Category Archives: Services

Meet the Talents: Jenifer Flaxbart

Jenifer Flaxbart assists a patron with reseach help.
Jenifer Flaxbart assists a patron with reseach help.

We talk much of collections and spaces as the resources of great relevance to our users. But let’s not neglect the incredible expertise represented by our staff, whose skill and talent provide the basis for all of the work libraries do.

Jenifer Flaxbart is the Assistant Director of Digital Scholarship for the University of Texas Libraries. She directs the recently created Digital Scholarship department within the Academic Engagement division. Her portfolio includes Digital Scholarship projects, education and partnerships, Research Data Services, Scholarly Communication and Open Access initiatives and the Scholars Commons, a pilot space and related services designed to support scholars engaged in the research lifecycle.

She received her MILS from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and a BA in English Literature from Hiram College.


Why did you decide to enter the field of library and information science? What motivated you to seek a library degree?

Jennifer Flaxbart.
Jennifer Flaxbart.

Jenifer Flaxbart: I knew I wanted to become part of a profession that facilitates the sharing of information and creation of new knowledge. My high school Math teacher opened each new chapter with a lecture and one was about the Ancient Library of Alexandria. I realized my goals for my own education and career aligned with the opportunities provided by the field.

How has your relationship with academic scholars changed over the years?

JF: I have been in several roles in which I’ve been the information conduit for students and faculty, connecting them with relevant resources through the collections acquisition, research consultation, online guides and video tutorials, classroom instruction and frontline reference assistance at a service desk or via a virtual chat service.

More recently I’ve worked with scholars through focus groups, steering committee work, and collaboration to inform space renovation initiatives, plans services and events, and work to create partnerships in pursuit of shared objectives.

Right now I’m participating in a series of Town Hall conversations with faculty about the next big research question at UT Austin through a program called Bridging Barriers that’s coordinated by the Office of the Vice President for Research. The UT Libraries submitted a concept paper that was layered into each of the six themes under discussion. We are well-positioned to assist researchers with data management as well as the creation of Open Educational Resources (OERs). OERs communicate research outcomes and impacts in transparent ways that support students in their studies and benefit members of the public.

How have the ways academic scholars research changed over the years and how has that changed your job?

JF: I’ve been an information professional for over two decades. During that time, I have helped others conduct research in many ways, using card catalogs, CD-ROMs, online databases that charge by the use, and databases that charge by the year. I’ve championed and leveraged the technological shift that enables expanded access as we have transitioned from print-based to online searching.

Because technology enables remote access, research can be done almost anywhere. Students and faculty can work at home and in coffee shops or airports as easily as they can in the library. If you watch them in action, they typically use a hybrid approach: several devices, such as a smart phone and a laptop or tablet, as well as a print book or two and some paper notes.

Many who have experienced this migration retain a fondness for the printed object: content that can be cradled, carried, stashed and retrieved at will, without the aid of a computer or device. Yet technology can enhance access to content in many ways. Digital formats can ensure that the content endures beyond the life of the paper on which it’s printed.

Libraries have, in an effort to accommodate group project work as well as the need for silent study, evolved spaces formerly dedicated to the storage of physical formats to compelling, flexible spaces equipped with embedded technology and robust wireless networks. The spaces and added-value services provided attract students and faculty engaging in the modes of research, teaching and learning that define higher education today.

Can you think of an example where access to content has been transformational in your personal life?

JF: Being able to source article or book content from our collections or through our InterLibrary Services unit is one of the privileges of UT affiliation. I’ve leveraged this access in simple ways, like using authoritative reviews to inform major purchases, and in more profound ways that enrich my professional knowledge and my parenting style.

Another fun example of how content can be personally impactful, for my family, is Turner Classic Movies (TCM). The classic film content preserved and shown by TCM provides context for cultural norms and timeless themes, readily available on basic cable. Thanks to TCM, our 8-year-old daughter knows who Marilyn Monroe and Bette Davis were, and her favorite film is the Billy Wilder comedy Some Like It Hot. She and her 13-year-old sister enjoy being scared by Alfred Hitchcock and convulsed by the Marx Brothers. Without vision, technology, and funding, TCM wouldn’t be able to fulfill its mission. It is a credible source of information about and access to an impressive vault of film content.

