It was a doozy of a summer for the LLILAS Benson Digital Scholarship Office. Thanks to a Department of Education National Resource Center grant, we had the distinct opportunity to share some of the Benson Latin American Collection’s Spanish colonial treasures with a few communities outside of UT Austin. In a traveling exhibit titled A New Spain, 1521–1821, the reproduced materials demonstrated the cultural, social, and political evolution of colonial Mexico.
We were fortunate to continue our longstanding partnership with the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). In collaboration with Claudia Rivers and Abbie Weiser at the C.L. Sonnichsen Special Collections Department, we put together an exhibit that highlighted Spanish colonial holdings from both libraries, providing both a hemispheric and local perspective. To broaden the impact of the collaborative effort, we also organized an accompanying series of workshops based on the materials for social studies teachers, colonialists, and archival professionals in the El Paso–Las Cruces (NM) region.
We kicked off the programming with a two-day intensive training for teachers from El Paso and Clint independent school districts. The workshops started onsite at UTEP’s library with a curator’s tour, a lunchtime loteria game based on the exhibit, and an in-depth look at Indigenous and Spanish maps from a previous traveling exhibition, Mapping Mexican History. By the end of the day, teachers were able to take home the facsimile Mapping items, some of which are on display this fall at Horizon High School.
The second day of workshops went fully online. One of our 2022 Digital Scholarship Fellows, Dr. Diego Luis, shared an interactive simulation he designed based on an inquisitorial case archived at the Benson to teach about Afro-descendant colonial experiences. We then showcased lesson plans we developed with UT Austin’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction on the navigation of gender roles in New Spain. To wrap things up, we provided the teachers with a survey of digital resources at UT Austin and digital humanities tools they can use to teach about colonial Mexico in their class.
On the final day, we shifted gears and led a series of digital scholarship workshops for local scholars. Students, faculty, and cultural heritage staff from the University of Texas at El Paso and New Mexico State University Library powered through three sessions that provided them with practical training in the visualization and analysis of Spanish colonial materials using various digital tools. Attendees learned to annotate various colonial texts and images, map the origins of New Spain’s soldiers, and visualize the networks of Afro-descendant hechiceras, or women casting incantations, in Veracruz.
Upon our return to Austin, another one of our partners, Huston-Tillotson University, graciously agreed to host the traveling exhibit. Thanks to Technical Services & Systems Librarian Katie Ashton, the history of colonial Mexico we put together went up on the walls of the Downs-Jones Library, and will remain there throughout the fall. For those who are not able to visit either installation, you can explore the digital version through our UT Libraries Exhibits platform.
This initiative would not have been possible without the support of the following individuals and sponsorships:
C.L. Sonnichsen Special Collections Department, The University of Texas at El Paso
Claudia Rivers, Head
Abbie Weiser, Assistant Head
Katie Ashton, Technical Services & Systems Librarian, Downs-Jones Library
Alaine Hutson, Associate Professor of History
Diego Javier Luis, Assistant Professor of History
Department of Curriculum and Instruction, College of Education, UT Austin
Michael Joseph, Doctoral student
Katie Pekarske, Master’s student
Cinthia Salinas, Department Chair & Associate Dean for Equity and Inclusive Excellence
Brittany Centeno, Preservation Librarian
Katherine Thornton, Digital Asset Delivery Coordinator
LLILAS BensonLatin American Studies and Collections
Jac Erengil, Administrative Manager
Tiffany Guridy, previous Public Engagement Coordinator (special thanks)
Melissa Guy, Director, Benson Latin American Collection
Ryan Lynch, Head of Special Collections
Jennifer Mailloux, Graphic Designer (special thanks)
Adela Pineda Franco, LLILAS Director & Lozano Long Endowed Professor
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.
In the spring of 2019,LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections partnered with the Urban Teachers Program at the Department of Curriculum and Instruction in the College of Education to develop and provide free, online access to high school lesson plans. The goal was to bring together the historical perspectives of underrepresented groups, current scholarship, and digitized holdings of the Benson Latin American Collection and Latin American partners. Thanks to a Department of Education Title VI grant, LLILAS Benson was able to create a portal via UT Libraries’ open-access repositories to make these resources widely available to teachers.
For the past two years, College of Education graduate students have been creating World History and World Geography units for use in high school classrooms. The underlying principle for these teaching materials is that students are able to understand, and then subvert, dominant historical narratives in Latin American, U.S. Latinx, and African Diaspora history given the marginalized perspectives the lesson plans highlight. Using the Benson’s digital collections, they have focused on a variety of topics, including women in colonial Latin America, the Mexican Revolution, and the Cold War in Central and South America (publication in process).
