All posts by Travis Willmann

Into the Next Normal

Hard to believe it’s been two years since the sudden closure of these Libraries upended our work and forced us to rethink how we continue to operate in a world that has the potential to throw such wild curveballs. A lot of the work we did before will likely return much as it was before we left the Forty Acres and adjusted to the boxed in screen of video interactions that would become the workspace for much of our library work for an extended period.

But much of the change required to keep the Libraries running through the remote period and into the initial reopening of spaces and return to in-person activity will remain in place as we enter the next normal. The paradigm of normal has shifted irrevocably thanks to a health crisis that has cost over 5 million lives, upended social practices and impacted the way we behave in so many ways, positive and negative. There was a normal before we knew of COVID-19, and there is a different normal as we proceed. To address that next normal, there are changes that won’t disappear, even when the pandemic eventually does.

So, what are the sustainable, smart changes that the Libraries will continue going forward?

Accessibility to Online Resources. The primacy of digital access was clear immediately upon the arrival of COVID. Without a robust online presence, academic enterprise and research innovation would have been greatly hindered, but through quick negotiation affected by a shared interest in continuity with providers, staff were able to ensure the best possible resources were available through emergency accommodations by the publishers, and favorable decisions about access to resources in HathiTrust. That experience provides a blueprint for continued access to resources and can inform future negotiations with publishers and content partners.

IDEA and Collections. One byproduct of the crisis was our captivity to a constant stream of news, and the effect of social upheaval on our strategic practices. The racial reckoning provided an opportunity to reflect on collections strategy and recalibrate our orientation. A project to diversify the collections is already well underway and will be a permanent part of our thinking going forward. And new digital applications like Spotlight will allow for the curation and highlighting of materials that reflect the breadth and diversity of our user community’s interests.

“Our time away from campus was not limited to the suffering brought on by the pandemic,” explains Head of Information Literacy Services Elise Nacca. “The murder of George Floyd prompted vital conversations on our campus, including interrogating whose story gets told at this University and what responsibility do we have to seek out diverse viewpoints? Critical pedagogy asks us to interrogate how power shapes the creation of and access to information. I worked to address in my classroom the gaps and silences in scholarship and how students can use our resources at the Libraries to seek out perspectives missing from the conversation.”

Promoting Legacy Content. The launch of the Libraries’ Digital Asset Management System (DAMS) in 2019 couldn’t have been more fortuitous, providing a framework and processes for sharing extant digital content with a community that was abruptly cut off from physical access to primary resources. Innovative thinking aligned with open access principles to realize opportunities for leveraging the DAMS for collaborative work. One such example is work on the David Reichard Williams Collection at the Alexander Architectural Archive, where staff enlisted a larger group of formal and citizen scholars to build out metadata for the collection through a crowdsourcing effort. This novel approach can be applied with equal effect even during a period that doesn’t require distance between contributors.

“We made a big push to provide more digital access to library resources,” explains Sean O’Bryan, Assistant Director of Access. “Along with exponentially increasing identification, description and ingest of content into the DAMS, we also took advantage of HathiTrust Emergency Temporary Access Service (ETAS) making these digital surrogates easily discoverable in Primo (the Libraries’ content discovery system). This immediate benefit of providing a ‘virtual library’ during the pandemic has informed our exploration of controlled digital lending in order to advance that potential post-pandemic.”

The Dawn of the Virtual Session. Perhaps one of the most important evolutions of the pandemic was the development of collaborative meeting platforms like Zoom and Teams, allowing the adaptation of in-person services and expertise in a virtual environment. Research consultations, workshops and meetings all migrated to these platforms out of necessity during the pandemic, and now they have become a regular, and likely permanent fixture in how we interface with our constituents.

“One of the biggest changes made after the start of the pandemic was a switch from exclusively in-person workshops to completely virtual Zoom webinar-based workshops,” says Geospatial Data Coordinator Michael Shensky. “It wasn’t initially clear whether patrons would show up in the same numbers we had come to expect for in-person workshops, but we found that attendance for virtual workshops was actually significantly higher than for in-person workshops on similar topics that were organized during semesters prior to the pandemic.”

