Category Archives: Uncategorized

Tocker Librarian Ashley Morrison on the First year+

With the arrival of Vice Provost and Director Lorraine Haricombe, the Libraries leaned into Open Access as a strategy for equitable access to resources and as a budgetary countermeasure in a the face of skyrocketing publishing costs. A facet of the work that has gotten extra attention is Open Educational Resources – OERs – defined by the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition as “teaching, learning and research resources released under an open license that permits their free use and repurposing by others. OERs can be textbooks, full courses, lesson plans, videos, tests, software, or any other tool, material, or technique that supports access to knowledge.”

In the fall of 2019, the Tocker Foundation provided $355,000 for a collaborative project between the UT Libraries, the Austin Public Library (APL) and Austin Community College (ACC) to promote the adoption, development and distribution of OERs. Funding from the gift subsidized the hiring of a dedicated librarian to develop and execute a plan for broad adoption of OERs at UT, as well as for the award of open education grants, education and training on OERs and joint promotion of open education with partner institutions APL and ACC.

In fall 2020, the Libraries hired Ashley Morrison – a former UT iSchool alum and GRA who had landed a permanent position at the North Carolina State University Library, but whose interest in open education called her back to Austin – to become the first Tocker Open Education Librarian at the university.

A little over a year after pioneering the position at UT, Ashley talks with us about her love of open access and OERs, the foundation she’s building and perceptions of the enterprise so far.


Tex Libris: How did you become interested in Open Access and OERs?

Ashley Morrison: I first learned about open access and open education as movements in graduate school, but conceptually, democratized access to and production of knowledge is something that always spoke to me (and was a big part of why I wanted to become a librarian!). As a first-generation college student who was responsible for most of the cost of my education, it’s easy to understand the power and potential of OER to transform course material access and have a positive impact on the financial well-being of students. While textbooks and course materials are just one factor contributing to the rising expense of higher education, it is a tangible and addressable obstacle through the availability and adoption of OER and other OA materials.

TL: What is your assessment of the OER landscape at UT? In what ways can OERs benefit students/faculty/researchers at the university?

AM: There is a small but growing community of UT instructors, staff, and students who already use and advocate for the adoption of OER, and they are my partners in driving awareness of OER on campus. Through my personal interactions and through more scaled survey-based outreach, we know that faculty at UT are largely receptive and willing to consider OER as required course materials. We also know that they often need more support to make such a big change to their curriculum, and I love being able to offer some of that support as they search for, evaluate, and adapt OER for use in their classrooms.

The most obvious benefit of OER for students, and what gets most people interested in OER, is the eliminated or significantly reduced financial barrier to access course materials. Most OER is available at no cost, and printed materials are generally available at the cost to produce them. But what I’ve heard others say and I definitely observe to be true is that with OER, you come for the free access, but you stay for the pedagogy. The open licenses conferred to OER by their creators allow anyone who uses them to make copies and customize the resources freely. That means they can be translated into new languages, modified to better reflect the student body of a particular institution or classroom, updated with new research or case studies, and more. It also enables faculty to engage students as editors and creators in the production of OER. Students can contribute to open textbooks, create open websites, and more. Students are not just knowledge consumers but knowledge creators, and that’s a really transformative concept for many of them.

TL: What projects have you undertaken since you took on the job?

AM: This year has been a busy one! There are a few projects that have been especially fulfilling, including a partnership between UT Libraries and students in Natural Sciences Council and the Senate of College Councils that produced our first faculty recognition program, the Affordable Education Champions. Through this campaign, we invite the student body to nominate faculty whose choices to assign free or low-cost materials have had a real impact on them.

I also really enjoyed working with colleagues from the OER Working Group to launch our first OER-focused instructor learning community, with grant funding from the Faculty Innovation Center providing small stipends to our participants. We spent six weeks with the ten selected instructors discussing OER and other affordable course materials as tools to foster inclusion in their classrooms, and we hope to offer more communities like this in the future.

