Literature on a String

Wood, Paper, String exhibit.

Modern forms of independent publishing like zines owe a debt not only to the likes of Thomas Paine, but also to popular types of cultural or regional publications that emerged from a desire to capture an otherwise oral tradition for both broader diffusion and preservation.

The Brazilian literatura de cordel — literally “string literature” from the way that street vendors suspended the chapbooks — is a notable example of a form that gained traction due to its relatively low impact production requirements and visual appeal.

Mostly in the form of quartos, cordels are small chapbooks or pamphlets containing folk novels, poems and/or songs, and usually decorated by woodcut prints that became prevalent in the 19th and 20th centuries, mostly in the northeastern region of Brazil.

The Benson Latin American Collection recently opened an exhibit of cordel literature drawn from its collections, curated by Julianne Gilland with assistance from Teresa Wingfield and Carla Silva-Muhammad.

Wood, Paper, String highlights the art and history of the Brazilian popular literary. Featuring recent Benson Collection acquisitions, the exhibition explores cordel’s evolution from traditional to contemporary themes and showcases the woodcut illustration that is an iconic visual element of the genre.

Wood, Paper, String runs at the Benson Collection in the second floor gallery space through January 31, 2016, and is open to the public during regular hours.

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Scholars Commons Pilot “Sneak Preview”

Attendees see conceptual slides for the future Scholars Commons.

The Libraries held a Kick-off event on September 16 to share design renderings of a new academic work space in the Perry-Castaneda Library called the Scholars Commons that will be piloted on entry level starting early next year.

My colleagues and I had the great opportunity to welcome attendees into an empty room behind yellow paper-covered windows to share a “before” glimpse of what the UT Libraries hopes will become a favorite place on campus for graduate students and scholars.

Scheduled to open in January 2016, this “third space” for serious study is a pilot project to test services and different types of spaces.

The Scholars Commons initiative is comprised of 3 main areas:

  • silent study space,
  • a Data Lab, and
  • a Graduate Landing Spot, with reservable media-equipped rooms, a lounge and a break room.

Design development for the space was informed by input from graduate student and faculty focus groups and a survey with over 1,200 respondents conducted last spring. Additional insights came from the Graduate Student Assembly (GSA), the Graduate Student Writing Group and Graduate Student Services within OGS. The design was created by Harmony Edwards-Canfield of E+MID (Edwards + Mulhausen Interior Design), also responsible for several successful recently completed PCL projects.

Situated opposite the new glass-walled Media Lab, in what was formerly the Periodicals Room and the adjacent office suites that housed the Research and Information Services department, the Scholars Commons is tangible, visible evidence of support for serious students and scholars.

The materials in that space were relocated elsewhere within PCL, and the staff relocated to a UT Libraries office suite in the new Learning Commons, next to the University Writing Center. As with space used to create the Learning Commons, the Scholars Commons project represents intentional repurposing of staff space for student use.

The office suite closest to the PCL lobby will host speech center services provided by the Sanger Learning Center and research consultations in media-equipped meeting rooms with UT Libraries librarians. When not reserved for consultations, the rooms will be available for group study use by students.

Subject specialist librarians, or liaison librarians, already work one-to-one or in small groups with students and faculty to advise on literature reviews, research paper resources, data needs and other aspects of the research process and lifecycle, including publishing. These refreshed rooms will expand existing consultation space.

The large room that once housed the current periodicals and reference materials will become silent study space. And the office suite in the back of that room will be a dedicated Graduate Landing Spot for group study and informal community building.

The Scholars Commons will also offer programming, including salon events with featured speakers, research presentations and exhibit space. In brief, the pilot focuses on real-life needs, real-world challenges, research and relationships.

Lorraine Haricombe with representatives of Graduate Studies.Kick-off participants enjoyed locally-sourced refreshments and live music by Maxwell’s Daemons, a celebratory nod to the soon-to-be-silent zone for scholarly endeavor.