Having access to expert librarians for reference support is a core function at academic research institutions, and so the sudden impact of closures on research consultations – a service that was mostly an in-person exercise – could have been detrimental. Once again, Zoom provided a ready solution for an unexpected challenge. “It’s a great format for this type of work and allows people to meet with us from wherever they are,” says Jenifer Flaxbart, Assistant Director of Research Support and Digital Initiatives.

“Zoom was a godsend, for many reasons, and it’s now a staple in all facets of our work,” continues Flaxbart. “These virtual learning tools and platforms can be used both synchronously and asynchronously, and they permit global-level engagement, 24/7.”

Collaborating in the Digital Space. Teaching and learning online is not so easy to navigate successfully, and not every tool is equal, but what did work was using online whiteboards such as Padlet and Google Jam Boards during instruction sessions. These tools allow students to post ideas and responses quickly and teachers can see the posts in real time to facilitate discussion. Students can see what their colleagues are posting as well, and can participate anonymously. These tools will continue to find a space as in-person teaching and learning continues to ramp up with the gradual return to campus.

Where’s the Community? One of the greatest losses of the departure from campus at the arrival of the pandemic was the bustle and din of activity in Libraries’ spaces. When students returned in a limited capacity, the hesitancy created by risk factors made for a slow return to formerly beloved student congregation areas. Amplifying the challenge of providing a communal and collaborative workspace is the disparate experience of latter career students and those whose academic life began in a remote environment. Navigating the adapted needs of users in the physical space is a hard road of work ahead, but with the earnest return to campus, we’re seeing increasing traffic in spaces, and an expansion of in-person services, though not at pre-pandemic levels, yet.

“Teaching first year students, you’re always aware of the challenges someone coming to our campus for the first time might face,” says Elise Nacca. “It’s big and overwhelming and it’s easy to get lost physically and mentally. Before the pandemic sent us all home, I don’t think I appreciated how much most students really love being on campus and how much many lost staying home. I saw a lot of sad faces in Zoom classrooms and a lot of silent black boxes staring back at me. I wondered more than ever how they were feeling.”

“This led us to include more inclusive teaching practices into our work. This could be something simple like using inclusive language and examples in search demos to more intensive work, such as providing multiple formats for engagement with course materials,” explains Nacca. “I included more videos and screenshots of my content because I felt like I could not check in with students as easily as I could in person in order to check if they understood a concept. A stressed-out student on a lousy internet connection could follow images of searches or watch a video on their phone if the Zoom session wasn’t easy to engage with.”

“Overall, Covid has pushed our users to embrace the ‘Platform’ even more,” says Jenifer Flaxbart. “It’s key that our staffing and services align with that and do not overemphasize Library-as-Place and in-person work needlessly, particularly with faculty and graduate students, who’ve shown they prefer remote work and virtual collaborations with librarians and related Libraries’ experts.”

Working Differently. There’s no question that the experience of almost two years in a pandemic that has separated people from a professional structure and shared space can stymie efficiencies that have been built for existing practices and processes, so in adjusting workflows to a radically different work environment, staff chanced certain operational discoveries that might’ve otherwise not been considered.

The Digital Stewardship staff took on a lot of additional work to help units across the Libraries provide access to materials that were no longer available in physical form, including support in scanning materials for ILS (interlibrary loan) requests. That workflow could have sunsetted as ILS staff came back onsite, but the experience opened the door to the idea of scanning materials for different kinds of workflows. “Now we are scanning materials for the Controlled Digital Lending pilot,” says Assistant Director of Stewardship Wendy Martin, “and will build out those workflows as needed if that becomes a service.”

Transitional projects, which are mostly one-time affairs, gained some added benefit from the peace of campus closure. The pandemic allowed Stewardship staff to approach a project to vacate Battle Hall for a renovation project (as well as some other collection moves) in a more deliberate way than might have otherwise been possible. “The Storage and Logistics team and Architecture team and Preservation team were able to work onsite while the Architecture Library was closed for the pandemic, instead of having to fit the move into an intersession period,” says Martin. “The library was closed, but staff could work onsite preparing materials, and remain socially-distant from each other as they carried out the work. Having that time and space to move that collection out of Battle was beneficial for the move out, and also informs how we will move it all back in.”

Mindset and Headspace. There’s no question that the experiences of the past two years  have affected attitudes and orientation about work/life balance. So in addition to the outward facing changes that directly impact our users, there have been efforts to take into consideration the challenges and varying experiences of Libraries’ staff. There’s a real concern that with a slew of changes like those mentioned here, burnout and exhaustion can loom behind the satisfaction of surviving such an unexpected series of challenges. Units within the Libraries are recognizing a role in making sure that the Libraries’ are taking care of its own, as well as its users.