Finally, one I’m very excited about this year is the Open Education Fellows pilot program. This program is designed to offer our small cohort of faculty fellows financial and programmatic support in their effort to adopt or adapt existing OER or develop new resources to fill gaps in the OER landscape.

TL: What sort of reception have you received from potential stakeholders on campus?

AM: It’s been a very encouraging reception! From students to staff to faculty to administration, open education is generally received with curiosity and interest. This isn’t to say that there aren’t some concerns expressed, but most stakeholders I’ve spoken with are open to learning more about the financial and pedagogical benefits of using OER in the classroom.

TL: Do you coordinate with institutions outside of UT? If so, how does that influence your local strategy?

AM: Yes! I’m very lucky that the open education community actively seeks collaboration, which makes a lot of sense given that connection is a principle of open education. I am regularly in touch with a small group of librarians called the OER Ambassadors, which is a program facilitated by Texas Digital Library. More recently, I’ve also helped convened an informal group of practitioners across the UT System, which aligns strategically with the Momentum on OER (MOER) effort sponsored by the System. Each of these groups is really valuable because they give me a chance to connect with colleagues doing similar work, though each of our OER programs may be in different stages of maturity. I learn a lot from hearing what’s worked well for others, what’s been challenging, and how they’re implementing best practices and in some cases mandates from legislation related to OER. These colleagues are incredibly generous, and their insights have directly informed the development of many of our OER programs at UT.

TL: How did the health crisis impact your work? You came on in the middle of the pandemic, at a time when OERs would’ve been really beneficial, but I imagine that you were also limited in opportunities to hit the ground and start building networks.

AM: While the pandemic did inhibit my ability to knock on doors and host physical programming that was central to UT’s OER advocacy efforts in previous years, my experience was that it engendered a great sense of empathy between faculty and students that opened them up to conversations about OER in a way that they may not have been before the pandemic. There is a heightened sense of awareness of the struggles we’re each facing right now, and for many members of our UT community and their families, financial vulnerability has been a really evident challenge. I have seen faculty go to great lengths to mitigate any of the struggles that they can for their students – from being more flexible about assignment deadlines to revising testing procedures to reevaluating course materials that cause financial burdens for some students. While faculty continue to have so many of their own challenges to address during this health crisis, I have seen them prioritize the well-being of their students repeatedly. OER has been one tool for doing this.

TL: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve recognized since you arrived? What’s the biggest opportunity?

AM: One of the biggest challenges I’ve observed is that while so many faculty are interested in using OER, the right OER isn’t there for every class just yet. This especially comes up in my conversations and searches with faculty teaching upper-division courses. It’s not surprising since most of the large-scale, funded OER projects are aimed at introductory level courses, but it’s still disappointing when someone is really excited about adopting OER and just can’t find what they need. In those cases, we explore other free and affordable options, like searching UT Libraries’ vast collections to identify licensed materials that would be free for students to access. These faculty are also often interested in developing their own OER to address these gaps in content, which I see as one of UT’s greatest opportunities to impact not only our students but anyone, anywhere who wants to learn. However, developing OER takes a lot of time that our faculty often don’t have, and the work is not always recognized through the existing reward structures of the university (such as promotion or tenure). The Open Education Fellows pilot program is our first step to seeing what it would take to support faculty authors and OER publishing projects, and I’m very excited to learn and identify opportunities to scale that program in the future. With funding, I’m optimistic that we can enable UT community members to create more open, public knowledge.

TL: What do you hope to achieve in the short-term – next couple of years – and what about the long-term?

AM: I mentioned already my hopes for scaling OER adoption and development through the Open Education Fellows program, but beyond that, another short-term goal I have is to support faculty who are interested in assessing the impact of adopting OER and other free resources in their classrooms. Studies outside of our institution overwhelmingly show that students enrolled in courses using OER perform as well or better than students enrolled in courses using commercial textbooks. Some studies are even able to demonstrate that the impact to outcomes like final grades are outsized for historically underserved groups like first-generation students, students with financial need, and BIPOC students. I’m eager to partner with faculty interested in replicating or expanding on these studies and contributing to the scholarship of teaching.

