Category Archives: People

Curating an Oral History of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority at The University of Texas at Austin

BY BRIANA MARIE DAVIS, CLASS OF 2021

Delta Xi of Spring 1966: Camilla Jackson, Beverly Robinson, Karen Williams, Pamiel Johnson-Gaskin, Carolyn Cole, Ruth Franklin, Mary Gordon, Linda Lewis, Mary Poston, Shirley Tennyson, Barbara Ward, Debbera Williams. Photo courtesy of Pamiel Johnson-Gaskin.

The honorable Delta Xi Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. was the first Black Greek-letter organization to be established at The University of Texas at Austin. Sworn in on May 16, 1959, at high noon in the Queen Anne Room, this particular group of women is dripping in legacy, poignant programs, community service, and rich history. As an archivist-in-training, with the unique opportunity to not only archive an oral history but curate it from scratch, I see it as my duty to extract the essence and diversity of these highly valuable experiences among the Delta Xi women. This is a preview of a three-part blog series, accompanied by a digital archive that has been published and gathered throughout the summer of 2021.

What Is Oral History? The Beginning Processes of Oral History Curation

Oral history-making is a method of conducting historical research to preserve the experiences, significant historical events, and stories of narrators, recorded by a well-informed interviewer, with the purpose of making them accessible to future generations. Oral history not only helps us understand singular events in the past, but gives us a snapshot of any and all historical forces at play during a moment in time.

As an archivist-in-training and now an oral historian, I have been involved in the process of creating a blueprint for an oral recording documenting the first UT Black Greek organization from scratch. I hope that this specific process of interviewing can be applied to future endeavors to preserve the Delta Xi history and possibly the oral histories of other Greek-letter organizations at The University of Texas at Austin.

A Brief History of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.

Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated was founded by Ethel Hedgeman Lyle of St. Louis, Missouri, at Howard University on January 15, 1908. Over time, the organization expanded to many higher-learning institutions across the globe, growing to over 1,018 undergraduate and graduate chapters with the purpose of enriching the lives of Black women through service, networking, and social experiences. The sorority promotes unity, friendship, and academic achievement among its members; it seeks to continue and provide opportunities for higher education through scholarship and donation. As the first Black Greek-letter organization to be established at the University of Texas, the brand-new members of the Delta Xi Chapter were serenaded by the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity at their swearing-in.

AKA Christmas Party, 1966, photo courtesy of Pamiel Gaskin.

AKA Impact on Campus and Beyond

The impact of the signature projects created and facilitated by the Delta Xi Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. reaches beyond the Forty Acres and into the lives of Austin mothers and their children. Working in East Austin, where, historically, the majority of African American Austinites have resided, since 1959 Delta Xi has held events to aid battered women, and to provide holiday parties, daycare, resources, encouragement, and toys for impoverished families.

Honorable Mentions, Members, and Findings

Lareatha H. Clay: Shankleville Community Oral History Collection

Lareatha H. Clay is a prominent oral historian and Delta Xi member (among other accolades). She has created the Shankleville Community Oral History Collection, an archival collection focused on preserving the spoken histories of Shankleville, a historic freedom colony in Newton County, located in East Texas. Clay is currently working to organize the Aya Symposium, an annual multidisciplinary event that explores the history of Texas freedom colonies.

DeMetris Sampson: Innervisions of Blackness

The Delta Xi Chapter has also had its influence in fine arts on campus. DeMetris Sampson, founder of the choral group Innervisions of Blackness and its first president, created the organization with the purpose of “educating, representing and exemplifying the soul of Black students through the scope of music.” Sampson was advised by Almetris Duren, a highly influential historical figure at UT Austin, to make the group official in 1974. Contrary to the rumor that Duren founded the group, Sampson (first president), Rene Hight (Delta Xi member, vice president, and pianist), Vanessa Ferguson (vice president), and Butler School of Music doctoral student Irlene Swain (director) were the first to spearhead the organization. Be sure to check out DeMetris Sampson’s inspiring interview as soon as the Delta Xi Oral History Collection is live to find out more about Innervisions of Blackness.

Barbara Dugas-Patterson: Cotton Bowl Queen

Photo courtesy of Barbara Dugas-Patterson, 1982.

Barbara Dugas-Patterson was crowned as Cotton Bowl Queen by popularity vote and support from Delta Xi members, thus participating in the Cotton Bowl Classic. The University of Texas was ranked #1 in the Southwest Conference at the time and competed against the University of Alabama.

Time and Oral History Making

Time consciousness, memory, subjectivity, explanation, and interpretation are some of the challenges that prevent oral history curation from achieving a concrete and complete picture of the past. To minimize confusion and add structure to the Delta Xi interviews, we devised a template with specific, open-ended questions. The questions revolved around experiences with social life on campus, community service, personal motivations to join the organization, and the legacy of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. The scope of the questions was limited to high school, senior year, college, and occasionally beyond. The flexible nature of the interview questions allowed for a diverse set of narratives to surface.