“While new approaches to our work have been exciting and productive, they are simultaneously overwhelming,” says Jenifer Flaxbart. “Managerially, the Research Support & Digital Initiatives Engagement Team focused on communication, reassurance and ‘grace’ in acknowledging that the many stresses and moving parts and unpredictable, ever-changing conditions regarding physical, psychological and emotional health, living arrangements, family roles and obligations, financial impacts, loss and more. We aimed for those things before the pandemic and continue to give more pronounced focus to those things now.”


As these Libraries move towards certainty, we’ll bring with us lessons learned from the challenges of the last two years. Amid the experimentation – some efforts resulting in success, others not –  there is one perspective that holds both in the last normal and in the next one, stated nicely by Head of Scholarly Communications Colleen Lyon: 

“We are a really service-minded profession and organization. I knew we would do what we had to do to be responsive to our users’ sudden and very different access needs. And we did. I think we spend a lot of time asking what we could do better in this profession of perfectionists, but we need to celebrate our work, too.”


Meet the New Diversity Residents

Established in 2018, the University of Texas Libraries’ Diversity Residency Librarian program offers entry-level librarians from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to develop skills and professional growth while gaining practical experience in an academic library setting. The program is designed to align with the professional goals and interests of the residents as well as the strategic priorities of the Libraries. The program supports the goals of the Association of College & Research Libraries Diversity Alliance program.

This term’s incoming librarians – Jeremy Thompson and Karina Sanchez – began their residencies over the summer remotely, but are now immersed with their initial rotations with significant time spent onsite at the various library locations. We sat down with the pair to get some personal insights and to learn about their expectations for the program.


Tex Libris: Tell us a little bit about your backgrounds – where you’re from, where you studied, what your interests are and what it’s like since you’ve come to the Libraries.

Jeremy Thompson: Well, I call Arizona home, but I’m originally from Indiana. But I moved to Arizona when I was nine and went to the University of Arizona where I did my undergrad. I was a history major and Information Science & eSociety major. And I got my master’s there, too, in library and information science. I have multiple backgrounds in library work. I worked for six years at the Arizona State Museum. Then during that time I also took internships. So, I worked a year and a half of the 390th Memorial Museum, which was a World War II Museum dedicated to the bomber group. Then I worked for two years for UArizona’s special collections and then I did it and I was a junior fellow at the Library of Congress. And when I was graduating I was looking for all kinds of jobs, this position popped up and I told myself digital archives has always been an interest of mine and I just thought of something I could learn on the job somewhere. The original plan was to get a traditional kind job and then just build and becoming a digital archivist. But if I could get into this program and actually focus on digital archives, then that would be great for my career and something I actually wanted to do. I got this career and I’m mainly focusing on when digital archives and digital processing. That’s my main focus and why I’m here.

Karina Sanchez: I’m from Los Angeles, California, and I was born and raised in the valley there. For my undergrad, I went to UC-Irvine, which was like an hour away, and I majored in English and education. And during my undergraduate career, I went to a special collection workshop and that’s where I became interested in working in libraries and specifically special collections. And remember before that I thought, ‘I don’t want to be a librarian – they just sit at the desk, you know?’ But then after that I realized that there’s so much to librarianship and archives and special collections, and there’s so many jobs related to that. Once I graduated from Irvine, I earned a Getty Multicultural Undergraduate internship, but it was at Olvera Street (El Pueblo Historical Monument), which is a historical Mexican monument. From there I went to the Huntington Library, and working there has really informed what I want to do for work. After the Huntington, I got my library information Masters at UCLA, and I thought I wanted to stick with reference. Working there my supervisor, allowed me to critically analyze our space and how it impacts people of color and how it impacts people who just don’t have the privilege to use these spaces. I think that’s where my specific interest is – working with students of color, researchers of color, people who come from low income areas, because their perspective is so important and how research is perceived.

TL: So what made you decide to settle on the residency instead of going directly into a professional career? Was it a learning learning opportunity or was it an experiential opportunity that you saw there?

