Category Archives: Collections

Héctor Sánchez Sánchez of Tribunal Superior de Justicia, Puebla, and Virginia Garrard, director, LLILAS Benson, with the newly signed agreement

LLILAS Benson Partnership with Puebla Archive to Yield Rich Results

Four Centuries of Rare Documents Will Be Digitized

August 8, 2018, was an auspicious day for students of Mexican history. An agreement signed between LLILAS Benson and the Tribunal Superior de Justicia del Estado de Puebla marks the official start of a project to digitize a large collection of archival materials from the Fondo Real de Cholula. Funding for the project comes from a Mellon Foundation grant obtained by LLILAS Benson.

The archives in question, which originate in the Mexican town of Cholula, Puebla State, consist of approximately 200 boxes and span some four centuries, from the 1500s to the late nineteenth century. Once digitized, they will be made available to researchers on an open-access platform by the Benson Latin American Collection and the University of Texas Libraries. The materials document, among other things, how Indigenous residents of Cholula navigated colonial judicial structures unique to their special juridical status.

Professor Kelly McDonough (second from left), LLILAS Benson director Virginia Garrard (third from left) , Lidia Gómez García (second from right) and members of the Puebla team celebrate the agreement
Professor Kelly McDonough (second from left), LLILAS Benson director Virginia Garrard (third from left) , Lidia Gómez García (second from right) and members of the Puebla team celebrate the agreement

A Rich Trove of Information

The materials will provide a rich trove of information about the colonial period, referred to in Mexico as la época novohispana. Cholula was one of only nine locations to be designated a ciudad de indios (in contrast, there were 21 ciudades de españoles). Ciudades de indios had a different justice system than others. Indigenous people paid their tribute directly to the king instead of to a colonial intermediary; they enjoyed certain privileges, and they maintained a fully functioning Indigenous cabildo, or council, which ruled alongside the Spanish one. “This allowed for a degree of Indigenous autonomy and exercise of special privileges in the new colonial context,” explains Professor Kelly McDonough of the UT Austin Department of Spanish and Portuguese.

LLILAS Benson might never have known about the collection in question had it not been for McDonough, who identified the collection as a good candidate for digitization. She emphasizes that the digitization of ciudad de indios documents has immense historical significance: “It’s the first time we will be able to understand what Indigenous justice meant in place with a very specific juridical designation and relationship with the king of Spain. We believe that the other eight judicial archives from ciudades de indios burned in the Mexican Revolution.”

“The chronological range of the collection will allow scholars to study how Indigenous practices adapted to Spanish rule, how new practices developed over the course of the early-modern period, and how both Indigenous and Spanish practices further adapted to modern political and legal structures in the nineteenth century,” adds LLILAS Benson digital processing archivist David Bliss.

Benson Collection archivists Dylan Joy (l) and David Bliss conducted a digitization training in Puebla earlier this year
Benson Collection archivists Dylan Joy (l) and David Bliss conducted a digitization training in Puebla earlier this year

The Digitization Process

A team of three historians from Puebla and Cholula will work in Puebla to digitize the collection, creating two digital copies—one to remain in Puebla and the other to be sent to Austin for preservation and online publication. In addition, all of the digitized materials will be extensively described using a metadata template developed by LLILAS Benson and its Puebla partners. The historians involved in the project are experts in sixteenth-through-nineteenth-century Cholula.

Dra. Lidia Gómez García of Facultad de Filosofía y Letras at Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla (BUAP) was instrumental in keeping interest in the project going amid inevitable delays. Together, she and McDonough helped choose the personnel to carry out the important work of digitization and creating of metadata for the collection. LLILAS Benson Director Virginia Garrard relates that the team working with the archives in Puebla feels a deep and personal connection with the material; the fact that they are rescuing their own patrimony from decay is immensely meaningful to them.

A member of the digitization team shows examples of the decayed state of some of the Cholula archives
A member of the digitization team shows examples of the decayed state of some of the Cholula archives

Last June 2018, Bliss and LLILAS Benson archivist Dylan Joy conducted a training workshop in Puebla for the digitization team. The team will carry out the project using a DSLR camera and two laptops, as well as the digital photography program Adobe Lightroom. The equipment, purchased by LLILAS Benson with Mellon grant funds, will be donated to the Puebla archive at the conclusion of the project, which is set for early May 2019. Bliss estimates that the project will digitize some 45,000 pages of documents.

