Lorraine Haricombe says states need to follow New York’s lead and advance OER initiatives.
Tucked away in New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announcement to make tuition free to eligible students at two state university systems was additional important news – a budget of $8 million had been earmarked to promote and distribute open educational resources, or online education materials that are free to access and customize for students. The two university systems have been urged to use this money to focus on high-enrollment courses, with the goal of minimizing or eliminating textbook costs for those courses. This is a very positive step toward college affordability and is exactly what we need in more states and on a national scale.
It’s no secret that the high cost of textbooks places an enormous burden on students. Textbook costs increased by an astonishing 82 percent from 2002 to 2012, a pace that is triple the rate of inflation. Open educational resources are a promising way to address issues related to both costs and education.
Advancing the use of open educational resources means upending a decades-old system, and it has the potential for pushback from institutions, bookstores, publishers and even faculty members, as there isn’t much of an incentive to transition to open educational resources versus traditional textbooks.
But it’s worth it because it is a viable solution to increasing student success. And it starts with open textbooks, which are a collection of open educational resources aggregated in a manner that resembles a traditional textbook.
As a longtime advocate of “open access,” I know that open textbooks are not the only solution to the higher education affordability problem. However, they can save students significant money not only individually, but collectively in high-enrollment classes where the combined savings are potentially large. Take, for example, OpenStax at Rice University, which offers free peer-reviewed open textbooks. It has saved students $155 million since 2012 by offering textbooks for the highest-enrollment college courses across the country. Simply stated, the advantages of using open educational resources offer students greater potential for broader access to information and education in New York, Texas or any state in between.
Open materials can also empower faculty members to change the way they teach and give them the academic freedom to tailor their course content to their students’ needs. What that exactly means for student learning and the motivations that encourage faculty to use open educational resources in their work as researchers and instructors offers an important opportunity to positively impact higher education as a whole.
Luckily some states are getting the message. In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott recently signed Senate Bill 810 into law supporting the adoption of open educational resources similar to the Affordable Learning Georgia program out of the University System of Georgia, which has saved students more than $16 million through expanding the use of free and open course materials. Other states such as Florida, California, Minnesota, North Dakota, Oregon and Washington have enacted legislation that has expanded or stabilized open educational resources.
The momentum is also gaining traction in non-legislative initiatives. Seven of Rhode Island’s state colleges started using open-license textbooks this year in hopes of saving students at least $5 million in the next five years. And open educational resources libraries have been created at the system and/or institutional levels in Arizona, Minnesota, NewYork and Virginia without legislation. Some publishers are even trying to get into the mix.
But we need more. Moving forward, we need to convince more lawmakers in more states – and ultimately taxpayers – of the savings accrued to students and improved academic success rates for students using open educational resources versus traditional textbooks. And we need recurring appropriations to provide sustainable support for promoting and growing open educational resources in teaching and learning. With New York and several large university systems and legislative initiatives setting the example, it’s up to the rest of us to catch up and build on it.
About the Conference conferences.lib.utexas.edu/rethinkit2018/ January 8-10, 2018, the UT Libraries, Austin Public Library, and Austin Community College Libraries will co-host Re-think it: Libraries for a New Age, inaugurated at Grand Valley State University in 2015. The conference will be held at the University of Texas and other locations in Austin and Central Texas.
Re-think it: Libraries for a New Age will bring together academic and public librarians, administrators, technologists, architects, designers, furniture manufacturers, library users, and educators from across the country to discuss, share, learn and collectively re-think the increasingly important role libraries play in the communities that they serve.
Libraries have long been “third places” for community groups, students (both young and old), immigrants, national and international visitors, and members of the local the community. At their best, libraries provide patrons with safe spaces to engage with the written word, new technologies, new ideas, and new ways of thinking. Libraries expand the horizon of possibility in ways that are both emerging, and traditional. Library spaces are being transformed to include tinkering labs, community kitchens, makerspaces, and virtual reality rooms, all of which exist alongside books, newspapers, computers, and reference desks. These new ecosystems are ripe with the potential to connect people and create new communities.