A longer-term goal is really more about a cultural shift, and I believe we’re at the start of it now. I want OER (and affordability, more generally), to be a key part of the University’s strategic priorities. It makes sense to have the UT Libraries guide our campus OER efforts as a thought leader and programmatic coordinator, but open education won’t be a formidable movement on campus without administrative support outside the Libraries. It is critical, for example, that faculty contributions related to OER – adopting, adapting, developing, and co-creating with students – are formally recognized and valued in promotion and tenure guidelines. I am optimistic that the work of the Sustainable Open Scholarship Working Group will advance this conversation and lead to more institutional support for OER, but the shift we need will take time at a university of our size.

TL: Given user familiarity with traditional publishing, how do you change minds about the fairly novel concept of OERs?

AM: It’s definitely easy to think of OER as the wild west of publishing – no peer review, no quality control, no graphic design value. But that’s not the case! So far, the most effective way to ease minds has been to actually show people high-quality examples of OER in the wild. I often point to examples from OpenStax, though they aren’t the only publisher of beautifully-produced, peer-reviewed OER with the ancillary materials that instructors often value. (And to be clear, not all OER is like this, just as not every commercial textbook is.) The point is that OER can look a lot like the proprietary textbooks they may already be using, and doing hands-on exploration is the only way to determine if any kind of course material is right for you, whether it’s published openly or commercially.

Hartness Reading Room Opens

The Benson Latin American Collection dressed up and campus lit up for the opening of the newly-named Ann Hartness Reading Room.

On Thursday, March 24, the Benson hosted a dedication ceremony for the renovated space in recognition of former head librarian Ann Hartness, who is renowned for her 38-year career at the Benson and her contributions to Brazilian studies. The space naming is the result of a generous gift by Hartness’s son Jonathan Graham and daughter-in-law and Elizabeth Ulmer, who are both graduates of UT’s School of Law,

The couple is directing a portion of their gift to establish the Jonathan Graham and Elizabeth Ulmer Fund for Library Materials on Brazil, an endowment to enhance the Benson’s Brazilian studies collection. The remainder of their gift will match other donors’ gifts to new or established endowments in any area at the Benson.

“My mother raised three boys in two different countries, moving back and forth while balancing her family, her education and her work,” says, Graham. “I’m just so proud of her, because when I think of the arc of her life, at a time when women from her background essentially followed their husbands, she made her own very distinctive career.”

The reopening of the Hartness Reading Room extends the Centennial Celebration of the Benson, which began last year. In honor of the Benson centenary and the occasion of the reopening, the UT Tower was lighted orange.

Hartness joined the Benson in 1970, working as a cataloger of Latin American periodicals. She helped with the transition as libraries moved towards digital services and resources, and eventually worked her way up to director. Throughout her tenure, she increased the depth and breadth of the library’s holdings in Brazilian materials. She retired in 2008 at age 73.

“Ann Hartness is synonymous with Brazilian collections at the Benson,” says Benson Director Melissa Guy. “It was through her tenacity, in-depth knowledge, and personal relationships that the library built a strong foundation for the study of Brazil at The University of Texas at Austin.”

The Benson’s main reading room is frequented by students, faculty and scholars from around the world, and it is the very room where Jon Graham spent countless hours studying as a teen and later as a Texas Law student.

“It was a refuge to study in one of the graduate student carrels in the Benson Collection. It was a quiet place to read, wander and collect my thoughts. This is a perfect way to honor my mother,” he says.


To learn more about the Jonathan Graham and Elizabeth Ulmer Fund for Library Materials on Brazil and other giving opportunities at the Benson Latin American Collection, contact Hannah Roberts at h.roberts@austin.utexas.edu.

Ervin Perry’s LEgacy and Connection to UT Libraries

When walking through the doors of the colloquially-referred-to PCL, there’s a tendency to overlook the actual name of the building. It’s official designation – the Perry-Castañeda Library – is named for two former University professors and prominent historical figures, Ervin S. Perry and Carlos E. Castañeda.

