For almost three hundred years, the Spanish monarchs ruled over an expansive empire stretching from the Caribbean to the southernmost tip of South America. World history narratives situate Spain within a centuries-long clash between major powers over territory, resources, and authority in the Americas that ended with the wars of independence. However, these histories tend to devote less attention to the day-to-day processes that sustained imperial rule. My dissertation explores this question through an analysis of the underlying mechanisms that bound the people to their faraway king. A LLILAS Benson Digital Humanities Summer Fellowship helped me to create an online exhibition that demonstrates what the bureaucracy of empire looked like on the ground. (Visit the Spanish version of the exhibition.)
This interactive website serves as an interface with a section of the vast holdings of the Benson Latin American Collection: the Genaro García Collection. Through the exhibition, teachers, students, and community members can explore the events that unfolded when the king ordered a visita—or royal inspection—for New Spain (roughly, modern Mexico) in 1765. The inspection allowed the monarch to keep up to date on local happenings while also identifying areas that could be reorganized. This visita involved approximately seven years of examinations and reforms carried out through a cooperation between the monarch’s appointed visitador—or inspector—and local government workers.
The website offers high-resolution images of the thirty documents from the Genaro García Collection that pertain to this procedure, in addition to brief content descriptions, full transcriptions, information on the individuals involved, and maps of prominent regions mentioned in the sources. All of this information appears in an interactive timeline so that users can experience the process of bureaucracy at work.
This project benefited from the use of several digital humanities tools, including TimelineJS, FromthePage, and Transkribus. TimelineJS allowed for the creation of an interactive chronology containing the step-by-step process that the visitador followed as he inspected and reorganized the government of New Spain. For users looking to examine the documents beyond the site’s overviews, FromthePage and Transkribus generated full transcriptions of the sources.
These texts provide opportunities for further exploration, such as data analysis. For example, by feeding the transcriptions into the Voyant Tools website, I was able to generate a word cloud of the most commonly appearing words and phrases in the documents.
The Benson Latin American Collection holds documents covering many regions of the Spanish world across the sixteenth through the twenty-first centuries. During this time, Spain’s hold over its American territories required the constant interaction between royal officials and local populations, and that crossover was often messy. The 1765 visita of New Spain sheds light on the complexities of this process. My hope is that this online exhibition will expand the ways in which people can interact with these sources without having to visit the University of Texas campus in person, and learn from them about the day-to-day experience of imperial management.
Brittany Erwin is a PhD candidate in history. She was a LLILAS Benson Digital Humanities Summer Fellow in 2020.
Game-changing innovations that use artificial intelligence (AI) tools will improve access to Indigenous and Spanish colonial archives. “Unlocking the Colonial Archive: Harnessing Artificial Intelligence for Indigenous and Spanish American Historical Collections” is a collaborative project led by LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections at The University of Texas at Austin, the Digital Humanities Hub at Lancaster University, and Liverpool John Moores University. The project will transform “unreadable” digitized Indigenous and Spanish colonial archives into data that will be accessible to a broad spectrum of researchers and the public.
The project will be funded by a $150,000 collaborative grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) as well as €250,000 (approx. US$304,000) from the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) through the joint New Directions for Digital Scholarship in Cultural Institutions program. Kelly McDonough, associate professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, and Albert A. Palacios, digital scholarship coordinator at LLILAS Benson, will manage the project at UT Austin.
The Benson Latin American Collection at The University of Texas at Austin possesses one of the world’s foremost collections of colonial documents in Spanish and Indigenous languages of Latin America. Yet even when digitized, such documents are often neither searchable nor readable because of calligraphy, orthography, and the written language of the document itself. In tackling this problem, the collaborators propose to employ and develop interdisciplinary data science methods with three goals in mind: to expedite the transcription of documents using cutting-edge Handwritten Text Recognition technology; to automate the identification and linking of information through standardized vocabulary ontologies using Linked Open Data and Natural Language Processing techniques; and to facilitate the automated search and analysis of pictorial elements through Image Processing approaches.
The research will be based on three digital collections under the aegis of LLILAS Benson and one from the National Archive of Mexico. The LLILAS Benson collections are digitized Benson Collection colonial holdings, including the Relaciones Geográficas, 16th-century painted written and pictorial documents describing the geography and peoples of New Spain; the Royal Archive of Cholula at the Archivo Judicial del Estado de Puebla (Mexico), which was digitized through a Mellon-funded post-custodial grant; and the Primeros Libros de las Américas, a digitized collection of books published in the Americas before 1601.