JT: It was both. I saw this as an opportunity to actually branch out and explore – with it being a three year program, I knew I would be able to take my time. I know that both of us are younger people in the field, so we had time to explore, and I knew I would get the experience that I needed and also be able to explore what I wanted to.

KS: I think I found out about the diversity resident librarianship before I found out that UT Austin had it, and because I had a job, I was not going to stress out too much about it. I needed to focus on graduating. I was just casually looking for stuff, and in January I saw that North Carolina was advertising for a diversity resident librarian. When the UT Austin position popped up, I read the description. There were other positions and I compared it to the other ones, but this one sounded perfect. It was very focused on learning and teaching. I didn’t feel like I needed to know all this stuff before I got in, so it didn’t feel as intimidating as some of the others. And I remember talking to my supervisor at the Huntington – she’s a mentor for me – and she said, “You should apply for this, you’ll learn more than just special collections – you’ll be better, you’ll be rounded out.” And it’s an academic library so it’s really great experience. With her help I applied and I’m happy I was able to get it. 

TL: What are your expectations coming into the program?

KS: I guess my expectations coming in were very much about learning. I had to tell myself, ‘Don’t worry about going in there and feeling like you need to know everything because there’s just so much and this institution is so big.’ The first week of doing my informational interviews I realized that there are librarians for a lot of subject areas that I didn’t even consider. I realized quickly that it is okay to ask questions and learn. And I think that’s the mentality I’ve had – it’s an expectation to learn and to gain skills that I don’t have. Once I’m done with the program, hopefully it will be a bit easier to apply for the ideal librarian job.

JT: I came in wanting to be a digital archivist and that’s my expectation. I remember when I was interviewing for this position, I wanted to make sure it was worth my time because I am experienced. And while I was interviewing for here, I was also interviewing LSU for a manuscript processing possession, which I didn’t get – so (laughing) luckily I got this one. I just wanted to make sure that I that I came in expecting to come out a digital archivist, and making sure that I was going to learn something new. And so far I’ve learned a lot of things, and I’m only five months in.

TL: You both had previous experience in special archives. UT has a depth in special collections, so was there something about the special collections at the university that compelled you to apply here?

KS: Yeah, I remember when I was at UCLA, there’s a librarian there now, T-Kay Sangwand, and I remember seeing one of her presentations about a digitization process at the Benson (Latin American Collection) and the outreach the Libraries did in other countries, and I thought that was really cool. I remember seeing this position open and wondered if I might get the chance to work with the digital initiatives group or to work where T-Kay was working. And then when I reviewed our rotation options, I saw that digital initiative was part of the rotation, and it’s just perfect that it worked out somehow. I’m really excited to work with them and to understand more about the digital initiative outreach that they do. Also the Benson is Latinx-focused, so I’m really excited just to get that perspective because the Huntington was a very European-focused collection, while this collection has more diversity, even though there is still some intrinsic whiteness and colonization.


JT: Coming into it just finding the job posting, I was like, ‘Oh yeah…the University of Texas – that seems like a good place to work.’ Getting into the interview process and doing the research about the Libraries, one of the things I was impressed with is the Black Diaspora Archive (BDA), which I’ll be working on in my next rotation. Being in Arizona and working for their special collections and the Arizona State Museum, I’ve worked with Latinx collections and Native American collections, but I’ve never had the opportunity to work with a Black collection. And for my project at the Library of Congress, I was supposed to work on the African American Collection but it was right as the pandemic started, so they had to go virtual, so I worked in a different collection. Having the opportunity to actually work with a Black collection and learning in my interview from (Black Diaspora Archivist) Rachel Winston that the BDA is new and it doesn’t have a lot of digital components –  just being able to be in on the ground floor for the collection and add in my own piece and my own work to the is to the archives something that I’m excited about.

TL: What are the what are the other areas of interests for you each here? 

JT: Teaching services. One of the things that I’m impressed with again – going back to special collections – is Theresa Polk’s post-custodial, but also teaching what we’re doing. One of the things that I like about archives is the problems encountered and the solutions that come from those, but also having to not only find a solution but also adapt it so it doesn’t just stay with the institution. One of the things that we typically do when we find the solution is create a workflow so that we can inform others how we went about that process, and it can be reverse engineered. That’s one of the things that I enjoy and I plan on focusing on is teaching what we do so that outside communities can do the work, decentralizing the archival process.

