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.

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.

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