The final, digitized documents will be ingested into the Latin American Digital Initiatives (LADI) platform, allowing researchers to form connections between the Fondo Real de Cholula documents and other collections on the platform.

A Groundbreaking Collaboration

Director Garrard, herself a historian, hails this project for bringing to light lesser-known historical actors. “This collaboration represents the lives and voices of groups traditionally omitted from the historical record,” she said. “The signing event highlighted the power of close and horizontal relationships between our two institutions, so clearly evident in the presentations of the young Mexican technical specialists and students who described for us their work with the documents, both as material artifacts and as historical sources.”

Sánchez and Garrard sign the historic agreement between Puebla High Court (TSJ) and LLILAS Benson
Sánchez and Garrard sign the historic agreement between Puebla High Court (TSJ) and LLILAS Benson

Quoted in Puebla’s El Popular, Héctor Sánchez Sánchez, presiding magistrate of the Tribunal Superior de Justicia, noted Puebla’s pride in the collaboration: the digitization of Fondo Real de Cholula is the first digitization project at an institution in the Mexican justice system. “Even more so for those of us who are part of this institution,” said Sánchez, “[the rescue of] this archive can achieve a change in the way we understand history.”

The Library Storage Facility

A Space Solution in the Distance

Texas may pride itself in being big, but as anyone around the Forty Acres these days knows, that “bigness” is finite.

Back in the early 1990s, as Austin was hitting its stride in terms of growth with the arrival of tech industry and the nascent popularity of the city as a destination, forward-thinking minds at the University of Texas Libraries recognized that the ever-expanding physical collections — which at the time had reached in excess of 6 million books — couldn’t forever be contained on a rapidly growing campus.

To avoid what they saw as a future crisis for the preservation and accessibility of the collections, the Libraries sought and received approval and funding to construct a library facility based on the Harvard Depository — a preservation facility that had been developed at Harvard University in 1986. The goal was to relocate low circulation items into a highly controlled environment with optimal preservation conditions, coupled with a retrieval process to get items back into the hands of users should they be needed.

Sensibly referred to as the “Harvard Model” — which has become a standard for materials preservation — the building layout for the Library Storage Facility (or LSF as it’s known within the Libraries lexicon) is an interconnected structure of generational  units situated on the lonely south side of the university’s satellite Pickle Research Campus on a close-cropped berm of desiccated weeds in far north Austin with downtown only barely visible in the distance. The vertically-oriented concrete panel edifice is stark and brutalist, an almost unwitting tribute to its campus counterpart, the Perry-Castañeda Library, a likewise imposing monolith and arrival hub for most of the materials that are retrieved from storage.

The storage structure itself is actually a series of separate construction projects that spanned several years. The first unit was opened in 1993, the second in 2009 and the third, LSF 3, opened late in 2017 and is currently being filled with library materials.

The plaque designating the opening of LSF 2.
The plaque designating the opening of LSF 2.

Each section of the building accommodates 30-ft tall shelving units in a series of aisles and each shelf section (called a “ladder”) is a designated height to fit volumes of like format and size — an almost profane violation of standard library organizational protocols — thereby ensuring the most efficient application of available space. Shelves are accessed via a “picker,” a specially-designed forklift that can be controlled from a spanning basket that can reach the very highest level of the structure.

Everything in the facility is systematically barcoded — the item, the storage tray in which it sits, the shelf on which the tray sits — and that information is stored and managed in an inventory control systems that allows staff to quickly and easily locate any of the 2 million items stored at LSF.

The Library Storage Facility is managed by the Libraries, but additionally serves as preservation storage for collections from the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, the Harry Ransom Center and the Tarlton Law Library. LSF 2 was even built in part with support from our siblings and rivals down the road at College Station, and as a result, the A&M Libraries have a dedicated aisle of space for materials mingling with the resources of the Longhorn Nation.

Another similar project at A&M’s Riverside campus — the Joint Library Facility — was  constructed as a collaboration between the Texas A&M System and the University of Texas System allowing for the storage of widely-held, but infrequently used, items materials across Texas academic institutions. The nature of this facility offers participating libraries the opportunity to pare down some of their materials to a single copy that is then collaboratively stored and served from this shared facility.