Brianna Frey, an Architecture graduate student in attendance, expressed that the quality and amenities of a study area are important because productivity stems from the ability to focus. “Additionally, it is important, especially because my field has a lot of group work, to have collaborative spaces in study areas” Frey told the Daily Texan. The pilot will offer both options.

Monitor this blog and UT Libraries social media outlets for more details as the January reveal approaches.

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Nobel Laureate in the Stacks

Steven WeinbergProfessor Steven Weinberg is the university’s Nobel Laureate in Physics (1979) whose work in elementary particle physics and cosmology has garnered important scientific awards and honorary acclaim. He has published more than 300 scientific articles and scholarly monographs, and he is a leader in his area of theoretical physics. Dr. Weinberg coined the term Standard Model to describe the theory of fundamental particles and their interactions.

Weinberg’s research articles deal with highly abstract and mathematical topics such as “Goldstone Bosons as Fractional Cosmic Neutrinos” or “Quantum mechanics without state vectors.” But Weinberg also writes for non-specialists, including frequent contributions to the New York Review of Books and numerous books on the history and culture of science. He is widely interviewed and his opinions are sought on topics such as religion and world issues as those relate to science.

As a librarian I’m interested to know more about his research process for his historical and cultural materials, which are not the usual realm of a Nobel physicist. His most recent book, To Explain the World: The Discovery of Modern Science (Harper Collins 2015), discusses the development of physical science beginning with the ancient Greeks at Melitus sweeping through medieval science and the scientific revolution until the modern discipline of science emerged.

As a self-described perpetual amateur Dr. Weinberg is intellectually restless. When he wants to explore a topic, he teaches a course on it over several semesters, does extensive research to develop lectures and teaching materials, and eventually writes a book on the topic. In approaching an unfamiliar area he starts with older books, not necessarily the latest information. As the research develops he moves forward to the current professional literature. If the existing writings on a topic do not appeal to his sensibilities he writes material that presents content in a way that makes sense and ‘explains the world’ for him and his students.

For example, a new physics course for the Spring, 2016 is his current project. It will be a graduate course in astrophysics — a more “down-to-earth” variety of astrophysics. He is learning about stellar structure and galactic structures by reading older books — going back to the 1930’s and catching up eventually to current research articles.  Perhaps another book will result from his investigations.
Dr. Weinberg uses libraries well and often — what we term an excellent library user. The ability to browse is of paramount importance to him. In speaking to the local public library foundation, he stated that there is no substitute for being able to browse, and was surprised by the standing ovation that followed. Like most particle physicists, he gets a daily feed from the arXiv e-print server, and uses the research literature online, but prints what he needs to read.

We’re curious about what’s on his current reading list. Weinberg is re-reading Anthony Trollope’s The Warden, and reading Jonathan Schneer’s book about Churchill’s war cabinet, Ministers at War.  Preparing for a spring course on astrophysics, he is also looking into Cox and Giuli’s Principles of Stellar Structure, borrowed from the library.

Why does Dr. Weinberg write for non-physicists? He answers in Steven Weinberg: the 13 best science books for the general reader:

“…I think it was EM Forster who said that he wrote to earn the respect of those he respects, and to earn his bread. As to bread, I used to do a good deal of consulting on defence problems, until I learned that writing books was in every way more rewarding, and since it did not involve handling classified materials, I could do it at home. More important has been the opportunity of leaving for a while the ivory tower of theoretical physics research, and making contact with the world outside.”

Steven Weinberg is the featured speaker at this year’s Distinguished Author Dinner hosted by the Libraries for its generous supporters. To contribute to the Libraries and received access to future events such as this, visit our online giving page


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Students in the Creative Space

Nate Jackson and Erin Kedzie. Prior to the opening of the Learning Commons, the Libraries were piloting a digital Media Lab in the PCL to gauge how useful students would find certain hardware and software in service of their personal and academic creative work.