As library administrators and staff consider what the new horizon will look like for patrons, it is important that we make that horizon accessible. When considering what an accessible horizon looks like in the context of emerging technologies, we should be mindful of our role as intermediaries and translators. Much like learning a new language, engaging with emerging technologies can be daunting. Without a framework for how to utilize or engage with new technologies in productive and enriching ways, our patrons could easily be discouraged, or worse, feel isolated in their learning endeavors. We can encourage and support patrons in their exploration by providing thoughtful programming, workshops and tours of our spaces, and by emphasizing jargon-free explanations of new technologies and their application in the real world. By providing an accessible framework for how to think about oneself in the context of emerging, technology-rich environments, we can empower patrons to move toward new horizons with confidence.
Libraries are the go-to place for knowledge-seekers looking to sharpen their intellectual capacity and understanding of everything from boolean logic to gardening in Texas soil. They provide books on the arts, and on creative practices like knitting, cooking, and photography, so why not provide a larger technical infrastructure that will enable patrons to integrate traditional creative practices with technology? Why not provide patrons with the tools and skills they need to move into new realms of possibility via the practice of making, and making alongside others? While creativity may come naturally for a large portion of the population, it isn’t necessarily a skill that is mastered overnight. Like many skills, creativity takes patience, practice, and a good support community. With many communities losing access to arts funding it is an opportune time for libraries to consider playing a role in the creative lives of citizens, and makerspaces are just one example of how libraries are rethinking their role.
A Brief History of The Foundry
The University of Texas Libraries’ exploration of makerspaces began in 2013 under the oversight of the former head of the Fine Arts Library, Laura Schwartz. During this time, a Special Interest Group (SIG) was charged with researching makerspace technologies within the scope of academic libraries. The group’s findings provided insight into what services are typically made available through these spaces. Following this period of exploration, the Libraries began to pursue funding from outside sources in order to renovate existing library spaces to accommodate new technologies.
In 2014, the Libraries applied for a Longhorn Innovation Fund for Technology (LIFT) Grant and an Institute of Museum & Library Services (IMLS) grant. Neither of these applications was successful.
However, even before funding was secured for the makerspace, the Libraries decided to move forward with a project to build a recording studio in the Fine Arts Library. In spring of 2015, the Libraries participated in the second round of the university’s project fundraising tool Hornraiser — a new crowdfunding operation launched by the university development office — which netted over $15,000 for the studio, and served as a kind of proof of intention to create a larger creative space.
In 2015, the university’s College of Fine Arts (COFA) launched a new program, the Center for Arts and Entertainment Technologies (CAET) which provided additional purpose and created a partnership for the development of the space. The Libraries coordinated fundraising efforts with COFA and the Provost’s office with the expressed purpose of collaborating with CAET to build tools and services in support of the program. A proposal to the Hearst Foundations was rewarded with $200,000 in grant monies to create a makerspace that would be available to anyone on campus, regardless of major or departmental affiliation.
To supplement the Hearst Foundations grant award, COFA and the provost provided additional funding to support the Fine Arts Library renovation, the purchase of makerspace technologies, and staffing for the new space. Two key positions were established to support the program and new functionality in the library. The Arts & Creative Technologies Librarian is responsible for day to day operations and provides support to faculty across campus in order to integrate The Foundry into the curriculum, and the Media Support Technician provides support for the equipment and facilities.
With staffing and funding largely secured, the Libraries worked with designer Harmony Edwards (Edwards + Mulhausen) to seek input from campus stakeholders; faculty, staff and students were invited to provide feedback during design charrettes and focus groups. These discussions allowed the Libraries to better understand how faculty and students envisioned a makerspace, how they might engage with the technology in that space, and if they were currently using makerspace technology in their personal or professional work.
By early 2016, Libraries staff purchased multiple 3D printers, technology for a video wall, top-of-the-line Mac Pros, Bernina sewing machines, a 3D scanner, a large format printer/cutter, two mills, a laser cutter, and an array of additional tools based on feedback from earlier stakeholder conversations. This technology, combined with the high-end audio equipment that would reside in the recording studio, formed the foundation of what was to be known as “The Foundry.”