Despite the challenges of extracting histories dating back at least forty years and that are continuing to unfold, I’ve been able to make comparisons depending on the decade each participant pledged and their overall perceptions of racial inclusion at the University of Texas. Participants who pledged the Delta Xi Chapter in the 1960s viewed joining a Black sorority as a means of survival in a challenging sociopolitical atmosphere, freshly recovering from outdated ideas regarding Black women in higher education. Conversely, members who joined in the 1970s and 1980s saw joining a Black sorority as an elective, yet all participants have found that they joined Alpha Kappa Alpha to find women just like themselves in a university whose Black student population is still only 4 percent. To stay up to date with the Delta Xi Chapter, I encourage you to check out their social media: @Texas_AKAs.

Alpha Kappa Alpha Probate Show, circa 1984. Photo courtesy of Barbara Dugas-Patterson.

Final Thoughts

Recording the oral histories of African American women has been one of the most rewarding opportunities of my life. The quote “If we don’t tell our own stories, no one else will,” by Indian-American filmmaker Mira Nair, has reverberated throughout my psyche while curating this collection. Indeed, this has been the first oral history project for and by Black women at the University of Texas, but I encourage all Black people to take a front seat in the preservation of their personal histories. One of the most impacting sentiments expressed at the Aya Symposium this past summer is the need to preserve family documents, photographs, and memorabilia. Participation in repositories and history-making through the lens of African Americans is crucial to the historical narrative of the Black community as a whole. Please check out our digital archive when it is completed in the months to come. Thank you to the University of Texas, Texas Libraries, the Black Diaspora Archive, and the Delta Xi Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. for allowing this project to blossom and continue.

View Parts I, II, and III of this blog series


Briana Marie Davis is a recent graduate of The University of Texas at Austin with a BA in Anthropology and African American Studies. She carried out this oral history project during an internship at the Black Diaspora Archive. Davis is a problem-solving, creative, convivial individual who enjoys singing and playing piano in venues around Austin, Texas, in her free time. She hopes to be of service to her community by uplifting groups that are marginalized through her research and artistic expression.

In Memoriam: David Block

David Block, photo by Robert Esparza

LLILAS Benson mourns the passing of friend, scholar, and former colleague David Block III, on June 15, 2021. Block was head of the Benson Latin American Collection from 2009 until his retirement in 2014.

Born in San Diego, California, in 1945, Block grew up in Arkansas, where he earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Arkansas. He served for three years in the Peace Corps in Bolivia, igniting his lifelong interest in Latin America. He earned his PhD at the University of Texas at Austin, where he studied with historian Nettie Lee Benson. During his thirty-year career as a Latin American librarian, Block worked at Cornell University and at UT’s Benson Collection. He also served as president of the Seminar on the Acquisition of Latin American Library Materials (SALALM). Read Block’s obituary.

David Block, undated. Courtesy of Peggy Robinson.

Block was a sought-after expert on the Andean region and the author of the book Mission Culture on the Upper Amazon (1994), which won the Conference of Latin American History’s Howard Cline Memorial Prize and was included in Obras de la biblioteca del bicentenario de Bolivia. He also penned the introduction to A Library for the Americas (2018), a contributed volume that showcases the Benson’s history with essays and rich illustrations.

On Taquile Island, Lake Titicaca, Peru. Undated. Photo courtesy of Peggy Robinson.

Upon his retirement from the Benson in 2014, Block spoke about his time at the Benson as “the high point of my 35-year career.” One of the most significant events during his tenure was the establishment of the LLILAS Benson partnership in 2011, in which Block played a key collaborative role. “David’s accomplishments during his relatively short time at the Benson are too many to list,” says Benson director Melissa Guy. “He was a master bibliographer and scholar, and traveled throughout Latin America to secure materials for the collection. Most significantly, he was instrumental in launching and nurturing the LLILAS Benson partnership, now in its tenth year, working alongside LLILAS Benson director Charlie Hale to find new ways to link the world-class collections of the Benson to the top-tier scholarship and teaching of the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies. That, in and of itself, is quite a legacy.”

Prior to his colleague’s retirement, Hale reflected on Block’s personal qualities: “David cares deeply about others: he is gentle, compassionate, and kind, whether with a co-worker of many years or a stranger who happens into the Benson; he is scrupulously conscientious: holding himself to bedrock ethics and values, with no sense that this gives license to judge others; and his manner exudes an egalitarian ethos, always willing to step up to assure that collective goals are met, inspiring others by his example, and by the sheer pleasure of working at his side.”

David and wife Peggy, undated. Courtesy of Peggy Robinson.