Ervin Sewell Perry is the first African American to be appointed to the academic rank of professor at the University of Texas at Austin. He was an associate professor of civil engineering at the time of his death in 1970.

Perry was born on a farm in Coldspring, San Jacinto County, Texas, in 1935, a twin son of Willie and Edna Perry. He grew up with four sisters and a twin brother. The close-knit family was inspired by their father and schoolteacher mother to move toward higher education: all of the Perry children hold degrees from Prairie View A & M University, where their mother attended school.

Perry graduated from Prairie View A & M University in May 1956 with a B.S. in civil engineering and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. After two years of military service, he taught at Southern University in Baton Rouge before deciding to pursue graduate work. He first came to the University of Texas at Austin in the summer of 1959 when he entered the graduate school to study civil engineering. He took a brief hiatus from his studies to serve on the engineering faculty at Prairie View A & M University.

He was awarded the M.S. in civil engineering in June 1961; he chose the title, Bond Stress Distribution in Concrete Beams and Eccentric Pullout Specimens, for his master’s thesis. Three years later in May 1964, Perry was awarded his Ph.D. His dissertation, A Study of Dynamically Loaded Composite Members, described his research in the areas of materials science and structural mechanics. From the summer of 1960 until December of 1970, Ervin Perry was connected in some way with the university and brought distinction to himself and his institution.

Early in 1970 Dr. Perry became ill and went to M.D. Anderson Hospital in Houston for treatment. He resumed his teaching later in the year, but illness recurred that fall in Berlin, Germany, where he was representing the university at an international engineering conference, presenting papers based on his research on the basic properties of concrete. In 1970, he was named to receive the National Society of Professional Engineers’ first “Young Engineer of the Year Award.” He had been similarly honored at state and county levels by the Texas Society of Professional Engineers.

Ervin S. Perry died at the age of 34 in December 1970.

Get a personal perspective on Dr. Perry presented by his nephew, Gene Locke, to the University of Texas Black Alumni Network at their Legacy Dinner on September 8, 2017, in recognition of the 40th anniversary of the Perry-Castañeda Library. “On Ervin Perry’s Legacy.”

Read, Hot and Digitized: “The Death of Ivan Ilich”: An Electronic Study Edition of the Russian Text

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.

The project “The Death of Ivan Ilich”: An Electronic Study Edition of the Russian Text, based at the University of Minnesota Libraries, is an openly published resource highlighting how digital media can supplement and enhance the close reading of literature. The project contains the text of Lev Tolstoy’s novella The Death of Ivan Ilich in multiple formats, including the original Russian with an English translation side-by-side, versions with hyperlinked  explanatory and interpretive annotations, contextual introductory remarks by the project’s author, and an extensive bibliography. This is an important resource for any serious study of Tolstoy’s work, and it being made available in an open and remixable format is a boon for students and instructors alike.

The project’s homepage, featuring a brief description, license information, and links to read and download the book.

Tolstoy’s novella is a seminal work of world literature, and is studied broadly both in translation and the original Russian. Useful as a tool for students both of the Russian language and of Russian literature, this bilingual edition bridges the gap between language pedagogy and general literary study. The original Russian text–published in 1886–is in the public domain, as is the English translation by Louise and Aylmer Maude. The introduction, annotations and selected bibliography by Gary R. Jahn, Professor of Russian Language and Literature at the University of Minnesota, are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license. This license allows users to share and adapt the text–that is, “copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format” and “remix, transform, and build upon the material” as long as the license terms are followed.

The main interface for the project was built in Pressbooks, a platform that allows users to create and share openly published digital editions of  books that can also be downloaded as PDFs. The edition includes its own identifying ISBN, allowing for easy citation, and is highly interactive. For example, the glossed version of the text, includes linked annotations that can be clicked on to read as you go through the text. Some of these annotations also include images illustrating elements of the text that may be opaque to contemporary readers; one, for example, includes an image of a funeral announcement from 19th-century Russia. These very helpful annotations can be viewed in both the English and the Russian versions of the text.

