Category Archives: Interview

Tocker Librarian Ashley Morrison on the First year+

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Staff Highlighter: Meryl Brodsky

These Libraries’ are nothing without the folks who keep the ship on course, even in stormy weather.

Meet Meryl Brodsky, Liaison Librarian for Communication, who joined the Libraries in September 2019, just before a storm….

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

My title is Moody College of Communication & School of Information Librarian. I work with faculty and students from both of these schools to help them with research and classes. I teach information and data-related classes and workshops, create learning materials, and select materials for our collections. 

What motivates you to wake up and go to work?

I am constantly learning, whether it’s about student or faculty research projects or new technology, I get to learn new things every day.

What are you most proud of in your job? 

I recently co-edited a book with a former colleague on Data Literacy, that is teaching people to find, evaluate, use and manage data. The ACRL Data Literacy Cookbook will come out in about a year.

What has been your best experience at the Libraries?

My best experiences have all been working with people, whether they are colleagues, faculty, or students. I really enjoy co-creating with others.

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

I have a lot of experience in remote work from past employment so I am pretty comfortable with remote, though I also like the energy of being on campus. 

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

Paper quilting by Meryl Brodsky

I have a keen interest in paper and card making. I’ve been obsessed with something I call paper quilting, that is cutting paper to create quilt patterns. 

Dogs or cats?

Cats, though right now, it’s just one, Tigger, who makes an occasional Zoom appearance.

Favorite book, movie or album?

Book: The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen

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

 Breakfast: Coffee!! Though, coffee is good any time.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

I hope to be upside down, have mastered a headstand.

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.

Meet the Talents: GIS and Geospatial Data Coordinator Michael Shensky

Michael Shensky joined the Libraries last year as the GIS and Geospatial Data Coordinator to enhance the resources available from the Research Data Services unit with added expertise in Geographic Information Systems, which are increasingly becoming central to our online lives. Shensky took some time to talk about the importance of GIS and where he sees it in the future.

GIS and Geospatial Data Coordinator Michael Shensky.
GIS and Geospatial Data Coordinator Michael Shensky.

Michael Shensky: Whenever I’m asked what GIS is, and I often am when I tell people what I do for a living, I always start with a very simple definition and expand from there. I typically tell people that GIS is an acronym that stands for geographic information systems and that it is the technology that is used to manage the data behind many of the maps they encounter online and in mobile apps. I also find it helpful to explain that the “geographic information” part of GIS refers to geospatial data (data that features both coordinate information identifying a place on Earth and attribute information that describes something located at that place) while “system” refers to the software and hardware components that are used together to manage this unique type of data effectively.

GIS is incredibly important in our daily lives because it is used to guide and facilitate much of the work that local governments, state and federal government agencies, utility companies, non-profit organizations, and academic researchers carry out. If all GIS software were to suddenly stop working tomorrow, it would be very difficult for those who rely on geospatial data to effectively manage their operations and this would have a dramatic impact on the lives of everyone, not just GIS users. For instance, cities might have difficulty assigning work crews to conduct road repair work if they cannot access their database of pothole locations, fire departments might struggle to respond to the locations of emergencies if they can’t quickly look up the location of an address, and technology companies would see apps that include mapping functionality suddenly break as the data fails to load properly.

While most people do not realize the significant role that GIS software plays behind the scenes in the operations of many organizations, if they look closely enough they can find traces of its impact in their daily lives. If they come across a map when browsing the web, there is a very good chance that GIS software was used to design its layout and manage the data behind the features depicted in it. If a new store or restaurant opens in their neighborhood, it is likely that GIS software was used to analyze demographic and consumer spending data for their local area to determine that this would likely be the most profitable location. If they use the routing functionality built into their car dashboard, the street data used to route them was likely created or edited with GIS software. If they visit the website of their local city or county, it is quite likely they will find a web page designed specifically for sharing geospatial data that has been developed with their taxpayer money and which has been made publically available for anyone to download and use in GIS software.

 

Given the organic nature of its development, how can standards be developed to manage the proliferation of GIS data?

shensky extraMS: In the GIS world, there are open standards developed by non-profit organizations like the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) and there are often competing proprietary standards developed by for-profit companies like Esri, whose software products dominate the GIS industry in the United States and many other countries. While we are very fortunate that these standards exist so that there is agreement on how data should be structured and how it should be read by GIS software, there are downsides to having multiple standards to choose from. Having multiple standards to choose from puts GIS professionals in a tough position when we want to share data with others, since we often need to ensure that data is available in multiple standard formats to make it easy for other GIS users to work with the data regardless of whether they are using open source software or Esri’s ArcGIS software.  This situation is further complicated by the fact that the popularity of specific standards can fluctuate over time and occasionally completely new standards are developed while older standards may fall into disuse and become functionally obsolete.