Collectively these storage facilities have facilitated substantial growth in Libraries holdings — which now stands at more than 10 million items — by allowing for the transferral of low-use items from overstretched campus locations to the high-density facility at the Pickle Research Campus. We still spend over $1.5 million per  year on traditional physical resources – even as the Libraries moves to incorporate the ever growing array of electronic information resources – and we expect this practice to continue for the foreseeable future.

Professional stewardship of library materials is a key part of UTL’s institutional mission.  The conditions at LSF are closely controlled to create the best environment for the long-term preservation of materials, with efforts to maintain a temperature of 55°F and relative humidity at 35%. These conditions significantly slow the deterioration of paper, inhibit the growth of mold, and reduce the likelihood of insect infestations. “With the conditions maintained at the facility, you could basically put an item into storage and come back 240 years later to find it in a stable state,” says Ben Rodriguez, who manages the library storage facility. Rodriguez oversees a team of library specialists who help to develop processes and run the day-to-day operations of LSF with the assistance of ten student workers.

Perspective from atop the order picker.
Perspective from atop the order picker.

“The stability of conditions at LSF reduces the mechanical wear-and-tear that would otherwise occur as paper and leather expand and contract with the changes to humidity levels in a library environment,” says Wendy Martin, assistant director of stewardship. Martin oversees the preservation efforts — both physical and digital — for the Libraries. “Library materials stored in ideal conditions will have a much longer lifespan than materials stored in open stacks space designed for human comfort.”

Beyond the space-saving functionality of library storage facilities like these, there is a compelling financial reason for moving low-use items off-site.  A 2010 study showed the cost of storing a single volume in an open library stacks facility is $4.26 per year, taking into account personnel, lighting, maintenance and heating and cooling costs. The cost is pegged at 86 cents per volume for storage at a facility such as the Riverside unit jointly operated by the Texas A&M and University of Texas Systems — representing a savings of $3.40 per volume.

Off-site storage has also allowed the Libraries to respond to changing the changing needs of faculty and students by redesigning some of our library spaces to accommodate collaborative study and new technology resources that help to better prepare library users for transition to a 21st Century economy. As the library evolves from a storehouse for information into a platform for innovation and creating new knowledge, having the option to reimagine spaces to meet the changing expectations of the public enhances the library’s relevancy.

Of course, none of this storage would mean very much, though, if the Libraries weren’t also constantly working to improve both the efficiency of access to materials that are selected for housing at LSF, and the selection process itself. Recently, with support from Provost Maurie McInnis, an additional full-time driver and transport vehicle were added for the sole purpose of improving turnaround times for material requested from LSF. Beginning in the fall this driver will make a second daily transportation run between LSF and the main campus. This means patrons can expect to receive email notification of an item being ready for pickup within one business day of their initial request. With the Provost’s support we were also able to hire an additional staff member at LSF, providing the necessary staffing capacity to pull materials for delivery twice daily.

Libraries’ subject liaisons work on a daily basis with university faculty and researchers to build collections that support the University’s teaching, learning, and research mission, in both core and emerging disciplines. The undulations of academic and research focus at UT are the subject of constant analysis by library professionals that, combined with specific requests from our users and a robust set of circulation data, help the Libraries make decisions regarding the placement of collections on campus. This is all to say that when decisions are made to take materials from the shelves, it’s not done lightly or without careful consideration. In light of recent concerns about how decisions are made regarding the transfer of materials to storage, the Libraries has redoubled its effort by tasking a cross-functional team with reviewing and improving the decision-making process for relocating resources.

The ultimate goal of having library storage facilities is to continue to grow our collections resources while adapting the way libraries function to meet the needs of modern users. First and foremost, we want students and our other users to be productive. But productivity can be measured in different ways. It comes not only from the opportunity of discovering a book on the shelf run that wasn’t the object of your search, but it can also result in the form of the serendipitous discovery that happens when diverse groups of students get together and share ideas. We want to create conditions that will allow different types of learning and discovery to occur.