The collaboration and site has since broadened to include other disciplines, audiences, and learning objectives. LLILAS Benson Digital Scholarship staff has been partnering with faculty and graduate students in Latin American Studies, Art and Art History, Spanish and Portuguese, Mexican American Studies, and History to design Digital Humanities–focused lesson plans and assignments for undergraduate teaching. Work is also ongoing to publish technical capacity-building teaching and learning resources for graduate students, digital humanists, and archival professionals at UT Austin and beyond.
The site also helps instructors and students find and browse through LLILAS Benson’s digital resources. It consolidates under its Primary Sources section all existing LLILAS Benson digital scholarship projects, digitized collections, and exhibitions. Visitors can filter these resources by grade level, date range, course subject, and country to find relevant primary and secondary sources on their research and teaching focus.
Explore the site through http://curriculum.llilasbenson.utexas.edu/. The interdisciplinary collaborations and site’s development were generously funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Title VI Program and LLILAS Benson’s Excellence Fund for Technology and Development in Latin America. This resource was conceived, designed, and launched by:
Lindsey Engleman, Public Engagement Coordinator (2014–2019), LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections
Tiffany Guridy, Public Engagement Coordinator, LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections
Delandrea S. Hall, Doctoral Candidate, Curriculum and Instruction, College of Education
Rodrigo Leal, Website Designer and Student Technician(Spring 2019), LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections
Casz McCarthy, Public Engagement Graduate Research Assistant, LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections
Albert A. Palacios, Digital Scholarship Coordinator, LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections
Cinthia S. Salinas, Professor and Chair, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, College of Education
UT Libraries Digital Stewardship (Anna Lamphear and Brittany Centeno)
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.
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.
Lorraine Haricombe says states need to follow New York’s lead and advance OER initiatives.
Tucked away in New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announcement to make tuition free to eligible students at two state university systems was additional important news – a budget of $8 million had been earmarked to promote and distribute open educational resources, or online education materials that are free to access and customize for students. The two university systems have been urged to use this money to focus on high-enrollment courses, with the goal of minimizing or eliminating textbook costs for those courses. This is a very positive step toward college affordability and is exactly what we need in more states and on a national scale.
It’s no secret that the high cost of textbooks places an enormous burden on students. Textbook costs increased by an astonishing 82 percent from 2002 to 2012, a pace that is triple the rate of inflation. Open educational resources are a promising way to address issues related to both costs and education.
Advancing the use of open educational resources means upending a decades-old system, and it has the potential for pushback from institutions, bookstores, publishers and even faculty members, as there isn’t much of an incentive to transition to open educational resources versus traditional textbooks.
But it’s worth it because it is a viable solution to increasing student success. And it starts with open textbooks, which are a collection of open educational resources aggregated in a manner that resembles a traditional textbook.
As a longtime advocate of “open access,” I know that open textbooks are not the only solution to the higher education affordability problem. However, they can save students significant money not only individually, but collectively in high-enrollment classes where the combined savings are potentially large. Take, for example, OpenStax at Rice University, which offers free peer-reviewed open textbooks. It has saved students $155 million since 2012 by offering textbooks for the highest-enrollment college courses across the country. Simply stated, the advantages of using open educational resources offer students greater potential for broader access to information and education in New York, Texas or any state in between.
Open materials can also empower faculty members to change the way they teach and give them the academic freedom to tailor their course content to their students’ needs. What that exactly means for student learning and the motivations that encourage faculty to use open educational resources in their work as researchers and instructors offers an important opportunity to positively impact higher education as a whole.
Luckily some states are getting the message. In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott recently signed Senate Bill 810 into law supporting the adoption of open educational resources similar to the Affordable Learning Georgia program out of the University System of Georgia, which has saved students more than $16 million through expanding the use of free and open course materials. Other states such as Florida, California, Minnesota, North Dakota, Oregon and Washington have enacted legislation that has expanded or stabilized open educational resources.
The momentum is also gaining traction in non-legislative initiatives. Seven of Rhode Island’s state colleges started using open-license textbooks this year in hopes of saving students at least $5 million in the next five years. And open educational resources libraries have been created at the system and/or institutional levels in Arizona, Minnesota, NewYork and Virginia without legislation. Some publishers are even trying to get into the mix.
But we need more. Moving forward, we need to convince more lawmakers in more states – and ultimately taxpayers – of the savings accrued to students and improved academic success rates for students using open educational resources versus traditional textbooks. And we need recurring appropriations to provide sustainable support for promoting and growing open educational resources in teaching and learning. With New York and several large university systems and legislative initiatives setting the example, it’s up to the rest of us to catch up and build on it.
