All posts by Travis Willmann

Pivot to a New Environment

The UT Libraries wants you to know that even though spaces on campus may be closed, our work continues.

The challenges that libraries have been continuously addressing for some 30 years in a migration from the analog to digital experienced some artificial timeline compression as the university was forced to rapidly migrate operations to a mostly online presence in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and the temporary shuttering of university operations.   

“We moved 100% of our 200+ member staff from their campus work locations to a work-from-home arrangement, and started making similar arrangements for many of our 200+ student employees – in two weeks,” explains Vice Provost and Directore Lorraine J. Haricombe. “This required an intense rapid planning effort by supervisors, managers and leadership in conjunction with the entire staff.”

After the university announced it’s return plan, it was all-hands-on-deck to try to support the massive campus transition to a completely different format, and that included much of the day-to-day work happening at the Libraries.

“The University’s abrupt shift to fully online instruction, along with our complete relocation of work environments, created challenges across all of our core divisions,” explains Haricombe, “but as key partners in ensuring academic continuity during this pandemic, our librarians and staff moved quickly to provide essential services online, while also extending our reach into support for online teaching and learning.”

Libraries have spent decades building a framework for technological innovation and expertise. They’ve been working online, expanding digital resources, and advocating for barrier-free open access to information. Here at UT, faculty and students have access to high-quality digitized resources, licensed e-resources, online LibGuides, and our collective expertise to support teaching, research and learning. We have created a robust system to preserve the analog resources we’ve built over the past 130+ years in digital formats in order not only to protect them, but to make them available to people who might not be able to access them in person.

Since the initial announcement of the university’s closure, expert Libraries’ staff have been responding to a constant flow of requests from the campus community for help adapting to the temporary process and policy changes that have occurred, along with training in online processes that may have been overlooked in the past.

They’ve worked directly with vendors and coordinated with information technology staff to maintain and in some cases expand digital access to resources, and made spot transitions to in person services making them available in an online environment. In certain cases, they’ve helped to develop alternative pathways to create access to resources that seemed otherwise out of reach without access to physical library spaces. It’s been a massive undertaking with little opportunity for preparation by folks who have traditionally thrived in library spaces surrounded by patrons and colleagues, but who have been required to move to isolation while continuing to provide for the needs of a Tier 1 research university.

Examples of this work abound, from work transitioning to new realities, to finding innovative ways to continue work already in progress, to bootstrapping solutions when success seems a distant possibility.

Preparing Library Staff for a Different World:

The sudden closure of the libraries on campus required a quick response to undertake preparations for a new way of operating for the Libraries, and one of the first orders of business was to try to prepare the extensive staff and their breadth of responsibilities for transitioning to a new work environment.

Even before decisions about operations were finalized that included the cessation of in-person services and subsequent closure of space, Libraries facilities staff were implementing social distancing measures to keep frontline staff and patron safe while continuing to provide core services that included visible distance guides for circulation interactions, and the erection of plexiglass guards to minimize contact.

Libraries’ IT staff, meanwhile, had their work cut out for them with the colossal task of working with a 300+ workforce on individual bases to convert mostly onsite work environments into functional remote digital presences. It required the strategic deployment of limited technology hardware resources, and the immediate evaluation and positioning of new software applications to meet the requirements of the new and considerably unfamliar working conditions.  

Teaching and Learning Services (TLS) staff quickly reorganized research support services by setting up accounts for 35 liaisons and TLS librarians to enable direct booking of consultations, reviewed potential technologies for providing on demand research help, and prepared documentation for using Zoom and Canvas conferencing and teaching tools with organized training for library liasons. Staff also reviewed ways to shift information literacy instruction to an online environment and developed resources for anyone transitioning their instruction sessions.

Staff in Research Service organized communications flows to make sure that liaisons were informing their constituents of service changes, and liaisons updated LibGuides, calendaring applications and chat features to create as seamless a transition for users as possible. Academic Engagement liaisons have been proactive and also quickly responsive to faculty and student needs, ranging from filling requests for e-book text alternatives and other e-resources, adapting their instruction and helping faculty rework assignments, updating CourseGuides, and holding virtual office hours. Discovery and Access staff have set up mechanisms for availing faculty and researchers of crucial physical materials that are no longer directly accessible, and a limited cadre of Stewardship staffers worked feverishly to digitize resources needed for summer classes.