Plans are already underway for the next module at LSF, which will not only feature more high- density storage, but will also provide some new kinds of spaces for improved preservation and better access to materials stored at the facility. The new construction — to be called the Collections Preservation and Research Complex —will provide storage for three-dimensional objects and ephemera, additional cold storage (40°F) for film, a proper reading room for onsite research, new processing space and a quarantine room.

The Libraries has been building the magnificent collections we have today for over 130 years, and, with a little effort and care, we can continue to not only grow them, but to make sure that they’re here for many, many more years to come.

 

Documentos en el Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional (AHPN). Foto: AHPN.

Seminario en Guatemala Conmemora la Colaboración en Archivos y Derechos Humanos

Documentos en el Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional (AHPN). Foto: AHPN.
Documentos en el Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional (AHPN). Foto: AHPN.

POR HANNAH ALPERT-ABRAMS

Nota editorial: Citamos un reportaje del Archivo de Seguridad Nacional (National Security Archive) de George Washington University: “El renombrado Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional de Guatemala (AHPN) se encuentra en crisis después de que su director, Gustavo Meoño Brenner, fue despedido de manera súbita, resultado de una serie de acciones orquestradas por el gobierno guatemalteco y una oficina de las Naciones Unidas. Estas mismas acciones dejaron el personal del archivo, más de 50 personas, bajo contrato provisional, y transfirió la responsabilidad por el archivo al Ministerio de Cultura y Deportes, quitándola del archivo nacional, donde ha residido desde el 2009.”

Esta situación materializó el 3 de agosto, una semana después de un seminario patrocinado por LLILAS Benson Colecciones y Estudios Latinoamericanos y el Centro Rapoport para los Derechos Humanos y la Justicia, que tuvo lugar en AHPN. Bajo el título “Archivos y derechos humanos: experiencia de colaboración entre el AHPN y la Universidad de Texas,” el seminario ofreció la oportunidad de reflexionar sobre los siete años de colaboración entre la Universidad de Texas y el AHPN.

 Dado las novedades inquietantes sobre el AHPN, la Dra. Virginia Garrard, directora de LLILAS Benson, dijo, “LLILAS Benson afirma su compromiso a AHPN y su apoyo por la preservación de esta colección histórica, la cual es fundamental para la búsqueda de la justicia, el rescate de la memoria histórica en Guatemala y al resguardo de la historia nacional guatemalteca desde el siglo XIX.”

Read this article in English.

El personal de LLILAS Benson Colecciones y Latinoamericanos y el Centro Rapoport para los Derechos Humanos y la Justicia viajó a la Ciudad de Guatemala para participar en un seminario sobre la alianza entre la Universidad de Texas y varias instituciones guatemaltecas que trabajan con archivos.

El evento tuvo como título “Archivos y derechos humanos: experiencia de colaboración entre el AHPN y la Universidad de Texas,” y se realizó el 27 de julio en el Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional (AHPN), que se ubica en un hospital inacabado en donde, en 2005, se descubrieron más de ochenta millones de archivos pertenecientes a la Policía Nacional, bastantes de ellos encontrados en estado precario. Durante más de diez años, un equipo de archiveros guatemaltecos ha trabajado intensivamente para preservar, organizar y dar acceso a esta colección en riesgo.

Gustavo Meoño, director del AHPN, habla. Sentados, desde la izquierda: Virginia Garrard, Dan Brinks y Theresa Polk.
Gustavo Meoño, director del AHPN, habla. Sentados, desde la izquierda: Virginia Garrard, Dan Brinks y Theresa Polk.

Durante el seminario, los participantes reflejaron sobre la alianza de más de siete años entre el AHPN y la Universidad de Texas. Esta alianza ha permitido la fundación de colaboraciones digitales, académicas y pedagógicas, incluyendo la introducción, en 2011, de un acervo digital alojado por el sistema de bibliotecas de la Universidad de Texas.

Los anfitriones del seminario fueron Gustavo Meoño, director del AHPN, y Anna Carla Ericastilla, directora del Archivo General de Centroamérica. Virginia Garrard, la directora de LLILAS Benson; Dan Brinks, el co-director del Centro Rapoport; y Theresa Polk, la directora del programa de materiales digitales de LLILAS Benson; y fueron quienes expusieron sobre la historia de la alianza internacional y su importancia para la recuperación de la memoria histórica y la búsqueda de democracia y justicia transicional en Centroamérica.

