infrastructure

The library of the future starts with infrastructure

This commentary appeared in the Houston Chronicle, August 26, 2017.

Ask what the campus library does and many will say, “It provides access to books.” Looking toward the future, if libraries are to succeed, they will need to increase investment in services that extend beyond such user assumptions. Libraries should invest in virtual spaces that complement existing technology, unique collections, and content expertise, and library space as a concept will need to be redefined to accommodate work in new arenas.

In a 2015 AACU survey employers reported that they believe only 27 percent of recent graduates are proficient at written communication and even fewer are “innovative/creative”. When thinking about this in concert with student impressions of campus technology in a 2016 ECAR study, the library must contribute to both creative and deepened use of technology in the classroom. Leading students into virtual environments to create research products, utilizing classrooms designed with multiple screens for active small group work, and helping students manage work with the use of project management tools all present opportunities for rich collaborative teaching partnerships between librarians and faculty.

It’s also important for libraries to invest in infrastructure to support web publishing platforms, virtual reality, makerspaces, and large visualization walls that complement existing university resources. Integrating these technologies into the classroom experience will challenge us all to think in new ways about where and how learning occurs. Libraries can provide support to students and teachers as they engage with, critically examine, and build community in and around these spaces. But in order for this to occur, a shift in the way people conceptualize library spaces and services has to occur. By working in new environments, libraries can help students improve communication and develop critical thinking and digital literacy skills that will serve them in all areas of their lives.

In order for us to be successful, campus level administrators have to provide a seat at the executive table for library leadership. Increasing the visibility of challenges being faced by libraries sheds light on the complexity of our current operating environments. Sharing information about the value of library services, and about staffing and IT infrastructure needs, provides an opportunity for those that are invested in the library to ask questions about future directions and provide input on anticipated needs.

Libraries are increasingly becoming key testing grounds for innovative classes and research projects that take advantage of emerging technologies. Administration can demonstrate support for these innovative faculty-library collaborations by providing financial, administrative, and moral support for departments that are attempting to reinvigorate the curriculum. Libraries are not operating in the same way that they were five years ago, and it is imperative that administrators see and fully understand the ways in which our services are evolving, and the ways in which our services provide pathways for new ways of teaching and learning.

Library leaders, similarly, need to fully understand the challenges faced by library staff as they revise organizational and operational models to accommodate new working environments. By providing services in hybrid environments, libraries are demonstrating their capacity to play a key partner role in the teaching and learning process in higher education. This role can advance the critical inquiry and discourse skills of our students, and can contribute to student success post-graduation.

So much of what we think about when we think about our students after graduation is focused on success in the workplace, but at a higher level, many in academic communities are concerned with the development and evolution of civil society. As we expand library services more and more into virtual spaces, we will increasingly ask our communities to redefine their understanding and expectations of our role in developing capacity to engage in dialogue. By investing in the changing landscape of libraries, we are also inviting them to adapt to the ever-evolving landscape of communication and civic engagement.

Amber Welch is the head of technology enhanced learning for The University of Texas Libraries.

 

 

 

pcl arch rendering

Happy 40th, PCL!

Photo by Ryan Steans.
Photo by Ryan Steans.

Since the birth of The University of Texas at Austin in 1883, the history of the University of Texas Libraries has consisted, in large part, of the construction and habitation of a series of buildings designed to support a constantly expanding collection of resources for an ever-growing community of people. When the original library in Old Main quickly outgrew the meager space there, it was moved twice before finding a dedicated home in Battle Hall in 1911. Just a couple of decades later, the 27-story Tower was constructed with the express purpose of becoming the “permanent” home of the university’s library collections. But, if history has taught us anything, it’s that you can never have enough resources to satisfy the intellectual curiosity of this campus.

And so it was that in late August of 1977, the university threw open the doors of its most ambitious library structure to date — a massive 6-story monolith just southeast of the original Forty Acres with a capacity for more than 3 million books — and students flooded into the new Perry-Castañeda Library.

The PCL was originally proposed to support 15 years of collections growth — a relatively modest expectation given the investment, but one that probably recognized the potential for nascent technologies to effect how information would be stored and used. Little could our forebears have conceived, though, the present that now exists. The Libraries eventually exceeded the space needed to contain the whole of its physical collections, but the revolution in library transformation spawned by the internet and the rise of microcomputing technology has simultaneously created new opportunities and challenges for reimagining the concept of library space.