TL: So if they are working on a post custodial project and you had the chance to go and do fieldwork with them where they’re teaching folks how to use technology in the field to digitally-preserve resources, would that be something you might jump at?

JT: Yeah, I’ve worked on a similar project in the past. In Tucson, there’s the Dunbar Pavilion school. The Dunbar was the first segregated school for African Americans in Tucson – they were having a reunion – and special collections were on hand with portable scanners to digitize photographs and put them on USB drives. And it wasn’t a requirement that they had to give us a copy, but we asked. It was a process to show people that you can do this yourself, you can preserve your own history. So, yeah, if there was an opportunity to go out in the field and actually do that work and produce onsite metadata, it is something that I would be interested in.

KS: Right now I’m working on an assessment with (Assessment Librarian) Maria Chiochios learning the assessment process and the survey process, and what to assess. There was a lot of assessment that we probably should’ve done at the Huntington, but we didn’t have the time or the staff.  And going back to the Huntington, as with many museums and academic institutions, there are issues with how people use space. I’ve gotten to talk to (User Experience Designer) Melody Ethley about the user experience process and how people use space, how it impacts the research – especially if you’re a person of color. I am interested in understanding how people of color use special collections, since these spaces are not built for them and many haven’t encountered these resources can be a whole new world thus being scary.  Also, at the Huntington, we didn’t have a lot of outreach. I think one of the rotations I’ll be doing is with Teaching and Learning, and I’m excited to work with undergrad students because I never had that chance before. I’ve always worked with professors and PhD students, who already knew exactly what they were doing. I’m excited to work with undergrads who are still trying to figure out what they’re doing and exploring the space. At the Huntington to I was able to develop a virtual reading room during the pandemic, which is basically a service where researchers – whether they’re local or out of the country – able to see our materials virtually through a document camera. In doing that, I realized how important the technology and the digital aspect of special collections are. I’m excited to work with (Benson Digital Scholarship Coordinator) Albert Palacios because he does the Latin American Digital Initiatives, but he also does the outreach and public facing work. I feel like it’s something I don’t know much about and something I’m really interested in and combining those two is exciting. 

TL: You mention people who have traditionally experienced barriers to accessing special collections. What can you hope to gain from your experience here that might help inform improving the situation for people who experience barriers when it comes to special collections? You’re talking about working with researchers – they come in with a very much different attitude than students. If you layer on top of that, these sorts of barriers that affect underrepresented communities, how how do you expect your time here to inform how you might address that in your future work, especially if you’re planning on going back to special collections or spaces where those barriers still exist?

JT: I was a diversity scholar with the Association of Research Libraries. During my time in library school, I was put together with a group of other people from underrepresented groups. And one of the things I enjoy about about digital archives is that it’s new. It’s everyone’s starting from the same starting place. Everyone has photographs, everyone has videos, everyone has that. So where traditional archives are behind the paywall, with digital archives, we’re all starting from the same place. While I’m building the skills, I also have to learn how to adapt them so that people who are not traditionally trained in archives – because one of my focus is while I was in library school was in community archives and the techniques that they use – will have the access and skills to use these resources. Since digital archives is still a fairly new practice, it’s a starting place for everyone and you can gear an approach towards underrepresented groups, so that they can have this new tool to tell their stories and they’re not starting at such a distinct disadvantage.

TL: That’s a really interesting perspective. I hadn’t thought about that, but thinking about the difference between trained scholars and researchers versus students who may be digital native. The new digital landscape might actually start to tip that balance a little bit toward people who haven’t had experience in archives previously. 

KS: I think for me, what I hope to gain from my time in terms of the way I approach librarianship when it comes to working with low income or underprivileged students is through my experience working with undergraduate students. That’s what I’m most excited about. I am first generation college student, I was the first one to go to a university, so it was an unfamiliar experience. Working with students and seeing how they think and how they perceive not only their library space, but their academic career, and being able to empathize – hopefully I can gain some understanding of how they use the space and use that knowledge to make the space for them. From personal experience, I went to one workshop as a first year in an archive that affected my whole career and that showed me that I could be a librarian, and then every time I meet other librarians of color who are ahead in their careers – like Rachel or like Albert – it’s like, ‘Oh, there are people of color and their doing really well in their field. I could do that, too, and hopefully I could have some type of impact.’