Brinks (izq.) del Centro Rapoport, con Garrard (LLILAS Benson) y Meoño (AHPN). Foto: H. Alpert-Abrams.
Brinks (izq.) del Centro Rapoport, con Garrard (LLILAS Benson) y Meoño (AHPN). Foto: H. Alpert-Abrams.

Giovanni Batz, Brenda Xum, María Aguilar, and Hannah Alpert-Abrams—todos ex-alumnos y ex-alumnas de LLILAS Benson—hablaron sobre el impacto del archivo tanto en sus carreras como en su entendimiento de la historia de Guatemala. Especialmente conmovedores fueron los comentarios de ex alumnos guatemaltecos de la Universidad de Texas cuya comprensión de su patrimonio cultural fue moldeada por el estudio del AHPN. Como comentó Brenda Xum, “los archivos cuentan una historia humana.”

Brenda Xum, ex-alumna de LLILAS Benson. Foto: H. Alpert-Abrams.
Brenda Xum, ex-alumna de LLILAS Benson. Foto: H. Alpert-Abrams.

Dos socias del archivo, Enmy Morán y Tamy Guberek, ofrecieron una visión para el futuro de AHPN, incluyendo nuevas técnicas en la preservación de los archivos y nuevos métodos cuantitativos para descubrir las historias contenidas en ellos.

Alrededor de 75 investigadores, archivistas, estudiantes y miembros de la comunidad asistieron al evento, que fue abierto al público. Estos participantes tuvieron la oportunidad de hacer preguntas. Entre ellas, hubo preguntas sobre los desafíos de la preservación digital, la dificultad de acceder la información archivística y las cuestiones éticas implícitas en publicar información delicada en línea.

Durante una tarde bastante cálida, los participantes comentaron sobre la manera en que la conferencia reanimó su interés en las investigaciones archivísticas y la historia guatemalteca. Al final, una participante se paró de pié para felicitar a las personas miembras del panel durante el evento. “Antes, realmente no conocía este archivo,” dijo. “Tampoco sabía sobre su importancia en la historia de mi país.”

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El seminario “Archivos y derechos humanos: experiencia de colaboración entre AHPN y UT Austin” fue patrocinado por el Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional (AHPN), LLILAS Benson Colecciones y Estudios Latinoamericanos y el Centro Rapoport para los Derechos Humanos y la Justicia.

Hannah Alpert-Abrams, PhD, es becaria posdoctoral CLIR en LLILAS Benson Colecciones y Estudios Latinoamericanos. Traducido del inglés por Hannah Alpert-Abrams y Susanna Sharpe.

 

Documentos en el Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional (AHPN). Foto: AHPN.

Seminar Commemorates Collaboration with Guatemala on Archives and Human Rights

Documents at the Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional (AHPN, Guatemalan National Police Historic Archive). Photo: AHPN.
Documents at the Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional (AHPN, Guatemalan National Police Historic Archive). Photo: AHPN.

BY HANNAH ALPERT-ABRAMS

Lea en español.

Editor’s note: From the National Security Archive at George Washington University: “Guatemala’s renowned Historical Archive of the National Police (AHPN) is in crisis after its director, Gustavo Meoño Brenner, was abruptly removed in one of a series of recent actions orchestrated by the Guatemalan government and a United Nations office. The actions also placed the AHPN’s remaining staff of more than fifty people on temporary contract, and transferred oversight for the repository from the country’s national archives, where it had functioned since 2009, to the Ministry of Culture and Sports.” (See Guatemala Police Archive Under Threat.)

These actions took place on August 3, a week after LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections joined UT’s Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice in Guatemala City to host “Archives and Human Rights: A History of Collaboration between the University of Texas and the Historic Archive of the National Police.” The one-day seminar was an opportunity to reflect on seven years of partnership between the University of Texas and the AHPN, which preserves records documenting over one hundred years of police activity in Guatemala.

Given the recent alarming developments at AHPN, Virginia Garrard, director of LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections at The University of Texas at Austin, stated, “LLILAS Benson affirms its commitment to supporting the preservation of this historic collection, which is so fundamental to the pursuit of justice, the recovery of historical memory in Guatemala, and to the preservation of Guatemala’s national history dating back all the way to the nineteenth century.”