For the geospatial data in the UT Libraries’ collections that we are currently in the process of trying to make more easily accessible, we are aiming to share the data in every common standard format that we can.  Our goal is to facilitate access to our data for all GIS users, regardless of which software they use or standards they prefer. This approach of making shared datasets available in multiple formats has become quite common on data portals operated by other universities as well as those developed by cities, counties, and federal government agencies. As any good organization would, we plan to stay on top of the latest geospatial data standards and ensure that we are making datasets available in the formats that GIS users expect to find and like to work with.

 

How did you become a specialist in GIS?

MS: That’s actually a really interesting question, because I sometimes look back on the last decade and wonder that myself. The career path I envisioned for myself shifted quite a bit during my college years and a few chance decisions that didn’t seem particularly significant at the time ended up playing a very substantial role in leading me to the position I’m in today.

As a junior, I was contemplating my changing my major to anthropology or geography since I had really enjoyed taking classes in both disciplines, and I ended up selecting geography partly because I knew that GIS was a required class in that program and that this class would provide me with a technical skill upon graduation. At the time, I had never used or even seen GIS software but I knew it was used to make maps and that sounded really interesting to me. I didn’t actually end up taking that required GIS class until my last semester as an undergraduate and I did I was a surprised to find it a little less exciting and more challenging than I had originally expected. Right after graduation I started applying for a variety of jobs that I thought I might qualify for and the first one I was offered was a paid GIS internship. I didn’t find the job all that interesting at first and during my first few months there did not see myself making a career out of GIS.

This initial lack of fulfillment actually even ended up being a contributing factor in my decision to enroll in a Geography graduate program – I wanted to develop new skills that would open up different job opportunities. While in grad school I continued to work at this same GIS job part time and found that I started to become more interested in the work I was doing as I was assigned more advanced and challenging projects. Because of the GIS skills I gained in this role, I was offered a GIS research assistant position during my last two years of graduate school and then ended developing my master’s thesis project from the work that I did in this role. By the time I completed the work for my master’s degree, my perspective on GIS had changed dramatically, and when I was offered a full time job teaching GIS classes and managing the GIS computers labs for the Geography department at California State University, Long Beach, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to advance my career in GIS. I ended up spending several years in this position which allowed me to further develop my technical skills, gain teaching experience, and develop an even greater respect for the value of GIS software in academic research – all of which prepared me for well for my current role here at the UT Libraries.

What sort of projects have you been working on at UT?

MS: I’ve been working on a few different projects since I started here at UT, the biggest of which is focused on developing a new geospatial data portal that will be part of the UT Libraries website. This portal will allow users to search for geospatial data in our Libraries’ collections that can be used with GIS software. We have been referring to this project internally as the “GeoBlacklight” project because it uses open source software of that name to provide a web interface and data search capabilities. We are optimistic that this project will be completed in the first half of 2019 and that it will be available to the campus community before the start of the fall semester. Once it is rolled out, visitors to the website will be able to search through a variety of geospatial datasets including georeferenced scanned map images from our PCL Map Collection and vector datasets developed from items in other collections like the Benson Latin American Collection and Alexander Architectural Archives. 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. Once the portal is finished and made available, it should be easy for faculty to find data that they can use to develop instructional materials, for students to find data they can use in research projects, for Libraries staff to find data they can use to highlight notable collections, and for everyone in general to browse through when curious about the interesting maps and datasets we have available here at the UT Libraries.

San Salvador map from the PCL Map Collection.
San Salvador map from the PCL Map Collection.

Screenshot of the search results page in a still-under-development version of the UT Libraries GeoBlacklight portal
Screenshot of the search results page in a still-under-development version of the UT Libraries GeoBlacklight portal.

addition to the GeoBlacklight project I have also been working on a program of coordinated outreach and education about GIS both internally within the libraries and externally with departments across campus. As part of this effort I have helped organize events like our recent Local Perspectives on the State of Open Data discussion panel which brought GIS experts from the City of Austin, Travis County, Texas General Land Office, and Texas Natural Resources Information System here to campus to share their thoughts on GIS and open data. I’ve also taught several GIS focused workshops that provided an opportunity for all members of the campus community to learn about GIS and further develop their geospatial research skills. In order to introduce library personnel to some of the capabilities of GIS I’ve also spoken at and helped organize a series of linked data information learning group meetings. I’ve been glad to see that this multifaceted approach has been successful in helping get the word out about GIS on campus and I’ve noticed that I am starting to hear from more and more people each week who are looking to learn more about how they might be able to use GIS in their work.

