We welcome any suggested purchases to help us build our collection–just fill out this Suggest a Purchase form. Happy reading everyone.
Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this series, librarians from the Libraries’ Arts, Humanities and Global Studies Engagement Team briefly present, explore and critique existing examples of digital scholarship to encourage and inspire critical reflection of and future creative contributions to the growing fields of digital scholarship.
A poem in its printed form can feel complete and final. What I have learned, though, about poetry as both a reader and writer is that it is never linear. I don’t usually read a book of poems from start to finish – I jump around the book, pull phrases here and there. Writing poetry is even more complicated. A poem may start on a scrap of paper or in the Notes app on my phone. I may rewrite it by hand, then type it out again on my laptop. Drafting is never done in one sitting.
While every writer has their own process, I suspect many poets will admit to a similarly messy approach to drafting. And what if you could witness that process in real time? Poet, artist, and UT MFA student Annelyse Gelman and her collaborator, software programmer Jason Gillis-Grier, seek to answer that question through their delightful new poetry journal Midst.
Midst, which launched its inaugural issue in December 2019, provides readers a time-lapse view of a poem’s drafting process. Readers can watch the entire process from start to finish, or move around the timeline by rewinding or fast-forwarding. Each version of the poem is time-stamped, demonstrating that poems do not just magically appear but rather are the product of weeks, or even months, of work. This peek into the lengthy process of editing is intentional. Gelman and Gillis-Grier state on the journal’s website that they hope that Midst will demystify poetry and make it more accessible by showing the reader the writing process.
Gelman and Gillis-Grier have plans to expand the project with the Midst app, which will allow poets to capture their drafting process and then submit their time-lapse poem to the journal. Right now, featured writers are nominated and invited to submit versions, but with the app, they can open up the journal to a wider audience of writers and readers directly.
And Gelman and Gillis-Grier haven’t limited their creative poetry projects to just Midst. They also recently debuted the web app Relineator, in collaboration with UT English graduate student Zoe Bursztajn-Illingworth and the UT Digital Writing & Research Lab. Relineator allows poets and students to enter poems and see them reformatted with new line breaks.
April is National Poetry Month. While this year’s celebration is marked with a more somber tone due to the global pandemic, it also feels fitting to enjoy poetry from home through experimental, interactive projects like Midst and Relineator. If this has inspired you to further explore poetry, April is the best time of year to do it! Take a look at this curated selection of poetry ebooks on the UT Poetry Center’s guide. Once our print collections open again, you can find Annelyse Gelman’s book Everyone I Love is a Stranger to Someone and many other great collections of contemporary poetry at the Poetry Center’s physical location in the Perry-Castañeda Library.
“Illuminating Explorations” – This series of digital exhibits is designed to promote and celebrate UT Libraries collections in small-scale form. The exhibits will highlight unique materials to elevate awareness of a broad range of content. “Illuminating Explorations” will be created and released over time, with the intent of encouraging use of featured and related items, both digital and analog, in support of new inquiries, discoveries, enjoyment and further exploration.
Chapbooks have a curious history. Some scholars argue that the term is a combination of “cheap books” and “chapmen.” (Chapmen were traveling salesmen who wandered England and Scotland with thin, paper-bound books throughout the early Modern era, circa 1500-1800.) The current iteration of the American poetry chapbook is a distinctly 20th century phenomenon, linked to the technological advances of photocopying, desktop publication, and the internet. The UT Poetry Center in the Perry-Castañeda Library includes local poetry chapbooks from the last 40 years. My new online exhibit presents features this collection, with chapbooks from different small presses operating in Austin.
These little books play a profound role in poetry communities because they allow authors to share their work with their readers and fellow writers cheaply and easily. Writers can bypass the elitism and bureaucracy of boutique presses and mainstream publishing companies by self-publishing chapbooks or working with small local presses. These books, then, come with small price tags. Writers often only recoup their production costs, and some give their chapbooks away for free.
of a literary gift economy has been alive in Austin since the 1970s. Many
outsiders might assume that Austin’s art and culture begins and ends with live
music, but Central Texas has a vibrant literary culture, built by dedicated
writers and small press editors. This exhibit features chapbooks from the late
70s and early 80s that showcase Austin’s counter-culture and feminist voices,
while contemporary examples represent the diversity of writers in this growing
city, especially those from marginalized backgrounds.
highlighting the presses, their editors, and, of course, the writers, I hope to
bring to life and document Austin’s literary community. Emmalea Russo and
Michael Newton, poets and small press editors, argue that chapbooks create “a
space for makers to come together and look at each other’s work. So much of the
value of poetry is the community that comes out of it—both in terms of
relationships and as a way to discover new ideas. It means everything.” I hope
that you will find these selections by Austin writers represent a community
where poetry does, indeed, mean everything.