Likewise, the UT Libraries collect, organize, preserve, and provide access to content. If the content is in digital form, or we can create a digital derivative of it, we can do more with it. We can make it easier to discover and more visible. We can make it available to anyone with an Internet connection on the other side of the globe.

How will libraries mesh the use of print and electronic resources?

JF: This is already happening every day. Content is often available in multiple formats, in print and online, and what’s online can be printed. We make a significant investment in electronic resources, both because some things are only available in that way and because online access extends the reach and impact of these resources. When materials are unrestricted by copyright, we can also digitize and share content worldwide, as with our PCL Map Collection.

What is the academic libraries role in affordability in higher education?

JF: We provide curriculum-aligned research materials, particularly academic journal content that is peer-reviewed, rigorous research, book content and aggregated, proprietary database content, including music, film and special reports that contain proprietary information. This licensed content is subscribed to or purchased by the UT Libraries in support of all students, leveling the playing field in support of student success.

Additionally, we continue to advocate Open Access, to mitigate or eliminate the cost of subscription-based access, given that some of the authors of that content are right here at UT. And we encourage the creation and sharing of Open Educational Resources (OERs) so that faculty and students can access and reuse, revise, remix and redistribute resources that fuel teaching and learning in current and compelling ways.

How do you foresee patrons interacting with libraries in the future?

JF: I think about the Ancient Library of Alexandria and its’ destruction, and draw connections between the past and what’s to come. Physical materials, papyrus and artifacts, are always at risk. Few have direct access to such items and too little is known about the treasures held behind closed cabinet doors.

Technology makes the capture and delivery of irreplaceable content and information about it, what we call metadata, which describe the physical format as well as subject matter, possible in ways unimagined. It enables a scholar in another time zone or on another continent to look at and learn from a digital derivative of a printed pamphlet or text from an earlier era. And the magic of technology extends to ensuring that this captured content is preserved even if the original is lost.

Some argue that artifacts like a scroll or fibula must be experienced in person. When that isn’t possible, technology offers a via alternative, from scanned pages of a calligraphed manuscript to a 3-D printer-generated replica of a metal tool. I would argue that these visual and palpable replicas are vital windows into the past, and that with appropriate funding, staffing and technological resources, libraries are well-positioned to enable and evolve new levels of access to and engagement with content for all forms of scholarly endeavor.

The UT Libraries Student Experience

Students get some pet therapy.
Students get some pet therapy.

“Thank you for representing comradery for the university experience. For me, [the Libraries] serve as everything from academic and professional home bases, to safe spaces where friends can chat and grab coffee between classes, to settings where team work and innovation flourish at all hours of the day and night. The libraries are where we go to reinforce friendships, academics, as well as our longhorn pride.”
—Judy Albrecht, Psychology, Junior

2.5 million visitors passed through the gates of the University of Texas Libraries in 2016. That gate count is the equivalent of 25 home games at full capacity at Darrell K. Royal stadium. Have you ever wondered what students do at UT Libraries?

Some students come to UT Libraries because it is integrated into the UT curriculum. Librarians teach students the fundamentals of research at a tier-1 research university. At our core, the library is about experiences, not just lending books.

In library classrooms, librarians work with faculty to teach students to be better researchers. Students learn to navigate our materials (10 million volumes in our collections, our online maps, images, databases, e-journals, e-books, news sources, and government information), of course, but library instruction is most concerned with developing critical thinking skills. 18 and 19 year-old students stepping foot on the Forty Acres need to learn to evaluate sources of information for reliability, to use information ethically, and to consider what information will best meet their needs.

Students can learn how to conduct research in free classes provided by the Libraries.

Librarians are available to help students in each of these areas in classes and one-on-one at the reference desk. In fact, the UT Libraries provided over 50,000 individual reference sessions for students and faculty, and welcomed almost 12,000 attendees to Library Instruction Sessions in 2016. The skills we teach in these sessions are essential to success in college, and library instruction is one way we participate in UT’s efforts to increase retention and progression.

Students come to UT Libraries for the special things we have. Thanks to private philanthropy, students have access to everything from special collections to cutting-edge software and gadgets. Imagine yourself cheering the Longhorns at Darrell K. Royal stadium. Now imagine eleven football fields, that is the space our books, reference materials, classrooms, collaborative study spaces, and technology would fill!