A portion of the book showing Russian and English text side by side.

This edition is an important contribution both to open scholarship and the study of Russian literature. Allowing students and researchers to easily compare and contrast the original Russian with the translation in an accessible digital format is very helpful, as are the many explanatory notes and annotations included in the project. Furthermore, the bibliographies of both primary and secondary sources in multiple categories allows both the casual reader and the more dedicated student or scholar to explore further. In short, this online edition is a valuable example of the extensive and interoperatible possibilities of digital scholarship and open publishing.

For more information, please consult the UTL resources below:

Danaher, David S. “A Cognitive Approach to Metaphor in Prose: Truth and Falsehood in Leo Tolstoy’s ‘The Death of Ivan Il’ich.’” Poetics today 24, no. 3 (2003): 439–469.

Jackson, Robert Louis., and Horst-Jürgen Gerigk. Close Encounters Essays on Russian Literature / Robert Louis Jackson. Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2013.

Jahn, Gary R. Tolstoy’s the Death of Ivan Ilʹich : a Critical Companion / Edited by Gary R. Jahn. Evanston, Ill: Northwestern University Press, 1999.

Tolstoy, Leo, and Michael R. Katz. Tolstoy’s Short Fiction : Revised Translations, Backgrounds and Sources, Criticism / Edited and with Revised Translations by Michael R.  Katz. 2nd ed. New York: Norton & Co., 2008.

Diversifying Library Collections

We recently talked in specific about a project to work on a proactive strategy to diversify our collections. That piece focused on the expansion of Black Lives Matter materials in our holdings, and was a great practical introduction the sort of work being done by professional staff to account for past inequities in how we acquire materials. The umbrella effort for that project was spearheaded by Carolyn Cunningham, the Libraries’ Head of Collection Development, who shares her perspectives on the comprehensive work to diversify the Libraries’ collection here.

As the diversity and inclusion work done on UT campus continues to grow and gather steam, it has been helpful to have UT Libraries commitment to inclusivity, diversity, equity and accessibility (IDEA) as a guiding star for our work in the Scholarly Resources Division (SRD). 

The liaison librarian team in SRD recently had the opportunity to talk with library colleagues about how IDEA informs our collection development work, and how we support others in their collection development work. Our team members are Carolyn Cunningham, David Flaxbart, Corinne Forstot-Burke, Bill Kopplin, Susan Macicak, Katy Parker, and Shiela Winchester. The team is committed to using an IDEA lens in all of our work, beyond special projects or short-term initiatives. This means that we approach every request for a book, every new product offer, and every decision about how to use collection funds with the frame of mind that we will strive to include diverse voices in our collection and orient ourselves toward finding and making available resources that include the many experiences and perspectives of our campus community and beyond. The team describes this work as a group effort, and we continuously learn from each other. 

This embedded IDEA orientation is important because the academic publishing landscape does not necessarily represent all the voices that we want to include. The team recently looked at the results of the 2019 Diversity Baseline Survey together. This survey looked at diversity in the publishing industry, which included academic publishing participants. The respondents to this survey were 76% white, 97% cisgender, 81% heterosexual, and 89% non-disabled. For a quick point of comparison, 38.9% of UT students and 75.7% of UT professors are white. As the creators of the survey point out, “If the people who work in publishing are not a diverse group, how can diverse voices truly be represented in its books?”

Publishers are not the only influencers of what we add to our collections. User requests and emerging research areas are an important source of data for us. One exciting area of focus this past year has been strengthening our holdings related to the Black Lives Matter movement, civil rights, and anti-racism topics. Bill Kopplin, social sciences librarian and coordinator, has compared our collections against peer libraries, kept an eye on campus reading clubs and resource lists, and worked directly with vendors to do a wide-ranging scan of publications in these areas to consider adding to our collection. I can also point to the strong interdepartmental work of facilitating selection and discovery of important resources via catalog notes and subject headings. Folks from across UT Libraries work together to select and make available the U.S. Latinx LGBTQ Collection and Black Queer Studies Collection with local notes in our library catalog. This kind of focused attention is found throughout the work of our subject librarians, and our team is here to help get new efforts off the ground. 

