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Reflecting on our Pandemic Year

Friends, colleagues and supporters,

Here we are, a year later.

It’s hard to conceive that we’ve just passed the anniversary marking the closure of our libraries in response to a health crisis unprecedented in our lifetimes.

Last year’s halt to classes and the closure of campus came suddenly despite indications that a global crisis was emerging. Students and staff were preparing for leisure time away with family and friends, but we were all acutely aware of looming clouds on the horizon. When word came of the university’s plans to move classes online and shutter the Forty Acres, the Libraries were already considering strategies for maintaining the services and resources that campus needed to operate in the changed environment. When we needed to act, we quickly proved to ourselves that we had an agility that doesn’t normally align with archetypes of traditional libraries. And staff were resilient despite the challenges, stepping up with new ideas and bootstrapping where necessary to keep the Libraries running despite the cloud of uncertainty that surrounded us.

There have been plenty of opportunities since those early days to recognize with great pride the work that has been undertaken by this group of people to hold ourselves accountable to our mission and to persevere despite so many obstacles. But we must not ignore the loss of the past year. We have all experienced costs both individually and collectively, some of which is irrecoverable and will require time and introspection. There has been an overwhelming human toll which has touched most of us in some way or another. There has been a cost to assuming our personal roles in following the recommendations of health authorities in order to help protect our neighbors and communities, and to get the crisis under control. We have forgone opportunities to see family and friends, and we’ve had to sacrifice experiences that we’d hoped would enrich our lives.

Now it appears that we are moving toward a recovery phase in this struggle, too. But the outlines of certainty are still blurred. We must continue to be vigilant in our work and to remain open to change in order to continue to adapt to whatever the future holds. We must continue to adhere to guidance from health officials and scientists. We all long for a return to the relative comfort of normalcy, but with all that has occurred in the past year – the health crisis, social and political upheaval, impassioned debates on cultural issues, historic weather events – the assumptions we had about ourselves and our community a year ago will likely not return in the same form.

And once we have reestablished relative order in our lives, it won’t be with the same view of the world we parted with a year ago. We know more intimately about hazards that seemed at a distance before, so there will be ongoing work to prepare contingencies for whatever may arise, and to further strengthen the work we have done in navigating the challenges of the current environment.

As activity around campus is beginning to heighten, and the beautiful season is upon us in Central Texas, I want to acknowledge my gratitude for all of the effort and perseverance of our community, and the ongoing encouragement of our supporters throughout the last year. So much of our success is attributable to shared values and empathy. I greatly appreciate the part each person played in transcending these precarious times and look forward with you to better times ahead.

The Fall Semester that Was

Even before entering the Perry-Castañeda Library, visitors can easily recognize that something isn’t normal. The bank of doors through which students normally criss-cross as they enter and exit the building have a web of stanchions to direct traffic in very specific ways. It’s a subtle change on the exterior that is an indication of what is happening inside the library in this very abnormal semester.

The energy at The University of Texas at Austin with three-quarters of the student population missing is just a pale shadow of what one would feel at any time at the height of a normal semester. Those who have lingered on the Forty Acres after commencement between summer sessions can attest to the feeling of emptiness that contrasts the otherwise bustling walkways, din of voices and, of course, traffic, of the regular class calendar.  

In the waning days of each semester, as campus enters the gauntlet of finals, the Perry-Castañeda Library is normally splitting at the seams with students lighting up gate counts at all hours, especially overnight as they make the last surge toward the end of the long term.

Not this year, though.

The health crisis dictated a new, if temporary, way of life at the Libraries and around the university. When campus closed last March and the very real possibility of an extended hiatus settled in, we really had no way to conceptualize what the fall would look like, but as we progressed through the early months of the crisis, it became increasingly evident that the new academic year would not resemble any that we’d ever experienced before.

Early in the pandemic, the Libraries had to reorient to services and resources that could be provided remotely, or in service of remote productivity. Consultations and other research help, along with liaison activities became teleconference affairs. Because library stacks were closed to guard against viral transmission and physical resources wouldn’t be readily available, the Libraries coordinated digital access to many of the items that would remain dormant on the shelves through our partnership in HathiTrust – a collaborative of academic and research libraries preserving 17+ million digitized items. Due to copyright concerns, this meant that those physical items owned by the Libraries that were available digitally through the partnership could temporarily only be used in digital format to guard against any violations that could end the Libraries’ overall access to the repository.

Libraries’ staff continued to provide remote support for research help and the Libraries’ Chat service saw an initial sustained bump in activity. Teaching and learning staff – who normally do a fair share of in-person instruction and support for classroom learning – found innovative ways to participate at a distance. One librarian worked with an Undergraduate Studies first-year class professor to become more embedded in the course than usual in an effort to ensure that the students felt just as connected to and knowledgeable about campus and the Libraries as they would during a normal semester. In addition to supporting the research component of the class, the librarian hosted an online scavenger hunt in ZOOM as a engaging way for students to learn what resources and services the Libraries have now and in post-pandemic times.

While use of the physical collections necessarily flagged, one of our underutilized services saw a huge increase in traffic. The Libraries’ Captioning and Transcription Service helped respond to the shift to web-based learning by ramping up efforts to meet the needs of online classes with accessible transcription and captioning for campus. In March, the service racked up about 15,000 minutes of captioning; by end of the spring semester they were closing in on 20,000, and peaked just over 45,000 minutes in September.

