Tag Archives: archivist

Collecting the Black Experience

A year ago, Rachel E. Winston joined the staff of the Benson Latin American Collection, taking on an entirely new post with the library as its Black Diaspora Archivist. The position is still one of few of its kind in the world, representing heightened attention in academia on diversity area studies, and a desire to collect the cultural history of an underserved population.

As African & African American Studies has joined the predominant fields at the university, the need for bibliographer support from the Libraries became increasingly clear. Winston’s work will involve enhancing existing resources at the Benson related to the African Diaspora in Latin America and the Caribbean, but will also push her to work with campus faculty and researchers to develop new collections in support of scholarly currents.

“I think in our present moment, black scholarship and the term ‘Black Diaspora’ has gained a lot of prominence mainly because we’ve reached a point where it can’t be ignored anymore,” says Winston. “So, the presence of black people, the contributions of black people, the impact of black people and black labor in societies worldwide has been there, has happened, but has been erased, has been ignored, has been forgotten and has been left out — intentionally and unintentionally — and so I think we’ve reached a point where the silence has become loud. People see the gaps and see the voids and there’s been more of a concerted effort to address that and to fill it.”

Winston’s initial focus has been on the work of processing a large set of materials given to the university by Dr. Edmund W. Gordon and Dr. Susan Gordon, which arrived at the university around the same time she joined the Libraries.  “Black intellectuals are underrepresented in archives. This project says that we value the contributions of Black intellectuals, professionals, and artists, and that we will promote their use. I can’t think of a better fit for our first Black diaspora collection.”

Through almost a century of collecting in Latin American, the Benson naturally amassed materials related to the Black Diaspora, but Winston’s presence will allow for the development of a more cohesive approach to building upon those existing resources and the research that has already sprung from them.

“I think as time goes on, we’ll begin to see Black Studies integrated much more throughout different disciplines. Black Studies itself will continue to be necessary. There’s such important work that’s being done. But I do think that the black presence throughout different disciplines will become more recognized and more commonplace. We’ll be able to really take the conversation further in a lot of places. It will be accepted, and we can go from there.”

Winston isn’t taking the work for granted. Taking on a nascent area of study that has been historically marginalized presents challenges in a variety of areas, including the development of a collections strategy, targeting and locating relevant materials and finding the financial support to build an archive.

The Black Diaspora archive recently received a boost in the form of an endowment provided by civic-minded Austinites Darrick and Chiquita Eugene. Their support will aid Winston at a time when budgets might not favor new initiatives, but she feels the significance of the task ahead of her.

“It’s hard work. It’s important work. But I foresee that the impact of black people and the contributions of black people will be much better known.”

People-Building for Today and Tomorrow

Strategy

“We will do things differently, and we will do different things.”

These were among the first words that Lorraine Haricombe offered to Libraries staff on her arrival one year ago, and that exhortation has been realized in large ways as a new strategic vision becomes reality.

While some changes are more subtle, the way that the human resources of the Libraries are being adapted to the evolving needs of our users and to technological advancements is distinctive. New faces are filling positions that are outside the traditional library mold as a means of addressing new currents and new fields of inquiry in ways that take advantage of opportunities in the digital realm, as well as within traditional institutional frameworks.

Over the past year, the Libraries have hired for a succession of new titles that were necessitated by adjustments in university priorities and developments in the practices of scholarship.

Katie Pierce-Meyer
Katie Pierce Meyer

One of the first moves made to reimagine the organizational structure within the Libraries occurred as the result of a vacancy at the Architecture & Planning Library, when head librarian Beth Dodd resumed her curatorial work in the Alexander Architectural Archive. Rather than simply refill the position as was originally planned, Haricombe worked with her executive team to adapt the title to a larger current in the field of digital humanities — an area of research and teaching at the intersection of computing and the disciplines of the humanities. The Libraries hired Katie Pierce Meyer as Humanities Librarian for Architecture and Planning both to take on a role as both administrative lead of the APL and also to focus on how to develop efforts in the digital humanities at a branch level that could be scaled to an organizational-wide scope.

Sean O'Bryan
Sean O’Bryan

The Libraries were in the process of reviewing its gifts policy even before Lorraine Haricombe arrived, and early decisions about putting controls on the intake of unsolicited gifts meant that head of gifts processing Sean O’Bryan could be redeployed toward another important priority. Sean was hired to the position of Collections Strategist, where he has become the catalyst for development of a new strategic policy for collections management. His work now is core to the improvement of efforts to move from print to electronic resources.

Rachel Winston
Rachel Winston

As African & African American Studies has joined the predominant fields at the university, the need for bibliographer support from the Libraries has become clear. Especially relevant to our existing resources is the growing focus on the African Diaspora in Latin America and the Caribbean, and with the recent attention given to our southern neighbors by UT President Greg Fenves, we recently hired Rachel Winston as Black Diaspora Archivist at the Benson Latin American Collection. Winston will work to enhance the Benson’s holdings while developing university collaborations to strengthen scholarship in this burgeoning field.

Jessica Trelogan
Jessica Trelogan

The importance of digital collections and electronic resources remains on an upward trajectory, so there is a constant need to reconsider strategy for making the most of campus technology for institutional gain. Between the expansion of digitization efforts, the prioritization of Open Access, and the unabated growth of Big Data in research, finding ways to manage a new universe of information has become essential. Jessica Trelogan recently became our new Data Management Coordinator to build, maintain and enhance the data services deployed by the Libraries. She’ll work closely with our campus partners at places like the Texas Advanced Computing Center and Information Technology Services to ensure that we’re making the best use of resources across the Forty Acres.

Ashley Adair
Ashley Adair

As digital collections continue to grow, the need has arisen for a dedicated custodian to manage both the born-digital and digitized materials that increasingly are the currency of library collections. Ashley Adair joined the Libraries Preservation Department last year as Digital Archivist to take over stewardship of digitized collections across its various libraries and archives, where she plays an active role in the acquisition, appraisal, arrangement and description of these modern core resources.

Boris Brodsky
Boris Brodsky

Technology has also created new opportunities for study at UT, and not just in the STEM fields. The university recently announced the formation of a degree in Creative Arts and Entertainment Technology within the College of Fine Arts, and the students of that program will rely heavily on a space being developed at the Fine Arts Library. The Foundry — a digitally-focused maker space within the library — will feature a recording studio, fiber art studio, video production studio, gaming studio, digital media lab and more. To support the student needs both within the new program and across relevant technology and design studies at UT, the Libraries created a librarian position for Arts and Creative Technologies, and hired FAL veteran Boris Brodsky. Brodsky will be the custodian of the Foundry, and will build from scratch the liaison role that the Libraries have with students and faculty in this exciting new program.

These are just the initial movements of a transformational time at the University of Texas Libraries, where we’re doing different things and doing things differently.