Category Archives: Research

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.

Lorraine Haricombe on UT Libraries in the Pandemic

When Vice Provost and Director of the University of Texas Libraries Lorraine Haricombe began her tenure as president of the Association of Research Libraries last August, she couldn’t have imagined that she would be facing the closure of the libraries at UT and the subsequent near-immediate conversion of library services and resources to meet the needs of a campus-wide transition to online teaching and learning.

So when the current health crisis ended any plans for a normal conclusion to the spring semester, Haricombe was not only dealing with a major leadership challenge on her own campus, but was the head of an organization that represents over 120 major research institutions across North America, many of which galvanized their research energies in support of global efforts to address the various facets of the pandemic. When The University of Texas at Austin shifted to remote operations in late March, Haricombe’s focus was on the Libraries conversion from a richly analog experience for campus users to serving a distant base of users through digital resources and support functions for research. At the same time, she was a lead participant in crafting the coordinated position and messaging of peer institutions in the U.S. and Canada.

Now that the libraries and institutions of higher education in the U.S. have forded the spring semester and begun to establish a local and national rhythm, Haricombe took some time to answer a few questions about her experience during this extraordinary time, and where she thinks the libraries can find silver linings among the clouds.


When did you realize that the Libraries would need to suspend operations? What was going through your mind about how this would impact our ability to serve the university?

Lorraine J. Haricombe: A confluence of several events on Friday, March 13 pointed to the seriousness of the pandemic in Austin and at UT. First, the early morning news about two cases in Travis County; second, the immediate closing of UT on that day and third, President Fenves’ announcement later that day that his wife had tested positive and that they would need to be quarantined for 14 days. I felt confident that UT Libraries was in a good position to respond to this crisis. Libraries had been working online for more than two decades. UT Libraries developed a roadmap towards a digital shift in summer 2019 which helped to transition essential services online in instruction, research support and learning. The COVID-19 accelerated the pace of implementation. 

This is a global crisis unlike any we’ve dealt with in the last 100 years. When did you realize its magnitude, and how did that affect your decision-making process in the response?

LJH: The death rate elsewhere in the world followed by the crisis in New York quickly clarified the magnitude of the pandemic. In turn, Travis County, the City of Austin and the University of Texas influenced my response to make employee safety and health concerns a high priority. Despite the critical role of UT Libraries, I requested approval from UT administration to allow UTL employees to work from home “out of respect for their health and safety.” 

When Fenves announced the transition to online classes, what were your initial thoughts about the Libraries’ role in supporting campus?

LJH: I appreciated the significant work of UTL’s collective Leadership Team in summer 2019 to position the Libraries for a digital ecosystem. This meant that UTL’s 2020-2021 roadmap was ready to be operationalized and that our workforce was quickly able to pivot to provide the most critical services and expertise necessary to support UT faculty online.

How do you utilize staff that are normally tasked with processing/preserving/transferring physical materials?

LJH: All our staff are equipped with devices to continue to work remotely. Many are being trained to do evolving projects and others that have been on the back burner.   

How do you support traditionalist library users/patrons that are accustomed to in-person research or stacks browsing?

LJH: UT Libraries has access to many more online resources thanks to publishers and vendors opening up on a temporary basis online resources to students and faculty in higher education across the world. One key example is HathiTrust, a database that covers more than 40% of UT’s physical collection, digitally. Our librarians have provided LibGuides and resource pages to help identify critical and relevant resources.  

Will this affect the long-term manner in which libraries are used or operate? If so, how?

LJH: Yes. Digital resources, their discoverability and access will be essential in an online environment where users now expect to have user-friendly access to their resources, anytime, anywhere. Libraries will require more flexible/agile structures to respond to different needs quickly that will necessitate a holistic approach to services, staff and space.    

What are the challenges this exceptional historical moment present for libraries? What are the opportunities?

LJH: Among the key challenges is to change the perception of “what” libraries do (and can do).  It will also be challenging to advance new models of service, skills, tools (e.g. AI) in a predominantly non-digital organizational structure. Despite a significant shift libraries are still challenged to create a compelling digital presence that corresponds to their successful physical learning space.  