By August, after months of migrating our services and resources to a primarily online-based enterprise, the Libraries and the rest of campus reopened with limitations for the fall semester. While a significant segment of resources and services were only accessible through our website, the decision was made in coordination with UT administration to reopen limited library spaces, primarily for scaled-back in-person services, and as a setting for student study and participation in online classes. The entry level of the PCL provided for those needs for the first few weeks before a decision was made to expand study areas to the 4th and 5th floors of the building. The historic reading rooms at the Life Science Library – the Hall of Texas and the Hall of Noble Words – were both opened solely for student study and online classes for those students who returned to campus for the semester.

Facilities staff from the Libraries spent a painstaking amount of time over the summer in preparation for the return of students to the PCL, reorganizing furniture to encourage social distancing, installing a forest of wayfinding directions for managing the flow of people through restricted spaces, erecting plexiglass dividers as protection for frontline workers and locating sanitization stations strategically throughout the building for users.

Capacity at PCL was initially set for 400 on the entry level, but expanded to 700 when the upper floors of the building were reopened for additional study space.

“The fall semester planning and preparation that was conducted over the summer proved to meet all of our needs and expectations,” says Geoff Bahre, Libraries’ Manager of Facilities and AV. “We planned to have approximately 700 patrons in PCL at one time for which we purchased personal protective equipment (PPE), and designed our spaces to support that number.”

A capacity counter was displayed at the PCL entry and replicated on the Libraries’ website to let visitors know whether they would be admitted, but visitation to the reopened spaces began at low levels and never elevated to a point where capacity limitations had to be enforced, remaining below 50% the entire semester.

“This semester the library has been considerably less busy, and quieter,” says Evening Service Desk Supervisor Stephanie Lopez. “Normally we see thousands of people a day wandering through the building and chatting with friends or asking for research help for projects, but none of that is happening now.”

Thanks to legwork over the summer, the Libraries were able to modify the retrieval service – Pick it Up – so that the campus community would have access to the bulk of physical collections, except that portion restricted by the HathiTrust agreement. PCL became the hub for distribution, and people were able to get their hands on sought-after volumes that had been embargoed by the crisis, while quarantining plans were instituted to insure that our resources weren’t inadvertently contributing to the spread of the coronavirus.  

While the limitations are not optimal for everyone, users have been understanding.

“Most people are just happy that we’re open. We’ve definitely had a few folks upset with some of our changes, but that’s been pretty rare and we’re very grateful,” continues Stephanie Lopez. “The comments we get at the desk are from people who are so happy to be checking out books again, and from students who are glad for a change in scenery for their ZOOM classes.”

In order to gather information about how efforts to adapt to the crisis were being taken in practice, Libraries’ Assessment experts took stock of patron perspectives in a user survey late this semester. The Libraries received mostly positive marks, with some expected criticism of limited hours, space, stacks access and safety concerns. Some of the participant feedback included:

  • “Could not look through books because the section I wanted to look was on a restricted floor.”
  • “It was difficult wearing a mask for multiple hours.”
  • “I love that I could request books and that they would be ready at the desk when I arrived! Thanks so much to library staff for keeping that up for us.”
  • “I think you should be able to study with at least one other person. It makes it hard to do well in school without studying with somebody.”
  • “I noticed a lot of students take off their masks once they were seated.  I think the PCL had great safety measures put into place, but I think they should have done better ensuring people followed them, especially the mask wearing.”
  • “I think longer hours would be an amazing addition since so many facilities around campus are closing earlier.”
  • “I think the way you have been conducting things is great. The online counter that keeps track of many people are at PCL is really helpful. Y’all should keep that even after COVID-19 is over.”

Regardless of the extent to which the Libraries were able to transition in the face of crisis, the prevailing feeling is that everyone is anticipating a return to regular operations.

“I used the libraries far less than I normally would if we weren’t in a pandemic,” explains Associate History Professor Aaron O’Connell. “I usually browse the stacks, and even hold class sessions at PCL to do research methods hands-on work. None of that was possible this past semester, so naturally, I am eager for PCL and the rest of UT to return to normal.”

Spotlight on Digital Exhibits

The University of Texas Libraries have launched a new online platform that will provide staff with the opportunity to curate custom digital exhibits from content available through various existing digital repositories.

The Libraries’ Digital Exhibits platform was built using the open source software Spotlight, developed by Stanford University, that enables librarians, curators and content experts to easily build dynamic websites that highlight collections and objects from one of the Libraries’ digital repositories – like Texas ScholarWorks, Libraries’ digital asset management system (DAMS), Latin American Digital Initiatives (LADI), The Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America (AILLA) and the Texas Data Repository – from independently uploaded items, or from a combination of the two.

The Libraries have been developing online exhibit content for over 20 years, but lacked a comprehensive plan for sustainment. The complementary nature of Spotlight – which is a plugin for Blacklight software that is used for other Libraries’ online toolsets like the Collections Portal and the GeoData Portal – provides the opportunity to develop a more cohesive strategy for enhancing the lifespan and value of digital exhibit work hosted by the Libraries.

“One of the things that we really valued from our original efforts at creating online exhibits were the varied approaches each curator took to highlighting their content,” says Allyssa Guzman, project lead and Digital Scholarship Librarian for the Libraries. “We wanted to maintain that flexibility in framing content and purpose of the exhibits moving forward.”

After a website redesign in 2017, Libraries developers settled on an interim solution for creating small-scale curated digital collections using Omeka, a free, open-source content management system for online digital collections. The implementation of Omeka allowed the Libraries to both reformat and enhance existing digital collections and build new digital exhibits that included underlying metadata and contextual information that would made identification and discovery much more robust.