Diana Gwen. “The Poetry Chapbook: Blessing or Curse?” International Journal of the Book 8, no. 3 (2011): 27.
Russo and Michael Newton on Ugly Duckling Presse.” Poetry Society of America, n.d.
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.
David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest is considered, by some, a masterpiece of late 20th century American literature. The Harry Ransom Center’s acquisition of Wallace’s personal papers in 2010 gave his work a higher profile among scholars, and “Wallace Studies” has emerged as a sub-discipline. Curiously, his writings inspire an obsessive fan base that resembles the enthusiasm and devotion found at sci-fi cons rather than serious literary study. (Wallace had his own obsessions with television and “low-brow” pop culture, and perhaps he would find his fandom amusing.)
I started reading Infinite Jest while I was living in Boston, and I was struck by the novel’s sense of place. Wallace set the novel in a dystopic future where the United States has merged with Mexico and Canada to form the Organized North American Nations. Despite this setting, Bostonians will quickly recognize places in the novel because Wallace reimagines the city in excruciating detail. Critic Bill Lattanzi suggests Wallace was mirroring James Joyce’s painstaking recreation of Dublin in Ulysses. But Lattanzi recognizes what many readers familiar with Boston understand about the novel: There is a distortion of the city in Infinite Jest. It’s not Boston, or even the United States, as we know it. 
In this context, I chose to evaluate the Infinite Atlas, an interactive, crowd-sourced mapping project that geo-locates references in Infinite Jest. William Beutler, a communications consultant, created the Infinite Atlas and the travel blog Infinite Boston in 2012. The site’s “About” section describes it as “an independent research and art project.”
The Infinite Atlas is built on Google Maps, with design work by the firm JESS3 and programming from the web development company Red Edge. (It’s unclear if Beutler paid for the design and programming.) Beutler credits his friends and family for helping him with data collection, which included going through all 1,000+ pages of Infinite Jest one-by-one. The project also allows users to create their own locations and upload photos and descriptions, so the Atlas has expanded beyond the Boston area.
What can academic institutions take away from this project? What strikes me is the dedication, love, and passion Beutler and his friends brought to it, and their continued maintenance of the Infinite Atlas. Maintenance of digital projects is an ongoing issue for academic institutions and libraries, which can’t afford trendy design firms. However, we can learn from the Infinite Atlas team’s dedication. We should choose projects that we are passionate about, ones that we will care for and attend to in the future, much in the same way we care for our physical book collections.
This project also has interesting implications for scholars. Infinite Jest is a very difficult book. It is long, convoluted, and full of footnotes. It requires stamina of its readers. If the novel is, as Lattanzi suggests, a fragmentation of Wallace’s experiences in Boston, it is logical that fans would try to make sense of that. Beutler told Fast Company in 2015, “I re-read Infinite Jest after Wallace’s passing, and became obsessed with the idea that there was a way to treat Infinite Jest as a very large data set.” The Infinite Atlas is an attempt to better understand this novel through data, and that is one of digital humanities’ primary goals. Furthermore, the Infinite Atlas could be an object of study unto itself. It is, in a way, a primary source potentially useful for scholars interested in reader response to Wallace’s work. In the universe of digital projects, a non-academic work like the Infinite Atlas is an intriguing example because it challenges our notions of scholarship and leads us to other potentially better questions.
 See Wallace’s famous essay “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction” in his 1997 book A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again for Wallace’s examination of his own fraught relationship with television: http://catalog.lib.utexas.edu/record=b4267999~S29
Small children running around the PCL’s UFCU Room is not a normal sight on a Tuesday morning. Neither is a drag queen dressed up in a gown and full make-up. But on November 27, the Perry-Castañeda Library brought them together for a special story time event. Tatiana Cholula read picture books to a crowd of about 20 small children and their parents. UT faculty, staff, and students joined in and took a seat on the floor to hear Miss Tatiana’s stories.
Drag Queen Story Time is a national phenomenon, and it is exactly as the name suggests – drag performers read picture books aloud to groups of small children, their parents, and adult drag fans. It has been a huge hit at public libraries across the country, and when our friends at Austin Public Library hosted their own Drag Queen Story Time event, they had to turn folks away because their room was at capacity!