Opportunities: As long as universities exist there will be libraries; they will continue to have a physical presence but maybe fewer in number. Their focus will shift from a collections focus to user services with more embedded partnerships than transactional services.  

Challenges offer exciting opportunities for workforce development (upskill, reskill, leadership development) to enhance physical-based services online or introduce new services, understand the new tools (and their biases), provide closer collaboration to help shape curriculum with information schools and partner with other professionals. This pandemic has elevated the central role of “what” libraries can do. Now we need to leverage the opportunity to constantly refresh our message to resonate with stakeholders and funders, e.g. how do we increase online research productivity and impact; how do library spaces facilitate innovative research and creative thinking; how does the library contribute to equitable student outcomes and inclusive learning environments?  

What has it been like serving in your role as president of the Association of Research Libraries during the crisis? How did it affect your leadership, and what efforts has ARL undertaken to coordinate its efforts with member institutions?

LJH: ARL is strong and healthy. Despite the challenges higher education faced to move online, research libraries across North America have rapidly responded to the shifting needs of their communities and worked collectively to adapt, alongside public health officials, university administrators, and city officials, as well as research communities. In our favor, technological advancements have made information more easily accessible than ever before, and global collaboration is already part of everyday research. This crisis has surfaced exciting new opportunities for research libraries to have a leadership role, offer new services and collaborate/partner locally, nationally and globally. 

At ARL, we continue to observe and share libraries’/campus responses that are consistent with the situation in which they find themselves. These (Zoom) peer-to-peer sessions have proved invaluable as we enter into different phases of crisis management and planning. Recently, I launched the new Plan Ahead Task Force to develop an Action Plan for the next 1-3 years anchored in the priorities ARL leaders have identified in a membership survey in April.

What sort of impact will this have on libraries’ relationship with the publishers? Are there implications for open access (esp. OERs)?

LJH: The COVID-19 pandemic has supercharged discussions around open access across the continuum from budgetary concerns for high priced journal subscriptions to transformative contracts that facilitate open access to scholarship. Many commercial publishers have made texts and other materials available as OERs however, this will likely cease once the semester ends. Libraries are well positioned to be catalytic leaders in developing OERs on their campuses, and at scale as consortia. 

Hypothetically, assuming the health crisis runs its course (by time, therapies or a vaccine), where do you picture the Libraries in two years? How will they be the same? How will they be different? (as a byproduct of the crisis or just as a matter of strategic development)

LJH: I think libraries will continue to exist as central physical spaces. Our spaces are connectors of people and collaborators. Our services will (in part) be driven by user expectations. For example, do we return to a model of closed stacks until a vaccine is discovered to protect employees and satisfy user concerns of safety? How do we deploy data evidence decision-making to reinvest our resources where user data lead us. How can libraries collaborate at scale to find solutions in the “Digital Shift” (e.g. copyright, requirements for open information in licensing/procurement).   

The digital shift will continue: we need to think holistically about our resources, services, skills, spaces and find new partnerships/collaborators to create a digital presence that corresponds to our successful physical learning environment. I see the changes as transitions through accelerated timeframes rather as “sudden stop/starts.” The future is here; we need to be in the moment.

New Collections Highlighted in Updated Latin American Digital Initiatives Repository

Leer en español / Ler em português

BY DAVID A. BLISS

More than 60 thousand scanned images from seven archival collections throughout Latin America are now available online in the updated Latin American Digital Initiatives (LADI) repository (ladi.lib.utexas.edu). The site was developed over the course of two years by the LLILAS Benson Digital Initiatives team and University of Texas Libraries software developers, with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. A previous version of the site, featuring four archival collections, launched in 2015.