The initial phase of the Digital Exhibits platform involved the migration of existing Omeka-developed content, as well as some digital content from the Benson Latin American Collection into Spotlight, and planning for the reformatting of content from legacy efforts onto the new platform, which in some cases will involve the migration of digital materials into the Libraries’ DAMS.

Curating digital exhibits from the extensive distinctive collections at the University of Texas Libraries serves purposes with benefits in excess of what can be derived from in-person physical exhibits. Like traditional exhibits, these digital collections will allow for supplementary context from experts in relevant fields of study and raise awareness of the rich and diverse holdings of The University of Texas at Austin. Additionally, the digital facsimiles will be more broadly accessible and remain persistent with the lifespan of the platform, and will allow for the augmentation of scholarship relevant to the digital collections.

The malleability of the platform allows for content to be presented with degrees of discernment. Collections Highlights will allow for small-scale samplings and introductions to different aspects of collections, and Exhibitions will provide an opportunity for curators to plumb the depths of primary sources.

Staff are also exploring the use of the Digital Exhibits as an enrichment tool for classroom learning. Albert Palacios, Digital Scholarship Coordinator at the Benson Latin American Collection and one of the project managers, has previously used special collections and exhibit development as a way of engaging students in archives, and the Digital Exhibits platform will allow for further experimentation with this method.

“The Exhibits portal empowers us to easily curate teaching collections for class assignments and semester projects,” explains Palacios. “Unlike our previous exhibition platform, we will also be able to incorporate digital scholarship projects, such as interactive maps, social network visualizations, and dynamic timelines, into our exhibitions.”

Already, plans are in the works to expand the functionality of Digital Exhibitions. The platform is already configured for Spanish translation, and work is underway to implement Portuguese translation, as well, both of which are universally-beneficial, but are fundamental for application to the collections at the Benson Latin American Collection. Staff are also working on developments to support streaming media, geographic information system data and discoverability improvements.  

“Spotlight will continue to be developed by its creators and other users, and holds strong potential for being an elegant, robust platform for our short- and long-term exhibition plans,” says Jenifer Flaxbart, Libraries’ Assistant Director of Research Support and Digital Initiatives. “It will provide a means for a broad range of users to engage with our collections in support of research, instruction and intellectual curiosity.”

Read, Hot and Digitized: Braceros Tell Their Stories

Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this new series, librarians from UTL’s Arts, Humanities and Global Studies Engagement Team briefly present, explore and critique existing examples of digital scholarship.  Our hope is that these monthly reviews will inspire critical reflection of and future creative contributions to the growing fields of digital scholarship.

A twenty-two-year program that began during World War II and is still relevant nearly sixty years after its conclusion in 1964, the Bracero Program was an agreement between the U.S. and Mexican governments to permit short-term Mexican laborers to work in the United States.

In an effort to stem labor shortages during and after the war years, an estimated 4.6 million workers came to the USA with the promise of thirty cents per hour and “humane treatment.” Of course, we know that loosely defined terms like “humane treatment” present a slippery slope that can erase and omit stories. Fortunately, through the collaborative efforts of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, George Mason University, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Brown University, and the University of Texas at El Paso’s Institute of Oral History, many of those once-hidden stories have been preserved and made accessible through the Bracero History Archive (BHA).  

The BHA offers a variety of materials, most notably over 700 oral histories recorded in English and Spanish. While the metadata fields for each oral history could be more robust, the ability to hear first-hand accounts and inter-generational stories is a dream come true for primary source-seekers. All audio is available to download in mp3 format for future use.  

Apart from oral histories, other resources are also available. Images, such as photographs and postcards, provide visuals of the varied environments that hosted the Braceros as well as portraits of the Braceros themselves.  

Again, further detail on these resources would benefit the archive. For example, the photograph above, titled “Two Men,” demonstrates a lack of context needed for a more profound understanding while also acknowledging the potentially constant transient nature of Bracero work. In fact, the very word bracero, derived from the Spanish word for “arm,” is indicative of the commodification and dehumanization of the human body for labor. Workers lived in subpar work camps, received threats of deportation, and lacked proper nourishment, especially given the arduous work conditions.  

Additional BHA resources include a “documents” section in which offspring share anecdotes about the Bracero Program and track down information about loved ones. Finally, the site offers resources for middle school and high school teachers to use in their curriculum. Here again is an opportunity to further build out the site for university-level instruction.  

The digital objects in the BHA are worthwhile for those looking to recover an often-overlooked subject in American history that still resonates with themes relating to immigration today. Indeed, farmworkers continue to be exploited and underappreciated despite their contributions to society. This has led to a number of movements, marches, and boycotts in efforts to improve living conditions and wages. 

For those interested in oral history collections at the University of Texas Libraries, look no further than the Voces Oral History Project and Los del Valle Oral History Project, both housed at the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection. Similarly, collections related to farmworkers, and undoubtedly influenced by the legacies of the Bracero Program, include the Texas Farm Workers Union Collection and the María G. Flores Papers.  

Red, Hot and Digitized: Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies

Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this series, librarians from the Libraries’ Arts, Humanities and Global Studies Engagement Team briefly present, explore and critique existing examples of digital scholarship to encourage and inspire critical reflection of and future creative contributions to the growing fields of digital scholarship.