Construction took place at a fevered pace over the summer of 2016. In early September, The Foundry’s impressive grand opening was celebrated with overflow crowds from the campus community and beyond in attendance.
After the initial success of the launch and praise for the exceptional results had subsided, the difficult work of developing processes and a structure for use of The Foundry began in earnest. The following months were considered a rollout period and involved developing an assessment plan, workflows for equipment certification and use, bringing equipment online, and developing learning materials that would support student and faculty engagement with the space.
As of May 2017, The Foundry is almost fully operational.
There is always a learning process involved in doing something for the first time, and it was no different building a creative space full of machines in the middle of a library originally designed for quiet reflection and housing books. Here are a few bits of practical advice to keep in mind.
When bringing a makerspace online, it is important to develop effective and productive working relationships with campus departments. At The University of Texas at Austin, the Office of Environmental Health & Safety is responsible for oversight of campus facilities. This group is charged with developing safety training procedures for labs and shops across campus. New technology-rich spaces like The Foundry present a challenge when developing safety protocols. Makerspaces aren’t necessarily as dangerous as a wood shop with a large table saw, but the spaces do present safety challenges, and therefore need to have sufficient safety training procedures in place. Negotiating the terms of these procedures with institutional partners is a key component of a successful launch, and the time involved in this should not be underestimated. When considering a makerspace for a school, college, or university, relevant campus safety services should participate in planning conversations from the project’s initiation. Experts can advise on compliance requirements, and may even work directly with principals to develop safety procedures that are customized to the proposed space.
Aside from ensuring that patrons are safe, administrative procedures and workflows need to be addressed. Depending upon campus size, seemingly small workflows could potentially take longer than expected to develop. Will patrons be paying for their 3D prints? Which pieces of equipment warrant safety certification, and which can be made freely available without training? Who should be teaching the certification classes? How long should a patron be able to use a piece of equipment? All of these questions help inform the workflow development, and will help inform the character and value of the makerspace.
Prioritizing the development of an assessment plan, or, at a minimum, a mission statement, will present the vision for a makerspace, and allow progress towards that vision to be monitored in measurable increments. Makerspace technology can be intimidating to many students and faculty. Foundry staff are addressing this concern through the assessment plan, and by closely monitoring how welcome patrons feel in the space. Surveys are a great tool to better understand how patrons are engaging with spaces, services, and technical resources, and, in the case of The Foundry, assist in monitoring progress towards creating a welcoming space. Survey data can and should inform planning discussions, and can assist administrators in demonstrating an operational commitment to the mission.
Looking ahead to the next year, The Foundry will cross-reference data from multiple sources in order to refine existing workflows, and accommodate growing interest from faculty across campus. Increasing the number of strategic partnerships will hopefully open the door to interdisciplinary use of the space, with faculty from multiple departments partnering to teach workshops or courses that use Foundry resources. Additional funding and staffing will inevitably need to be pursued in order to accommodate these demands.
Even though The Foundry is in its infancy, it has generated enormous excitement across campus. Potential partners are continuously connecting with Foundry staff to discuss their ideas for collaborative use of the space. Faculty, staff, and students are demonstrating a vested interest in the space by submitting requests for new technology and services, and by sending positive words of encouragement, along with articles about makerspace projects that are inspiring to them. This type of excitement and willingness to stay engaged with a space can be difficult to find on large research university campuses, where competition for internal and external funding can be fierce. If the excitement, enthusiasm, and generosity of the campus community aren’t evidence of the value of a makerspace, then what is? When thinking about creating new communities, the final product may be less important than the process used to get there. Breaking down departmental and organizational barriers is not for the faint of heart, but with a willingness to collaborate and tackle challenges alongside one another, it can be done.
Amber Welch is Head of Technology Enhanced Learning at the University of Texas Libraries.
The Tobin International Geological Map Collection provides map materials in support of teaching and research within the Jackson School of Geosciences, its programs and related disciplines. As graphic summaries of earth and planetary data, maps are an integral part of geologic and geographic study as well as an important information source in various aspects of research in such fields as energy, engineering, land use planning, oceanography, physical and space sciences, environmental studies and the life sciences. To serve these disciplines, geologic, tectonic, stratigraphic, physiographic, geodetic, seismographic, outline, topical (such as soil and water survey), geophysical, structural, cross section, and index maps are required.