¡Alto a la represión del sindicalismo! From the Colección Conflicto Armado, Afiches, collection of the Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen in San Salvador, El Salvador: https://ladi.lib.utexas.edu/en/mupi01
¡Alto a la represión del sindicalismo! [Stop the repression of unionism!] From the Colección Conflicto Armado, Afiches, collection, Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen, San Salvador, El Salvador. https://ladi.lib.utexas.edu/en/mupi01

The digitized images in the LADI repository were created by archive-holding organizations in Latin America in partnership with LLILAS Benson. Partnering organizations produced high-quality scans and detailed metadata about their collections, while LLILAS Benson staff offered equipment, on-site training, and technical consultation under a post-custodial archival framework. The online repository is intended for use by researchers, teachers, and activists, as well as the communities to which the materials belong. The site can be navigated in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Manifestaciones reclamando la reglamentación del artículo transitorio 55 [Protests demanding the establishment of Artículo Transitorio 55]. From the Colección Dinámicas Organizativas del Pueblo Negro en Colombia, Proceso de Comunidades Negras, Buenaventura, Colombia. https://ladi.lib.utexas.edu/en/pcn01

The collections found in LADI span the sixteenth through the twenty-first centuries, and were created by project staff at the following partnering organizations: Archivo Judicial del Estado de Puebla (Mexico), BICU-CIDCA (Nicaragua), Centro de Investigaciones Regionales de Mesoamérica (CIRMA, Guatemala), Equipe de Articulação e Assessoria às Comunidades Negras do Vale do Ribeira (EAACONE, Brazil), Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen (MUPI, El Salvador), and Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN, Colombia). The variety of materials found in these collections reflects the ethnic and social diversity of Latin America. At the same time, the collections speak to common struggles that reach across temporal and geographic boundaries. The particular thematic strengths of the collections in the repository include Afro-Latinx and Indigenous rights, environmental justice, and Cold War–era internal armed conflicts. The collections are:

  • Archivo de Inforpress Centroamericana (CIRMA, Guatemala)
  • Colección Conflicto Armado. Afiches. (MUPI, El Salvador)
  • Colección Conflicto Armado. Publicaciones. (MUPI, El Salvador)
  • Colección Digital del Periódico “La Información” (BICU-CIDCA, Nicaragua)
  • Colección Digital Fondo Real de Cholula (Archivo Judicial del Estado de Puebla, Mexico)
  • Colección Dinámicas Organizativas del Pueblo Negro en Colombia (PCN, Colombia)
  • Quilombos do Vale do Ribeira SP/PR (EAACONE, Brazil)
MOAB - A saga de um Povo. From the Quilombos do Vale do Ribeira SP/PR collection of the Equipe de Articulação e Assessorias às Comunidades Negras do Vale do Ribeira in Eldorado, Brazil:

MOAB – A Saga de um Povo [MOAB – The Saga of a People]. From the Quilombos do Vale do Ribeira SP/PR collection, Equipe de Articulação e Assessorias às Comunidades Negras do Vale do Ribeira, Eldorado, Brazil. https://ladi.lib.utexas.edu/en/eaacone01

About the Site Update

The new version of the site was built from the ground up using an open-source technology stack consisting of Fedora 5, Islandora 8, and Drupal 8, based on the Resource Description Framework (RDF) for linked data. The updated repository infrastructure greatly improves the site’s multilingual capabilities and provides more connections between objects to improve cross-searching and discoverability. The site was developed using a combination of standard Islandora features and custom code, which was contributed back to the Islandora community.

Avalúo de los bienes de Manuel Romero [Appraisal of the assets of Manuel Romero]. Colección Digital Fondo Real de Cholula, Archivo Judicial del Estado de Puebla: https://ladi.lib.utexas.edu/en/frc01
Avalúo de los bienes de Manuel Romero [Appraisal of the assets of Manuel Romero]. Colección Digital Fondo Real de Cholula, Archivo Judicial del Estado de Puebla. https://ladi.lib.utexas.edu/en/frc01

The core project team consisted of David Bliss, Itza Carbajal, Minnie Rangel, Brandon Stennett, and Theresa Polk. The LLILAS Benson Digital Initiatives team would also like to acknowledge the contributions of the many others who supported this project, including the project staff and leadership at each partner organization; scholar liaisons Dr. Anthony Dest, Dr. Lidia Gómez García, Dr. Kelly McDonough, and Dr. Edward Shore; translators Tereza Braga, Jennifer Isasi, Joshua Ortiz Baco, and Albert Palacios; UT Libraries IT services; the UT Libraries Digital Stewardship team; LLILAS Benson Grants Manager Megan Scarborough; the UT Libraries and LLILAS Benson leadership teams; the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; the Islandora development community; and the graduate research assistants who contributed to the project—Alejandra Martinez, Joshua Ortiz Baco and Elizabeth Peattie.