 

What are some of the interesting ways GIS will be used in the future?

MS: While it’s impossible to know exactly how the way in which we use GIS might change in the future, I think there are a few developments that are all but certain. One of the major developments I foresee is growing awareness of GIS and rapid improvement in the capabilities of open source GIS software like QGIS leading to greater adoption of GIS software in a variety of disciplines and industries. If this prediction proves accurate, the lowering of financial and technical barriers that currently hold people back from using GIS software would greatly benefit small businesses, startups, non-profits, municipalities with limited resources, and more. It should also have a profound impact in the academic world as it will make it easier for researchers to incorporate GIS into their work. I think we will see GIS software being used much more widely in fields like history, journalism, linguistics, ethnic studies, and in the humanities more generally. If this does in fact happen, it will not only open up new avenues for research in these fields but will also make it easier for those working in these different disciplines to work together with each other across departments because they are using a shared technology. Even in disciplines where GIS is already widely used, like geology, biology, geography, and anthropology, I think there will be increased rates of adoption, especially among researchers in developing countries who can start using open source GIS software without having to worry about expensive software licensing or significant software limitations. From my experience in a previous GIS position at another university, I saw firsthand how difficult it could be for researchers in my department to work with colleagues from universities in other countries whose institutions could not afford access to the same proprietary software resources until they all started using open source software to facilitate collaboration.

Example of a QGIS project
Example of a QGIS project.

In addition to the many benefits I think we will see from growing awareness of GIS software and open source GIS software in particular, I think GIS technology will become more useful and powerful as technology continues to improve. Perhaps the biggest impact on GIS will come from new and emerging categories of mobile devices that will make it possible to view and interact with geospatial data in ways that are quite different from the manner in which we engage with geospatial data now on the flat screens of our computer monitors and cell phones. In the 9 years that I have been in this field, there have been several completely new categories of devices that have been released (smart watches, augmented reality glasses, and virtual reality headsets being the most notable) all of which can be used to display new types of maps and I think we will see these technologies mature in a way that will affect how maps are made.

Virtual reality is the currently the most significant of these technologies for working with geospatial data due to the availability of relatively affordable consumer grade headsets and their ability to give users a three dimensional immersive map experience. While I think virtual reality maps will become increasingly common and useful, I think augmented reality devices ultimately hold the most promise of any emerging technology. Right now augmented reality glasses are held back by their high price points, large size, and limited field of view but companies like Microsoft, Google, and Apple have all indicated that they are working on addressing these challenges. If any of these companies (or newer companies like Magic Leap who are also focusing on augmented reality technology) can create a wearable device similar in size to a pair of regular sunglasses, sell it for close to the price of a high end cell phone, and have it effectively overlay 3D objects on top of a user’s normal field of view, I think this would revolutionize how GIS professionals manage data and produce maps. It would also of course open up enormous opportunities for researchers who are looking for new ways to explore geospatial data and visualize their research findings. While a breakthrough like this may not happen this year or next, I think it is just a matter of time before our technology reaches this point and GIS software will have to adapt to facilitate the production of geospatial content for these new types of devices.

 

 

 

Meet the Talents: Brittany Rhea Deputy

Brittany Rhea Deputy is the Librarian to the Moody College of Communication and the College of Liberal Arts Department of Linguistics. A native Floridian and Texas transplant, Brittany holds an MLIS in Library and Information Science from the University of South Florida and a BS in Public Relations from the University of Florida. She offers a wide variety of teaching and consultation services with specializations in finding data and statistics, analyzing current and historical print and broadcast news coverage, and utilizing research resources and specialized tools. Her previous employers include The University of Alabama, The University of South Florida – Health, and The University of Florida.

So, how did you come to the University of Texas Libraries?

Brittany Rhea Deputy.
Brittany Rhea Deputy.

Brittany Deputy: I came to UT Libraries in 2013 after working as a human environmental sciences librarian for the University of Alabama Libraries. Before I became a librarian I worked in public relations and communications for the University of Florida’s Graduate School, so when I saw the opportunity to get back into that discipline but in a new role, I jumped into action. I really loved the job I was in, but I couldn’t pass on the perfect mashup of communications and librarianship that I have in my job here at UTL.