Together with diaries and memoirs in print, audio-visual testimonies are primary sources that shed light on the lived experience of people who experienced the Holocaust.  There are a few institutions around the world that produce, curate, and publish such testimonies;[1] one of them is the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale university. The mission of the Fortunoff archive is to “record and project the stories of those who were there.” Established in 1981, and based on a donation of testimonies previously videotaped since 1979 by The Holocaust Survivors Film Project, the archive works to record, collect, and preserve Holocaust witness testimonies, and to make its collection available to researchers, educators, and the general public.[2]

Fred Alford, professor emeritus of the university of Maryland, researches the way trauma becomes embedded in nations, societies, and groups[3]; upon his research in the Fortunoff archive, he asserted that “testimonies are important [because they] make a historical abstraction real.”[4] Witnesses remind us that the Holocaust was made of people, victims, and executioners. He argues that a proper psychoanalytic interpretation can help us understand not merely the suffering of survivors, but can remind us of an equally important fact: “…. that for every torment there was a tormenter, for every degradation a degrader, for every humiliation one who inflicted it. For every death a murderer……”

He goes on to say that “We listen to witnesses in order to understand their suffering, and we seek to understand their suffering in order to understand better regimes of organized terror and the role they play in our lives……We listen to witnesses in order to remember better that their suffering comes at the hands of regimes that are made of people.”[5]

The Fortunoff archive currently holds more than 4,400 testimonies, which are comprised of over 12,000 recorded hours. Testimonies were produced in cooperation with 36 affiliated projects across North America, South America, Europe, and Israel. The archive and its affiliates recorded the testimonies of willing individuals with first-hand experience of the Nazi persecutions, including those who were in hiding, survivors, bystanders, resistants, and liberators. Testimonies were recorded in whatever language the witness preferred, and range in length from 30 minutes to over 40 hours (recorded over several sessions).

While the database allows for various searching, sorting, and limiting options – using the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) as a form of a common controlled vocabulary – it also has more advanced Digital Humanities tools which were developed together with the Yale DHLab.

Let them speak (LTS) is a digital anthology of testimonies from three different collections – United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), the Shoah Foundation at the University of Southern California (USC VA), and the Fortunoff archive. The anthology includes a search tool that employs corpus query language which allows for more sophisticated searches like Lemma searches. The goal is to demonstrate the value of these linguistics tools for exploring large numbers of audiovisual materials, as well as make a first attempt to bring collections of testimonies into the same digital space. The LTS tool is slated to go live by December 2020.

The Collection metadata dashboard is a visual representation of the collection descriptions, as it allows filtering by various parameters, such as date (birth year and recording year), birth place, subject, gender, language of testimony, and affiliate programs from which testimonies were received. One could access each testimony directly from the dashboard. A useful functionality is the ability to search for subject headings in the dashboard and limit the results further by additional parameters. For example, a search for the term “childbirth” would reveal five subject headings related to the term; clicking on “childbirth in concentration camps” would bring up 98 testimonies.

The Testimony citation database shows data on cited testimonies, publications that cited them, and the authors of those publications. Some authors’ names are linked to the author’s website, their page on the OCLC WorldCat Identities database, or their authority file on the Virtual International Authority File (VIAF) database. Searching for Fred Alford, the scholar cited above, one would realize that he has made 60 citations to 26 testimonies in 5 publications. These testimonies and publications are linked from the results page.

The Fortunoff archive is open to any student or researcher either on site, or online through an ‘access site.’ Currently there are 84 access sites around the world in academic libraries, museums, and research centers. The University of Texas Libraries has joined the project as an access site in summer 2019. The archive is accessible to UT affiliates both on and off campus, as well as to non-UT walk-in visitors on campus. All users would need to create an account with Yale’s Aviary, the archive’s digital access system. Searching and browsing is done through that personal account. There is no cost involved. UT affiliates could also access their Aviary account, and the archive, through a proxy connection to UT and/or a VPN.

The UT Libraries holds 390 items (in print and online) that deal with personal narratives and testimonies of holocaust survivors. Most of these items are autobiographies or diaries, while others are audiovisual materials, research and analysis of personal narratives, and collections of individual testimonies. The Fortunoff database itself is also accessible through the library catalog.


[1] The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), The Yad Vashem Museum in Jerusalem, The British Library (London), and The University of Southern California (USC) Shoah Foundation.

[2] https://fortunoff.library.yale.edu/about-us/our-story/

[3] https://gvpt.umd.edu/facultyprofile/alford/c-fred

[4] Alford, C. Why Holocaust Testimony is Important, and how Psychoanalytic Interpretation can Help…but only to a Point. Psychoanal Cult Soc 13, 221–239 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1057/pcs.2008.16

[5] Ibid.


Read, Hot and Digitized: Wish you were here! Early Postcards from India

Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this series, librarians from the Libraries’ Arts, Humanities and Global Studies Engagement Team briefly present, explore and critique existing examples of digital scholarship to encourage and inspire critical reflection of and future creative contributions to the growing fields of digital scholarship.

The Indian subcontinent gained independence from Britain in 1947, ending centuries of colonial influence and rule, thereby creating the nation states of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh (Bangladesh was East Pakistan until 1971).  Like elsewhere, the “colonial project” in India took many forms and could be readily observed through examples such as the built environment, changes in civil infrastructure, and ultimately in ways of documenting and “knowing.”  Contemporaries in the colonial period noted (and in some cases celebrated) these changes in many ways too, leaving traces such as official documents and reports, personal narratives including diaries, and even ephemera.  As students of history, we desperately need these primary sources to nuance our awareness of what happened in the colonial period and of how people understood the events at the time.   We need documentary mnemonics.   In this post, I highlight a social media project that encourages us to look closely at postcards as sources to inform our understandings of both what was considered as important (the visuals on the cards themselves) as well as how information traveled and gained collective traction (the sending and receiving of the cards, not to mention what might be written on them). 