David A. Bliss is the digital processing archivist for LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections, The University of Texas at Austin.

Destaque para novas coleções do Repositório Digital Latino-Americano Atualizado

POR DAVID A. BLISS / TRADUZIDO POR TEREZA BRAGA

Read in English / Leer en español

Mais de 60 mil imagens escaneadas de sete coleções de arquivo espalhadas pela América Latina estão agora disponíveis virtualmente no repositório atualizado da Iniciativas Digitais Latino-Americanas (em inglês, LADI) (ladi.lib.utexas.edu). O site foi desenvolvido durante um período de dois anos pela equipe Iniciativas Digitais da LLILAS Benson e por desenvolvedores de software das Bibliotecas da Universidade do Texas, com o apoio da Fundação Andrew W. Mellon. Uma versão anterior do site, com quatro coleções de arquivos, foi lançada em 2015.

¡Alto a la represión del sindicalismo! [Pare à repressão ao sindicalismo]. Da coleção Colección Conflicto Armado, Afiches, Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen, San Salvador, El Salvador. https://ladi.lib.utexas.edu/pt-br/mupi01

As imagens digitalizadas do repositório LADI foram criadas por organizações proprietárias de arquivos na América Latina, em parceria com a LLILAS Benson. As organizações parceiras produziram digitalizações de alta qualidade e metadados detalhados sobre suas coleções, enquanto que os profissionais da LLILAS Benson proporcionaram equipamentos, capacitação local e consulta técnica para um ordenamento arquivístico pós-custodial. O repositório virtual foi criado para utilização por pesquisadores, professores e ativistas, assim como pelas comunidades a quem pertencem as peças. O site pode ser navegado em inglês, espanhol e português.

Manifestaciones reclamando la reglamentación del artículo transitorio 55 [Manifestações que demandam a reglamentação do Artigo Transitório ]. Da coleção Colección Dinámicas Organizativas del Pueblo Negro en Colombia, Proceso de Comunidades Negras, Buenaventura, Colombia. https://ladi.lib.utexas.edu/pt-br/pcn01

As coleções encontradas na LADI abrangem um período que vai do século XVI ao século XX e foram criadas por profissionais do projeto trabalhando nas instalações das seguintes entidades parceiras: Arquivo Judicial do Estado de Puebla (México), BICU-CIDCA (Nicarágua), Centro de Pesquisas  Regionais da Mesoamérica (CIRMA, Guatemala), Equipe de Articulação e Assessorias às Comunidades Negras do Vale do Ribeira (EAACONE, Brasil), Museu da Palavra e da Imagem (MUPI, El Salvador), e Processo de Comunidades Negras (PCN, Colômbia). A variedade de materiais encontrada nessas coleções reflete a diversidade étnica e social da América Latina. Ao mesmo tempo, as coleções tratam de lutas que são comuns a vários povos e transpõem limites temporais e geográficos. Os destaques temáticos específicos das coleções do repositório são direitos afro-latinx e indígenas, justiça ambiental e conflitos armados internos da era da Guerra Fria. As coleções são as seguintes:

  • Archivo de Inforpress Centroamericana (CIRMA, Guatemala)
  • Colección Conflicto Armado. Afiches. (MUPI, El Salvador)
  • Colección Conflicto Armado. Publicaciones. (MUPI, El Salvador)
  • Colección Digital del Periódico “La Información” (BICU-CIDCA, Nicaragua)
  • Colección Digital Fondo Real de Cholula (Archivo Judicial del Estado de Puebla, México)
  • Colección Dinamicas Organizativas del Pueblo Negro en Colombia (PCN, Colombia)
  • Quilombos do Vale do Ribeira SP/PR (EAACONE, Brasil)
MOAB – A Saga de um Povo. Da coleção Quilombos do Vale do Ribeira SP/PR, Equipe de Articulação e Assessorias às Comunidades Negras do Vale do Ribeira, Eldorado, Brasil. https://ladi.lib.utexas.edu/pt-br/eaacone01

Detalhes do site atualizado

A nova versão do site foi criada do zero com a utilização de uma pilha tecnológica de fonte aberta constituída de Fedora 5, Islandora 8 e Drupal 8, com base no Quadro de Descrições de Recursos (RDF) para dados ligados. A infra-estrutura de repositório atualizada permite aprimorar significativamente o caráter multilíngue do site e disponibiliza mais conexões entre objetos para facilitar buscas cruzadas e descobertas. O site foi desenvolvido com a ajuda de uma combinação de funções Islandora padrão e código personalizado que volta para a comunidade Islandora em forma de contribuições.