Vice Provost Haricombe cuts cake celebrating PCL's 40th anniversary.
Vice Provost Haricombe cuts cake celebrating PCL’s 40th anniversary.

As we celebrate the 40th birthday of this beloved building, we judge that history has served us well. The library played a critical role in the age dominated by physical materials — especially at the leading institutions of higher learning, where costs of materials and space have been the necessary sacrifices to bear in support of learning, innovation and discovery. Today, however, the environment is different. Users have different needs, and constantly shifting needs that track to technological innovation. And the library still plays a critical role — we are a bridge between the old sensibility and the new.

For years, the PCL was known mainly as the campus destination for finding the book. Today, it’s increasingly becoming something more…a place where the book still exists, but as a component in an ecosystem that has moved beyond that of passive provider of information, and toward that of an active partner in teaching, learning and research and in the creation and realization of ideas. The spaces that once served as holding areas for physical materials now increasingly accommodate services for writing support and tutoring, technologies for productivity and visualization and environments for interpersonal experience and collaboration.

How do we prepare for tomorrow given the pace of change today? The library has always been a place, a location, and the library’s evolving purpose will likely be similar, but also different. It will be enhanced and dynamic, where the various media of information will not sit idly on shelves, but will move in streams that can meet, expand and re-form almost instantaneously with a community of people from across the globe.

As we commemorate what the library — this library, in particular — has been and what it has become, let’s also look forward with great anticipation and hope to a vibrant and exciting future at UT, and well beyond.

Dr. Carlos Castañeda

Collection Highlight: The Carlos Eduardo Castañeda Papers

Historian, archivist, educator Carlos E. Castañeda was born November 11, 1896, in Camargo, Tamaulipas, Mexico. His father was a professor of French and government at the College of San Juan in Matamoros, but the family moved to Brownsville around 1910. Castañeda’s parents both died before he was 15, leaving him with 3 sisters and 3 brothers.

Though he began his college career as an engineering major, Castañeda switched to his major to history (under the influence of E.C. Barker), and graduated with a BA from The University of Texas in 1921, having been elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He was married in 1922, and his first daughter, Gloria, was born in 1923, the same year that he obtained his MA from The University of Texas and began teaching Spanish for the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

From the Carlos E. Castañeda Papers.
From the Carlos E. Castañeda Papers.

In 1927, Castañeda was asked to return to The University of Texas, to take control of the newly acquired Genaro García collection, which served as the foundation for Latin American collections — and specifically, the Benson Latin American Collection — at UT. While acting as librarian for this collection, Castañeda began work on his PhD, producing more articles on the early history of Texas. Castañeda also collaborated with Texas State Library archivist Winnie Allen to launch the Mexican Photo Print Company, in an effort to recover copies of documents he had discovered in Mexico, a project that faced an unfortunate end with the advent of the Great Depression.

Castañeda completed his doctorate in 1932, his dissertation being a translation of the famous Morfi’s History of Texas.  He re-discovered the text — at the time believed lost — while searching through the records of a Fransiscan monastery. Later that year, Castañeda’s second daughter, Consuela, was born.

Castañeda did not begin his career as a full professor for The University of Texas until 1940, after some protracted debate in the 1930s concerning his salary and teaching responsibilities (Castañeda felt that his salary had been reduced because of his ethnicity). It was these issues that led to his leaving in 1933 to become the Superintendent of the San Felipe School District in Del Rio, Texas, where he met with resistance from white families due to his ethnicity. He remained in that position for only a year.

Photo by Bill Monroe.
Photo by Bill Monroe.

After returning to The University of Texas for the 1935 school year, Castañeda resumed his career as a professor, and continued work on Our Catholic Heritage in Texas, a massive seven-volume life-spanning work on the early history of Texas, the last volume of which was not published until just prior to Castañeda’s death. Shortly after his return to the university, Castañeda was knighted by the Catholic Church as a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre, and in 1951 became a Knight Commander in the Order of Isabel the Catholic of Spain. These honors were granted on the basis of Castañeda’s long-time work with the Catholic community and Catholic history more generally.