While Drag Queen Story Time is not a typical event hosted by an academic library, we thought it sounded like so much fun that we had to give it a try. The PCL has an extensive Youth Collection, including a lovely selection of new and notable picture books. Faculty and students use the Youth Collection for research in education, cultural history, and art, and many faculty and staff with children check out these books for leisure reading. Because November is National Picture Book Month, it was the perfect time to hold this event.
We partnered with UT’s Gender & Sexuality Center to find a drag performer, and they directed us to Tatiana Cholula, a former UT student, who is popular in the local Austin drag scene. Miss Tatiana immediately was enthusiastic about the event, and she picked out three picture books from the PCL’s Youth Collection that featured LGBTQ+ characters and characters of color.
We are proud to have brought visibility to gender diversity and the joy and fun of drag performance to the library. The event also encouraged young children to be themselves, no matter their gender, and showed them a glamorous, queer role model. We received enthusiastic feedback from parents and students who asked us to host the event again, and Miss Tatiana said, “Showing my art to a much younger audience made my heart so full.”
Most people think of SXSW as a giant party. But a for a group of us from the UT Libraries this year, SXSW presented an opportunity to make Wikipedia a more welcoming and representative place for LGBTQ+-identified people.
It started with an idea from some great folks at WNYC Studios, a public radio station in New York, to host an LGBTQ+ Wikipedia Edit-A-Thon during SXSW. WNYC produces the acclaimed podcast Nancy that covers modern queer identity. Hosts Kathy Tu and Tobin Low were at the festival to present on diversity in podcasting and wanted to do more in their off-time while in Austin. They noticed that many queer and trans topics don’t have robust Wikipedia pages, if they had pages at all, so they decided to tackle these significant information gaps.
I linked up with them in January, when they had the wisdom to reach out to librarians in Austin to assist with this event, Keep Wikipedia Queer. Event planning is more than one-person job, and I was able to partner with some graduate students from iSchool Pride, a group from the School of Information.
As we began planning, we realized that many people from UT might not be in town during SXSW. To encourage as much UT participation as possible, we decided to host Queering the Record, a pre edit-a-thon research event at the PCL during the week before Spring Break. Queering the Record provided structured time, space, and snacks for librarians, students, faculty, and staff to use library resources to identify topics that need Wikipedia pages and collect a list of sources that could be used and cited by edit-a-thon participants. More than 35 people attended Queering the Record, and by the end, we created a 23-page Google doc that we were able to share and work from at Nancy’s Edit-A-Thon.
Speaking of Nancy’s event – it was a lot of fun! During the 4-hour event held downtown, we met people from around Austin and around the country, all of whom are passionate about LGBTQ+ representation. Seven folks from UT attended, including some PCL Graduate Research Assistants, and we connected with a librarian from the City University of New York system. As a group, we edited more than 70 Wikipedia pages on topics as wide-ranging as comedian/blogger Samantha Irby, LGBTQ+ rights in Syria, Austin’s QueerBomb celebration, and the children’s book series Frog and Toad.
The response to both of these events from students and staff was so positive that we hope to hold more LGBTQ+ Wikipedia edit-a-thons in the future!
Special thanks to iSchool student and PCL GRA Elle Covington for her contributions to these events!
Poetry can be intimidating – it can be vague, filled with too many metaphors, caught up in form. We’ve tried to de-mystify poetry with our latest display at the UT Poetry Center, Read Like A Librarian: Staff Poetry Recommendations. Library staff found a great range of selections, including 19th century classics by Edgar Allan Poe and Elizabeth Barrett Browning and recently published volumes by poets like Alexis Pauline Gumbs and Peter Macuck.
Here’s a selection of staff recommendations and what they had to say about these books:
Fat Girl Finishing School by Rachel Wiley
Selected by Stephanie Lopez, Weekend & Evening Desk Supervisor
“Fat Girl Finishing School pulled me in with its cheeky cover, and once I started reading I was hooked! Wiley’s words are so powerful and thought-provoking that I found myself looking around to see if anyone else felt the earth shift under them. Before long, I was chasing down everyone I saw so that they, too, could read the words that caused such a visceral reaction in me. Do yourself and favor and read this. Your heart will thank you.”
Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Selected by Sarah Morris, Learning & Assessment Librarian
“Barrett Browning is best known for two things: Marrying Robert Browning and writing Sonnets from the Portuguese. But she’s also the author of Aurora Leigh, a feminist epic that explores issues of class, gender, art, and the challenges women face in finding opportunities for work, and respect for their work, in a restrictive society. Groundbreaking at the time, it’s still a great read today.”
Come visit the UT Poetry Center in PCL 2.500 to see more staff picks and read the books in person!