Avalúo de los bienes de Manuel Romero [Avaliação dos bens de Manuel Romero]. De Colección Digital Fondo Real de Cholula, Archivo Judicial del Estado de Puebla. https://ladi.lib.utexas.edu/pt-br/frc01

A equipe núcleo do projeto consistiu de David Bliss, Itza Carbajal, Minnie Rangel, Brandon Stennett, e Theresa Polk. A equipe da Iniciativas Digitais LLILAS Benson gostaria também de agradecer as contribuições de outras pessoas que apoiaram esse projeto, inclusive os profissionais e gestores de cada organização parceira; os articuladores acadêmicos Dr. Anthony Dest, Dra. Lidia Gómez García, Dr. Kelly McDonough, e Dr. Edward Shore; os tradutores Tereza Braga, Jennifer Isasi, Joshua Ortiz Baco e Albert Palacios; os serviços de IT das Bibliotecas UT; a equipe de Administração Digital das Bibliotecas UT; Megan Scarborough, Gerente de Grants da LLILAS Benson; as equipes gestoras das Bibliotecas UT e LLILAS Benson; a Fundação Andrew W. Mellon; a comunidade de desenvolvedores do Islandora; e os pós-graduandos assistentes de pesquisa que contribuíram para esse projeto: Alejandra Martinez, Joshua Ortiz Baco e Elizabeth Peattie.


David A. Bliss é arquivista de processamento digital de LLILAS Benson Coleções e Estudos Latino-Americanos, da Universidade de Texas em Austin.

Students Use Digital Tools to reveal “Hidden” Collection of Pre-Colonial Objects

Nasca bowl with birds

Students in Astrid Runggaldier’s Art and Archaeology of Ancient Peru class were tasked with an intriguing project this spring: take a collection of pre-colonial objects that is, for all intents and purposes, invisible, and make it visible using digital tools. Their efforts have come to fruition with a first-of-its-kind online exhibition titled Ancient Coastal Cultures of Peru: People and Animals at the Edge of the Pacific Ocean.

The objects in question are part of the Art and Art History Collection (AAHC) at The University of Texas at Austin, a collection associated with the Mesoamerica Center and the Department of Art and Art History. Consisting of ancient artifacts, ethnographic materials, and historical objects primarily from the Americas, the collection, curated by Runggaldier, spans approximately 5,000 invaluable objects for research and studious exploration. These rare pieces do not have their own dedicated exhibition space, although since 2017, select objects rotate through the Ancient Americas gallery at the Blanton Museum of Art (see “Mesoamerican Artifacts Highlight Makeover at UT’s Blanton”).

Chimu spout-and-handle vessel with human effigy

Long focused on the need for a virtual museum to showcase the AAHC collection, Runggaldier looked to the field of digital humanities to devise a project with a few objectives in mind. “Approaching this project from a digital humanities perspective could simultaneously serve in the stewardship of the collection, create an educational resource at UT and beyond, and provide an opportunity for students to become involved in learning goals and tools of digital scholarship, as well as museum studies approaches to collection management and curation,” she said.

Nasca vase with trophy head

Enter the LLILAS Benson Digital Humanities Curriculum Redesign Award. The award provides UT faculty and graduate student instructors with dedicated staff support by LLILAS Benson digital scholarship staff along with a grant of up to $250 to cover expenses incurred in the design or redesign of a course with Latin American, U.S. Latinx, and/or African Diaspora Studies content. Runggaldier applied and received the award, which she used to redesign the Ancient Peru class. For this endeavor, she has worked with Albert Palacios, LLILAS Benson digital scholarship coordinator.