In April, the Libraries hosted “Beyond Barriers: The Community’s Role in Sustaining Diversity,” a panel featuring state and local civic, education and library leaders for an evening of dialogue. Our goal was simple: provide a platform for discussing how these institutions can work together to foster and sustain equity in a diverse society. I was pleased to moderate this conversation which included the university’s Vice President for Diversity and Community Engagement Gregory Vincent and Austin Mayor Steve Adler, as well as my professional colleagues American Library Association President Julie Todaro and Texas Library Association President Ling Hwey Jeng. The discussion was broad-ranging and vigorous, addressing both personal experiences with race and participant perspectives on social issues related to diversity, equity and inclusion.
Mayor Adler’s efforts in launching a framework to address institutional racism in the city of Austin provided the catalyst for this event, but libraries — by virtue of their mission and nature — have long served as a neutral space for community discussions of diversity. Libraries serve diverse communities. Libraries offer information without bias to opinion. Libraries provide resources and services to those without access elsewhere.
Libraries, though, haven’t necessarily highlighted their contributions to social equality and inclusion, because it’s simply part of what they do to serve the public. We hope that the platform provided by this event will be a first step toward embedding the UT Libraries as a participant in larger efforts to build more equitable systems for the community.
Engaging in the conversation is a good first step, but we need to consider playing a larger role to underscore our value as contributors to solutions. While libraries may not be able to stand alone to fix the problems we share as a community, we can certainly be partner agents of change for a better, more equitable Austin.
“Thank you for representing comradery for the university experience. For me, [the Libraries] serve as everything from academic and professional home bases, to safe spaces where friends can chat and grab coffee between classes, to settings where team work and innovation flourish at all hours of the day and night. The libraries are where we go to reinforce friendships, academics, as well as our longhorn pride.”
—Judy Albrecht, Psychology, Junior
2.5 million visitors passed through the gates of the University of Texas Libraries in 2016. That gate count is the equivalent of 25 home games at full capacity at Darrell K. Royal stadium. Have you ever wondered what students do at UT Libraries?
Some students come to UT Libraries because it is integrated into the UT curriculum. Librarians teach students the fundamentals of research at a tier-1 research university. At our core, the library is about experiences, not just lending books.
In library classrooms, librarians work with faculty to teach students to be better researchers. Students learn to navigate our materials (10 million volumes in our collections, our online maps, images, databases, e-journals, e-books, news sources, and government information), of course, but library instruction is most concerned with developing critical thinking skills. 18 and 19 year-old students stepping foot on the Forty Acres need to learn to evaluate sources of information for reliability, to use information ethically, and to consider what information will best meet their needs.
Librarians are available to help students in each of these areas in classes and one-on-one at the reference desk. In fact, the UT Libraries provided over 50,000 individual reference sessions for students and faculty, and welcomed almost 12,000 attendees to Library Instruction Sessions in 2016. The skills we teach in these sessions are essential to success in college, and library instruction is one way we participate in UT’s efforts to increase retention and progression.
Students come to UT Libraries for the special things we have. Thanks to private philanthropy, students have access to everything from special collections to cutting-edge software and gadgets. Imagine yourself cheering the Longhorns at Darrell K. Royal stadium. Now imagine eleven football fields, that is the space our books, reference materials, classrooms, collaborative study spaces, and technology would fill!
Over the years, UT Libraries asked students, faculty, and staff, “What do our student need to succeed?” We learned students needed spaces for in-house tutoring for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. UT Libraries met these needs by working with campus partners to build the STEM Study Areas and tutoring spaces in the PCL. Students wanted a space to talk, work, and learn together, so we created PCL’s Collaborative Commons. Students needed computer labs with advanced software, new equipment like 3D printers, and creative spaces like a recording lab, and with the help of donors we created the Foundry, the Scholars Commons, and enhanced the media lab, meeting each of these needs
Students come to UT Libraries to meet classmates to work on projects. They pick UT Libraries because we are open 24 hours, 5 days a week and they feel safe here. Just how safe are the UT Libraries? Enough for students to bring in blankets, pillows, and sleeping bags and use us as their temporary home for all-nighters during finals week. It is not unusual to see a student wake up early in the morning and head out to take their test. We’ve even seen a student set up a tent in PCL.
We do all we can to provide safe and comfortable spaces for students. Parents can take comfort knowing their student has to show their UTID card past a security guard after 10pm to get in and out of the library.