Shifting Resources to a New Environment

As future-oriented as libraries focus on being, it’s hard to deny the quintessential connection between the traditional archetype and the books that are so tied up in it. So when the places that house the 130+ of physical collections are no longer accessible, how do librarians fulfill the needs of the biblio-centric researchers and faculty that normally haunt the stacks on any given day?

As it became evident to the Libraries’ most energetic users that much of their access to stack browsing and physical retrieval were going to be halted for an indeterminate time, it became incumbent on librarians to locate alternate resources in order to support the maintenance of the university’s core research efforts.

Fine Arts Library staff heard concerns from faculty researchers at the College of Fine Arts’s (CoFA) Butler School of Music about burdens caused by the inaccessibility of the bound music scores that reside on the 5th floor of the Fine Arts Library, and were able to point users to over 54,000 digitized scores available thanks to the Libraries’ partnership in HathiTrust. HathiTrust has opened at large cache of their digital resources in response to the pandemic, all of which are accessible contingent on the current accessibility of physical resources, so changes to the status of those physical resources could result in the loss of that resource; copyright inquiries have increased for our Scholarly Communications unit as they help people navigate the intricacies of collaboration the digital environment. Staffers in Research Services have coordinated with faculty to locate ebook alternatives to course texts, pointed to temporary resources opened by publishers in response to the crisis, evaluated fair use requests for audio visual materials to meet teaching needs and promoted existing resources such as the extensive PCL Map Collection as resources for consideration by faculty in the recalibration of their syllabi.

Ongoing Remote Expertise

Beyond the access to informational resources that had to be reconsidered, the Libraries needed to reimagine how best to utilize staff expertise to support the changes to the new teaching and learning environment.

Graduate research assistants in Teaching and Learning Services started fielded numerous questions about Libraries services, collections and spaces at the onset of the pandemie, increasing their availability the week of March 16. They have been working Saturdays throughout the crisis to expand the service for user needs.

Staff have also worked on numerous specialized cases to assist faculty who had either enlisted Libraries support for their classes, or who came to the Libraries as a resource when they needed help thinking through a pivot to online teaching. In specific cases, staff experts were able to help facilitate video learning opportunities using prerecorded training videos in tandem with live presentations to explore practical opportunities for research, and in certain cases, included additional special collections archivists to discuss specific digital resources and opportunities available from collections that normally require an in-person visit. Staff have also ramped up video consultations as unforeseen challenges arise in the transition to online, and in certain cases, have helped to train faculty adapting to video conferencing technologies required to carry-out the expectations of a new and sometimes foreign online teaching environment.

What’s next?

Uncertainty seems to be a constant in the current crisis, so speculating on the future seems like a bit of a fool’s errand. Nonetheless, the necessity for change that was precipitated by the sudden closure of library spaces created opportunities to consider what we’ve done in the past, and how we may be able to do things better in the future. An excellent thought piece by Christopher Cox, dean of the Clemson Libraries, ponders some previously unchallenged notions about what libraries are, and suggests that this moment has offered us the chance to reenvision ourselves for a new era. Are we overvaluing books? Do we invest enough work in digital preservation and access? Is the current model for electronic resources in the best interest of the public? Has our investment in collaborative space and technology hardware been challenged? What is our new role in the virtual space? Are we providing equitable access to all our users? These are all questions that have arisen before, but they’ve taken on additional gravity when applied in the midst of extreme adversity.

We know we’re up to the task, though. We’ve proven it. If there’s one thing we’ve gleaned in the last months, it’s that we have the capacity to rapidly adapt to unexpected challenges that are far beyond our control. And to thrive in doing so.

Jackson School Alumnus Honors Trombatore with Endowment

Former Dean of the Jackson School of Geosciences Dr. Sharon Mosher announced in December the creation of a new endowment fund honoring longtime Geology Librarian Dennis Trombatore. 