One programmatic aspect of collection building that our team works on closely is the major approval plans. These plans are arrangements with large vendors to automatically send us certain types of books published by essential publishers. We keep an eye on those plans to make sure they are bringing in the right material. By describing this process with words like “arrangements,” “large,” and “automatically,” I want to illustrate that it is easy for up-and-coming authors and small publishers to get left out. This is where the expertise of our knowledgeable subject librarians, as well as input from our users, comes in. While we aim to collect books that our researchers expect us to have from major publishers, we pay close attention to the requests we get from users through interlibrary loan, through our Suggest a Purchase form, and via our library colleagues. Those data tell us which things are missing from the collection. We also use these requests to update ourselves on new terminology, new classes being offered, and new and enduring research topics that are finding an audience on campus. 

This work takes a village, and we will continue to learn from each other and respond to new opportunities to make our collections meet the needs of our current and future users.

Discover more of the diverse collections at the Libraries through our Instagram series, Highlighting Diverse Collections.


This post originally appeared at the blog of the Diversity Action Committee.

“Knowledge”: Online Exhibit Celebrates Benson Centennial and Diversity of Thought in the Americas

In Nuestra América (1891), Cuban poet and philosopher José Martí calls for a pan–Latin American identity that grounds itself in the need to value autochthonous knowledge: “Knowing is what counts. To know one’s country and govern it with that knowledge is the only way to free it from tyranny. The European university must bow to the American university. The history of America, from the Incas to the present, must be taught in clear detail and to the letter, even if the archons of Greece are overlooked. Our Greece must take priority over the Greece which is not ours. We need it more.”

A new online exhibition, A Hemisphere of Knowledge: A Benson Centennial Exhibit, accessible in English, Spanish, and Portuguese, explores the implications of Martí’s words across time and cultures, using a wealth of resources available at the Benson Latin American Collection.

“This exhibit, divided into six sub-themes, seeks to present different types of knowledge production from the Americas while recognizing that our universality comes from relations based upon diversity, and that these relations, like cultures themselves, are constantly changing,” said Daniel Arbino, head of collection development at the library and curator of the exhibit. In conceiving the exhibit, Arbino sought to examine “the diverse production of knowledge from the many cultures that make up what we now call the Americas.” He adds that “the exhibition considers this knowledge against the backdrop and legacies of hegemony, thereby situating it within the power dynamics of colonialism, imperialism, and neoliberalism. A Hemisphere of Knowledge is intentionally political because it values cultural beliefs that have been dismissed due to legacies of power.”

Learn more about the Benson Centennial at benson100.org.


Above: Knowledge, by Terry Boddie

WHIT’S PICKS: TAKE 10 – GEMS FROM THE HMRC

Resident poet and rock and roll star Harold Whit Williams is in the midst of a project to catalog the KUT Collection, obtained a few years ago and inhabiting a sizable portion of the Historical Music Recordings Collection (HMRC).

Being that he has a refined sense of both words and music, Whit seems like a good candidate for exploring and discovering some overlooked gems in the trove, and so in this occasional series, he’ll be presenting some of his noteworthy finds.

Earlier installments: Take 1Take 2Take 3Take 4Take 5Take 6Take 7Take 8, Take 9


Lisa Mills / Tempered in Fire

Available at Fine Arts Library Onsite Storage

Gorgeous-sounding blues-rock soul from Mobile, Alabama’s Lisa Mills. With her force-of-nature vocals, warm analog tape capture, and a rootsy UK backing band (featuring guitarist Andy Fairweather Low), Mills simply stupefies on these Memphis and Muscle Shoals-inspired tracks. Standouts include a touching take on Otis Redding’s These Arms of Mine, as well as the Stax stomp of Why Do I Still Love You? 


