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.

Welcome Back

Welcome to the University of Texas Libraries!

Thank you for helping us launch into the Fall semester by celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Perry-Castañeda Library, one of our most highly trafficked facilities on the Forty Acres.  Drs.  Perry and Castañeda – whose portraits hang on the wall inside the entrance of PCL – were the first minorities appointed at the University of Texas in 1964 and in 1927, respectively.  We continue to honor their legacy and their contributions at The University of Texas at Austin.

Vice Provost Lorraine Haricombe hands out cake to students for the PCL's 40th birthday celebration.
Vice Provost Lorraine Haricombe hands out cake to students for the PCL’s 40th birthday celebration.

At UT Libraries, we invite the diverse communities of campus and the residents of the state of Texas to explore and utilize the rich depth of our resources, our collaborative and reflective spaces, high quality equipment and professional expertise in libraries across the campus. For a list of libraries, centers and museums please visit http://www.lib.utexas.edu/help/librarylist.html

Recently, President Fenves remarked that a UT education is about faculty and students learning how to create, build, probe, discover, and solve together, so that our students are prepared for life after they graduate. And there are many examples of this kind of learning and teaching taking place across campus, including at UT Libraries. We have invested in creating alternative learning environments in spacious collaborative study areas in PCL such as the Learning Commons, STEM tutoring spaces, Scholars Commons, the Graduate Landing Spot, the Media Lab, the Data Lab, the Foundry at the Fine Arts Library, and more. I hope you find your favorite spot and when you do, send us your feedback.  We value your suggestions as we continue to respond to your needs, it matters!

It is our goal to support you towards success at UT and beyond. If you need help or advice please do not hesitate to let us know. Remember, what starts here changes the world. Be bold, be audacious!

Have a productive and successful semester.

Hook ‘em Horns!

 

 

 

Vice Provost and Director of UT Libraries

"I want to spend the rest of my life everywhere, with everyone, one to one, always, forever, now" by Damien Hirst.

Experiencing Artists’ Books

Look closely and you will find the rare and unique collections at the UT Libraries.

One of the special collections at the Fine Arts Library is the FAL Artists’ Publications Collection which includes artists’ books — books created with the intention of being a work of art. Some artists use books to explore narrative or the relationship between images and text, while others challenge our understanding of what books are and how we read them through the manipulation of form.

"Fishbubbles" by Jill Timm.
“Fishbubbles” by Jill Timm.

The Fine Arts Library contains over 200 artists’ books. Serving primarily as a teaching collection, the artists’ books show different binding techniques, materials, sculptural forms and conceptual approaches, with the FAL holding titles by such recognizable artists as Damien Hirst, Richard Prince and Ed Ruscha. Some of the books in the collection push the boundaries of reading by engaging with other senses such as smell, touch and taste.

"Schengen's kit : rules and advices for survival of refugees at sea : content: instructions on a funeral body bag in a plastic envelope" by Christine Kermaire.
“Schengen’s kit : rules and advices for survival of refugees at sea : content: instructions on a funeral body bag in a plastic envelope” by Christine Kermaire.

The opportunity to smell, touch, taste and hear the artists’ books will be available on November 7th from 5:30-7:30 pm as part of the Experiencing Artists’ Books event. This event is associated programming for the new Visual Arts Center (VAC) exhibition Fool’s Romance / Books from Aeromoto curated by Allison Myers, Art History PhD candidate and 2016-2017 VAC Curatorial Fellow. Myers will lead a dialogue between local artists and bookmakers including Jason Urban, Artist and Studio Art Faculty, and Lindsay Starr from Cattywampus Press. After our dialogue, audience members will have the opportunity to engage with the unusual books in our collection.

"Scent" by Stephen Gan.
“Scent” by Stephen Gan.

The Fool’s Romance / Books from Aeromoto exhibition opens on September 22nd from 6-8pm. Come and explore over 300 artists’ books from Aeromoto, a non-profit art library and community space based in Mexico City.