The Dennis Trombatore Excellence Fund for the Walter Geology Library was established with the support of alumnus Dr. Carlotta Chernoff  (’92 BS, ’95 MA) in honor of Trombatore as additional funding for urgent needs at the discretion of the Jackson School of Geosciences (JSG) Dean with input from the librarian at the Walter Geology Library.

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 has 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 have touched the lives of every student, research scientist, faculty, and staff member who has 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.”

Trombatore received his B.A. (’75) and MLS (’77) from Louisiana State University, and joined the University of Texas Libraries in 1985 after working in librarian positions at Loyola University and The University of Georgia at Athens. He has served as head librarian at the Walter Geology Library for over three decades, and has participated on numerous committees and at conferences in a variety of capacities. Trombatore has also been recognized for his ongoing contributions to the university, including with 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 is a member of GSA and the Geoscience Information Society, and is past president of the Austin Geological Society.

boy in red striped shirt and bolo tie, smiling, with rock collection
On a trajectory for greatness from a young age. A proud Dennis Trombatore with his rock collection, circa 1966.

Diversity Residents Move On

In fall of 2018, the Libraries welcomed the first class of The Consuelo Artaza and Dr. Carlos Castañeda Diversity Alliance Residency Program who arrived for a 2-year term. Residents Laura Tadena and Natalie Hill spent the last year+ in rotations with various units for an immersive experience in librarianship, and though their terms haven’t yet expired, both earned the sort of attention that generated interest from other institutions wanting to lure them to professional opportunity. While we’re sad to see them leave, we’re extremely proud of the work they put in during their time at UT, and for the extensive contributions they made to what we do.

Hill and Tadena sat with me to reflect on their experience during their residencies, and to share their impressions of the program and the knowledge they gained.


Natalie Hill and Laura Tadena.
Natalie Hill and Laura Tadena.

Tex Libris: What is the main value or biggest takeaway you have from participating in the program?

Laura Tadena: I think for me it was learning about all the resources that we have access to or that are available for the state, and really wanting to share that information with others. Coming into this, I wasn’t familiar with the Texas State Library. I also didn’t realize how many libraries are open and free to the public, especially academic and college libraries. So, I think the most valuable thing for me was learning that and really refining my information literacy skills. Now I feel equipped to really find information in a way that I wasn’t before, especially research and reference skills. I did chat, which was part of learning UT’s system, and then we ended up doing a lot of presentations together, which required a lot of research that recalled the knowledge I learned in school and put it into practice in a professional setting. And seeing how some of the other librarians in action, how they do their jobs, and being like, “Wow…that’s how you get information.” 

Rachel Winston and Natalie Hill standing in front of a work of art.
Rachel Winston and Natalie Hill.

Natalie Hill: My big takeaway is knowing how the library works at multiple levels, and how information is communicated. Rotating between the different areas and being on all of the listservs, even after I’ve left an area, has been really interesting to see when people find things out about what’s going on. The experience has really encouraged me to go into leadership, which isn’t something I had strongly considered before. Now I want to do that.

TL: Do you feel like you gained some confidence from your time here?

NH: For sure.

TL: That’s a huge value, if you can walk into a place feeling like a visitor, and walk away thinking, “I can do this.”

NH: I think meeting directly with (Libraries’ Director) Lorraine Haricombe a few times was really valuable, and having her provide encouragement…when she says you can do something, you think, “Yeah, I can, if she thinks I can.”  So it was a big confidence boost.

TL: You have both done a lot of presentations in your time here, and that comes along with the territory, being in the residency program, but not all of the presentations were required as a component of your positions as resident; they were elective. Was that interest in presenting something you brought to your work here, or was it a byproduct of the confidence you’ve talked about gaining in your time at the Libraries?

NH: I think it was after we got here. Presentations were what I was least looking forward to. And now I’m like, “These are easy.”

LT: I think that one of the things that kind of started it was when we had a window into the hiring process, and saw what the CVs, resumés and cover letters looked like. We realized that we needed to get that sort of activity into our CV to be able to compete in the market. And so we put a bunch of submissions out thinking we weren’t going to get accepted…

NH: We thought it would be harder to get accepted…

LT: We also recognized a higher value in presenting papers or being included in panels as opposed to other forms of presentation.