McDonough and Palacios say that the project will further colonial Latin American studies not only at UT, but beyond, significantly facilitating the discoverability and interpretation of these materials. “While the work will begin with collections at the Benson and its Latin American partners, the technology developed will be accessible to libraries and archives worldwide, who can use it to automatically transcribe their digitized manuscripts,” Palacios said. In addition, “through the public workshops that are part of this project, we will train humanists on new innovative approaches that leverage the potential of machine learning to facilitate research,” McDonough added.
The geographical diversity among the project’s leadership and collaborators reenforce its global reach. The PIs are McDonough and Palacios of UT Austin, Patricia Murrieta-Flores of Lancaster University (UK), and Javier Pereda Campillo of Liverpool John Moores University (UK). Other collaborators hail from Germany, Mexico, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and Switzerland. Among the numerous participants from Mexico is Lidia García Gómez, history professor at the Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla, who was involved with the digitization of the Royal Archive of Cholula.
For more information: Susanna Sharpe, Communications Coordinator, LLILAS Benson, The University of Texas at Austin
Much of the research being conducted at universities, colleges, and institutes around the world is written up by professors, graduate students, and research associates and published in toll-access (subscription) journals. Anyone lacking a subscription to that journal will not be able to access the articles published there. This creates a serious access problem for many people across the globe.
An alternative method of publishing, called Open Access, allows for anyone to read the results of research for free.
So, why should you care?
The short version:
expensive journals = less access to research results, especially for those outside of wealthy higher-ed institutions
less access = less research being done and/or research not happening quickly because of access barriers
UT Libraries cares deeply about the issue of access for all. For many years we’ve invested in open access publishing and infrastructure in an effort to help shift the scholarly publishing system to a more equitable form.
In celebration of Open Access Week 2020, we’d like to highlight some of the projects we’ve invested in and/or supported over the years. This support can take the form of financial contributions, technical support, content creation, and ongoing promotion and management. We encourage you to check out these open access projects and experience the wide range of disciplines and content types that they represent.
This is a newly-launched open access, peer-reviewed journal in mathematical analysis. One of the founding editors is a UT faculty member and UT Libraries financially supports this journal so that it is free for both readers and for authors.
SAOA is a collection of open access materials for research and teaching about South Asia. The initial emphasis was on colonial-era materials, but current selection criteria include: value to research, utility for a broad population of users, uniqueness, at risk, and complementary to other resources.
This effort is supported by the Center for Research Libraries and over 25 member libraries, including UT.
“The Information Literacy Toolkit is a collection of resources that faculty and instructors can use to help plan or implement assignments in classes. These resources can help you scaffold research skills into your classes, think of new ways to assign research, and help you assess your students’ work.“
The toolkit was created and is maintained by the Teaching & Learning Services unit within UT Libraries (UTL), although others at UTL are free to contribute.
Content is licensed with a Creative Commons License Attribution Non-Commercial license.
This resource is a starting point for educators wishing to design instructional sessions that incorporate campus collections into final digital projects. Here you will find learning outcomes, things to consider before you begin planning, sample syllabi and assignments, assessment tools, recommended readings, and guidelines for copyright and fair use
This project was created by staff from UT Libraries, LLILAS Benson, and the Harry Ransom Center.
Content is licensed with a Creative Commons License Attribution Non-Commercial license.
The Portal provides access to some of the geospatial data from the UT Libraries collections. It’s also been configured to allow users to search raster and vector datasets from other universities that utilize the GeoBlacklight infrastructure.
All items contributed by UT Libraries are free to reuse.
LADI is a digital repository that provides access to thousands of items from the 1500s to the present. The repository has an emphasis on providing access to collections that document human rights issues and underrepresented communities.
This repository provides open, online access to the products of the University’s research and scholarship. It is hosted by the Texas Digital Library, a consortium of higher ed institutions in Texas that builds capacity for preserving, managing, and providing access to digital collections.
TDR is a platform for publishing and archiving datasets created by faculty, staff, and students at UT. It is hosted by the Texas Digital Library.
Copyright status of items varies, but most are licensed for reuse.
When we started documenting all the things we support, we found the list was longer than is feasible for a single post, so please see our Open Access blog and Twitter account for more examples of open access projects being supported by UT Libraries.
Because we believe that access to information is a fundamental right, UT Libraries will continue to prioritize support for open access publishing, open educational resources, and open data.
The Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America (AILLA) is delighted to announce the launch of a free online course called Archiving for the Future: Simple Steps for Archiving Language Documentation Collections, available at https://archivingforthefuture.teachable.com/. The course material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. BCS-1653380 (Susan S. Kung and Anthony C. Woodbury, PIs; September 1, 2016, to August 31, 2020). The course is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.
The course is a resource to aid people of all backgrounds in organizing born-digital and digitized language materials and data for deposit into any digital repository (not just AILLA) for long-term preservation and accessibility. The target audience for this course is anyone who is engaged in creating materials in or about Indigenous, endangered, under-documented, or minority languages as part of language documentation efforts, including language rights, maintenance, and revitalization. It was designed particularly for individuals or groups made up of academic researchers and/or Indigenous or endangered language speakers and community members, though anyone may benefit from it.
The curriculum follows simple steps to guide participants through three phases of work to organize language documentation materials for archiving, and it explains in detail what to do before, during, and after data collection to facilitate the long-term preservation of the data. The course is designed to be informative, engaging, and accessible to anyone, especially to those with no previous experience archiving collections of language materials.
This course was developed by four members of the AILLA staff: Susan Kung, AILLA Manager and grant co-PI; Ryan Sullivant, AILLA Language Data Curator; Alicia Niwabaga, Graduate Research Assistant 2017–2018; and Elena Pojman, Undergraduate Research Assistant 2019–2020. Sullivant and Kung interviewed representatives of various DELAMAN (delaman.org) archives and other digital data repositories in the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Australia, and Cameroon. Niwagaba collaborated with Kung and Sullivant to develop an early version of the course that the AILLA team taught live at the Institute on Collaborative Language Research (CoLang 2018) at the University of Florida in Gainesville during June 18–22, 2018. Niwagaba created the educational animated videos that are embedded in the course to illustrate key aspects of the curriculum. Pojman researched curriculum platforms in which to build the online course. Teachable was selected for a variety of reasons, including its simple yet attractive aesthetic that displays all course modules in the left side bar (see illustration below); its ease of use and progress tracking for enrolled students; its responsiveness to different technology; and the built-in ability to quickly and easily set up the same course in multiple languages. This last feature is especially important since AILLA staff plan to translate the curriculum into Spanish and Portuguese to make it more accessible to AILLA’s Latin American audience. Once the curriculum software was selected, Kung and Sullivant expanded the original 2018 workshop curriculum and wrote the additional content. Pojman wrote the objectives and activities for each step, built the English course in Teachable, and created all of the graphics that are used in the curriculum.
In funding and academic environments where it is becoming increasingly common for researchers to be responsible for archiving their own research data, the AILLA staff saw a need to train language researchers to do this work so that the resulting language collections would be well organized, well described, easy to navigate, and available to reuse for further research and education. While there are some language documentation programs in North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand that train language documenters to do these tasks, most do not, and almost no training on how to archive language documentation is available in Latin America. The AILLA team created this course to fill these gaps.
The Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection is thrilled to announce the acquisition of the Miguel Ángel Asturias Papers. Asturias, the 1967 Nobel Laureate in Literature from Guatemala, was a precursor to the Latin American Boom. A prolific writer of poetry, short stories, children’s literature, plays, and essays, he is perhaps best known as a novelist, with El Señor Presidente (1946) and Hombres de maíz (1949) garnering the most acclaim. Asturias’s portrayal of Guatemala and the different peoples that live there—their beliefs, their interactions, their frustrations, and their hopes—mark the profundity of his texts.
The Benson is the third repository to house materials pertaining to Asturias’s life work, the other two being the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris and El Archivo General de Centroamérica in Guatemala City. What differentiates this particular collection is the role that Asturias’s son, Miguel Ángel Asturias Amado, played in compiling it over the course of fifty years. Indeed, in many ways the collection is just as much the son’s as it is the father’s. It features years of correspondence between the two, who were separated after the elder was forced to leave Argentina in 1962. This was not the writer’s first time in exile: his stay in Argentina was due to the Guatemalan government, led by Carlos Castillo Armas, stripping his citizenship in 1954. The letters provide insight into Asturias as a father, writer, and eventual diplomat when democratically elected Guatemalan President Julio César Méndez Montenegro restored his citizenship and made him Ambassador to France in 1966. Moreover, scholars will find within these letters a number of short stories for children that would eventually be collected in the book El alhajadito (1962).