Being concerned with the plight of minorities in Texas, Castañeda took another leave of absence in 1943 to work for the Fair Employment Practice Commission (FEPC), an agency that was concerned with helping minorities to obtain the same working conditions and jobs that whites were granted in the 1940s. Though the commission ended prematurely with the onset of World War II, Castañeda continued to actively work against discrimination, and became involved with the Pan American Union, and on its behalf, gave an internationally broadcast radio address in 1948.

In the 1950s Castañeda’s health failed, and he suffered three heart attacks during the decade, severely limiting his ability to write, teach and stay active in his many causes. The author of twelve books and over eighty articles, and recipient of many honors, Castañeda died on April 3, 1958, at the age of 62.

Along with first African American faculty member at The University of Texas at Austin Dr. Ervin Perry (engineering), Castañeda’s legacy was recognized in 1974 with the approval by the University of Texas Board of Regents to name the university’s new central library in his honor. The Perry-Castañeda Library opened in 1977, and remains the flagship library at the university to the current day.

The Carlos E. Castañeda Papers feature includes articles, speeches and drafts of books, notably Our Catholic Heritage in Texas (commissioned by the Knights of Columbus) and Castañeda’s translation of Morfi’s, History of Texas, along with transcriptions, translations and notes.   The collection also documents Castañeda’s involvement with The University of Texas — including records of his faculty appointment and restricted student records —the Catholic Church and his international activities and various projects he took on over the years. Materials from his time in Del Rio, his service with FEPC, his work in many voluntary organizations, his teaching and departmental activities and his library and acquisitions work reflect the extent of his professional activities. The papers also feature a collection of historical documents dating from the late 15th century to the early 20th century, as well as a large selection of photographs, 8mm movies, phonodiscs, maps and book illustrations.

Benson staff are hosting a workshop on tracking relationships in research with network visualization and analysis tools using the Castañeda Papers on Wednesday, October 25. More information here

 

 

 

Lunch on the Glickman Center patio.

Taking It to the HILT

Sunny June weather welcomed a lively group of 126 faculty, graduate students, and information professionals to the University of Texas Austin campus for HILT – Humanities Intensive Learning + Teaching. HILT is an annual week-long Digital Humanities (DH) training institute for researchers, students, early career scholars, and cultural heritage professionals.

“HILT is awesome! It’s like nerdy summer camp for adults, and you actually learn things that are useful for your professional life,” one HILT participant in the course Introduction to the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) for Historical Documents states.  

In its 5th edition, HILT 2017 offered eight immersive Digital Humanities training courses on tools and methodologies including Scalar, Python, text analysis, Text Encoding Initiative (TEI), audio machine learning, and crowdsourcing. Courses were led by 11 expert guest instructors, hailing from institutions across the United States, such as University of Delaware, Emory University and the University of Southern California Libraries. Participants each enrolled in one course of their choice and dove in for four intensive days of learning. The PCL Learning Commons and the College of Liberal Arts’ Glickman Conference Center served as classroom space.

Course group working.
Course group working.

“I really like the format of an intensive class,” a participant in HILT’s Text Analysis course reported. “It is different than other conferences I’ve attended where you go to hour-long sessions and someone presents on a project they did. I also found the instructors and participants to be extremely knowledgeable.”

UT Libraries staff partnered with School of Information and Department of English faculty to plan the 2017 institute in collaboration with HILT Co-Directors, Trevor Muñoz and Jennifer Guiliano. Combined with the expert DH knowledge of the course instructors, the team successfully executed the largest HILT institute yet, and participants shared an enthusiastic response.

“[The Black Publics in Humanities: Critical and Collaborative DH Projects] course has been one of the most enriching experiences of my professional life. Grateful for the work of these folks,” says HILT participant Casey Miles (Assistant Professor in the Writing, Rhetoric & American Cultures department at Michigan State University).  

“HILT helped me learn real skills, make real connections, and plant seeds for a new path in research and teaching,” said one attendee. “It was the most valuable professional development work I’ve done since I filed my dissertation a decade ago, hands down.”

Keynote by Maurie McInnis.
Keynote by Maurie McInnis.

Daily coursework was balanced with additional learning opportunities. Day one of HILT was activated by a keynote address from UT Austin Provost Maurie McInnis. Provost McInnis shared insights on the importance of digital humanities work through her own research experience. Mid-week, HILT participants shared their research insights with each other through lively 5-minute Ignite Talks. 