TL: Did the experience meet your expectations?

NH: I didn’t fully know what I wanted to do when I started, but I felt it would have something to do with open education. So being able to call myself the open education librarian, and write my own job was great. So, in that way the experience exceeded my expectations — especially with the development work behind open education going on simultaneously, to see it becoming a real strategic initiative within the organization and to be part of it as that was happening.

LT: I think coming into this, I initially thought I was going to be doing more outreach and connecting with the student body, so learning how academic libraries work was what exceeded my expectations. And the access we had to professional development was incredible. We had opportunities to go to professional conferences, and I got practice in applying for scholarships. I came in here wanting to find ways to serve Texas, and I think I leave here now with a better foundation for doing that.

NH: I think one thing I didn’t expect was being known in the field. And I feel like now people know us – probably as a pair, not necessarily as individuals – but, still that’s bizarre. It’s kind of strange to be familiar to people in positions of leadership.

Hill and Tadena with fellow diversity residents.
Hill and Tadena with fellow diversity residents.

TL: This is a nascent program that didn’t have a lot of predetermined direction when you came in, and you’ve had a chance to steer it in a way.

LT: We didn’t expect to start a Slack space for various diversity residents across the country, but there are ACRL liaisons contacting us about the development of that. We’re being brought on as mentors for other residents. So it’s rewarding to be able to give back to the profession.

NH: Laura met with the iSchool to try to set up presentation opportunities for students.

LT: I also met with the dean of my alma mater who’s been recruiting me to teach there. I didn’t realize that as library schools are moving more towards an information science orientation, there is a shortage of public school librarians, resulting in a shortage of people who can teach about school librarianship. Someone told me – I think it was Portia (Vaughn, previous science liaison) – that every opportunity should lead to another opportunity, and I’ve found that it does tend to happen if you are open to talking with people and seeing if you can meet each other’s needs and trying to think ahead.

TL: What was the benefit of getting to work with professionals in librarianship?

NH: I worked with Colleen Lyon (Head of Scholarly Communications) most of the time that I’ve been here, and that’s been really beneficial because she really knows what she’s doing.

LT: I think that working with Porcia (Vaughn, former Liaison Librarian for Biosciences) and Carolyn (Cunningham, Head of Teaching and Learning Engagement Team), they have a way of communicating with you and teaching you – the had a way of teaching you how to do things, including the decisions behind their methods; it was extremely helpful and not something that everyone naturally does. Carolyn was really helpful in navigating internal and institutional frameworks, and Porcia helped with the external opportunities, like connecting with other STEM librarians, introducing me to other networks to get involved in of which I was unaware. And through our residence space, we learned about what was happening at other libraries.

Porcia Vaughan, Laura Tadena and Natalie Hill.
Porcia Vaughan, Laura Tadena and Natalie Hill.

TL: What was something you didn’t know about libraries before that you know now?

NH: I didn’t know anything about instructional design, and now I’m going to be an instructional designer. At the time we came in, job postings in the field suggested that people were looking for assessment and instructional design experience, and I was like, “I don’t really care about either of those things.” But, working in open education, I realized that I was drifting away from affordability arguments, and toward student engagement and being able to adapt materials to better serve users, and those are really just instructional design principles. So, open pedagogy is what I want to do now.

LT: I really didn’t understand how academic libraries operated, big picture stuff. I think one of the biggest things I learned was how we provide services to our community. And what, as librarians, we’re able to do. I didn’t know that there was a state library that did just professional development. And I didn’t know about AMIGOS which does professional development support for all libraries. That area of the profession is very interesting to me because of my instruction background, and so I’m excited to be able to take that forward and support all types of libraries.   

NH: I don’t think I knew about how professional associations work before this, and having the ARL president here (Haricombe), I now know what the ARL does, which has been really valuable, because you can see where broader initiatives start then trickle out to the rest of field in succeeding years.

LT: And how committees operate, because we’re getting practical experience.

Three people standing with a large Olmec head sculpture.

TL: What advice would you give to someone who was considering applying to a residency program like this?