The LLILAS Benson family extends our deepest condolences to David’s family. He left an indelible mark on many of us as both a scholar-librarian and a human being, and we are so grateful.


Honoring David Block

It is David’s family’s request that those wishing to honor him consider a donation to the Nettie Lee Benson Collection, Benson Centennial Endowment: bit.ly/Benson100. Check donations may be sent to TEXAS Development, PO Box 7458, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78713. Please make check payable to: The University of Texas at Austin and specify in memo: UT Libraries – Benson Centennial Endowment.

Collections and Connections: Dennis Trombatore, Geology Librarian Extraordinaire

Thirty five years ago, Dennis Trombatore arrived at the UT Austin campus, and from the start he was highly conscious of the long legacy of the Geology Library and that of the formidable librarians who had preceded him in the charge of that major collection. Despite feeling the strong gaze of Thelma Guion (https://guides.lib.utexas.edu/geo/about), the singular personality who ruled over the geology information sphere as librarian between 1940 and the early 1970s, Dennis jumped in, immersed himself, and never looked back. 

A self-described “professional generalist,” Dennis was formally educated in philosophy, but quickly developed a natural affinity and deep appreciation for the esoterica of geosciences information:  geological survey reports, rocks, gems and fossils, maps and field trip guides.  He loved working closely with and learning from faculty and students in the Jackson School of Geosciences. 

“A good library is a place to go, and a person to talk to, who understands what you’re doing, who sympathizes with your worldview, who talks your language, and who is looking out for you in the world of information all the time.” 

Ever-curious and always ready to help, his definition of what a library, and a librarian, should be, epitomized Dennis’s approach to his work in the Walter Geology Library.

Several defining objectives consistently guided his efforts to amass and share a wealth of information about all of the things of interest to his faculty and students, community experts and generalists like himself. Those were collection-building, access to collections, and the relationships that served as the fuel for the continuously-enhanced cycle of learning and sharing that positioned Dennis as an information hub within the Jackson School for more than three decades.

Dennis’ collection-building, through relentless painstaking searches and world-wide acquisition efforts, coordination of gifts, and tracking of UT research output, was always front and center in his activities. Maps were an integral part of that work, and Dennis curated a truly exceptional collection of map materials in support of teaching and research in the geosciences, the Tobin International Geological Map Collection (https://guides.lib.utexas.edu/geo/tobin-maps). He led the effort to build on UT’s existing map collections, through the acquisition of geospatial data sets, GIS technology, and the expertise to fully utilize the details therein. And he was a tireless advocate for and user of the UT Libraries renowned PCL Map Collection (https://texlibris.lib.utexas.edu/2015/05/22/you-are-everywhere-the-pcl-map-collection/). His understanding of the power and value of maps was evident not just in his efforts to build the Libraries collections, but even in references to maps in his own creative output (https://repositories.lib.utexas.edu/handle/2152/82153) which in turn was shared openly with the world using the Libraries’ repository infrastructure.

Ensuring access to what he curated was key for Dennis. His strong desire to make the rich, multi-faceted fruits of his collection-building work discoverable prompted his early interest in web-based tools to ensure the discoverability and preservation of his efforts, including Texas ScholarWorks (TSW), our digital repository, our Texas Data Repository (TDR), and our nascent Texas GeoData portal.

Our Head of Scholarly Communications, Colleen Lyon, recalls that, “Dennis was instrumental in so many collections in TSW – he was one of the most active liaisons in referring users to us.” Several stand-out examples of unique submissions for Colleen include:

  • The Dr. Henryk Bronislaw Stenzel Letters. Decades of Tertiary stratigraphy and non-vertebrate paleontology-focused work captured in a collection of over 6,000 letters to and from Dr. Stenzel. It was Dennis who initially put Colleen and TSW in touch with the curators of the Stenzel Letters collection. An earlier TexLibris post details background on this collection (https://texlibris.lib.utexas.edu/2018/12/20/collections-highlight-the-digitized-letters-of-dr-henryk-bronislaw-stenzel/), and the letters are available in TSW at: https://repositories.lib.utexas.edu/handle/2152/47262
  • Memoirs on the Extinct Wingless Birds of New Zealand. It may have existed as HTML on the Walter Geology Library website, but she remembers, “Dennis wanted it to have a more permanent home and one that was easier to cite. He didn’t want to lose all the functionality that comes with having something as a website, so we uploaded all the pages/images and then created an image index that allows you to jump around to the different images (plates) within the work. This work has the most amazing drawings in it! That plate index has had over 1100 downloads.” You can see this in TSW at: https://repositories.lib.utexas.edu/handle/2152/16251
  • The Virtual Landscapes Collection. This collection of Dumble Survey reports and many other documents was Dennis’ labor of love over many years. The content was migrated from the UT Libraries legacy website to TSW earlier this year, bringing all of the related documents together in a single location. Read more at: https://repositories.lib.utexas.edu/handle/2152/69304