The Bell / Make Some Quiet

Available at Fine Arts Library Onsite Storage

Post-punk Swedish indie rock never sounded so sweet. Stockholm’s The Bell certainly enjoys twiddling around with synthesizers and drum loops, but it’s that retro guitar jangle up loud in the mix that really rings out to prove their true intent. While Make Some Quiet nods to the synthpop of New Order and Echo & the Bunnymen, there’s something else entirely unique going on here. Call it Nordic new-wave for now people.


J Dilla / The Shining

Available at Fine Arts Library Onsite Storage

This posthumous collection cements James “J Dilla” Yancey’s place as a giant in the hip-hop world. Producer, rapper, and instrumentalist, he pioneered playing his Akai drum machine live (as opposed to programming it), giving his beats a human feel. Guest MC’s include Common, Black Thought, and Pharoahe Monch, but it’s Dilla’s deep vibing backing tracks that showcase what a colossal influence he was. 


John Fremgen / Pieces of String

Available at Fine Arts Library Onsite Storage

UT Austin Butler School professor John Fremgen may spend his days teaching music theory and improvisation, but this monster bassist truly educates with his master class for the jazz trio, Pieces of String. Pianist Shelly Berg and drummer Peter Erskine hold their own on this sublime set of standards (Monk, Waldren, Thad Jones), and compliment with a delicate charm on the elegant Fremgen original For A Better Day.


Casino / Volcanes

Available at Fine Arts Library Onsite Storage

The Chilean musical response to Britpop’s Oasis, Casino lays down top-notch heavy-handed stadium rock and roll with just the right amount of a Euro shoegaze sheen. From the album’s opening guitar feedback wash, and on through fist-pumping tracks like VelvetVicio, and Para Estallar, the stacked amplifiers cranked-up-to-eleven outdoor festival vibe does not disappoint. Party like it’s 1999, indeed. 

[Harold Whit Williams is a Content Management Specialist in Music & Multimedia Resources. He writes poetry, is guitarist for the critically acclaimed rock band Cotton Mather, and releases lo-fi guitar-heavy indie pop as DAILY WORKER.]

Building On Black Lives Matter

At their core, library collections have an intention to reflect the values of society and to represent the resources that the community most needs to advance those values. Historically, though, the lack of diversity in the realm of scholarship and publishing disregarded the promotion of certain voices, and so collections have been somewhat carelessly conceived and built without adequate attention to, or equity for, all points of view.

Part of the strategic focus for the Libraries is the concept of IDEA – Inclusion, Equity, Diversity and Accessibility – and making a conscious effort to permeate organizational work within its framework. Libraries are by nature democratic institutions, but as we’ve come to recognize over the recent years – and more poignantly in the last twelve months – there is much work to be done to improve the fairness and justice of our systems, and how we operate them. Taking a hard look at how and why we gather the resources we do is low-hanging fruit for redressing past practices, and for beginning to recognize and atone for those shortcomings.

A recent effort by the Libraries’ Scholarly Resources Division to consider ways to apply IDEA concepts to their work resulted in a significant project to begin diversifying the Libraries’ collections practices. The effort was holistic in approach, but work on specific subject areas bears special notice for the initial success of outcomes. One of those areas which is of currency to recent history is the collections related to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Social Sciences Librarian Bill Kopplin took up the project in part because of its current social relevance, but also because of its interest to campus communities.

“At its heart the BLM movement is an extended anti-government protest, so it seems like it was already by definition an integral part of my subject purview,” explains Kopplin, “but it was also obvious that there was a great deal of interest in this subject on campus.” 

Bill Kopplin

 “There was both individual research interest, and classroom use going on,” says Kopplin. “And I have checked the circulation records for some of our older print books on the civil rights movement and those check out numbers are very high.  Of course, the BLM movement fits into the much larger social, political, and historical context of the civil rights movement, which is an extremely interdisciplinary subject area, so as a social sciences liaison librarian, it was all good.”

Kopplin suspected that the BLM collections needed attention, but to begin the process of building out the BLM collections for the Libraries, he needed to get an idea of what was “on the shelves.” “I actually have a fair amount of experience comparing collections dating back to my days as the computer science bibliographer,” he says, “and since I knew that the Black Lives Matter movement was a relatively recent phenomena, I realized the number of entries in various library catalogs under a BLM subject heading would be both very specific and relatively low in absolute number.