NH: Know that the program is for you, so if there’s not going to be a lot of flexibility or freedom, maybe consider another option. I think that we’ve been really fortunate here in that coming in as the first class of residents, it was pretty unstructured, and people were pretty willing to say yes to ideas. We’ve seen where other residency programs have a set job description and I don’t think something like that would be anywhere near as valuable an experience.

LT: My suggestion would be to connect with other residents — to learn about what they are doing and use that to help support what you are doing or to create your own agency, and advocate for your own benefit within the program. Because being part of it is about learning, and I think we’ve seen a lot of residents in positions where they don’t know they can ask for more, or they aren’t aware that they have some control over their experience and what they gain from it. We’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity – as long as it ties to our growth and development – to help shape our own experience.

TL: What do you think can be done to improve the experience for future residents?

LT: Cohort models are nice. I don’t know that this program would have been as beneficial for us if there was just one of us. It was a great experience to be able to have someone to go to talk with about the shared experience, to have someone that you’re constantly able to check in with. And, then again, to have someone available to bounce ideas off of was helpful, especially since the program is a safe space. Moving forward, I would recommend that there are at least two residents at the same level, or at least in a cohort model that is closer together. Having a buddy is good. And having great mentors.

NH: Maybe there could be a refresher for staff on what the program intent is. Because it’s up to the individual resident what interest within the organization they choose to pursue, they could end up in any area, even one that may have not had previous experience with a resident. We stayed in pretty public-facing academic engagement roles, but maybe someone else would be really interested in technical services. So just a reminder that it could go any way. And keeping the door open so that residents can go anywhere within the library that appeals to them, because that is what makes this program unique from other ones.

TL: What’s next for each of you?

LT: I will be the inclusive services consultant at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, and I’ll be working for the first year with public libraries, helping to train staff and ensure that they have adequate resources to provide inclusive services. My future supervisor has said that the hope is to expand the role and potentially bring my work into both school and college/academic libraries. I’m looking forward to the type of work that I’m going to do. It’s another job that I don’t really know what I’m getting into, but I’m excited because of the great things I’ve heard about the State Library. And I’ll be close by.

NH: I will be an instructional designer with the University of New England in Portland, Maine, and I will be on a team of instructional designers within the College of Graduate and Professional Studies, which is made of fully online graduate programs. So, I will be working with faculty and subject matter experts to develop new online courses and provide quality assurance and redesigns for existing courses. I think that my specialty on the team will be promoting open educational resources and moving those to the forefront in the course creation process.

LT: Outside of our future roles, we’re also going to be working on a book chapter with (new diversity resident) Adriana Casarez on the residency program, and we’ll be presenting at TLA together, on a panel about residencies in Texas.

NH: Then, hopefully, the goal is to come up with an ACRL proposal so that we can do that in 2021.

TL: Congratulations on be the first class and being first class.

NH/LT: Thank you!

NH: We’re the first to graduate!

LT: Yay! We get to move our tassle….

Collections Highlight: Bertolini’s “Florula guatimalensis”

Historical photo of Antonio Bertoloni
Antonio Bertoloni

Antonio Bertolini (1775-1869) was a Italian botanist and professor of botany at Bologna who wrote predominantly on Italian botany. He also collected notable samples of Central American flora.

Joaquin Velasco, a Mexican physician, came to Italy in 1836, as part of the Mexican papal delegation, and brought with him numerous dried plants and seeds from Guatemala which he presented to Bertolini. Most of them were new or rare species, and their description and classification was compiled and published by Bertolini as Florula guatimalensis sistens plantas nonnullas in Guatimala sponte nascentes. One of the 28 copies available at libraries worldwide resides in the Benson Latin American Collection.

print of poinsetta
“Euphorbia erytrophylla,” commonly known as flor de pascua or poinsettia pulcherrima, from Antonio Bertoloni, Florula guatimalensis sistens plantas nonnullas in Guatimala sponte nascentes (Bononiae [Bologna]: ex typographaeo Emygdii ab Ulmo, 1840), plate 6. Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas Libraries.

Several of the plants Velasco provided to Bertolini were successfully grown in the Bologna Botanical Gardens.