TL: Move ahead in time two years, what are you hoping to look back and have gained from your residency? What are some of the other intangible benefits that you want to gain from you experience here? 

KS: I went back home for Thanksgiving, and I was thinking about what I’ve learned so far in the little time I’ve been here, and I realized I’ve been able to work really closely with Maria and I’ve learned so much just working the last few weeks with her. I’ve learned so much about how she carries herself as an assessment librarian. Also as being a co-chair of the Diversity Action Committee and how strong she is. I really admire that and working with (Digital Scholarship Librarian) Allyssa Guzman, and meeting (U.S. Studies Liaison and former diversity resident) Adriana Casarez and the previous diversity residents. I have been able to speak to them about my experience and learn from their own experience working at UT. Their advice has been very helpful in learning how to navigate my role. It really makes me excited to work closely with other people throughout my rotation because I’ve learned so much already, and I’ll be able to learn more and create fruitful relationships that I’ll be able to keep. I’m really excited to create those relationships and to understand how a bigger academic place like this works. Being here, learning about the organization and understanding that will benefit me once I move to a permanent professional position. Talking to Allyssa about people’s positions and how everything is structured has been really helpful because I feel like if I came in here as a librarian, I would feel intimidated to even ask those questions because I would feel like I should know this already, but as a resident, I get the opportunity to ask question and to learn how this library works.

TL: You’ve been working in academic libraries, and you’ve had some experience there. So how is it different for you then?

JT: Well, I’m not a student anymore (laughing). One of the things that Karina hit on that I’ve also noticed is that while doing these interviews, one of the things that – for lack of a better word – has been contagious is that everyone is so energized by the work and that’s one of the things I want to take away from this is not being the student actually but actually being treated as a professional. I want to come out of this feeling like a professional and that I have this subject knowledge, and that I’m able to apply that to other places. In most of the groups that I’ve interacted with, I’ve been a student and someone who’s preparing to be in the in the career. So now when I’m networking, I can talk as a professional and I have contributions to the conversation. That’s one of the things that I want to carry with me when I’m out of this residency program. I think that this is a great incubator for that because it’s a program that’s made to made to support you and make sure that you’re getting what you need. And I think that I think that we will be successful once we’re out of this program, but we’re also given time to explore, to realize what kind of information professional we wouldn’t want to be. 

TL: Why is this program and programs like it important? Is it important at all? 

JT: Yeah. I think, I think it’s really, really important. First, you’re able to rotate different areas, which something that I really like about. I don’t know if other diversity programs do the same way, how Austin does it. And I think it specifically focuses on people of color. I feel like when you see positions like that, you feel more motivated and you feel like you have more of a chance to succeed. And also it’s for people who have just gotten their Master’s and just graduated. So that’s another thing that makes you feel like you have more of a chance to hopefully get this than another librarian job where it might require at least 2-3 years of professional setting and you’re competing with people who have like many more years than you. It’s very important in that aspect. And it’s also important, in a critical sense, to think about the way you are perceived in this type of space, the type of impact you have. As people of color coming from a low income area, it’s not our responsibility to create the change, but if you want to, you have that power, and it feels a little less intimidating being in this position. It gives you a bit more sense of having a voice.

I think it’s important that we recognize that we are the two individuals in this position, out of all the people who applied. We were privileged to be in this position and that in some way we’re flag bearers. There’s a lot of talk in this field about the need for diversity and the need to have diverse perspectives and that as the two individuals in this position and also the other individuals who are in similar programs that it’s our responsibility to no bring the change, but to be the change. The point of being the flagbearer is to make sure in the future that there’s no need for a flagbearer, is that there’s no need for programs like this. So, the point of this program is to make sure that there is no need for programs like this in the future. We kind of have the responsibility to be the best professionals that we can and advocate where we can, because we are the we are the two individuals representing this program. We have to interlink with the other individuals who are in similar programs to make sure that there’s no need for programs like this in the future, because the field will already be diversified.

KS: And to piggyback on Jeremy’s thoughts – not to seem negative – but programs like this do have a performative activism to them, which is an issue. So, I totally agree with Jeremy that hopefully in the future we don’t need these kinds of programs because libraries are diverse enough or we don’t have to have this type of performative work to show that we’re diverse. 