Another project that Dennis coordinated was the digitization of theses and dissertations. He sought out alumni to grant permission to digitize their master’s and doctoral theses and make them available through TSW. Thanks to his efforts, there are hundreds of geology theses in the repository, about half of which pre-date its launch in 2008 (https://texlibris.lib.utexas.edu/2018/09/26/happy-10th-birthday-texas-scholarworks/). Rather fittingly, quite a few of the theses and dissertations available in TSW include Dennis’s name in their acknowledgements sections, along with their authors’ heartfelt expressions of gratitude and appreciation for the guidance and assistance he had provided. One such acknowledgement aptly describes Dennis as someone “whose work and efforts are immeasurable and irreplaceable” – a statement which accurately captures the value of his contributions and the strength of the impression he left on others. 

Dennis delighted in telling stories and connecting people via the relationships he fostered, all of which enriched his contributions to UT’s research ecosystem. Mentoring students, both those doing research and those who were employees, was an ongoing part of who Dennis was, the role he played in the Jackson School, and how he remained in contact with so many graduates over the years. He was the type of person who would be proactive in reaching out to someone new on campus to welcome them, who would find a way to rearrange his schedule so that he could travel across town to attend a colleague’s presentation. His sincere enthusiasm for sharing knowledge and building real connections with others across the university community and beyond, was clearly evident in both his actions and words.

“The collection is an important component of what it is that we do in libraries, but it is the social network that the library represents that is the most significant, to me, aspect of librarianship. Three or four good people can do a lot more than an empty roomful of books in terms of helping people to advance their research.”

Some of his stories were about former Geology Librarian Thelma Guion’s stern demeanor and soft spot for the many student employees whom she supervised. (https://guides.lib.utexas.edu/geo/about) The irony there is the similarity between Thelma and Dennis: while he suffered no fools, Dennis was always open to teaching his students about things and providing them with resources that would help them both with their research and in life. Establishing the Guion award fund for Geology Library employees was one of Dennis’ proudest achievements. 

Ms. Guion’s close relationship to many faculty helped to expand and deepen the library’s collection in ways that would simply not have been possible with regular budgets, and Dennis modeled his collection philosophy after hers. Those relationships paid off in major gifts of unique and valuable materials for many years.

One such recent gift was from a prominent member of the local caving community, Bill Mixon — former book review editor for the National Speleological Society and friend of the Walter Library — who donated his unique collection of over 1000 books and more than 1000 periodical issues related to cave and karst research, literature, and culture, enhancing the Geology Library’s notable existing holdings (https://texlibris.lib.utexas.edu/2019/02/21/area-spelunker-donates-cave-collection/). 

Over the years, gifts of materials included items from major oil company libraries, UNOCAL maps, materials from the American Geosciences Institute, Bureau of Economic Geology and Institute for Geophysics, and the Edwards Aquifer Authority in San Antonio, to name a few. All donations of materials required careful review and curation, as Dennis only retained items to augment areas of focus within the Walter Geology Library and research interest at UT Austin.

The symbiotic, reciprocal relationship between collections and the people who use, learn from and contribute to them often needs a catalyst, someone to prompt attention, encourage exploration and entice action at just the right moment. Dennis was that energetic, compelling force that spurred the dynamic flow of information to nurture productivity throughout the Jackson School, and that will continue to pulse through electronic arteries for decades to come.

Remembering Dennis Trombatore

Long-time Geology librarian and revered Libraries’ icon Dennis Trombatore passed away this weekend after an extended illness.

His 35-year tenure as the fifth Geology Librarian at the university is remembered as a period of prosperity for the library and the Jackson School of Geosciences, and Trombatore’s contribution to those successes are recognized by faculty, researchers, students and colleagues alike.

“Dennis was not just our librarian, he was the scout,” says Mark Cloos, Getty Oil Company Centennial Chair in Geological Sciences. “In more than a few cases, he found resources for areas I’ve been interested in, which I probably wouldn’t have found on my own for months, if not years, and in some cases, probably never.”

“He contributed to every student that I’ve ever had, and he contributed to me personally, ” continues Cloos. “We had the good fortune that he worked in the library at the University of Texas for 35 years. That’s more than a third of a century that he enriched the entire scientific enterprise here.”

Born in Fort Hood and raised in Baton Rouge, Trombatore joined the Libraries in 1985 after receiving his B.A. (’75) and MLS (’77) from Louisiana State University and working in librarian positions at Loyola University and The University of Georgia at Athens. Trombatore’s lengthy career equaled in duration that of the university’s storied original Geology Librarian Thelma Lynn Guion, and spanned a transformational period for libraries which witnessed the advent of the internet and the proliferation of digital resources.