“Comparing them would be doable and hopefully informative as to the relative amount of recent collection activity that was going in at various campuses by our peer institutions,” he continues. “So last summer I looked at the BLM catalog entries, and while it was a bit hard to make definitive statements, it was clear to me that we didn’t have as many titles as some of our other fellow libraries.” 

That proved to be a generous characterization. UT and state peer Texas A&M were on the low end of subject area collections for BLM materials nationwide among research libraries. The topic was relatively emergent, with terminology still significantly in a developmental period, and a lot of work needed to be done on targeting resources that were useful to the field of study and traversed the various facets of the subject. The Libraries had a pretty meager 11 titles that could be considered in the area; to contrast, Kopplin discovered that Penn State had 44.

But the comparative infancy of the subject area had the converse effect of somewhat simplifying the solution to the deficit in the collections. “If I was considering collections in a large subject area like chemistry I would obviously have to target a small subset of that to do any interesting collecting, but the BLM movement is so far a pretty small subject area when looked at as part of the overall book publishing industry, so I didn’t really do much targeting,” explains Kopplin. “Basically, if a title showed up on a published list of ‘best BLM books’ and it was available to us as an orderable ebook in GOBI (the Libraries’ main book vendor), I would try to order it. And there were scores of these ‘best books’ lists to go on.” 

“So, if someone somewhere recommended a BLM title on a published list, I treated that like a favorable book review and I would try to order it.”

Since the inception of Kopplin’s work on the project, the Libraries has acquired more than 100 titles, and that collection continues to grow to support increased interest in Black Lives Matter and related subjects around social justice, systemic racism and police brutality. Scholarly Resources Division staff are reviewing approval plans – arrangements with a large vendors to automatically get needed resources from major publishers – to improve processes and ensure that historical homogeneity in publishing doesn’t impede the Libraries efforts at diversifying the collections. 

“My upcoming summer project is to go back and re-examine our holdings in comparison to our peers to see if we have made any progress,” says Kopplin “But I’m not too worried, the project itself has been the reward and it is really pleasing to know that our collection is now stronger in this specific area.”

The work Kopplin is doing is just a small part of the much larger effort at collections diversification, though. As head of collection development, Carolyn Cunningham is involved in oversight of the various efforts, and views it as a new part of normal practice for the Libraries going forward.

“Of course, there are many other librarians working to make our collections relevant to our students and researchers,” says Cunningham. “All of the subject librarians use their expertise to monitor the publications coming out in their areas and make sure we get important resources.”

“The team is committed to using an IDEA lens in all of our work, beyond special projects or short-term initiatives,” she continues. “This means that we approach every request for a book, every new product offer, and every decision about how to use collection funds with the frame of mind that we will strive to include diverse voices in our collection and orient ourselves toward finding and making available resources that include the many experiences and perspectives of our campus community and beyond.”

For his part, though, Kopplin has taken away a greater appreciation for the subject. “I can’t tell you how rewarding this project has been to me personally.”

Kopplin relates a significant discovery from his research to explain.

“I’m a car guy, love everything about cars. How do cars related to BLM, you ask? Interstate 375 –the Walter P. Chrysler Freeway in downtown Detroit –is a little-known example of the little-known phenomena of infrastructure racism.  It is a 1-mile long highway that held the distinction of being the shortest interstate in the national system. It was not needed as a transportation solution.  It was built to level a historically African-American communitycalled Black Bottom that was sort of Detroit’s answer to Harlem.”

“The BLM movement has brought increased awareness of police brutality, it has brought increased awareness of things like Confederate-era statues, it has brought increased awareness of the larger civil rights movement, and it has brought increased awareness of hidden things like infrastructure racism, which I knew very little about before this project.  There are now proposals being considered to demolish I-375.”

“I have learned so much,” says Kopplin. 

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.”