JT: Yeah. Speaking to the performative, I don’t really like public speaking, or, you know, talking to anyone – I would be more than happy to be in my dungeon doing my archival work, just be in this position. But I have to stand up, be counted. Like: Hey, I’m Jeremy Thompson. I’m the diversity resident and I’m in this position and I’m showing you my face. And that’s important.

Focusing on User Experience with Melody Ethley

The lion’s share of what libraries do requires a fundamental attention to the experience of the researcher, scholar, student, faculty or patron who engages either in-person or online with resources, services, spaces and expertise. That experience of the user can have a profound effect on the quality and efficacy of the work being pursued. With the growth of personal technologies and the development of user-centered design, there’s been a growing movement to place a greater emphasis on user and customer experience in all manner of industry, and libraries have begun to incorporate this strategy into their own operations with the enlistment of User Experience and Content Management experts.

The UT Libraries recently hired its first User Experience Designer, and we sat down with Melody Ethley to learn a bit more about what she will bring to improve the experience of all who enter the Libraries, be that through a door or a browser.


Tex Libris: What’s your background, and how did you get into user experience (UX)?

Melody Ethley: My background is in computer information systems. I was first exposed to User Experience design during my undergrad years. I was still trying to figure out what I’d like to do. After graduation, I had an opportunity to intern at the Library of Congress (LOC) and that was really such an invaluable experience. It was so hands-on, and I learned from a lot of well-versed UX professionals. And I also appreciated having that exposure in the library, which I had never even known about as an option for a career. After my time at LOC, I did some independent work and sought out small business owners to help them develop their websites with a UX focus. I tried to implement my processes while also considering that they don’t really know much about UX. I was eager to continue to follow the path that I was on in pursuing a career in this field and making sure that I was still moving forward while the world was kind of falling apart. I started at UTL in the summer, so I’ve been here for a few months now.

TL: Tell me a little bit about the law.gov project that you worked on at the Library of Congress (LOC). What was it like being involved in a project that big coming fresh out of out of college into this internship?

ME: It was very intimidating, I will say. And didn’t realize how big the project was until I was working on it. I was on a team of about 12 people all doing UX within their own projects at the library. My direct supervisor was the lead experience designer on law.gov at the time. I was brought in as a user researcher and content strategist to help facilitate usability studies and synthesize data from our findings. My integration into the project was very quick, you know. I did a lot of research on how various topics were found on the law.gov landing page, because there was a concern with important content being buried under the menus. And if you have ever visited the law.gov website – like many library websites – there’s a lot of content to sift through. We wanted to figure out how our novice and power users were navigating the Law.gov website and organize the content in a way that everybody could find the information that they needed.

It was a fun project. I got to sit in the Law Library and recruit participants to do our study, which was really interesting. I had to be very strategic in when and how I approached people. At first, it was a little nerve-wracking, because I didn’t want to interrupt their studies, but I was also motivated to gather as many participants as I could. I am a people person, and I’m comfortable with approaching people I don’t know, so it was right up my alley to just go in there and recruit folks for our study.

Later in the project, I inherited the content inventory, which was a big undertaking. I didn’t even realize until after I was finished with this internship that there were over 30,000 items that I helped to capture for the law.gov redesign. I spent weeks revising the existing content inventory and while it was a tedious task, I found a lot of interest in the artifacts that I uncovered while I was working on it. I captured every piece of content that I encountered – any internal and external pages, pdfs, collections, events, you name it. The Type A personality in me had to make sure any and everything was in that spreadsheet. So, at times it was like, ‘oh man, this is a lot, this is a lot.’ But I feel like I was able to kind of truncate it and break it down in a way that wasn’t too overwhelming. And then I realized that I enjoyed working within the realm of content strategy and it became an area that I wanted to explore more about in UX. It’s just another element under the big umbrella of things that you can do in this industry. 

TL: Do you think the LOC experience provided any preparation for coming to work at the UT Libraries?

ME: Oh, definitely. I didn’t have that experience working in a library coming into the UX profession. That was one thing that I was excited about when I applied here. My previous experience in a library helped me realize how meaningful my work could be in this space, and the idea of impacting so many people who are striving to reach their educational goals brings me so much purpose. And having that hands-on experience in a larger organization was great, because if I hadn’t had that experience then I would have been mostly relying on my independent projects with the smaller organizations which might not have served me as well in this role. I think that my experience at LOC gave me the reassurance and confidence in my capability to do the work at the caliber that it needs to be done.