Art History Prof Shares Black Press Collection

Friend of the University of Texas Libraries and Art History Professor Eddie Chambers has curated a collection of publications for a display in the reading room at the Fine Arts Library.

Chambers’ exhibit — “Recognizing the History of Black Magazine Publishing in the US” — features selections from his personal collection that represent the burgeoning of an independent press which spoke to the experience of African Americans in the late 20th Century, and includes examples from the period of the publications Ebony, Ebony Jr!, Jet, Black World, Negro Digest and Freedomways.

The exhibit is on display during regular Fine Arts Library hours through the fall semester.

Selection of Jet magazines from the late 20th century.

What motivated you to curate the display?

Eddie Chambers, Professor, Art History: I have over the years collected, for research purposes, various magazines and journals, going back a number of decades. These magazines and journals have particular relevance to African American history, culture, politics, identity, and so on. Some of these I’ve assembled for the current FAL display. I am always attracted to vintage, archival items such as these as they enable us to get a direct feel, not only of the graphics and aesthetics of the times during which they were published, but in reading their texts, we get a direct sense of arguments, reportage and opinions, again, from the respective times.

As with so many things that carry an ‘African American’ prefix, we can perhaps trace the establishment of the Black press to a reluctance by the white-dominated media to pay proper and respectful attention to the agendas of African Americans. Magazines such as Ebony were important for a wide range of reasons including the readership’s ability to keep apprised of the ins and outs of Black celebrity lives, the ins and outs of the struggle for civil rights, going back many a decade, and the ins and outs of stories and issues that lay at the heart of African American existence. With the spectacular growth of the internet, the publishing media is in general, in various levels of retreat. This applies also to the Black press and the display points to the ways in which magazines published weekly or monthly were such an important and necessary means by which African Americans gleaned a wide range of information. And in Ebony magazine, the adverts are as entertaining as can be! It’s not hard for us to be inclined to the view that contemporary issues are different from those people thought about and acted on in decades gone by. Seeing magazines such as these, we might think, or realize, that issues we are concerned with or interested in at the present time, go back years, and decades.

Where are the materials from? 

EC: I have collected the materials over the course of a number of years. Most of the material relates to some or other aspect of my research. For example, I recently acquired a copy of an Ebony issue that trailed on its front cover a feature on the quest for a Black Christ. Sourcing this came about because I am editing a volume – the Routledge Companion to African American Art History – which contains a text by a scholar, looking at visualizations of Christ and Christianity by African American artists. I wanted to double-check quotations by her, from this Ebony issue, in her essay. Material such as these magazines and journals are not frequently available to researchers and scholars, without considerable effort, so I find myself constantly sourcing such material. Having acquired items, I am always keen to share the material, which is why I periodically undertake displays such as this, in the Fine Arts Library (FAL). Right now, I have different archival material loaned out for exhibits that are currently on view at both the Blanton Museum and the Christian Green Gallery, here at UT Austin.

Copy of Ebony Magazine with Jackie Robinson on the cover.

What do you see as the major impacts of the selected publications? 

EC: The types of materials on view represent some of the sources African Americans had to turn to, in order to read stories that reflected themselves. Television was of course very poor at offering anything that was not considered of primarily mainstream (i.e. white) interest. Black publishing — and the adverts it carried — offered a vital route through which African Americans could source hair care products or, more generally, see adverts that featured people who looked like them. The importance of this cannot be overstated.

These magazines were also an environment that stimulated and gave work to Black journalists at a time when the mainstream media was frequently reluctant to. Photographers, typesetters, journalists, sub editors, layout artists, etc., all professionally benefitted from the Black press. We might think that in the modern age, people’s attention spans might be somewhat skewed or compressed, but the stories presented in some of these Black magazines enabled substantial, engaged, complex stories to be told, as well as the lives, loves, and ups and downs of Black celebrity life, to be digested. Of course, a pocket-sized magazine such as Jet offered its readers information in decidedly bite-sized chunks.