Located in the Walter Geology Library, the collection contains more than 50,000 maps and map texts that are arranged geographically. It functions as a working research collection that is more concerned with the utility of its maps for research rather than with their rarity as objects.
Tobin Surveys, Inc. of San Antonio endowed the Tobin collection in 1980 when it established the Tobin International Geological Library Fund to enable cartographic acquisitions. The collection aims for worldwide coverage of maps on geology and related subjects, but it is particularly dense in maps of Texas and select U.S. and foreign areas of geologic interest. The resources provide thorough coverage for North America (especially Texas and the Southwest), Mexico, Britain, Italy, Australia, Brazil and Turkey, with moderate coverage for the rest of the world.
The geologic map collection portrays surface and subsurface features, ages, and rock types at a variety of scales. Such maps are used for research in hydrocarbon and mineral exploration, hydrology, geomorphology and paleontology, archeology, and some engineering and architectural applications. The collection also includes some topographic or surface feature maps. Geologic and topographic maps largely are produced by and for governments around the world; however, some commercial maps are included in the collection.
The Tobin collection, in partnership with the Perry-Castañeda collection, serves as a federal depository for the maps of the United States Geological Survey (USGS). Through that arrangement, the collection maintains an almost complete set of the map series published by the USGS, including maps of various scales that provide users the ability to examine a continent, country, or more local geographic regions.
A large collection of geological maps of Greece and Italy, which are of special interest to archaeology and classics researchers, also are held in the collection. Overall, the resources of the Tobin Map Collection serve not only researchers within the geology, architecture, classics, archaeology, engineering, and geography departments, but also the general public.
Carolyn is a Texan, born and raised, and earned her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Master of Science in Information Studies from UT Austin. After graduation, she served stints at St. Edward’s University, and UT San Antonio, before returning to UT Austin to work as the Social Sciences Liaison Librarian for Human Development & Family Sciences, Kinesiology & Health Education, Psychology, Social Work, and Sociology.
Research topics are driven not only by access to resources, but quality resources, walk us through how you develop new and curate existing resources for the social sciences.
Carolyn Cunningham: Social scientists use a little bit of everything in their research, from statistical data gathered from research articles and government agencies, books, to qualitative interviews. Some of this information is freely available, but a large portion is only available through our library subscriptions. We try to stay on top of developments in the field so our researchers will have access to the latest journal articles. With publication prices going up and budgets staying the same or shrinking, we have to prioritize carefully to serve the many different types of experts in our fields.
Many social science students go on to work outside of academia after graduation, so they lose access to the library resources they had while they were in school. It is just as important for them to have access to the latest research while working as practitioners as when they are students. Social work students are a great example. The agencies and organizations they work for after graduation sometimes have affiliations that allow research access, but often they are on their own. I try to squeeze in lessons about how to find open access material, how to request material through the public library, and other access points while they are still on campus.
How many patrons do you service on the Forty Acres?
CC: In my role as subject liaison, I serve folks in the following departments, across multiple colleges: Human Development & Family Sciences, Kinesiology & Health Education, Psychology, Social Work, and Sociology. I serve over 4,000 patrons, which includes 316 faculty and instructors, 700 masters and doctoral students, and 3,000 undergraduate students.
I also work unofficially with programs that don’t fit within one department, and I serve the campus at large when I answer questions through the Ask a Librarian chat and at the PCL Research Help desk.
Day to day, we see you in front of classrooms alongside professors teaching students how to access research information or with individuals who have an idea for research but are not sure how to get started. What happens in those sessions?