The diminutive 14-seat pilot helped to guide the development of the robust new 44-unit strong Media Lab that opened as part of the new Learning Commons last Tuesday, and, thus far, its central and very visible location has attracted even greater attention and use than was imagined.

Even during the pilot phase, though, the lab was earning a the loyalties of regular users, many of whom are students in departments that don’t necessary provide access to all of the tools or resources that can help to ballast student productivity.

We discovered one such student through the approval process for filming in PCL, which is a pretty regular occurrence, especially with members of the RTF and Communications programs at the university.

Nate Jackson is a Communications senior at UT who wanted to shoot a short film on synesthesia for a Journalism Portfolio summer class using the 5th floor stacks in PCL as a backdrop. As is the case with almost every request to use Libraries facilities for class projects, Jackson received approval, and enthusiastically agreed to share the finished work with us upon completion so that we could highlight alternate student uses of the libraries.

After viewing the finished product — which coincided with the preparations for the Learning Commons opening — and being extremely impressed with the quality and skill it exhibited, we reached out to Nate to find out if, in addition to serving as a location for his film, he might also have used the Media Lab at PCL as a resource in the process of creating it. As it turns out, that was indeed the case; Jackson used the tools provided by the Libraries to edit and record voice-overs for the project.

The Media Lab at PCL.Nate graciously indulged us by participating in the opening of the Learning Commons, where he and his co-creator of the film project Erin Kedzie talked to attendees to the event about the process of making the film and the value of the resources in the Media Lab to their classwork and creative projects.

“Being able to go any time the PCL is open and having this software available works really well for me because I can’t afford this computer software on my own,” Jackson recently told the Daily Texan.

Jackson and Kedzie are just one story in a massive community of talented students on the Forty Acres who have the opportunity to succeed because the Libraries are finding ways to provide resources that level the playing field for everyone, regardless of program or personal resources.

See more of Jackson’s films at his YouTube channel, and consider supporting the Libraries Think Space initiative to help other gifted Longhorns like Nate and Erin to reach their potential, too.


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Update: Fine Arts Library Recording Studio

Preliminary drawings for the recording soundbooth.

Wow, summer’s gone and the fall semester has arrived on the Forty Acres!

Just wanted to reach out and share an update on the Fine Arts Library Recording Studio.

Things are moving forward. We have been meeting throughout the summer to select equipment and design the space. The Libraries Facilities Manager is working with staff from UT’s Project Management and Construction Services to create a design that meets the requisite standards for building codes and aesthetics.

Floor map of FAL.Initially, we thought the studio would be located in the Fine Arts Library on the fourth floor of the Doty Fine Arts Building, but after consulting with Ken Dickensheets, a top acoustical consultant and media designer, it was decided that the studio should be on third floor, the entrance level of the Fine Arts Library, in a room currently used for group study.

Equipment has been ordered but things are taking a little longer than we had anticipated. An official open date has not yet been set, but we do plan on having some type of kick-off party to welcome everyone in the space. More details to come! We will end up with a studio that is larger and more sophisticated than initially planned, thanks in large measure to the generosity of all our donors.

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Punk Rock the Library

The Freud Punk Collection

The Libraries’ Historical Music Recordings Collection (HMRC) recently added a massive infusion of pristine and rare punk vinyl in the form of 700 LPs and 400 singles (45s) from a collection amassed by the late Justin Gibran (Freud) Reia.

Freud was an avid music collector and musician. His mother, Flora Salyers, and wife, Tamara Schatz, generously donated his collection, which fills a significant genre gap the HMRC’s overall corpus.

David Hunter, Music Librarian, is enthusiastic about the addition to the HMRC, and notes that it will take some time to process the collection and make it available to students, faculty, and researchers. The preliminary estimate for processing the materials is around $8,000, which covers the cost of a graduate research assistant’s time and cataloging.