A Foundry student technician talks with Lorraine Haricombe about 3D printing.
A Foundry student technician talks with Lorraine Haricombe about 3D printing.

Over the years, UT Libraries asked students, faculty, and staff, “What do our student need to succeed?” We learned students needed spaces for in-house tutoring for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. UT Libraries met these needs by working with campus partners to build the STEM Study Areas and tutoring spaces in the PCL. Students wanted a space to talk, work, and learn together, so we created PCL’s Collaborative Commons. Students needed computer labs with advanced software, new equipment like 3D printers, and creative spaces like a recording lab, and with the help of donors we created the Foundry, the Scholars Commons, and enhanced the media lab, meeting each of these needs

A student at work on a multimedia project.
A student at work on a multimedia project.

Students come to UT Libraries to meet classmates to work on projects. They pick UT Libraries because we are open 24 hours, 5 days a week and they feel safe here. Just how safe are the UT Libraries? Enough for students to bring in blankets, pillows, and sleeping bags and use us as their temporary home for all-nighters during finals week. It is not unusual to see a student wake up early in the morning and head out to take their test. We’ve even seen a student set up a tent in PCL.

We do all we can to provide safe and comfortable spaces for students. Parents can take comfort knowing their student has to show their UTID card past a security guard after 10pm to get in and out of the library.

Tents occasionally pop up in the libraries during finals.
Tents occasionally pop up in the libraries during finals.

The academic rigors, competitiveness, and challenges that take toll on students are also on the forefront of our mind. We help students relieve stress with therapy dogs during finals week, and ask them to send postcards home so parents know they’re okay (and studying).

The UT Libraries are an integral part of the overall student experience, whether it is providing research guidance, cutting-edge technology, or safe innovative spaces that serve as incubators where ideas and progress are born at all hours of the day.

Smarter Systems at UT Libraries: Cloud Printing

Accessing cloud printing at PCL.

Contemporary application of technologies demands reimagination of libraries as creative academic spaces instead of just learning hubs. For the campus community, the Libraries are committed to delivering essential services in the most efficient way possible; a recently-launched cloud printing system is another step in this direction by the Libraries’ IT department, and we take pride in it.

Using the Pharos app to queue a job.In only two months, this service has redefined a significant part of user experience both online and onsite. The print stations are already experiencing periods of capacity use, and future expansion of the service is a likely reality. With the new and smarter cloud printing system, the requirement of printing more efficiently has been addressed. All printers within the UT Libraries system are now connected to a cloud printing portal —  MyPrintCenter. It can be accessed by UT students, faculty and staff to upload documents that they need printed without having to be physically present near a computer within the Libraries. Users may select an uploaded document at any Library printer and collect the printouts at their convenience within a 24-hour period. As an alternative to the cloud printing portal, print jobs can be sent to the system via a simple email. The system also integrates a smartphone application —  Pharos Print — into the printing service to augment its usability and mobile access for users.

That was simple.
That was simple.

Through better aligning our technological initiatives and muscle with our patrons’ behavior patterns and needs, IT at UT Libraries is dedicated to achieve a user-centric vision. We are exploring a number of exciting projects, aiming to hone and implement agile and innovative technologies to expand the UT Libraries systems with an eye toward the next advancement to benefit Libraries’ users.

Sarah Fahim is a graduate research assistant working in the UT Libraries’ IT department – Online Experience Team. She is working toward her graduate degree in Advertising at the Moody College of Communication.

A Parents’ Survival Guide for Finals

Photo courtesy UT Division of Student Affairs.
Photo courtesy UT Division of Student Affairs.

Imagine this — your student just returned to campus from Thanksgiving Break and realized that finals are just around the corner.  What do they do?  Panic?  Eat more mashed potatoes or pie and try to forget about it?  I’ll never argue with more pie, but when your student calls to talk about this stressful time, tell them that instead of panicking or eating their feelings, they can take advantage of services offered within the libraries.

University Writing Center at PCL.
University Writing Center at PCL.

PCL houses several partner organizations who offer great services to students:

  • The Writing Center (in PCL) offers help at any point in the writing process.  Tell your student that good writers seek feedback!  Appointments here
  • The Sanger Center’s Public Speaking Center is now open in PCL – their consultants can offer suggestions on any presentation or speech assignment.  Appointments here  
  • Tutoring for intro-level Calculus, Biology, and Chemistry courses is now available in PCL’s UFCU room.  See the schedule

Help at the desk.