CC: Teaching in the classroom and meeting with folks one-on-one are some of the best parts of my job. When a faculty member invites me to talk about the art of doing research and exposing the students to the available tools, it can be tough to narrow down the talking points to fit the time allotted. It’s easy for me to go on and on, knowing all the tools we offer. Usually my classroom sessions happen when the students are writing research papers and they need to cite scholarly sources. With undergraduates, I show them how to pick a database and choose keywords in order to find research articles. We spend time during the class thinking about who is writing about their topics, whose expertise is considered authoritative, and what things are appropriate to cite (for example, scholarly articles versus news articles, or cutting edge research versus well-established theory). With graduate students, their projects often require deep interaction with the research in their areas, so we talk about finding works by major authors, methodology, and the process of publishing research articles. I recently worked with a class in which several students wanted to design surveys and questionnaires to measure social behaviors and attitudes about gender bias in the workplace. I showed them how to use the databases to find examples of previous studies that utilize surveys and questionnaires to use as models.
In one-on-one consultations, the meeting is molded by the where the researcher is in their project, and by their comfort level doing research. Undergraduates in the social sciences are often learning about their topics for the first time, and are shaping personal interests into something they can tackle in their coursework. Immigration, access to healthcare, LBGTQ issues; if there is a news story about it, we can usually find scholarly literature to lay the foundation for a research project. In these cases, I spend a good amount of the meeting introducing them to tools beyond Google or Google Scholar, and showing them how to produce a good pool of results. Graduate students and researchers are typically more experienced with the main tools in their fields, so we talk through the best keywords to search, the kinds of things published on their topic, and how to make sure they are not missing any key research in their fields. But this is just the beginning. It can go off in all kinds of crazy directions, sending us deep into the stacks, or deep down an Internet rabbit hole. This is a nerdy example, but I once helped a student dig through pages from the Wayback Machine in the Internet Archive to find a research abstract that was written in Italian. The original website had been taken down, but we had a partial citation. He had Italian language skills, so while I navigated and searched, he translated what we were seeing. It was the epitome of a wild goose chase, but we eventually found the full citation and were able to request the article through our interlibrary loan service.
What is the most satisfying aspect of your job?
CC: Talking to researchers one-on-one in consultations is incredibly gratifying. I learn something new almost every time. There are many great parts about these meetings, but learning about the issues researchers are interested in is so cool. UT has many movers and shakers on campus, and our faculty often get interviewed by NPR and other media outlets. It’s cool to hear a faculty member on the radio who just invited me to work with their classes.
I had no idea about that part of the job when I went to library school. I toyed with the thought of going into museum studies or preservation, and those specialties remain interests of mine. But I knew academic librarianship was for me early in my time as a student worker in the Geology library, and later as an intern at PCL. Dissecting people’s research questions and connecting them to information somehow works really well with my curiosity and people-orientation. I also love the cross-section of folks on campus: undergrads who are grinding through the college experience so they can go out and do other things in the world, and folks who stay in academia and build expertise in their areas (among many others, of course).
Is there a particularly rewarding or transformational interaction you had during a consultation with a patron?
CC: Transformation is one of the highest goals of pedagogy, and those moments are awesome. Sometimes, I see small transformations of people’s understandings of their topic. I have been working with a graduate student for the past few months who is investigating how college athletes identify as students. Just to give a very specific example of something I consult on regularly, we were searching for articles about college athletes and their student identity, but were not getting good results. I did a little playing around with our search, and we found that the research more commonly refers to “learner identity” or “academic identity.” Once we tweaked the search terms, the databases cracked open and gave us much better results. This student will use what she learns to make recommendations about how to advise and support student athletes in their academic achievement. It’s a great project with very tangible applications.
Other times, the transformation is more apparent in the classroom. I’ve gotten thank you notes from instructors saying their students’ papers are higher quality after a library session. Or they will redesign assignments after having me visit their classes.
Once, a patron high-fived me at the reference desk for finding a book they needed. That was awesome.
Anything you can teach us that will help us in our personal life?
CC: Sure, I can show you a few tips so you can Google like a librarian. Searching within a website can be really useful. If you know certain information lives on a site, but you can’t remember how to get there, you can search that whole site for the page you want. For instance, to find the UT calendar, enter this into the Google search bar:
Or you can easily limit your results to certain website domains. This may be helpful if you want to learn about a topic, but not see every type of result related to it. Let’s say you want find research about coconut oil. If you do a regular Google search for “coconut oil,” you get a lot of varied results, including news, social media, and products for sale. But if you scope to .edu websites, you get useful stuff right up front. Enter this into the search bar:
On April 20, the Libraries joined students, alumni, faculty and friends of the Department of Chemistry in celebrating the grand opening of the renovated wing of Welch Hall after an almost 2-year construction project.