The perpetual, systemic framing of African Americans within the white dominated media was one of them as being ‘problems’. African Americans tended to realize that the framing of them as having problems was but a short hop skip and jump away from them being problems. The formidable perception, framed and maintained by the white controlled media, of America having first, Negro, then Afro American, then African American problems was more than enough to persuade African Americans of the need to maintain, for their own sense of self, a Black press that respected the multi-dimensionality of their selfhood. The Black press enabled African Americans to see themselves not as cardboard cutout problems, but as complex human beings who existed in the round.

Of course, it must be added that African Americans relied on the Black press to carry nuanced, informed analyses of the problems they had. In this sense, a profound manifestation of empathy existed between the Black press and its clientele.

Selection of Ebony, Jr. magazines.

How did this era of the Black press influence the representation of African Americans in modern media? 

EC: Modern media is of course vastly different from publishing in decades gone by. One of the biggest influences is perhaps the ways in which white-controlled media has diversified, to an extent, its content. Quite rightly, we expect the New Yorker, the New York Times, and a slew of other media to carry stories that speak to the country’s diversity, including of course, that of the African American demographic. Diversified media content has in its own way perhaps worked to lessen the impact and importance of a distinctly African American branch of publishing. 

There is of course still huge amounts of work to be done, but at the present time, the wholesale exclusion of African Americans from mainstream media, as was the case in decades gone by, is arguably less of an issue at the present time.

Announcing the Texas GeoData Portal

In the same way that the internet and digitization have created new ways to make books more discoverable and facilitated new ways of exploring text, so, too, have they opened avenues for a greater exploration of maps and their underlying data.

As what has been a deliberative process, the UT Libraries have tended toward later adoption of new currents in libraries and librarianship in order to take advantage of the trial and error mechanics that so often are part of embracing untested technologies and frameworks. Geographic information systems (GIS) technology has been in the ascendant for several years now as a burgeoning area of expertise in libraries, and with the expansive cartographic resources we have at UT and the evolution in the growth of local datasets, it was time for the Libraries to embrace GIS as part of its overall strategic expertise.

Geospatial data identifies data that has a geographic component to it…any data that includes locational information – such as coordinates (latitudes and longitudes), addresses, cities, zip codes, etc. – and can be applied to some position on the Earth. We rely on geospatial data to track weather, find the best route to a destination, manage air traffic, make decisions about where to invest in infrastructure projects and to determine how best to deploy marketing resources. And all of these data forms can be mapped. GIS helps to organize and visualize that data in ways that make it eminently more useful.

The Libraries finally entered the landscape of GIS last year with the hiring of Geospatial Data Coordinator Michael Shensky, and a major undertaking in his short tenure has been to spearhead the development of an interface that will facilitate discovery of the cartographic resources and geospatial datasets in our collections by researchers, faculty and other university constituents.

Texas GeoData Portal.
Texas GeoData Portal.

The Texas GeoData Portal uses an open source geospatial discovery application – GeoBlacklight – to power a web portal that gives users the ability to search, browse, preview, and download geospatial datasets. Visitors to the website will be able to search through a variety of geospatial datasets, including georeferenced scanned map images from the PCL Maps Collection and vector datasets developed from items in other special collections like the Benson Latin American Collection and Alexander Architectural Archives.

The portal will allow users to download data in several different standard geospatial formats so that they can easily be loaded into GIS software for advanced visualization and analysis.

Coordinated use of GeoBlacklight software and collaboration through the OpenGeoMetadata project has created a community among partner institutions for the sharing and standardization of data and metadata, expanding the opportunities for discovery and creating a robust search functionality among a large corpus of resources. Users can filter search results based on various dataset characteristics including geographic extent, subject matter, institution, data type, and format.

“I’m really excited to be a part of this project because I know this portal has the potential to benefit everyone in the campus community regardless of their role and area of specialization,” says Shensky. “Faculty can use the portal to find data for developing instructional materials, students can find data to use in research projects, and visitors will have access to a variety of unique maps and datasets that they can explore.”

The Texas GeoData Portal is in the closing stages of development with a full launch expected later in the fall, at which point users will be able to access the new resource through the Libraries’ website. Already discussions are underway regarding future functionality, which could include UT single sign on authentication for viewing license-restricted data, integration with the unified search on the Libraries’ website and integration with the Texas Data Repository and the Collections portal (more information to come on this project).