As I write this from a scenic spot in Austin on a lovely spring day, I see many folks with their cell phones out, ready to take pictures.  I’m not sure why they’re feeling compelled to take the pictures—maybe to help them remember this pleasant day, maybe to document things they haven’t seen before, maybe to share with friends and family later, inviting them to imagine Austin along with them.  Whatever the reason, this now ubiquitous phenomenon of quick, easy and cheap photo sharing feels simultaneously both very “natural” and very “21st century.”

Hindu Woman on a Bike

Delightful digital projects such as the “Early Postcards from India,” however, challenge my assumption that an ephemeral capturing and sharing images is a particularly “contemporary” activity.  As School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) visual anthropologists Stephen Hughes and Emily Stevenson explain,

“For anyone who has lived through the recent emergence of the Internet, social media, camera phones, and digital-printing technologies, it is perhaps all too easy to assume that the rapid and large-scale circulation of photographic images is a uniquely twenty-first-century phenomenon… A growing body of literature demonstrates that since its invention, in the mid-nineteenth century, photography has always circulated, moving among different spaces, discourses, and material forms.. Of the various nineteenth-century photographic innovations, the humble picture postcard was the most widely traveled of them all.”(1)

In “Early Postcards from India,” Hughes and Stevenson build on the success of their earlier physical exhibits of postcards as historical documents.  They creatively exploit Instagram’s social media platform to reintroduce and redistribute the visual memories captured in and on early postcards from India.  The chosen platform is unpretentious in layout, openly accessible to anyone with an Instagram account, and constantly growing–they have a new image and related provocative or didactic post daily.  Their use of Instagram, one of the most widely adopted and therefore “traveled” image innovations, to continue the circulation and consumption of these images, is a simple but highly effective stroke of genius.   

Metro Cinema, Kolkata

The content in “Early Postcards” is wide-ranging: it includes images of monuments, of municipal infrastructures, of “anthropological types.”  As such, the images evoke feelings of nostalgia, of curiosity, of unease, and perhaps, of collective regret.  Thanks to Hughes and Stevenson for sharing these images so we can all collectively participate in the critiques and (re)writings of history.

Those interested in further exploring the history of postcards, of visual representation(s) and of colonial India might find these helpful starting points:

Akbar, Sohail, “An Exploration of the Early History of the Nation through Personal Photographs.” photographies 6:1 (2013): 7–15.

Jhingan, Madhukar, Post Card Catalogue of India and Native States (New Delhi: We Philatelists, 1979).

Khan, Omar, Paper Jewels: postcards from the Raj (Ahmedabad, India: Mapin Publishing, 2018).

Mathur, Saloni, India by Design : Colonial History and Cultural Display (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007.

Nenadic, Stana, “Exhibiting India in Nineteenth-Century Scotland and the Impact on Commerce, Industry and Popular Culture” Journal of Scottish Historical Studies 34.1 (2014): 67–89.

Pinney, Christopher, Camera Indica : the Social Life of Indian Photographs (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997).

Ponsford, Megan, “Photographic Reportage and the Colonial Imaginary,” Sport in Society 22:1 (2019): 160–184.

Seth, Vijay, and J. R. Nanda. Centenary of Indian Airmails, 1911-2014 (New Delhi: Indian Aviation Research Foundation, 2014).

Notes:

(1) Hughes, Stephen and Emily Stevenson, “South India Addresses the World: Postcards, Circulation, and EmpireCirculation 9:2 (2019).

Jackson School Alumnus Honors Trombatore with Endowment

Former Dean of the Jackson School of Geosciences Dr. Sharon Mosher announced in December the creation of a new endowment fund honoring longtime Geology Librarian Dennis Trombatore. 

The Dennis Trombatore Excellence Fund for the Walter Geology Library was established with the support of alumnus Dr. Carlotta Chernoff  (’92 BS, ’95 MA) in honor of Trombatore as additional funding for urgent needs at the discretion of the Jackson School of Geosciences (JSG) Dean with input from the librarian at the Walter Geology Library.

The endowment recognizes Trombatore’s career at The University of Texas at Austin in building one of the great geosciences collections in the nation, as well as his work supporting the research, teaching and learning of those in pursuit of understanding of the earth sciences at the university.

“He has carefully amassed invaluable collections, developed state-of-the art services and built a sense of community for the Jackson School family,” said Mosher. “Dennis Trombatore’s tireless efforts have touched the lives of every student, research scientist, faculty, and staff member who has had the pleasure of knowing him. The Jackson School wouldn’t be what it is without Dennis’s commendable efforts, for which I am profoundly thankful.”

Trombatore received his B.A. (’75) and MLS (’77) from Louisiana State University, and joined the University of Texas Libraries in 1985 after working in librarian positions at Loyola University and The University of Georgia at Athens. He has served as head librarian at the Walter Geology Library for over three decades, and has participated on numerous committees and at conferences in a variety of capacities. Trombatore has also been recognized for his ongoing contributions to the university, including with the Distinguished Service Award from the Department of Geological Sciences (1997), the University of Texas Staff Excellence Award (2001), the Jackson School of Geosciences Staff Excellence Award (2006), the William B. Heroy Award for Distinguished Service to the American Geosciences Institute (AGI, 2012) and the Jackson School of Geosciences Joseph C. Walter Jr. Excellence Award (2018). He is a member of GSA and the Geoscience Information Society, and is past president of the Austin Geological Society.

boy in red striped shirt and bolo tie, smiling, with rock collection
On a trajectory for greatness from a young age. A proud Dennis Trombatore with his rock collection, circa 1966.