In addition to correspondence with his son, Asturias maintained a longstanding relationship with his mother via letter during his first stay in Paris in the 1920s. Detailed within are the family’s economic hardships as a result of the country-wide crisis in Guatemala caused by the plummeting international coffee market, and information pertaining to the publication of his first collection of short stories, Leyendas de Guatemala (1930). Other communication from this era demonstrates the role that Asturias played in facilitating the publication of other Guatemalan authors and as a journalist for El imparcial.
Beyond letters, scholars will find a multifaceted collection. Manuscripts of poetic prose, such as “Tras un ideal” (1917), and an early theater piece titled “Madre” (1918) are included with loose-leaf fragments from El señor presidente. News clippings are also prominent. Those written by Asturias reflect his time at El imparcial while those written about him focus on his Nobel Prize. Perhaps an unexpected highlight is the audiovisual component of the collection. The author contributed an array of caricatures, doodles, and portraits, as well as a robust collection of photographs. Furthermore, there are several audio recordings of Asturias reading his work.
Finally, scholars will also be able to access studies dedicated to the work of Asturias and first, rare, and special editions of his books. These editions, meticulously collected and cared for by his son, reflect the author’s continued popularity.
La Colección Benson adquiere el archivo del Premio Nobel Miguel Ángel Asturias
Por DANIEL ARBINO
La Colección Latinoamericana Nettie Lee Benson se complace en anunciar la adquisición de los documentos de Miguel Ángel Asturias, Premio Nobel de 1967. El autor guatemalteco fue un precursor del boom latinoamericano. Escritor prolífico de poesía, cuentos, literatura infantil, obras de teatro y ensayos, es quizás mejor conocido como novelista, y El señor presidente (1946) y Hombres de maíz (1949) son las más aclamadas. La representación de Guatemala y sus variados pueblos, creencias, interacciones, frustraciones y esperanzas, marcan la profundidad de sus textos.
La Benson es el tercer archivo que reune materiales de la vida de Asturias, después de la Bibliothèque nationale en París y El Archivo General de Centroamérica en la ciudad de Guatemala. Lo que distingue a esta colección en particular es el papel que desempeñó el hijo de Asturias, Miguel Ángel Asturias Amado, en su recopilación a lo largo de cincuenta años. De hecho, la colección es, en muchos sentidos, tanto del hijo como del padre. Presenta años de correspondencia entre los dos, que se separaron después de que el padre tuvo que abandonar la Argentina en 1962. Ésta no fue la primera vez que el escritor se había tenido que ir al exilio: su estadía en la Argentina se debió a que el gobierno guatemalteco, liderado por Carlos Castillo Armas, le había despojado de su ciudadanía en 1954. Las cartas dan una idea de Asturias como padre, escritor y eventual diplomático, después de que Julio César Méndez Montenegro, el presidente de Guatemala democráticamente elegido, restauró su ciudadanía y lo nombró embajador en Francia en 1966. Además, los investigadores encontrarán dentro de estas cartas una serie de cuentos para niños que se recopilarían en el libro El alhajadito (1962).
Aparte de la correspondencia con su hijo, Asturias mantuvo una larga relación epistolar con su madre durante su primera estancia en París en la década de los 1920. Ahí se detallan las dificultades económicas de la familia como resultado de la crisis que atraviesa la sociedad guatemalteca, por la caída del precio del café a nivel internacional, e información relativa a la publicación de su primera colección de cuentos, Leyendas de Guatemala (1930). Otra comunicación de esta época demuestra el papel que desempeñó Asturias al facilitar la publicación de otros autores guatemaltecos y como periodista de El imparcial.
Asimismo, los investigadores verán una colección multifacética. Los manuscritos de prosa poética, como “Tras un ideal” (1917) y una obra de teatro titulada “Madre” (1918) se incluyen, tanto como fragmentos de hojas sueltas de El señor presidente. Los recortes de periódicos también son prominentes. Los escritos por Asturias reflejan su tiempo en El imparcial, mientras que los escritos sobre él se centran en su Premio Nobel. Quizás un punto destacado inesperado es el componente audiovisual de la colección. El autor contribuyó con una serie de caricaturas, garabatos y retratos, así como una colección robusta de fotografías. También, hay varias grabaciones de audio de Asturias en las cuales realiza lecturas de sus obras.
Por último, los académicos también podrán acceder a los estudios dedicados al trabajo de Asturias y a las primeras, raras y especiales ediciones de su trabajo. Estas ediciones, meticulosamente recopiladas y cuidadas por su hijo, reflejan la continua popularidad del autor.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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 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”).
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
“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.