Trombatore was recognized for his lasting contributions to the university and its research with honors such as 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 was a member of Geological Society of America and the Geoscience Information Society, and past president of the Austin Geological Society.

His energies extended to professional pursuits that related to his role at the Libraries, as well, with numerous publications, reviews, field activities, committee participation, teaching and serving as a goodwill ambassador to visiting researchers, alumni and UT students alike.

“Dennis was more than a librarian,” says Vice Provost and UT Libraries Director Lorraine Haricombe. “He was a geologist in his own right, an explorer whose constant focus was on digging for resources – information, relationships and funding included – to build a library that would secure the university a leader in the field of geosciences. He was a librarian extraordinaire and will be sorely missed as a member of the Libraries’ family.”

Former Dean of the Jackson School of Geosciences Dr. Sharon Mosher announced last December the creation of a new endowment fund honoring Trombatore’s contributions to the college and the university. 

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

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be directed to The Dennis Trombatore Excellence Fund for the Walter Geology Library or to the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina. 

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.

Chicana Feminist Scholar and Writer Alicia Gaspar de Alba to Read at Archive Exhibit

BY DANIEL ARBINO

White, heterosexual men have long dominated archival records. However, the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection has a new archival exhibition that indicates the times are changing.

The Benson Collection is pleased to commemorate the acquisition of the Alicia Gaspar de Alba Papers in the Rare Books and Manuscripts Reading Room on Thursday, May 2, at 4 p.m., with a visit from the author herself. During the presentation, Gaspar de Alba will read from her published creative writings as well as participate in a discussion with Mexican American and Latina/o Studies faculty member and community activist Lilia Rosas. Additionally, a selection of the Alicia Gaspar de Alba papers will be on view in an exhibition titled “This is about resistance”: The Feminist Revisions of Alicia Gaspar de Alba. The Benson acquired these papers in fall of 2017 through a generous donation from the notable Chicana feminist scholar, professor, and author.

The exhibit highlights the intersections of Gaspar de Alba’s scholarly and creative endeavors. Early poetry, essays on identity as a queer Chicana feminist, journal entries, research notes for novels and scholarly work like Desert Blood (2005) and Making a Killing (2010), correspondence with UT Press, novel manuscripts, and photographs will all be on display for visitors.

Notes for Gaspar de Alba’s first book-length academic publication, "Chicano Art: Inside/Outside the Master’s House" (1998)
Notes for Gaspar de Alba’s first book-length academic publication, “Chicano Art: Inside/Outside the Master’s House” (1998)

Gaspar de Alba is a native of El Paso/Ciudad Juárez, but has lived for over twenty-five years in Los Angeles, where she is a founding faculty member and former chair of the UCLA César E. Chávez Department of Chicana/o Studies. She is currently the Chair of the LGBT Studies Program and has affiliate status with the English Department. A celebrated writer and scholar, she has won various awards, including the Lambda Literary Award for Best Lesbian Mystery Novel (Desert Blood) and the American Association of Higher Education Book Award for [Un]framing the “Bad Woman” (2015).

The acquisition of the Gaspar de Alba papers further strengthens the Benson’s holdings in U.S. Latina feminism and literature, which also include the Gloria Anzaldúa Papers, the Carmen Tafolla Papers, and the Estela Portillo Trambley Papers.

Gaspar de Alba at the San Jerónimo Convent in Mexico City
Gaspar de Alba at the San Jerónimo Convent in Mexico City

Attend The Event

View the event here: https://www.lib.utexas.edu/events/270

This event is co-hosted by the University of Texas Libraries and LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections, who gratefully acknowledge the following co-sponsors: the Center for Mexican American Studies and the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies.

About the Benson Latin American Collection

The Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection is one of the foremost collections of library materials on Latin America worldwide. Established in 1921 as the Latin American Library, the Benson is approaching its centennial. Through its partnership established with the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies in 2011, the Benson continues to be at the forefront of Latin American and U.S. Latina/o librarianship through its collections and digital initiatives.

The Benson Centennial Endowment: An Invitation from Adriana Pacheco

“The first time I walked into the fourth floor of the Nettie Lee Benson library, as a recently admitted PhD student, tears ran down my cheeks. I remember that moment, when I was there, alone, looking at that iconic corridor with hundreds of shelves and thousands of books. My tears were for excitement because I understood that that place was going to be a second home for me for many years to come.”

Celebrating the Benson Centennial kickoff. From left, LLILAS Benson Director Virginia Garrard, Adriana Pacheco, Fernando Macías, Vice Provost and Director of Libraries Lorraine Haricombe, and Consul of Mexico Carlos González Gutiérrez.
Celebrating the Benson Centennial kickoff. From left, LLILAS Benson Director Virginia Garrard, Adriana Pacheco, Fernando Macías, Vice Provost and Director of Libraries Lorraine Haricombe, and Consul of Mexico Carlos González Gutiérrez. Photo: Daniel Hublein.