Weird and Wonderful Little Books

“Illuminating Explorations” – This series of digital exhibits is designed to promote and celebrate UT Libraries collections in small-scale form. The exhibits will highlight unique materials to elevate awareness of a broad range of content. “Illuminating Explorations” will be created and released over time, with the intent of encouraging use of featured and related items, both digital and analog, in support of new inquiries, discoveries, enjoyment and further exploration.

I’m proud to wrap up the UT Libraries triptych of zine exhibits with Weird and Wonderful Little Books: An Abbreviated History of Chapbooks Published in Austin. My colleagues Daniel Arbino and Sydney Kilgore released their exhibits earlier this year, featuring selections from the zine collections from the Fine Arts Library and the Benson Latin American Collection. Zines have a reputation for being edgy and subversive and are associated with punk and anarchist politics. That reputation at first blush doesn’t seem to align with poetry, but poetry chapbooks and zines have an intertwined history. (See our blog post “Have You Zine It?” for further discussion of these intersections between chapbooks and zines.)

Chapbooks have a curious history. Some scholars argue that the term is a combination of “cheap books” and “chapmen.” (Chapmen were traveling salesmen who wandered England and Scotland with thin, paper-bound books throughout the early Modern era, circa 1500-1800.)[1] The current iteration of the American poetry chapbook is a distinctly 20th century phenomenon, linked to the technological advances of photocopying, desktop publication, and the internet. The UT Poetry Center in the Perry-Castañeda Library includes local poetry chapbooks from the last 40 years. My new online exhibit presents features this collection, with chapbooks from different small presses operating in Austin.

Cover of the poetry chapbook Night Diner: A Report to Edward Hopper by Albert Huffstickler. Cover art by Rob Lewis.

These little books play a profound role in poetry communities because they allow authors to share their work with their readers and fellow writers cheaply and easily. Writers can bypass the elitism and bureaucracy of boutique presses and mainstream publishing companies by self-publishing chapbooks or working with small local presses. These books, then, come with small price tags. Writers often only recoup their production costs, and some give their chapbooks away for free.[2]

This version of a literary gift economy has been alive in Austin since the 1970s. Many outsiders might assume that Austin’s art and culture begins and ends with live music, but Central Texas has a vibrant literary culture, built by dedicated writers and small press editors. This exhibit features chapbooks from the late 70s and early 80s that showcase Austin’s counter-culture and feminist voices, while contemporary examples represent the diversity of writers in this growing city, especially those from marginalized backgrounds.

By highlighting the presses, their editors, and, of course, the writers, I hope to bring to life and document Austin’s literary community. Emmalea Russo and Michael Newton, poets and small press editors, argue that chapbooks create “a space for makers to come together and look at each other’s work. So much of the value of poetry is the community that comes out of it—both in terms of relationships and as a way to discover new ideas. It means everything.” I hope that you will find these selections by Austin writers represent a community where poetry does, indeed, mean everything.[3]

Cover of the poetry chapbook The Queen’s Glory and the Pussy’s Box by Ebony Stewart. Cover art by RaShae L.A. Bell.

[1] Woodcock, Diana Gwen. “The Poetry Chapbook: Blessing or Curse?” International Journal of the Book 8, no. 3 (2011): 27.

[2] Ibid., 28.

[3] “Emmalea Russo and Michael Newton on Ugly Duckling Presse.” Poetry Society of America, n.d. https://poetrysociety.org/features/q-a-chapbook-publishers/emmalea-russo-and-michael-newton-on-ugly-duckling-presse.

Diversity Residents Move On

In fall of 2018, the Libraries welcomed the first class of The Consuelo Artaza and Dr. Carlos Castañeda Diversity Alliance Residency Program who arrived for a 2-year term. Residents Laura Tadena and Natalie Hill spent the last year+ in rotations with various units for an immersive experience in librarianship, and though their terms haven’t yet expired, both earned the sort of attention that generated interest from other institutions wanting to lure them to professional opportunity. While we’re sad to see them leave, we’re extremely proud of the work they put in during their time at UT, and for the extensive contributions they made to what we do.

Hill and Tadena sat with me to reflect on their experience during their residencies, and to share their impressions of the program and the knowledge they gained.


Natalie Hill and Laura Tadena.
Natalie Hill and Laura Tadena.

Tex Libris: What is the main value or biggest takeaway you have from participating in the program?

Laura Tadena: I think for me it was learning about all the resources that we have access to or that are available for the state, and really wanting to share that information with others. Coming into this, I wasn’t familiar with the Texas State Library. I also didn’t realize how many libraries are open and free to the public, especially academic and college libraries. So, I think the most valuable thing for me was learning that and really refining my information literacy skills. Now I feel equipped to really find information in a way that I wasn’t before, especially research and reference skills. I did chat, which was part of learning UT’s system, and then we ended up doing a lot of presentations together, which required a lot of research that recalled the knowledge I learned in school and put it into practice in a professional setting. And seeing how some of the other librarians in action, how they do their jobs, and being like, “Wow…that’s how you get information.” 

Rachel Winston and Natalie Hill standing in front of a work of art.
Rachel Winston and Natalie Hill.

Natalie Hill: My big takeaway is knowing how the library works at multiple levels, and how information is communicated. Rotating between the different areas and being on all of the listservs, even after I’ve left an area, has been really interesting to see when people find things out about what’s going on. The experience has really encouraged me to go into leadership, which isn’t something I had strongly considered before. Now I want to do that.