Attendees for the “Champagne & Sledgehammers” event got a first peek at the new space with speed talks by faculty researchers and scientists, some chemistry fun with explosive experiments by Dr. Kate Beiberdorf, various science demonstrations by students and even some liquid nitrogen ice cream.
Originally built in 1929, Welch is one of the university’s largest academic buildings, hosting 10,000+ UT students every day for classes, seminars and labs with its world class faculty. The renovation is the first phase in modernizing the facility for 21st century needs of the department, providing new classrooms, research and teaching labs, and infrastructure updates
The second phase of the project was simultaneously launched at the event, which will address needs in the newer 1978 wing of the building. The combined renovations will result in the transformation of a total 19,000 square feet of space — the first significant step in the College of Natural Sciences five-year Master Space Plan.
The Mallet Chemistry Library was featured centrally in the festivities, functioning as a meeting space straddling the two project areas where alumni joined to mingle with students and faculty, share in rounds of historical trivia about the department and indulge in some very scientific molecular gastronomy in the form of champagne caviar — little gelated balls of bubbly created through the liquid spherification.
Though outside the scope of the larger plans for Welch Hall, the Libraries are working with the College of Natural Sciences to develop a strategy for updates to the Chemistry Library that would enhance it as a community center for the sciences and incorporate more discipline-specific services and resources in alignment with other modernizations to the building. Current goals are to raise $3.5 million by the end of 2017 in order to begin design and planning efforts for library renovations.
The Fine Arts Library has a collection of over 500 zines focused on art, music, performance, as well as zines created by regional and local authors. Zines are typically described as self-published or DIY works that have limited editions. Zines are often made of 8 ½ by 11 sheets of paper folded in half and stapled together. Early zines emerged from science fiction fandom, though over time different social and counter-cultural movements adopted the medium as a way to disseminate information and share ideas. More recently, artists also adopted zines as a creative medium and method to distribute work outside mainstream channels within the art world. Many cities around the country and world, including our Texas neighbors in Houston and Dallas, have zine or independent publishing festivals.
Back in January, a group of Austin librarians and zine makers gathered to discuss the possibility of creating a new festival called Lone Star Zine Fest (LSZF). LSZF took place on June 11th at Cheer Up Charlies and was co-sponsored by UT Libraries, Sherwood Forest Library, Town Talk Library, and artist Josh Ronsen. The goal for this festival was to create a space for Austin’s artists, poets, zinesters, and zine-lovers to come together as a community to celebrate and share work. LSZF had close to 30 exhibitors participate and over 375 attendees during the Sunday afternoon event.
Longhorns were well represented at LSZF as exhibitors and attendees. Several graduate students, undergraduate students and staff shared their zines or small presses. The UT Libraries also had a table where Gina Bastone, English Librarian, and I highlighted the Zine Collection at Fine Arts Library and UT Poetry Center at the Perry-Castañeda Library.
Gina and I also created a zine to use as an outreach tool that playfully describes the two complementary collections to readers. Members of the public along with UT students, faculty, and staff who stopped by our table expressed surprise to hear these two collections were present within the libraries. The library zine proved to be a fun outreach tool that we plan to continue using with our respective departments.
In addition to working with Gina to promote our collections, I also represented UTL on the planning committee for the festival. Serving as a co-sponsor of this event, shows Longhorns and Austinites alike the value UTL places on supporting creativity on campus and within our city. As the liaison to the Art and Art History department, it is important to me to help create spaces on campus and within the greater Austin community that celebrate makers and their creative output. One of my favorite moments of the day was an exchange with an Art History student. Upon checking in to exhibit at the festival, the student remarked that I am their librarian. The student expressed excitement that UTL helped put on an event like LSZF. This was one of the many positive remarks heard from Longhorns throughout the day, demonstrating the importance events like this have to our community.