With these heartfelt words, spoken at a September 6 dinner announcing the centennial campaign for the Benson Latin American Collection, Adriana Pacheco Roldán exhorted assembled guests to join her in a project involving both the heart and the preservation of memory. Pacheco is chair of the International Board of Advisors established by University of Texas at Austin President Greg Fenves. She and her husband, Fernando Macías Garza, both hold doctorates from Texas. The couple has donated $50,000 to establish the Benson Centennial Endowment, which officially kicks off the countdown to the collection’s 2021 Centennial.

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Pacheco was a keynote speaker at An Evening of Discovery, a gala dinner hosted by the University of Texas Libraries and the Provost’s Office to officially kick off the Benson Centennial campaign. As is fitting for a PhD in literature, she began her speech by evoking Aureliano Buendía, the patriarch of Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, who “fought against the plague of memory loss suffered by all inhabitants of Macondo” by labeling every object he could. “For almost 100 years, the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection has been a place to keep our memories and our heritage,” said Pacheco.

From left: Lorraine Haricombe, Univision news anchor Enrique Acevedo, and Benson Collection Director Melissa Guy. Photo: Daniel Hublein.
From left: Lorraine Haricombe, Univision news anchor Enrique Acevedo, and Benson Collection Director Melissa Guy. Photo: Daniel Hublein.

Yet the recent tragic loss at Brazil’s National Museum of virtually all of its contents means that we must take responsibility for protecting the treasures of the Benson, Pacheco continued. Again invoking family and generational ties, she laid out a challenge to the assembled guests:  “As we say in Spanish, you are the padrinos, the godfathers and godmothers, of the Benson Centennial Endowment launch, and I invite you to join our efforts: Give now, give today, give later, find somebody willing to give, promote, spread the word, come and visit, join the events, make the Benson Collection part of your lives.”

Jennifer Isasi to Join LLILAS Benson as CLIR Fellow for Data Curation

LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections is pleased to announce that Jennifer Isasi, PhD, will join the staff as CLIR Fellow for Data Curation in Latin American and Latina/o Studies. Isasi will work with Digital Scholarship Coordinator Albert A. Palacios to contribute to “collections as data” efforts, educational resources, and digital scholarship initiatives at LLILAS Benson. She will hold her position from July 29 through June 2020.

In her role as CLIR fellow, Isasi will have the opportunity to alter the way in which students, researchers, and affiliated communities access and engage with the digitized historical record.

According to CLIR (the Council on Library and Information Resources) the CLIR postdoctoral position “offers recent PhD graduates the chance to develop research tools, resources, and services while exploring new career opportunities. . . . Fellows work on projects that forge and strengthen connections among library collections, educational technologies, and current research.”

Jennifer Isasi
Jennifer Isasi

In addition to her work with Palacios, Isasi will work closely with the current CLIR fellow Hannah Alpert-Abrams as well as University of Texas Libraries academic engagement staff and LLILAS affiliated faculty to develop curated data sets, curricula, and workshops centered on digital assets and tools, and open-access resources that support scholarly and public engagement with digital materials.

Isasi will also work closely with the post-custodial archival team and partners in the United States and Latin America to inform the development of forthcoming digital collections and facilitate their use in digital research and pedagogy. As such, she will have the opportunity to alter the way in which students, researchers, and affiliated communities access and engage with the digitized historical record.

Jennifer Isasi holds a PhD in Hispanic Studies with a specialization in Digital Humanities from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Her dissertation, “Data Mining Possibilities for the Analysis of the Literary Character in the Spanish Novel: The Case of Galdós and the ‘Episodios nacionales’” (written in Spanish) establishes a computational reading methodology to extract, analyze, and visualize literary character-systems or social networks, noting how they reflect novel genres and degrees of historicity that replicate close readings of the novels. Currently, she is a lecturer of Spanish at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, where she teaches Spanish, Commercial Spanish, and Foundations of Literacy.

Meet the Talents: Porcia Vaughn

Meet the Talents is an occasional series dedicated to introducing experts from around the UT Libraries. This month’s focus is Porcia Vaughn, Liaison Librarian for Biosciences, who joined the Libraries in late 2016. Porcia earned her MS at the University of North Texas and previously worked at the University of Houston Libraries and the Fondren at SMU.

How did you get here, and what do you do?

Porcia Vaughn.
Porcia Vaughn.

Porcia Vaugh: I’ve wanted to be a librarian since middle school and have always had a love of science. It was in 9th grade that I found out that I could blend my love of libraries with my science passion to become a science librarian. So, I made the plan to get a degree in biological sciences with a minor in health studies to then proceed to graduate school to obtain a MS in Information Sciences focusing on Health Informatics.  And here I am today with the ability to connect faculty, students and staff at a major R01 research institution to library services… I’m definitely living my dream!

