Tag Archives: Collections

Hurricane Harvey from satellite imagery. NOAA/NASA GOES Project.

Recovering from Harvey

The recent succession of weather events provided a rather inauspicious beginning to the new semester, though the main campus and our local branches have been spared all but an abundance of rain. Our family and friends along the coast, however, weren’t so lucky.

For those who attempt to recall the list of branch locations overseen by the UT Libraries, it’s not uncommon to overlook the one library that doesn’t reside in Austin, but rather on a usually pastoral stretch of sand a few blocks from the Gulf of Mexico. The Marine Science Library serves the faculty and researchers at UT’s Marine Science Institute (MSI) in Port Aransas, which is just across the bay from Rockport, Texas — a city that was the focal point for much of the news coverage surrounding the arrival of Hurricane Harvey on Friday, August 25. Port Aransas actually took a direct hit from Harvey and suffered catastrophic damage, which was also visited upon the MSI, including the building where the library is located.

Hurricane Harvey landfall.

As a matter of course, the Libraries have a Collections Emergency Team composed of relevant administrators, dedicated facility staffers and outstanding preservation experts, who jump to action in the event of a threat to the resources or infrastructure of the libraries.  With any storm of Harvey’s magnitude and destructive impact, staff are paying close attention and preparing for potential issues, but in the case of this hurricane and the position of its landfall, most proactive considerations gave way to planning how to react to whatever damage would inevitably be wrought upon the library and its collections.

Immediately in the wake of the storm, the island and the surrounding areas lost power and, subsequently, most communications were sporadic at best. It wasn’t until Sunday that the Libraries became aware of the extent of damage to MSI, but without specific information about the library, so staff began to prepare for the worst possibilities. Liz DeHart, the Libraries’ liaison at MSL, was contending with the personal effects of Harvey and unable to get to the library, and administrators at MSL were prioritizing assessment of the impact on research assets and infrastructure at the campus, which had suffered severe damage. Representatives from the College of Natural Sciences (CNS) in Austin became the conduits for information about the situation on the ground, and eventually an initial assessment was returned suggesting that the damage to the library was hopeful, with wet floors, but dry books — almost miraculous, since the same building that contained the library had extensive roof damage, flooding and blown out windows. But there was also no air conditioning or power, and as one might imagine, paper doesn’t fare well to exposure to the balmy coastal climate of late summer. As much as the team wanted to rush to the coast on a rescue mission, widespread destruction, impassable roads and a moratorium on travel to the island by non-residents made that seem like an impossibility.

Roof of MSI where the library lives.
Roof of MSI where the library lives.

By Wednesday, August 30 — the first full day of the fall semester — staff had worked with CNS to obtain permission for a response team to travel to Port Aransas to assess damage and hopefully, recover the most valuable of the  close to $9,000,000 worth of collections, but there was a caveat: they had one day to do it.

A team of Geoff Bahre (Manager), Matt McGuire and Bill Gannon from the Facilities & AV unit along with Joey Marez, a library specialist from the Preservation department, immediately began preparations for all contingencies that could be imagined on a first trip into a storm disaster zone: food, water, tools and equipment, supplies for any mechanical trouble. And gas.

Geoff Bahre, Joey Marez and Bill Gannon grab a much-deserved break.
Geoff Bahre, Joey Marez and Bill Gannon grab a much-deserved break.

The window was tight, so the team left Austin at 3:30 a.m. on Friday, September 1, agreeing to make sure they refilled fuel on the south side of San Antonio, but discovered that the rush on gas stations had already drained supplies when they stopped to refuel. A fortunate encounter with a kind soul at a local pancake house directed the team to a station with adequate fuel supplies, and the team continued its journey to the coast.

Because the ferry wasn’t yet operational, the team had to travel through Corpus Christi and up the length of Mustang Island to reach Port Aransas in the mid-morning hours of Friday.

Upon arrival, an initial assessment verified earlier information about the state of the library — some wet flooring, but the books were dry, and no apparent mold — and even some welcome evidence that local administrators at MSI had taken measures to mitigate environmental threats with the arrival of fans and dehumidifiers that were powered by portable generators.