Stop by the Fine Arts Library or UT Poetry Center to see new zines and chapbooks acquired at the festival.
In February, one of the university’s oldest libraries — the Tower — celebrated a landmark 80th birthday. Not to be outdone, one of the youngest will mark its 40th this fall.
Situated just off the southeast edge of the original Forty Acres, construction of the Perry-Castañeda Library (PCL) was authorized by the UT System Board of Regents in 1972, and construction began a few years later. The project was completed and the doors swung wide for the incoming class on August 29, 1977. The Library still ranks as one of the largest academic library buildings in North America today.
Designed to serve as the main library of UT Austin, the six-level, open-stack facility is named for two former University professors, Ervin S. Perry and Carlos E. Castañeda. Professor Perry was the first African American to be appointed to the academic rank of professor, and Professor Castañeda played a central role in the early development of the Benson Latin American Collection.
In recognition of the anniversary, the Libraries will be hosting a series of events in the early fall, including an historical exhibit on the building, a panel discussion on the future of libraries, a blowout tailgate and a reception with members of the Perry and Castañeda families.
The events will take place September 7-9, so keep an eye on the calendar at the Libraries website for details and plan to join us in celebrating UT’s flagship library.
Each fall, a fresh-faced bunch of newlings comes to campus with dreams of independence and future prospects dancing about their heads, a world of opportunity and exciting new experiences presented at every corner. And at the end of each successive spring, harried and exhausted, the same students trudge about PCL all hours in a fog of dread and worry, struggling to meet project deadlines and prepare for finals.
In recent years, staff have attempted to ease attending anxieties by different means, from art therapy on the whiteboards throughout the library to partnering with campus units for healthy snacks and massage chairs to the recurring presence of therapy pets from local agencies, all of which efforts have been met with great appreciation from library users,
Being on the front line, our circulation staff have the most frequent contact with students in the throes of finals pressures, so they also tend to be the most attuned to the stress cycles, and are great at imagining ways to overcome or at least temporarily alleviate them.
This semester, staff wanted to try something new, something fun and goofy that would shake the doldrums and reinvigorate the weary denizens of PCL with a jolt of the unexpected. By now, most people have come across some version of the ubiquitous T-Rex costume that’s been a major currency of YouTube videos; that buzzy novelty is what created the spark of an idea for the eventual decision by staff to create their own costume persona that could serve as the embodiment of silliness and distraction for overtaxed students in need of a break.
Staff settled on creating the albino squirrel.
For the uninitiated, the albino squirrel* has become a bit of a folk hero around the Forty Acres. The squirrel (or squirrels — who knows?) is told in lore to be a harbinger of good fortune to anyone who spots the animal. Students are known to actively seek out the tree-dweller for particularly worrisome exams, so it made perfect sense for staff to conjure the animal for the benefit of students, especially at this particular time of the semester.
Being that staff had an idea and some spanking new tools with which to act upon it — in the form of the new Foundry makerspace in the Fine Arts Library — they only lacked volunteers to set about the task. From among their ranks they discovered that they had the requisite skill sets to create the form for the creature.
Early in the spring, senior library specialist Janeice Connors and Tré Miles, a student associate from the Kuehne Physics-Mathematics-Astronomy Library and Textiles major, began intermittent work on designing and creating a man-size version of the bushy-tailed talisman in the Fabric Arts Lab at the Foundry. By late April, the Connors and Miles had logged dozens of hours cutting, fitting, sewing and stuffing, and the suit was finally ready for its debut.
On Wednesday, May 10, accompanied by Libraries Director Lorraine Haricombe and Austin’s Pizza owner J.D. Torian, the albino squirrel stepped off the elevator on the 6th floor of PCL, and began a whirlwind tour of the library, spreading joy and smiles (And pizza. And KIND bars.) to appreciative students who got a much deserved break from their studies and a hopefully a little luck from their friends at the Libraries.
Postscript: Tré Miles graduated in May, and parlayed his experience building a squirrel (not really) to land a spot at Michael Kors in NYC. Congratulations, Tré!
*Yes, yes, Mr. Smartypants…we’re well aware that it’s not really an albino, just a rodent with a recessive gene.