It’s great that you were able to find something that married your interests like that. What’s an average day (if there’s such a thing) for the communications liaison/librarian at UT?

BD: Honestly every day is different. My days really depend on what semester we’re in and what’s happening at that time in that semester. For example, up until last week you probably wouldn’t have seen me much in the PCL because I was teaching over in the Belo or CMA buildings at the Moody College.

Now, the classes are tapering off, but I’m seeing more and more one on one research consultations. These are mostly with graduate students or faculty members, and sometimes with research institutes on campus, who need really specific, in-depth research help and expertise. Then as the month wears on and we get closer to the end of the semester, I’ll switch over to my special projects. Things like the Graduate Research Showcase the Social Science Librarians Team is hosting or a special lecture I’m giving on the history of fake news.

Of course during all of this I’m doing day to day things like answering reference questions, purchasing items for the library collections, and serving on committees and groups as well. I’m never bored that’s for sure!

Tell me a little about teaching at the college. A lot of people mistakenly assume that librarians stay cooped up with the books, but that’s not really the case at all, is it?

BD: Haha, no, that’s not the case at all. I probably couldn’t tell you the last time I handled a physical book. Our jobs are very much online and on the go.

How things go when I’m teaching at the college depends on the class, the department, and the students. The needs of undergraduate students versus graduate students and students in advertising versus those in communication sciences and disorders are extremely different. It’s not unheard of for my first class of the day to focus entirely on how to search databases to find peer reviewed research articles about using computer assisted technology to help stroke victims struggling with aphasia and my second class of the day to center on finding and utilizing data from the census, local maps, and NAICS codes to help students figure out the best advertising strategy for the luxury handbag company they were assigned as a “client.”  It’s all so different every time I walk into a classroom, but that’s what makes it the most fun.

Communications studies are sort of all-encompassing in a way that lots of people probably don’t consider. Does it get overwhelming trying to keep up with trends and innovations, especially given the increasingly connected nature of the world?

BD: From the outside it probably seems rather hectic, it can be a lot of work to keep informed of new trends and innovations in any discipline, but if you can discern between what’s hype and what’s helpful, it definitely makes the job easier.

I think this is where my background and expertise really come in handy. I’ve worked in similar jobs, attended the same conferences, and am a member of the same professional associations as the students and the faculty members I work with, so I’ve been where they are and can see where things are going, professionally speaking.

I’m also not alone in my role. I regularly work with librarians at other universities who are in positions like mine, working with students and faculty in communication related fields. We discuss trends, troubleshoot questions, and crowd source ideas almost weekly. A few weeks ago we had a pretty lively discussion about using R or Python to analyze Facebook comments on online news stories. It was pretty cool.

You mentioned a special project, a lecture on fake news, which is a topic of much discussion in the wake of the recent presidential election, but has probably existed for a much longer period of time. What role do you think libraries in general — and the UT Libraries more specifically — play in combating bad information in a world where traditional filters no longer exist?

BD: Fake news has been around for a long time. Historical figures like Marie Antoinette and Mark Antony might have lived a bit longer if it weren’t for fake news in fact. The difference today is our access to it. Instead of graffiti on Roman walls or printed pamphlets in the streets of Paris, fake news stares us in the face from every screen. I mean, there’s probably about five screen devices in my office right now, so that’s a lot of access points!

Fake news, circa Feb. 17, 1898.

Thankfully though, the libraries, especially UTL, can help people sort through it all and stay informed of what’s really going on in the world and the communities around them. Librarians are experts at research and evaluation and can teach people how to look at news holistically. It’s tempting to take a news story at face value or maybe even just use a small checklist approach to evaluating it, but in today’s world, with news breaking 24 hours a day, it’s not enough. You really have to be curious and dig deep and that’s were librarians like myself and my colleagues at UTL come in to help. We can walk you through the process and show you some tips and tricks to help along the way.

Now obviously not every person could, or would want to, take a deep dive into every news story they encountered, but even if you do it just once or twice, it can really help you separate the facts from fiction. But if you do fall victim to a fake news story don’t feel too bad. Bad information happens to good people sometimes. I’ve even been tricked a few times!

Given that you help people to navigate sometimes complex or obscure information, you probably learn quite a bit that you aren’t expecting. What’s a discovery you’ve made through your work that you’ve kept with you?