To facilitate networking platforms for this diverse group of participants, UT Libraries staff organized evening dine arounds at favorite local restaurants, and the UT Libraries and the Dolph Briscoe Center hosted social receptions. Participants were also invited to engage in UT Austin’s Cultural Campus through organized activities, including sunset viewing of James Turrell’s The Color Inside: A Skyspace, and specialized tours at the Blanton Museum of Art, Harry Ransom Center, and LBJ Presidential Library.

Attendees at James Turrell's "Skyspace."
Attendees at James Turrell’s “Skyspace.”
HILT sharing with Dale Correa.
HILT sharing with Dale Correa.

UT Libraries was pleased to sponsor nine staff to attend HILT. Following the institute, a summer series, coordinated by the UT Libraries Digital Scholarship department, provided a venue for staff participants to share insightful overviews of what they learned in their courses.

One summer series session featured UT Libraries staff Beth Dodd, Christina Bleyer, and Susan Kung presenting on their Collaboration for Complex Research: Crowdsourcing in the Humanities HILT course experience. New insights will be applied to projects such as “Digitizing and Crowdsourcing the oversize Garcia Metadata” in the Benson Special Collections.  Another session featured Dale Correa, who described TEI challenges with non-English, non-Roman languages as discussed in the Introduction to the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) for Historical Documents course.

The well-attended summer series informed a broader understanding of DH techniques among Libraries staff, fueled momentum for HILT-inspired projects, and generated a desire for additional training.

“I learned so much, especially to not be afraid of learning. It was phenomenal. I can’t imagine not returning every year for new courses,” shared a participant in the HILT course Getting Started with Data, Tools and Platforms.

Among all 2017 HILT participants, 98% say they will recommend HILT to a friend or colleague. With new and similar courses offered each year, many participants plan to return in 2018 and beyond. Next summer HILT will be hosted at the University of Pennsylvania from June 4-8, 2018. For updates on future learning opportunities, follow the HILT Twitter: @HILT_DH.

HILT Participants traveled across the continent to attend the institute. See a Carto map of participant locations here: HILT Participant Map.

More photos from HILT: 

Article contributed by Jenifer Flaxbart and Hannah Packard.

 

Deep in the Start-Up of Texas

Texas Business Foundations Program.

One of the more gratifying aspects of being a subject librarian is witnessing students actually using the resources you introduced to them during an instruction session. Back in February of this year, Regina Hughes, the director Texas Business Foundations Program (Texas BFP) offered the opportunity to conduct an information resources session for her class. With no hesitation, I accepted the invitation and with Gina Watts, the business GRA prepped for the session.

The Texas BFP, which is designed to give undergraduate students of any discipline a fundamental background in business, is one of the largest and widely recognized certificate and minor programs at The University of Texas. The session covered all the business resources offered through the UT Libraries, with an emphasis upon how and when to use specific databases.

At the end of the semester the students get a chance to show off their entrepreneurial knowledge and skills to a panel of judges who will determine, theoretically, if their projects are worthy of funding. This semester Gina and I sat as judges for the first time and were handed the responsibility of reviewing the projects of half a dozen teams. Joining the panel of judges was fantastic. The students were all well prepared for their presentations, and had clearly been using (and correctly citing) the business resources. Since we generally never see the final product after a consultation for an assignment, it was great to see their success. It was also nice for Gina be more involved with the business school, because many GRA positions do not allow for much faculty interaction.

The presentations were brief, each group had only five minutes to describe the product or service; the target market, how they would make a profit, estimate the return-on-investment, as well as ask for a definitive amount of funding to launch the venture.

The ideas ranged from providing dental care to low-income families by acting as mediators and facilitating contact with dental professionals willing to provide care, pro bono. Another group developed a service that would provide fresh ingredients for preparing desserts delivered to your door.  The standout was the proposal to develop a software application, which would allow students to develop budgets and manage their finances throughout their college career. It included an option for allowing parents monitor the process, which was very interesting.

The pace was fast and exciting. The highlight of the session was seeing the amount of business resources students had incorporated into their work. Moreover, how having access to real world databases, such as Mintel, Marketline and SimplyMap helped to prepare them for similar challenges beyond their university experience.