“The collection is great, just absolutely great,” says Benjamin Houtman, outgoing HMRC Graduate Research Assistant. “Very, very authentic, widely varied — you can tell he loved this stuff. I’ve just barely scratched the surface but I’ve already seen Sham69, Flipper, the Jim Carroll Band, Iggy, Stiv Bators, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Blondie, The Clash, Black Flag — all legends — along with tons of completely obscure stuff.”

“I wish my record collection was 1/10th as good as this. I’m envious of the GRA who really gets to dig into this collection. I hope they appreciate it. Every record I’ve looked at appears to be in good shape too. Wow.”

If you would like to make a contribution to support this effort, please click here.

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Win Tickets to “The Look of Silence”, 8/14-20

Be one of the first five people to correctly answer the Human Rights Documentation Initiative trivia question to win 2 tickets for a screening of The Look of Silence between August 14-20 at Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar. Winners will be notified by email and tickets will be held at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar box office.

About the film:
“The Look of Silence is Joshua Oppenheimer’s powerful companion piece to the Oscar®-nominated The Act Of Killing. Through Oppenheimer’s footage of perpetrators of the 1965 Indonesian genocide, a family of survivors discovers how their son was murdered, as well as the identities of the killers. The documentary focuses on the youngest son, an optometrist named Adi, who decides to break the suffocating spell of submission and terror by doing something unimaginable in a society where the murderers remain in power: he confronts the men who killed his brother and, while testing their eyesight, asks them to accept responsibility for their actions. This unprecedented film initiates and bears witness to the collapse of fifty years of silence.”

Trivia question:  What is one collection in the Human Rights Documentation Initiative archive that deals with the issue of genocide? Hint: Browse collections at

Enter the giveaway here.

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Commons Learning

Cindy Fisher teaches first-year students in a class at PCL.

Leading up to the opening of the Learning Commons, we’ve spoken in broad terms about the impact of having a suite of student resources and services co-located for ease of access and use, and how that convenience is expected to improve student outcomes. Much of the talk regarding that impact of the Learning Commons has centered on the process and completion of finished products of a more temporal nature such as reports, projects and other assignments, but beyond the resources — technical help, knowledge resources and technology — that will serve as the basis for user productivity, it’s worth considering the persisting influence that the learning opportunities supported by the new space will provide to the next generation of Longhorns.

Students attend one of the LIbraries' classes at PCL.Staff in the Libraries’ Teaching and Learning Services (TLS) unit has played a central role in planning the Learning Commons, and their activities will have a significant impact on the success of the initiative. The longstanding relationship between TLS and the University Writing Center was essential to the relocation of UWC to the Perry-Castañeda Library, and much of the vitality in the Learning Commons will be determined by how the partnership between the two groups evolves over time. UWC’s nascent presence has already reaped ideas for collaborating with the Libraries on programming in the new space, and coordinating with other student resources around campus — such as the Sanger Learning Center — will allow a crossover between the provisional service needs of users for the purpose of completing assignments and the generation of lasting skills like interviewing, public speaking, information literacy, and much more.

TLS emerged in 2002 — at the time designated Library Instruction Services — to take the place of the Digital Information Literacy Office (DILO) and expand on its mission to integrate information literacy into the campus-wide curriculum for general education, which it successfully accomplished in 2010. The unit’s name evolved to Teaching and Learning Services as its mission has expanded to represent a more comprehensive view of the academic landscape and the ways in which students and faculty interact to share knowledge and experience.

By its increased involvement in campus curriculum via information and digital literacy, TLS has routinely collaborated with faculty on assignment design and presents course-integrated classes in hands-on classrooms in the libraries. They’ve also created video tutorials on subjects such as avoiding plagiarism for integration into course web sites and embedding in online courses. Through a combination of these methods, TLS now reaches almost 3,000 lower division undergraduates every year.