The academic rigors, competitiveness, and challenges that take toll on students are also on the forefront of our mind. We help students relieve stress with therapy dogs during finals week, and ask them to send postcards home so parents know they’re okay (and studying).
The UT Libraries are an integral part of the overall student experience, whether it is providing research guidance, cutting-edge technology, or safe innovative spaces that serve as incubators where ideas and progress are born at all hours of the day.
When the Libraries began investigating the possibility of having the University Writing Center (UWC) become the first campus partner to inhabit the new Learning Commons at the Perry-Castañeda Library, there were high hopes that the marriage would reap significant benefits for library users, patrons of the writing center and the larger campus community. One of the primary goals of the effort was to co-locate complementary services and resources in a central location in order to facilitate greater success in referrals from the Libraries to UWC, and vice versa.
So how has the partnership worked so far? We sat down with UWC program coordinator Alice Batt to get her perspective on the first half-year of life at PCL.
What does the landscape look like for UWC six months into life at PCL? Have you settled in?
Alice Batt: Definitely. Right now there are 13 consultations happening outside my door—lots of energetic conversations! And our presentations team is making good use of the Learning Labs. About 10% of our writing presentations last semester were delivered in those labs. It’s great when that happens because, after the presentation, students can come right down to the UWC and make an appointment.
Any takeaways from what you’ve seen so far?
AB: One of the things that strikes me most is what it’s like to be central again, and to be in a library. Collaboration with our library partners is easier, we’re much more convenient for students, joint workshops are easier to plan and put on, and we’ve been able to experiment with programs like Long Night Against Procrastination. We’re seeing more students, and we’re more confident that, when we refer them to a librarian, they’ll actually go.
What’s the most unexpected outcome?
AB: It took us a while to get used to seeing people on the consulting floor when we arrive in the morning—some of them have been here all night! Now we just tap them gently and send them on their way to class, breakfast, or home.
How has the integration with relevant Libraries staff and services worked?
AB: Overall, it’s going beautifully. Trish (UWC Director Patricia Roberts-Miller) and I are part of the Learning Commons Steering Committee, which meets once a month to iron out wrinkles and make sure we’re all pursuing the same goals. Lately we’ve been talking about cross training: we had a well-attended workshop for our consultants conducted by two librarians that gave consultants some of the basics about the services, when to refer students to them, what sorts of resources are available. Since our consultants are students, it was helpful to them in both capacities–as students doing research, and as consultants working with students on researched writing.
Have you changed or adapted in some way you didn’t foresee?
AB: I haven’t checked the data to confirm this, but I get the sense we’re seeing a more diverse group of students coming to the UWC—more diverse ethnically, racially, linguistically, and also more diverse in their majors. We think it’s because this location is where students already are; they don’t have to make a special trip up to FAC.
What’s been the student response to the new space?
AB: Overwhelmingly positive. Everyone—our administrators, consulting staff, and the students we serve—loves working in a bright, cheery environment. And loads of students come here for private study after we close.
Are you considering any developments that you’d like people to know about?
AB: Our first semester working with grad students in College of Liberal Arts has been a big success. Grad students particularly like the 6-week writing groups; nothing improves productivity like being held responsible by a group! We’d like to expand our services to support graduate students throughout the university. Grad students who would like us to support their writing should tell their deans.
Any other thoughts?
AB: In the Learning Commons, we’re right in the path of students who need our services. We’ve always been a busy place, but now our numbers are up 4% from last year—and they’re rising!
As the end of another semester and year approaches, I find myself looking to the future, defining new goals, and exploring exciting possibilities, especially since this is the new normal at the UT Libraries today! However, I recently received an email that made me reflect on a past partnership that has blossomed into something greater than I ever anticipated.
The email came from Lisa Hernandez, currently the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo College, Career & Technology Academy Librarian and the Texas Library Association’s Librarian of the Year. In 2013, Lisa had been one of ten Texas high school librarians selected to attend the UT Libraries Information Literacy Summit, a day long summit about information literacy. Information Literacy (IL) is broadly defined by the ability to find and think critically about information and is not only a crucial skill for life-long learning, it is also one of the six requirements of UT’s School of Undergraduate Studies Signature Course program, a required interdisciplinary foundation course for all incoming UT freshman.
During the Summit, high school librarians from across Texas and librarians from the UT Libraries Teaching and Learning Services department shared expertise, identified overlapping skills, and created mutually-beneficial instructional content in order to better understand the types of issues and needs we have at both ends of the high-school to college transition. UT librarians shared real syllabi used in freshman courses and we worked collaboratively to design activities and assignments that would help augment information literacy development at both levels, a need identified in national research conducted by Project Information Literacy.