The UT Libraries house many new services for students, but librarians have always been available to help with research.  Students can ask us questions about finding sources of information, about choosing or narrowing a topic, about when and how to cite sources, and about which sources of information are credible.  We are available to help in several ways.  Your student can:

If your student has an assignment that involves technology, we can help with that too!  They can:  

We know that finals are stressful, so we want to help with your student’s work AND help them de-stress.  With dogs!  We have therapy dog study breaks a few times at the end of the semester:

Kona from Austin Dog Alliance.

We Are Family

Family Weekend 2016 at PCL.
Family Weekend 2016 at PCL.

UT Libraries welcomed over 200 individuals to its main library, the Perry-Castañeda Library, and made many more connections at the Great Texas Showcase during Family Weekend.

Your students are in great hands with UT Libraries!

Help us help your family and remind your student that:

  • UT Libraries has 10 libraries across campus and many of them have extended hours to help your student during crunch time.
  • Our libraries have quiet and collaborative floors and some libraries have reservable group study rooms.
  • You can visit or chat online with a librarian for help with your research projects.
  • PCL’s Learning Commons has writing, public speaking, and media project support available through one-on-one appointments or through workshops @ PCL.
  • Students can use computers and printers in any library. PCL and the Fine Arts Library have media labs with specialized hardware and software.
  • Find books, ebooks, movies, music, journal articles, and more online and in the library. You can also check for course readings at the front desk!
  • Headphones and calculators are available for check out in more libraries; the Fine Arts Library even has cool equipment like GoPro cameras and tablets available.
  • The Libraries host free concerts, workshops, study breaks, lectures, panels, and therapy dogs. Find out more on social media! (Event calendar)

Interested in getting more involved with UT Libraries or have suggestions for next year? Please contact us at events@lib.utexas.edu

Sharing Tech Resources with Campus

One of the Libraries' many computer labs.
One of the Libraries’ many computer labs.

We talk much about the collections (physical and digital) and spaces at the UT Libraries, but there’s a significant technology infrastructure in place to facilitate access and digitally preserve the Libraries’ massive assemblage of electronic resources. To maintain those important tools, a highly-trained cadre of technology professionals is constantly on call to respond to issues, discover and implement technological innovations and provide for the support needs of staff.

As the Libraries have continued to explore ways to expand services to address the needs of campus, we’ve considered how we might leverage this technical expertise to provide support beyond the Libraries.

Chris Carter — the Libraries’ Director of Planning and Operations — was approached by representatives of the McCombs School of Business after they heard a description of the cost model for supporting UT Libraries labs. McCombs Director David Burns wondered if that support could be scaled to provide lab support in the Business School. Carter and his staff ran the numbers and took the proposal to Libraries administration, who roundly backed the evaluative project, and after a pilot period in Summer 2015, Libraries’ IT Infrastructure staff took over the tech support of a lab at the McCombs School.

Under the terms of service, the Business School purchases the hardware and secures licensing of specialized software, and the Libraries provides installation and support of operating systems, applications and updates for the computers; when there’s a problem with a PC, Libraries IT staff respond to address it. Fees charged per computer by the Libraries was determined to allow for the accommodation of additional IT staff should growth of the lab make it necessary.

Computers at the PMA Library.
Computers at the PMA Library.

Along with the branches, this brings the support coverage area maintained by Libraries staff to 14 locations, and Carter feels that there is room to expand to provide the service to other interested parties on campus.

“We structure the service so that it fits into our current, lean and efficient desktop support approach,” says Carter. “The cost per PC for support is intended to allow us to add an FTE if we increase the service so much that it needs an extra person. For now, we just rely on the excellent and efficient people we currently have.  In particular, the excellent systems administration skills of David Roberts makes this possible.”

The College of Natural Sciences recently contributed 20 additional units to the Mallet Chemistry Library — bringing the number of computers to 32 — and provided specialized software, but, in this case, the Libraries simply took ownership of the expanded lab. The opportunities for growth in the third-party support model for campus computer labs, though, is extensive thanks to an ever-present need for technology.

Computers at Fine Arts.
Computers at Fine Arts.

Carter thinks the Libraries are well-suited to play the support role for other campus partners by virtue of what we’ve learned from internal efforts.