BD: I’m always stumbling on to the new and unexpected when I’m working with researchers. It’s really satisfying to find those hidden gems and watch the research story unfold or even completely change because of it. It’s an exciting thing to witness and be a part of. I don’t think I have one specific discovery that means more than any other one, but I will say the first time I was mentioned and thanked in the acknowledgements section of an award-winning book was pretty special. To see my contributions to a researcher’s work in print was an amazing experience.

Validation is always a nice thing, because so much of life is just doing a good job because it’s what you do. What about the future? Where are you in ten years, and what is the job of the future communications librarian?

BD: I wish I could know what the job would look like in ten years! Things move so fast and change so readily it’s impossible to forecast exact trends that far in advance. I think a lot of people might have the assumption that libraries and librarians have served their purpose and are on their way out due to the internet and online access or that it’s just a building that holds a lot of stuff. But that isn’t really true at all. It is true a lot of things are online and it is true the library has a lot of “stuff”, but without librarians to help people find it, sort it, and make sense of it all, it’s just a book on a shelf. Data is just data. Information is just information. People, librarians and researchers working together, are what turn those things into knowledge. And that will always be the biggest and best part of this job. So hopefully that’s what I’ll still be doing in ten years too.

 

A Bird in the Hand

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Over the summer, we had the good fortune of a particular inquiry that made its way to our Ask A Librarian service from a person looking for some answers that they deemed only a librarian might be able to provide.

That inquiry came from noted author and UT alum Sarah Bird, who while not penning her next novel, or writing a column for Texas Monthly, or contributing to any number of other publications, or even writing a screenplay…still has time to be a strong public voice for libraries in general, and the University of Texas Libraries specifically.

At the time, Bird was working on an article for Alcalde — the Texas Exes alumni publication — in which she was to detail the significance of the collections at UT to her work. She came to us looking for some examples to use in the article, and we did our best to assist with her needs.

It was a short time after the publication of that article — “My Life in the Stacks” — in the September/October issue of Alcalde that we were contacted by a producer from the Longhorn Network with a request to provide a spokesperson for the Libraries to be interviewed for a piece they were filming on Sarah Bird to take place in our very own Life Science Library. This was to be a segment on the recently launched LHN program “The Alcalde”…a half-hour television complement to the print publication.

As a result, the LHN expanded their segment on Sarah Bird to include the Libraries as a major component of the show.

It’s amazing what sort of impact a single happy patron can make.

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Bookmark This: “The Galveston Chronicles”

"The Galveston Chronicles" (Rozlyn Press, 2012) by Audra Martin D'Aroma

Our friends over at ShelfLife@Texas sat down with University of Texas at Austin alumna Audra Martin D’Aroma (English, ’99) to chat about her new novel The Galveston Chronicles.

D’aroma’s book follows four generations of women in Galveston whose lives are molded by one of nature’s most destructive forces from the great hurricane of 1900 (the deadliest in U.S. history, taking between 6,000-12,000 lives) to Ike in 2008 (the second costliest in U.S. history).

An excerpt from the interview:

How did you develop such a strong love for Galveston and hurricane culture?

When I was younger, my grandparents had a vacation house on the West end of Galveston and we spent a lot of time there. It was way less developed back then. I think Galveston is a really fascinating place because it has an interesting mix of characteristics that make for strange bedmates — a Victorian aesthetic mixed with an existential, end-of-the-world feeling.

I was also fascinated just how much the island lives in the shadow of the 1900 Storm. In that way it is almost polar opposite of its neighbor Houston, where I come from. We take pleasure in tearing down any signs of our history and starting over while Galveston at some point made a decision that it was better to be defined by a tragedy than to risk having no identity at all.

You can read the full interview with D’Aroma at ShelfLife@Texas.

“Bookmark This” entries feature book news from around The University of Texas at Austin. 

Speaking on Tongues

“Babel No More: The Search for the World’s Most Extraordinary Language Learners” (Free Press, 2012)

Our friends over at the ShelfLife@Texas blog have an interview up with UT grad Michael Erard, author of “Babel No More: The Search for the World’s Most Extraordinary Language Learners”(Free Press, 2012), whose study of linguistics led him to investigate hyperpolyglots.

Erard introduces as the pinnacle example of multilingualism Giuseppe Mezzofanti – a 19-century priest who allegedly spoke 72 languages – to reflect on the predispositions and genetic quirks that make grasping language easier for certain people.

From the Q&A:

Why do some people pick up multiple languages so easily?

One reason is that they’ve already picked up multiple languages – they have a lot of knowledge about the basic patterns they’ll see in a grammar, and they know a lot about how they learn. (That is, if they’ve learned languages from a lot of different families.)

You can read the full interview with Erard here.