TL: Do you feel like you gained some confidence from your time here?

NH: For sure.

TL: That’s a huge value, if you can walk into a place feeling like a visitor, and walk away thinking, “I can do this.”

NH: I think meeting directly with (Libraries’ Director) Lorraine Haricombe a few times was really valuable, and having her provide encouragement…when she says you can do something, you think, “Yeah, I can, if she thinks I can.”  So it was a big confidence boost.

TL: You have both done a lot of presentations in your time here, and that comes along with the territory, being in the residency program, but not all of the presentations were required as a component of your positions as resident; they were elective. Was that interest in presenting something you brought to your work here, or was it a byproduct of the confidence you’ve talked about gaining in your time at the Libraries?

NH: I think it was after we got here. Presentations were what I was least looking forward to. And now I’m like, “These are easy.”

LT: I think that one of the things that kind of started it was when we had a window into the hiring process, and saw what the CVs, resumés and cover letters looked like. We realized that we needed to get that sort of activity into our CV to be able to compete in the market. And so we put a bunch of submissions out thinking we weren’t going to get accepted…

NH: We thought it would be harder to get accepted…

LT: We also recognized a higher value in presenting papers or being included in panels as opposed to other forms of presentation.

TL: Did the experience meet your expectations?

NH: I didn’t fully know what I wanted to do when I started, but I felt it would have something to do with open education. So being able to call myself the open education librarian, and write my own job was great. So, in that way the experience exceeded my expectations — especially with the development work behind open education going on simultaneously, to see it becoming a real strategic initiative within the organization and to be part of it as that was happening.

LT: I think coming into this, I initially thought I was going to be doing more outreach and connecting with the student body, so learning how academic libraries work was what exceeded my expectations. And the access we had to professional development was incredible. We had opportunities to go to professional conferences, and I got practice in applying for scholarships. I came in here wanting to find ways to serve Texas, and I think I leave here now with a better foundation for doing that.

NH: I think one thing I didn’t expect was being known in the field. And I feel like now people know us – probably as a pair, not necessarily as individuals – but, still that’s bizarre. It’s kind of strange to be familiar to people in positions of leadership.

Hill and Tadena with fellow diversity residents.
Hill and Tadena with fellow diversity residents.

TL: This is a nascent program that didn’t have a lot of predetermined direction when you came in, and you’ve had a chance to steer it in a way.

LT: We didn’t expect to start a Slack space for various diversity residents across the country, but there are ACRL liaisons contacting us about the development of that. We’re being brought on as mentors for other residents. So it’s rewarding to be able to give back to the profession.

NH: Laura met with the iSchool to try to set up presentation opportunities for students.

LT: I also met with the dean of my alma mater who’s been recruiting me to teach there. I didn’t realize that as library schools are moving more towards an information science orientation, there is a shortage of public school librarians, resulting in a shortage of people who can teach about school librarianship. Someone told me – I think it was Portia (Vaughn, previous science liaison) – that every opportunity should lead to another opportunity, and I’ve found that it does tend to happen if you are open to talking with people and seeing if you can meet each other’s needs and trying to think ahead.

TL: What was the benefit of getting to work with professionals in librarianship?

NH: I worked with Colleen Lyon (Head of Scholarly Communications) most of the time that I’ve been here, and that’s been really beneficial because she really knows what she’s doing.

LT: I think that working with Porcia (Vaughn, former Liaison Librarian for Biosciences) and Carolyn (Cunningham, Head of Teaching and Learning Engagement Team), they have a way of communicating with you and teaching you – the had a way of teaching you how to do things, including the decisions behind their methods; it was extremely helpful and not something that everyone naturally does. Carolyn was really helpful in navigating internal and institutional frameworks, and Porcia helped with the external opportunities, like connecting with other STEM librarians, introducing me to other networks to get involved in of which I was unaware. And through our residence space, we learned about what was happening at other libraries.

Porcia Vaughan, Laura Tadena and Natalie Hill.
Porcia Vaughan, Laura Tadena and Natalie Hill.

TL: What was something you didn’t know about libraries before that you know now?

NH: I didn’t know anything about instructional design, and now I’m going to be an instructional designer. At the time we came in, job postings in the field suggested that people were looking for assessment and instructional design experience, and I was like, “I don’t really care about either of those things.” But, working in open education, I realized that I was drifting away from affordability arguments, and toward student engagement and being able to adapt materials to better serve users, and those are really just instructional design principles. So, open pedagogy is what I want to do now.

LT: I really didn’t understand how academic libraries operated, big picture stuff. I think one of the biggest things I learned was how we provide services to our community. And what, as librarians, we’re able to do. I didn’t know that there was a state library that did just professional development. And I didn’t know about AMIGOS which does professional development support for all libraries. That area of the profession is very interesting to me because of my instruction background, and so I’m excited to be able to take that forward and support all types of libraries.   

NH: I don’t think I knew about how professional associations work before this, and having the ARL president here (Haricombe), I now know what the ARL does, which has been really valuable, because you can see where broader initiatives start then trickle out to the rest of field in succeeding years.

LT: And how committees operate, because we’re getting practical experience.

Three people standing with a large Olmec head sculpture.

TL: What advice would you give to someone who was considering applying to a residency program like this?

NH: Know that the program is for you, so if there’s not going to be a lot of flexibility or freedom, maybe consider another option. I think that we’ve been really fortunate here in that coming in as the first class of residents, it was pretty unstructured, and people were pretty willing to say yes to ideas. We’ve seen where other residency programs have a set job description and I don’t think something like that would be anywhere near as valuable an experience.

