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 & 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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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 Velvet, Vicio, and Para Estallar, the stacked amplifiers cranked-up-to-eleven outdoor festival vibe does not disappoint. Party like it’s 1999, indeed.
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.”
“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.”
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.
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.”
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 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 & 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.