The environment in the library, nonetheless, wasn’t at an optimum stability, so the team began to identify items that they would return to Austin for temporary safekeeping and care. Thanks to earlier efforts to identify salvage priorities, the team was charged with bringing back 900 special collection items, and due to conservative estimation, were able to also rescue additional theses, dissertations and maps.

By 8 p.m. that evening, the team had returned to Austin with the most valuable resources from the MSL in tow. The following week, MSL staffer Marg Larsen relocated to Austin temporarily due to the storm, and so was available to process and assist in storing the rescued materials in the Collections Deposit Library at UT to await their inevitable return to their home in Port Aransas.

There are currently no firm timelines for recovery and reopening of the Institute or the Library, but as with a Gulf hurricane or other natural and unnatural disasters, we’ll be prepared when the time comes.

It’s easy to imagine that a library is a simple machine where books fall onto a shelf and then into hands before returning to the shelf again, uncomplicated by the affairs and events beyond its doors and walls. But out of sight and mind, there are an army of loyal people working to build, protect, rescue and share our body of collective knowledge, both in the face of an average day or during extraordinary times.

Looking forward to rebuilding.
Looking forward to rebuilding.

The Libraries and García Márquez

Gabriel García Márquez working on “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” Credit: Guillermo Angulo/Harry Ransom Center

As the university wraps up this year’s Fleur Cowles Symposium “Gabriel García Márquez: His Life and Legacy,” it’s worth noting the Libraries (specifically the Benson Latin American Collection and LLILAS Benson) involvement in support of the noted Colombian author’s archive at the Harry Ransom Center.

The Benson’s Mexican materials bibliographer Jose Montelongo accompanied Ransom Center director Stephen Ennis on a trip to Mexico City, where García Márquez spent his final years, to review the archive materials, and upon the announcement of the acquisition, Montelongo responded to media inquiries providing perspectives on the importance of the archive to the university and researchers, and on the author’s station in the literary canon.

As the premiere Latin American special collection in the western hemisphere, the Benson will provide the complementary resources and support for researchers who come to Austin to utilize the García Márquez archive, further strengthening the partnership between the two institutions.

An article by the Austin-American Statesman on the recent opening of the archive drives home the importance of the relationship between the Ransom Center and the Benson.

Listen to a Public Radio International interview with Jose Montelongo on the acquisition of the archive of Gabriel García Márquez:

 

Reflections on a Practicum

Mark GoodwinMark Goodwin is a project assistant for HeadsUpGuys and student librarian in the Music, Art and Architecture Library at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. He undertook a practicum with Music Librarian David Hunter of the Fine Arts Library at UT this spring. He has graciously provided the following reflections on his time in Austin.

For my two-week practicum, I was extremely fortunate to be given the opportunity to work under Music Librarian and Musicologist Dr. David Hunter at the Fine Arts Library at the University of Texas in Austin. My time there resulted in profound growth on both a professional and personal level.

The Fine Arts Library.Dr. Hunter was an outstanding mentor. He has a tremendous amount of experience and knowledge relating to the profession and was more than willing to share this wealth of experience with me. He was also exceptionally kind and constantly made sure I was getting the most out of my time, even going above an beyond my role in the library to inform me of events occurring throughout the city. In terms of my role, Dr. Hunter had me take on an assistant-type position in which I shadowed him and helped with his daily duties. This was key to making the experience an invaluable one for me, and I am extremely grateful to Dr. Hunter for giving me this role. Continue reading

Benson Featured in ¡Ahora Sí!

The Benson Latin American Collection has received a feature profile in the latest edition of the Austin American Statesman’s Spanish language weekly, ¡Ahora Sí!

Timing is everything: the Benson opens its exhibition Frente a Frente: The Mexican People in Independence and Revolution, 1810 & 1910, this evening.

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.

Libraries launch online wish list

texlibris_wishlistMaking a wish is easy, but getting it fulfilled takes…well it takes you!

The University of Texas Libraries invites you to help us build our library collection by picking an item on our online wish list.

I talk with people all the time about supporting our library. Many of them feel that libraries are very important, but they never think to put their money where their passion is. And when they do they feel that their $150, $400 or $ 1,000 is not really enough to make a difference in the lives of our students and faculty.

The truth is that $150 does make a difference. In the next year, the University of Texas Libraries will add more than 100,000 books to its collection, which will support the learning, research and knowledge of our 50,000 students and Continue reading