LT: My suggestion would be to connect with other residents — to learn about what they are doing and use that to help support what you are doing or to create your own agency, and advocate for your own benefit within the program. Because being part of it is about learning, and I think we’ve seen a lot of residents in positions where they don’t know they can ask for more, or they aren’t aware that they have some control over their experience and what they gain from it. We’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity – as long as it ties to our growth and development – to help shape our own experience.

TL: What do you think can be done to improve the experience for future residents?

LT: Cohort models are nice. I don’t know that this program would have been as beneficial for us if there was just one of us. It was a great experience to be able to have someone to go to talk with about the shared experience, to have someone that you’re constantly able to check in with. And, then again, to have someone available to bounce ideas off of was helpful, especially since the program is a safe space. Moving forward, I would recommend that there are at least two residents at the same level, or at least in a cohort model that is closer together. Having a buddy is good. And having great mentors.

NH: Maybe there could be a refresher for staff on what the program intent is. Because it’s up to the individual resident what interest within the organization they choose to pursue, they could end up in any area, even one that may have not had previous experience with a resident. We stayed in pretty public-facing academic engagement roles, but maybe someone else would be really interested in technical services. So just a reminder that it could go any way. And keeping the door open so that residents can go anywhere within the library that appeals to them, because that is what makes this program unique from other ones.

TL: What’s next for each of you?

LT: I will be the inclusive services consultant at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, and I’ll be working for the first year with public libraries, helping to train staff and ensure that they have adequate resources to provide inclusive services. My future supervisor has said that the hope is to expand the role and potentially bring my work into both school and college/academic libraries. I’m looking forward to the type of work that I’m going to do. It’s another job that I don’t really know what I’m getting into, but I’m excited because of the great things I’ve heard about the State Library. And I’ll be close by.

NH: I will be an instructional designer with the University of New England in Portland, Maine, and I will be on a team of instructional designers within the College of Graduate and Professional Studies, which is made of fully online graduate programs. So, I will be working with faculty and subject matter experts to develop new online courses and provide quality assurance and redesigns for existing courses. I think that my specialty on the team will be promoting open educational resources and moving those to the forefront in the course creation process.

LT: Outside of our future roles, we’re also going to be working on a book chapter with (new diversity resident) Adriana Casarez on the residency program, and we’ll be presenting at TLA together, on a panel about residencies in Texas.

NH: Then, hopefully, the goal is to come up with an ACRL proposal so that we can do that in 2021.

TL: Congratulations on be the first class and being first class.

NH/LT: Thank you!

NH: We’re the first to graduate!

LT: Yay! We get to move our tassle….

Appreciating Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace was a pioneering computer scientist and mathematician of the 19th century. Since 2009, on the second Tuesday in October individuals around the country and globe gather to celebrate Ada Lovelace Day by commemorating her life and raising the profile of women and LGBTQ+ persons in the STEM fields. To honor her legacy, a group of librarians at UT planned and facilitated a daylong Wikipedia Edit-a-thon scheduled for October 8, 2019. 

Beginning in earnest in mid-August, four librarians including Gina Bastone, Roxanne Bogucka, Lydia Fletcher, and myself sat together at a table in the Physics, Math and Astronomy Library to brainstorm ideas and organize what would turn out to be an amazing experience and very meaningful event. The event drew more than 45 participants from across campus to learn about the Wikipedia editing process and get inaugural edits under their belts. 

To organize a successful Edit-a-thon event requires considerable planning in addition to forethought and purpose. Some of the initial goals were to improve the visibility of women in STEM fields, to teach first-time editors the quirks of Wikipedia editing, and to democratize the process of editing Wikipedia, which itself is largely contributed to by cis white men. Creating an accessible and drop-in event where folks could learn something, grab some food, and edit in between classes was also a priority. Starting the research process, identifying useful Wikipedia-friendly sources on top of creating content was a high order to meet in addition to orienting participants to the editing process. Reflecting on our cumulative past experience it was agreed that structuring the event to be largely self-guided was the best approach. Recognizing that the average participant may spend about an hour between classes at the Edit-a-thon, librarians identified pages that required editing and organizing sources ahead of time, focusing specifically on local women in STEM. We reached out to campus groups such as Women in Physics, Gender & Sexuality Center, and CNS-Q, who proved helpful by enthusiastically providing support in word of mouth and extra sustenance on the day of the Edit-a-thon.

One of the event organizers guides a participant through the structure of a Wikipedia article.

We organized the day through a system of Google Drive links and physical sticky notes to ensure that only one person would be editing one article at a time, while retaining the ability to have more than one contributor to each article on the day. Using this system of sticky notes to identify topics for editing, each person would grab a note with a unique scientist’s name off the board, hold on to it while editing that topic and then return it to the board if the entry still needed further edits. The Google Drive folder contained supporting material for our selected topics in addition to a wealth of curated training documents. Many of these training documents were reused and can be reused again in the future. These tools allowed us to plan and coordinate an event without having a required time for a formal demonstration. 

Three of the event organizers standing in front of the whiteboard used to organize topics.

The Edit-a-thon was wildly successful and drew participation from many first-time editors in the College of Natural Sciences. While the turnout was better than we had expected, the true success was in the feedback. All of the respondents to our survey agreed that they had learned about editing Wikipedia and the construction of articles at the event, and 87% said that they plan to continue editing into the future. The goals of the planning group had been met and exceeded, encouraging us to run further events teaching the ins and outs of contributing to Wikipedia.