“We see the service from the perspective of supporting a high volume 24/7 kind of operation in PCL and extend the same service offering to anyone who wants to have a library lab in their space,” Carter says. “The McCombs lab is a 24/7 facility for business students and we’ve been able to both replicate what is available in PCL and customize it for their needs.  It’s a good model of a basic, replicable service that will both scale and also allow for local customization depending on the discipline.”

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.

Stay Safe Out There

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If you’ve recently been in or around PCL (and you’re a college-age student at UT), you’ve probably noticed the increased activity, especially in the hours between midnight and 4 a.m. Those late-night denizens of the central branch library at the university are a result of the expanded 24/5 service — 24-hour, 5 day-a-week — that went into effect in mid-October as the result of work by Student Government to raise the necessary funding.

While those late hours are a good thing for the students who need a place to put in dedicated study time (or for those who waited until the eleventh hour to get started), it also means that individuals will need to traverse the campus to get to and from the library in the middle of the night, a less than optimal prospect.

Student Government, however, was also able to improve this situation.

The organization developed SURE Walk, a student-run volunteer group that provides walks to and from campus to students, faculty and staff of the university, with the help of both male and female student volunteers selected from university sanctioned organizations across the campus. You can read more about it here.

The program has existed for a few years now, but SG recognized that the bulk of increases in requests would likely come from the space they fought to keep open, so they’ve decided to move the operation to the place that makes the most sense, and will be working out of the PCL, providing an extra measure of safety (and relief) to students (and parents).

SG representatives will have a small kick-off party tonight (11/14/12) at 8 p.m. in the UFCU room at the PCL, so come out and support them for making life a little safer on campus.

Tip Jars in the Library?

We all know the cliche, “a picture is worth a thousand words”, so in age of YouTube and TwitterLibrary Instruction Services decided that collapsing our text-heavy web pages into succinct and visually stimulating comics and videos would help bridge new media, instruction-on-demand, and quick reference for our time-strapped undergraduates.

The idea for these short light-hearted videos evolved over time to incorporate comics instead of actor librarians; we’re slightly camera shy here and creating comic alto-egos mean we’ll never have a bad hair day. Staff in Library Instruction Services scripted the vignettes, and our Library Assistant and resident-artist Elise Nacca and Graduate Research Assistant Krystal Wyatt-Baxter used a free version of Bitstrips to create characters and dialogue incorporating the scripted scenarios.

Since their release in September 2010, the Tip Jar posts have covered topics such as how to use Google Scholar, narrowing a topic and placing it in context , finding E-Books and more.

Creating this digital content means that it’s easily distributed and re-purposed depending on student and staff needs. For instance, Tip Jar instructional videos are integrated with a collection of videos created by students from our 2009 Library Video Contest to be used in the Undergraduate Studies First-year Interest Group program as a way to introduce the students to library services in a fun and flexible way. We’ve also included these videos within our online research guides for course-integrated instruction or during a reference exchange over our Ask A Librarian chat service.

The posts run every other Monday on our News For Undergraduates Blog, which also incorporates events, resources, and items of interest for the University of Texas undergrad community. Stop by and get a tip from us!

Cindy Fisher is the First-year Experience Librarian, Library Instruction Services.


Survey says…

LQlogoWithText copyThe Libraries have fired up another round of the LibQUAL+ survey hoping to get some solid feedback on the quality of service around the branches.

This will be the eighth time we’ve randomly queried students and faculty about their perceptions of resources, collections, service, facilities and the like, and the program has been ramped up this year in order to generate higher response rates. We’ve scaled to the LibQUAL Lite version of the online survey to keep it short and simple; the current version takes about 5 minutes to complete, hitting on a smaller sample of the core questions.

We’re also trying to get in front of people with signage in conspicuous locations, and offering some carrots to the student participants in the way of automatic entry – upon completion of the survey – into drawings for one of two 16GB Apple iPads or an Amazon Kindle. How’s that for motivation?

Invitations to 4,800 current students and 1,200 faculty went out last week and the survey ends April 16, so if you’re here at the University of Texas and think you might have overlooked the initial solicitation, it might be worth taking a moment to check. This minute imposition is one of the primary ways we get real, quantifiable data directly from our users regarding the ways we can improve the Libraries for everyone, so let your voice be heard.