I’ve made my way to UT to support the biological sciences programs, including Integrative Biology, Molecular Biosciences, Neurology, Biomedical Engineering and other bioscience related programs.  I provide research, publication, curriculum and instruction support to the biosciences programs and disciplines here on the UT Austin campus.

Services I provide for UT researchers include, but are not limited to, locating grants, assisting with formal literature review searches, identifying data sets, identifying best practices for publishing and making one’s work discoverable, and assistance with data management principles and practices for compliance in the biological and life science disciplines. The success to UT’s research enterprise is important to me and the role of the library to be involved with identifying specialized needs and seeking innovative solutions to those needs is always a priority of mine when serving our researchers.

In addition to researcher support, I offer strategic library services to the biosciences undergraduate curriculum by providing hands-on training for students regarding Information Literacy — the proper ways to find and use biological and life science information tools and resources appropriately to be successful as a student and future biological researcher. I assist instructor or teaching assistants with instructional design around course assignments and program learning outcomes using library resources or other open educational resources.

Where do you think the love of science comes from? Genetic, organic or other?

PV: My love of science has always been focused on biological and life sciences. Growing up in an area with a culture, Hispanic & Native American in New Mexico, I grew to love and respect the environment and the living organisms within the environment. The love was then fostered by fantastic middle school science teachers and librarians who supplied the great natural sciences books to feed my interest.

I do really love every aspect of trying to understand living organisms — physical structure, chemical composition, function, and development of living organisms.  My undergraduate research focused on parasitology and I loved studying those little and sometimes gross organisms but they are so important to how we evolve in our environment.

I know from talk around the watercooler that you have a bit of a competitive streak (esp. sports). Where do you think that comes from, and do you see those aspects of yourself in your work?

PV: Yeah, I do have a little bit of a competitive streak. I’ve played sports all my life, my dad is an athletic coach who coached my varsity soccer team and my entire family plays sports. I still am very active in sports playing softball and tennis a couple nights a week. I feel that my competitiveness drives me in my daily work, knowing that I can always do better and provide more adaptive services to build others up.

Is there some aspect of UT’s particular research in the sciences that drew you here? Or have you discovered some interesting research that you weren’t aware of?

PV: I was drawn to UT because it is a Tier 1 research institution and the library is in the top 15 on the ARL Library Index Ranking. There are many exciting research opportunities that are occurring here and I can name a few:

But, there are so many more research opportunities to call attention to that excite me!

 What sort of impact do you think librarians should have on research — what role do you want to play in the research life cycle?

PV: I think librarians have a huge role to play in research and any part of the campus enterprise, including teaching and learning the practices of the research life cycle. I assist and am always looking to collaborate with researchers at any stage of the research life cycle. I find it an important part of the biosciences services and tools for researchers for the librarian to participate in project scoping, identifying and tracking grant and funding opportunities, assist with building research data management practices, following through to disseminating, archiving and preserving researchers scholarship and communicating their research to the general public.

And how do you see your role in collection development and management? How does that aspect of your work differ from a librarian in a discipline like the humanities?

PV: I see collection development and management in two categories, course and curriculum needs and the gathering of faculty and graduate research and instructional resources. I identify materials that will enhance instruction and give students fundamental knowledge to enhance their own research priorities as they move forward in their education; this includes identifying Open Educational Resources for faculty and teaching assistants to use in course instruction. Bioscience collections can include textbooks or traditional print books, but also include a wide variety of software (i.e. Mapping and GIS) or electronic resources (i.e. lab protocols and journals) to improve understanding of research methodologies. It is important to work closely with faculty and students to make sure that we are providing resources that make them successful while they are here at UT Austin.

The Digital Humanities questions is a different story unrelated to collection development in my subject areas. DH is the adoption of computational methodologies and digital technologies for humanities research; whereas, in the STEM disciplines have been using data-driven approaches and technology for centuries.  Differences between approaches include the types and quantity of data that is collected along with differing approaches to dissemination and preservation of research and scholarship.

You seem to have a pretty full plate in the present. What do you think your job will look like in ten years, and where would you like to be professionally?

PV: Looking toward the future, librarians will likely be further embedded in a role that supports and enhances research across the university and globally. Libraries will continue to look for ways to benchmark library successes within the research enterprise while strengthening our connections to curriculum and instruction. Academic libraries will also play a large role in community engagement and translation of scholarly research to those beyond the university bubble.

Professionally, I’m aiming to be in a management role that will advance the philosophy and methodologies of library programing and services that directly connect to the academic mission and success stories.

What gives you the greatest sense of accomplishment in life?

PV: Doing what I love gives me a sense of accomplishment. Every morning I get to wake up and have the privilege of working with amazing people and if I can help anyone of them advance their personal or professional goals by providing support makes me happy.