Student’s final project, showing object comparisons

Palacios explains that the goal of the LLILAS Benson Digital Scholarship Office is to “introduce digital humanities principles, methods, and special collections meaningfully and with a critical lens” in the redesign of undergraduate and graduate courses. “Through lectures, class activities, individual assignments and group projects, we aim to strike a balance in the knowledge we impart as co-instructors,” Palacios continues, “so that students leave the course with a well-rounded understanding of the subject matter and course content, as well as information literacy and research methods, basic and more advanced digital skills, and knowledge of ethical issues surrounding collection development and use.”

Chimu vessel

First-year student Miguel Belmonte, a neuroscience major, attests to the success of this aim: Before this course, “I had never used or even known about digital scholarship tools. It was a unique experience.”

Nasca objects depicting chile peppers; postcard showing twentieth-century vendor

Students were divided into teams of four for the final project. Each team had to research objects in the UT collection from two different pre-colonial Andean groups—the Chimu and the Nasca. They then had to compare the objects they chose to an object from another museum collection. To provide context for visualizing the environments of Peru, Runggaldier selected images from the Benson’s Hispanic Society of America Postcard Collection, which has been digitized, described, and mapped by School of Information graduate student Elizabeth Peattie, who is the LLILAS Benson Digital Scholarship and Special Collections intern. Three other indispensable contributors to the success of this project were Brianna Crockett, collections assistant and Art and Art History undergrad, who assisted in the compilation and description of digital assets; Katy Parker, Humanities Liaison Librarian for Fine Arts, who provided research support for students throughout the semester; and Nicole Payntar, doctoral student in the Department of Anthropology, who designed assignment grading criteria and rubrics for research and digital project components.

Student slide featuring Chimu objects and thematic postcard

“I truly enjoy seeing the aha! moment in students’ eyes as they figure out how to use open-source digital tools to make their research more dynamic and interconnected,” says Palacios. “For many, the learning curve is steep, so the digital scholarship staff’s role is to help them overcome this. Luckily, we continue to hear that the in-depth and intense experience was worth the challenge!”

Runggaldier and Palacios had originally planned an in-person opening event to celebrate the going live of the online exhibition. Given the current closure of campus due to the covid-19 pandemic, this was not to be. We encourage readers to visit the online exhibition and to share their opinions on social media by tagging @llilasbenson and @UT_AAH and using the hashtag #digitalhumanities.

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More information: Contact Lauren Macknight, Art and Art History, or Susanna Sharpe, LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections

The Rebirth of PubMed

2020 is certainly the year of change, and UT Libraries staff is working hard to keep users and each other as up-to-date as possible so that we can all weather these changes and come out the other side stronger than ever. One of these efforts is a newly published Research Guide outlining and explaining upcoming changes to the highly used database, PubMed.

The National Library of Medicine (NLM) is transitioning to an updated interface and search algorithm in PubMed. This version will be the sole option for using PubMed when the legacy version is decommissioned. New PubMed, or PubMed Labs as it’s sometimes known, provides the same PubMed content to users with an updated design to correspond more closely with modern users’ expectations of the database functionality. Additionally, PubMed is seeking to create a responsive design system with ongoing user feedback, added features and a regular maintenance schedule. While this is a great undertaking by NLM, UT librarians wanted to show users where and how to do the things they’re familiar with in Legacy PubMed in the New PubMed

With this in mind, the UT Libraries Systematic Reviews Interest Group created a Research Guide illustrating common processes in PubMed. The Research Guide features side-by-side instructions, with accompanying screenshots of Legacy PubMed and New PubMed, to walk users through the changes to the resource. 

Field Notes Photography Exhibition Showcases Student Research in Latin America

Each fall, LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections invites graduate and undergraduate students from all departments and disciplines across the university to submit photographs to the Field Notes student photography exhibition. Thirty images are chosen for display in the Benson Latin American Collection. Through these images, student photographers document moments from their research on Latin America or US Latina/o communities.

In addition to showcasing student research, the exhibition awards prizes of $250 to two student photographers. The winning photos are chosen in a blind competition by a panel of faculty and staff.