Head of TLS Michele Ostrow at an information literacy conference organized with regional high school librarians.“The Learning Commons isn’t just about co-locating academic support services for ease of access but is about collaborating in new ways across those departmental lines to better support teaching and learning,” says Michele Ostrow, head of the Libraries’ Teaching and Learning Services unit. “We’re fortunate to work closely with a lot of fantastic faculty who teach in our freshmen programs and are committed to helping the excellent high school students who get into UT become excellent college students.” Continue reading

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Collections Highlight: Sanborn Maps

Dallas, 1885, Sheet 13. Sanborn Map Collection, PCL Map Collection online. Original courtesy the Briscoe Center for American History.

Founded in 1867 by D. A. Sanborn, the Sanborn Map Company was the primary American publisher of fire insurance maps for nearly 100 years. A 2007 partnership with the Briscoe Center for American History resulted in a multiyear scanning project that made the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps for the state of Texas and Mexico (1877-1922) available online through the PCL Map Collection.

Over 10,000 maps were scanned primarily from the Briscoe’s collection, with additional items ingested from the most comprehensive collection of the maps at the Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division, in Washington, D.C.

The information on the maps — which were published to determine fire insurance risks of particular buildings — has a multitude of uses for historians, urban planners, architects, social scientists, geographers, genealogists, environmentalists and anyone interested in the history and growth of cities.

Maps include details regarding the shape and size of residential and commercial buildings, street addresses, block numbers and property boundaries, as well as type of construction, type of roof, building height, location of windows and doors, proximity to fire hydrants and alarm boxes. For many of the maps, multiple editions exist that allow for the study of change over time for a particular area.


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Reel Answers to Reel Questions

The microfilm in question. Photo by Stephen Littrell.

Summer is the time for housekeeping around the Libraries, and much like undertaking the reorganization of one’s own closet, an occasional unexpected discovery occurs that either provokes nostalgia or rouses curiosity.

The latter was the case when staff at the Library Storage Facility at the Pickle Research Campus in north Austin recently came across more than 400 reels of microfilm which appeared to document the entire card catalog of the Libraries through images of each individual record.

Sample card from the catalog microfilm. Photo by Stephen LIttrell.Evidence dated the media from the late 1960s to the early 1970s, but none of current Libraries staff had a clue as to the reason that an entire catalog of just over 2 million volumes (at the time) would’ve been recorded in such a way.

Enter the institutional memory of a loyal retiree class.

Associate Director for Collections and Technical Services Robin Fradenburgh put out the call to a cadre of ex libris stalwarts to see if they could unpack the Riddle of the Reels.

“We are calling on our dearly missed retired colleagues to help us with this mystery.  We have about 400+ of these reels of film of catalog cards.  Stephen (Littrell) looked at three of them to see if they had dates…one didn’t, one looked like it was 1964 and the other was 1973.  Did we used to make films of our catalog cards as back up and do you see any reason we need to keep them?  Ben (Rodriguez) says they were added to LSF very early on.”

Thanks….none of our institutional memories go back that far.


There are no guarantees when seeking an answer to a 40-year old question, but the former librarians didn’t miss a beat.


Of course, I wasn’t there before 1980, but when at the University of Pennsylvania, it was the year 1968 of upheaval of student protests, campus takeovers, etc. that the Penn Library experienced some incursions in which trays of catalog cards were dumped on the floor helter-skelter (as well as books being swept off stack shelves).

Those attacks led several academic libraries, including Penn, to microfilm either their catalogs or shelflists.


University Freedom Movement rally, UT campus, 1967. Photo from “The Rag.” (linked)

And in further validation,

“I’m remembering a special project to microfilm the card catalog as a precautionary measure in the wake of student unrest on a number of college campuses.  The project may well have gone on for some time, but card microfilming was never a routine back-up procedure that we did for years on end.


So, the mystery solved and a lost history unearthed and passed along, the summer cleaning continues, and we’re reminded that technology has made preserving the Libraries’ catalog just a little less daunting than it used to be.

Thanks to Libraries alumni Bob Stewart and Al Rogers for bringing their respective knowledge and memory to bear.

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