 

 

 

Legacy of Art Historian Jacqueline Barnitz to Be Celebrated with Remembrance and Archive Exhibit

The Benson Latin American Collection is pleased to announce the acquisition of the archive of Jacqueline Barnitz (1923–2017). The life and collection of the late art historian and professor emeritus will be celebrated in the Benson’s Rare Books and Manuscripts Reading Room on Tuesday, March 27, at 3 p.m. Selected materials from the archive will be on view in an exhibition titled The Legacy of Jacqueline Barnitz.

Jackie Barnitz in her slide collection. Photo: Mike Wellen.
Jackie Barnitz in her slide collection. Photo: Mike Wellen.

The exhibit provides a glimpse into the archive of the world-renowned modern Latin American art historian who taught at The University of Texas at Austin from 1981 until her retirement in 2007. Barnitz donated the archive to the Benson shortly before her death, and its contents include correspondence, research notes, teaching materials, art slides, notebooks, rare art and art history publications, and an exceptional array of exhibition catalogs from Latin America spanning much of the twentieth century.

A young Jacqueline Barnitz.
A young Jacqueline Barnitz.

An artist in her own right, Jackie Barnitz made a living during her early professional career as a portrait painter and eventually turned to abstract expressionism. In 1962, she traveled to Argentina, where she became enthralled with the dynamic arts culture of Buenos Aires. Upon returning to her home in New York City, she wrote about Latin American art for multiple publications, bringing crucial exposure for Latin American artists in the 1960s and 70s, especially those who had left their home countries for New York in the wake of political unrest. She continued to travel to Mexico and South America throughout her career. Barnitz earned her PhD in art history from the City University of New York after having taught courses on Latin American art at the college level.

Barnitz joined the art history faculty of UT Austin as the first professor to hold a university tenure-track position in modern Latin American art. She was a dedicated mentor and teacher whose students have moved on to research, teaching, and curatorial positions in major institutions around the world. Her textbook, Twentieth-Century Art of Latin America, published by University of Texas Press in 2001, with a second, expanded edition in collaboration with Patrick Frank issued in 2015, is the textbook of choice for most university courses on modern Latin American art.

Barnitz with Patrick Frank, co-author of second edition of "Twentieth-Century Art of Latin America." Photo: Gayanne DeVry
Barnitz with Patrick Frank, co-author of second edition of “Twentieth-Century Art of Latin America.” Photo: Gayanne DeVry

Barnitz’s contribution to the field of Latin American art history in Austin and beyond is emphasized by Beverly Adams, curator of Latin American art at the Blanton Museum. “Jackie was a true innovator, pioneer, and steward of the field of Latin American art history. From her salons in New York City to her far-ranging travel and research, she constantly sought meaningful connections with artists and intellectuals throughout the Americas. In the Art History department, she helped form a generation of scholars. At the Benson, her archive and library will surely continue to inspire new generations of students.”

Barnitz with students during a lecture. Photo courtesy Mike Wellan.
Barnitz with students during a lecture. Photo courtesy Mike Wellan.

The Blanton Museum of Art was the beneficiary of several remarkable gifts from Barnitz over the years, ranging from thoughtful catalogue essays, class tours of the collection, and her frequent donations of art. According to curator Adams, Barnitz made her most recent gift to the Blanton last year, “a number of fascinating works on paper of important artists such as María Luisa Pacheco, Cildo Meireles, Paulo Bruscky, Regina Silveira, and Leandro Katz,” which will soon be seen in the museum’s galleries.

According to Melissa Guy, director of the Benson Latin American Collection, the acquisition of Barnitz’s collection further strengthens the Benson’s holdings in Latin American art and art history, which also include the José Gómez Sicre Papers, the Barbara Doyle Duncan Papers, and the Stanton Loomis Catlin Papers. “Jacqueline’s collection brings incredible richness and depth to the Benson’s art and art history holdings, and reflects her stature as the preeminent scholar of modern Latin American art history. The exhibition catalogs alone, covering nearly the entire region from the 1960s into the twenty-first century, warrant special attention by students and researchers,” said Guy.

Barnitz in her early teens.
Barnitz in her early teens.

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Attend The Event

RSVP requested: attend.com/barnitz

This event is co-hosted by the University of Texas Libraries and LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections, who gratefully acknowledge the following co-sponsors: Blanton Museum of Art, Center for Latin American Visual Studies, Department of Art and Art History, College of Fine Arts.

About the Benson Latin American Collection

The Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection is one of the foremost collections of library materials on Latin America worldwide. Established in 1921 as the Latin American Library, the Benson is approaching its centennial. Through its partnership established with the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies in 2011, the Benson continues to be at the forefront of Latin American and U.S. Latina/o librarianship through its collections and digital initiatives.