Fall 2019 marks the tenth anniversary of the photography show, originally conceived by Adrian Johnson, librarian for Caribbean studies and head of user services at the Benson. In this Tex Libris post, we give a glimpse of this beautiful and varied exhibition, and invite readers to visit the Benson to view all of the photos.

The announcement for Field Notes 10 used “La limpia,” show in the Field Notes 9 show, and taken in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, by LLILAS PhD candidate Nathalia Ochoa.

Through her research with Mexican migrants in Austin, prize-winner Maribel Bello created the Facebook page Rancho Querido, which she calls “an emotional-visual-exchange bridge” for sharing of images showing everyday activities in Mexico. Her winning photo shows children playing hide-and-seek. Bello is a master’s student in Latin American Studies at the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies (LLILAS).

“Yo mejor me escondo,” by Maribel Bello, was taken in La Cueva, Guanajuato, Mexico.

In his untitled prize-winning photo (below), Arisbel López Andraca, a PhD student in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, depicts a religious procession in Havana, Cuba. López has been researching the visuality of “daily religious practices” in the streets of Havana, noting the considerable increase in the circulation of “dressed dolls” or “spiritual dolls” as representations of orichas, spiritual entities, or eggungun.

“Untitled,” by Arisbel López Andraca, taken in Havana, Cuba, shows a woman carrying a dressed doll in the procession of the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre.

LLILAS PhD candidate Ricardo Velasco looks at “cultural initiatives for memory and reconciliation in the context of Colombia’s current transitional justice conjuncture.” He conducted ethnographic research in Comuna 13, he says, to inquire about “how youth visual culture has contributed to the transformation of what once was one of the urban epicenters of Colombia’s armed conflict.”

“Comuna 13, Medellín,” by Ricardo Velasco. The photo depicts the built environment of Medellín as seen from Comuna 13.

Pablo Millalen Lepin, a LLILAS PhD student, studies public policies toward indigenous people in his native Chile. His photo reflects the meaning of ranching and livestock ownership for Indigenous Mapuche families, for whom “the possession of an animal can be interpreted as part of the local economy, and/or the promise of future work, principally in the area of agriculture.”

“El pequeño toro solitario / The Lonely Little Bull,” by Pablo Millalen Lepin, taken in Lof Mañiuko, a Mapuche community in the South of Chile.

To see and enjoy all of the photographs, visit the exhibition in the first-floor corridor of the Benson Latin American Collection during library hours. Exhibition runs through December 2019.

Feature image, top, taken in Boyacá, Colombia, by Sofia Mock, undergraduate in Plan II.

Announcing the Texas GeoData Portal

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

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

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

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

Texas GeoData Portal.
Texas GeoData Portal.

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

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

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

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

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

Arctic Escape from the Texas Summer

Climate Force logoLater this summer, three UT researchers will find themselves in the Arctic. Dr. Emily Beagle, currently a CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow working with Research and Data Services in UT Libraries, will join colleagues from mechanical engineering, Dr. Josh Rhodes and Dr. Todd Davidson aboard the National Geographic Explorer for a 12-day sustainability and leadership training in Svalbard, Norway. The expedition, Climate Force 2019, equips leaders with resources and actionable solutions to fight climate change.

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The Expedition will be led by renowned explorer Sir Rob Swan, the first person to walk to both Poles. Over 90 other participants will join them from more than 25 countries with backgrounds in entrepreneurship, sustainability, energy, and education. This is more than just a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore the Arctic. Participants will attend presentations and trainings given by other group members to share expertise, cultivate collaborative relationships and develop actionable solutions for a more sustainable future. Beagle, Rhodes and Davidson will be giving presentations on their energy related research while on the trip.

“We were invited to apply by Sir Rob Swan when he visited UT last year and then had several rounds of application essays and interviews before being formally accepted to the group.” Beagle says. “It’s an honor to have been asked to join such an esteemed and accomplished group of people that make up not only the Expedition leaders but also all the other participants.”

“As engineers and energy experts we will be the ones to develop the solutions needed to solve climate change so it is important for us to be there at the table for these conversations.” Beagle says.

Emily Beagle is a CLIR Fellow in  Data Curation for Energy Economics currently in residence at the Libraries. 

 

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.