We hope to see you at the exhibition opening and the Experiencing Aritsts’ Books event later this fall.

Ervin Perry.

On Ervin Perry’s Legacy by Gene Locke

Dr. Ervin Sewell Perry.
Dr. Ervin Sewell Perry.

The following statement was presented by Gene Locke — Dr. Ervin Perry’s nephew — to the University of Texas Black Alumni Network at their Legacy Dinner on September 8, 2017, in recognition of the 40th anniversary of the Perry-Castañeda Library.

On behalf of the family of Dr. Ervin Perry, we express our appreciation to the Black Alumni Network for recognizing Dr. Perry at your Legacy Dinner.

The Perry-Castañeda Library now has forty years of service to the UT community. During these years, many of you have been in and around the library that bears his name without knowing the story of Ervin Perry. Yes, you may have known that he was the first African American professor at a predominately white university in the South. Perhaps, you even knew that he was a civil engineer of recognized distinction. Maybe, you also knew that Dr. Perry was one of several trailblazers as students at the University of Texas-all who played an integral role in opening the university to people of color.  However, our beloved “Ervin” was so much more.

Ervin Perry was born in Coldspring, Texas, in rural East Texas in 1935 during the height of the depression and in the midst of brutal Jim Crow segregation.  Ervin started out with two great assets: a mom, Edna Perry, and a dad, Willie Perry, who appreciated hard work, family and faith.  They were dirt farmers who valued education and who dreamed for better lives for their children. Willie and Edna Perry worked miracles with their income from a small cotton crop.  Ervin and his twin brother, Mervin, were the last of six children; all of whom somehow got thru college and graduate school despite money limitations and the inequities of racial segregation.

The Perry Family.
The Perry Family.

There was a “specialness” about Ervin Perry that might be instructive to all of us today. Despite all of the successes he enjoyed as an engineer and a university professor, he was at all times humble and down to earth. He was a man of high character who gave an excellence of effort in everything he did. He was a devoted family man (husband, father, brother and uncle). Ervin grieved at the inequities that others suffered, while fully appreciating the burden of the spotlight on him for being the first of us on the faculty at the university.  In truth, Dr. Perry was smart-SUPER SMART-but he never felt the need to demonstrate this at the expense of others. His first love was his family.  He drew strength from his unsung heroine, Jean Perry, his wife and he got enduring satisfaction from his daughters, Patricia, Edna and Arvis.

When Ervin joined the UT academic faculty in 1964, American society was so different from-yet so similar to-today’s society.  HOPE-HATRED-HESITATION. These three characterized the times in 1964. HOPE that the civil rights movement would change America’s social order. HATRED as manifested in the strong resistance to social change and the accompanying violence.  HESITATION by political and civic leaders who were afraid to take a bold stand for true equal opportunity for all.

Dr. Ervin S. Perry.
Dr. Ervin S. Perry.

Against this backdrop, the University of Texas did not hesitate.  UT made Dr. Perry a faculty member in 1964. This was truly a bold step by the university that had a history of segregation and exclusion–but it was made so much easier by the character and academic accomplishments of Ervin Perry.  In 1977, the university took another equally bold step in naming the new library in his honor.

Our family is immensely proud that the library bears his name. As we think of the historic significance of naming the library for him and for Dr. Castañeda, we hope that having Ervin’s name on the library has been a small inspiration or source of pride for African American students and all students at UT thru the years. We hope that it continues to serve a small nail in the coffin of racial stereotypes that impair our ability as a nation to love and respect  all  humanity.

As alumni of the University of Texas, we ask that you keep working to make sure this, our state’s flagship university, embraces diversity and demonstrates itself to be an institution for all.

Thank your again for your recognition of Dr. Perry.

Attorney Gene Locke
Nephew of Dr. Ervin Perry

Gene Locke (second from left) with members of the Perry Family during the PCL 40 weekend of celebrations.
Gene Locke (second from left) with members of the Perry Family during the PCL 40 weekend of celebrations.