TL: Does the approach to UX differ for an organization like a library?

ME: I would say that UX is fairly the same across all industries. Of course, there are nuances, but the core concept and idea remain the same – to deliver a delightful experience to the user. UX in the library is going to be very similar to UX in a private organization. When I think of UX, I think of how I can bring together the needs of the user, the needs of the organization, and the constraints of a specific product that I’m working on. And when I say users, I’m thinking of all my users – so here at the Libraries that is staff, leadership, our patrons. Then how can the organization benefit from the work that I’m doing, even if it’s just in the smallest way? I think all three of those components are what embody UX at its core. And of course, considering that there are nuances in everything it’s difficult for me to pinpoint right now, but I’m sure I will gather these things as I navigate my first few projects.

I’m excited to spread UX around the organization and to inform everybody about all the possibilities of UX. I feel like there’s still kind of like a foggy notion about it, you know. I’m going to be working a lot on the library website and to make sure that our resources and services are useful, and accessible for not only our patrons but for our staff too, because as I see my role, everybody is my user, not just the students – it’s also my colleagues, leadership, and really anybody who has a stake in the Libraries. I think about how I can make each person or group of people’s lives a little bit easier with the work that I do.

TL: That’s good because I generally just make their lives more complicated with what I’m asking them to do – kind of like this right now.

ME: That’s why we’re on a team. Hot and cold.

STaff Highlighter: Anh Holicky

One of the greatest assets of these Libraries is the dedicated, skilled and expert staff that make the complex machinery of a world-class research library run with such efficacy and care. We’ll use this highlighter as an occasional space to gain some insight into the work and personality of a selected member of this incredible staff.

Today, we meet Anh Holicky, a member of the Content Management team who began her career at the Libraries in 2006.

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

Anh Holicky

My title is Senior Content Management Specialist. I am managed the Receiving and End Processing unit at PCL/Content Management/Acquisition. My team and I handle receiving the acquired materials into our ILS and physical processing each item before items can be shelved and circulated from the libraries. 

What motivates you to wake up and go to work?

It is my habit to show up when I am expected. However, I enjoy being at work and feel happy when my team and I work together to accomplish our goal. I also like to challenge myself to getting better at handling tasks. 

What are you most proud of in your job?

I am most proud of helping to coordinate the workflow across teams to reduce the backlog in Receiving. And because I enjoy a well-organized work space, I hope to get it done soon.

What has been your best experience at the Libraries?

My best experience has been my first time coming to PCL as freshman to UT. I have never seen so many books in my life and I was totally in love with this place. As you may or may not know, I am from Vietnam and English was my second language. Having access to all kind of books improved my understanding of the language, the culture, and broaden my interests. I learn something new every day since I stared working for the Libraries many years ago. From the Libraries, I discovered the importance of equal access to resources, learned the value of organization, and got to work with interesting, engaged, and service-oriented people.

Which do you prefer: on campus or remote? Why?

Before the pandemic, I would say on campus. Currently, I would prefer the hybrid working arrangement that the Libraries made it possible for the employees this year. Its model enable me to stay in touch with my team and allows for face-to-face interactions. It’s also allow me to have a more work-life balance. And on my telework day, I get to go to work right away and do not have to waste time sitting in traffic. 


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

I don’t think most people know that I am a fan of WWE entertainment. It is such a fun sport to watch. I love seeing the interactions between the wrestlers and the audiences and how engaged the audiences to the wrestlers performance. And it’s best when you can watch the performance in person.

Dogs or cats?

Can I say neither and is having a bunny counted? However, if I have to pick, I would prefer dog because I think my husband would love to have a dog. 😊

Favorite book, movie or album?

My favorite movie of all time is Grease and I do own the DVD. It is such a fun movie to watch. It got singing, dancing, and John Travolta. 

Breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert? What’s your favorite food or dish?

Dinner would be my choice because I get to see my family together at the end of the day and everyone shares about his/her day whether it was good or bad. My favorite food is soup and I love to eat Pho, the Vietnamese noodle soup that you can eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or whenever you need something warm and delicious.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

In ten years, I‘d like to find myself in a position that allows me to continue my work with technical services but also mentor others in the field. I hope to share my experience and technical knowledge that help others who are interested in library technical works.

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).