___________________________________________________

Representatives from LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections and the Bernard and Audre Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice visited Guatemala City on July 27 for a seminar on archival partnerships between the University of Texas and Guatemalan institutions.

The event, “Archives and Human Rights: A History of Collaboration between the AHPN and the University of Texas” was held at the Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional (Guatemala National Police Archive, or AHPN). The AHPN is located in the unfinished hospital building where over 80 million pages of archival materials were found, in various states of preservation, in 2005. For over ten years, Guatemalan archivists have been working to preserve, organize, and provide access to this vulnerable collection.

Gustavo Meoño, director of the AHPN, addresses the seminar. Seated (l-r) are Virginia Garrard, Daniel Brinks, and Theresa Polk. Photo: Hannah Alpert-Abrams.
Gustavo Meoño, director of the AHPN, addresses the seminar. Seated (l-r) are Virginia Garrard, Daniel Brinks, and Theresa Polk. Photo: Hannah Alpert-Abrams.

During the seminar, speakers reflected on the seven-year partnership between the AHPN and the University of Texas, which has featured scholarly, pedagogical, and digital collaborations, including the 2011 launch of the UT-hosted digital portal to the AHPN.

The one-day event was hosted by the director of the AHPN, Gustavo Meoño, and by Anna Carla Ericastilla, the director of the Archivo General de Centroamérica. Virginia Garrard, director of LLILAS Benson; Dan Brinks, co-director of the Rapoport Center; and Theresa Polk, director of digital initiatives for LLILAS Benson, spoke about the history of the partnership and its importance for reconstructing historical memory and the pursuit of democracy and transitional justice in Central America.

Daniel Brinks (l), co-director of the Rapoport Center; Virginia Garrard, director of LLILAS Benson; and Gustavo Meoño, director of AHPN. Photo: Hannah Alpert-Abrams.
Daniel Brinks (l), co-director of the Rapoport Center; Virginia Garrard, director of LLILAS Benson; and Gustavo Meoño, director of AHPN. Photo: Hannah Alpert-Abrams.

LLILAS Benson alumni Giovanni Batz, Brenda Xum, María Aguilar, and Hannah Alpert-Abrams discussed the impact of teaching and learning with the archive on their professional careers and their personal understanding of Guatemalan history. Especially moving were personal stories from former UT students whose understanding of their cultural heritage was shaped by studying the AHPN. As Brenda Xum remarked: “los archivos cuentan una historia humana” (“the archives tell a human story”).

LLILAS alumna Brenda Xum. Photo: Hannah Alpert-Abrams.
LLILAS alumna Brenda Xum. Photo: Hannah Alpert-Abrams.

Longtime AHPN affiliates Enmy Morán and Tamy Guberek offered visions of the future of research with the AHPN, including new approaches to archival practice and new quantitative methods for uncovering archival histories.

About seventy-five scholars, archivists, students, and community members attended the conference, which was open to the public. Among the topics addressed in audience questions were the challenges of digital preservation, the difficulties of accessing archival information, and the ethics of publishing sensitive information online.

Throughout the very warm afternoon, participants commented on the ways that the conference had reinvigorated their interest in archival research and Guatemalan history. At the end of the day, one audience member stood to congratulate the panelists on a successful event. “Before this event I didn’t really know about this archive,” she said, “and I didn’t know about its importance to my country’s history.”

___________________________

The seminar “Archivos y derechos humanos: experiencia de colaboración entre AHPN y UT Austin” was co-sponsored by Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional (AHPN), LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections, and the Bernard and Audre Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice.

Hannah Alpert-Abrams, PhD, is the CLIR postdoctoral fellow in data curation at LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections.

Cover of "Library for the Americas."

The Benson Gets a Book

The University of Texas Press has published the first encyclopedic examination of the renowned Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection (Benson), providing a window into the rich Latin American resources for research and study at The University of Texas at Austin.

Showcasing the incredible depth, diversity and history of the Benson Collection, “A Library for the Americas” presents rare books and manuscripts, maps, photographs, music, oral histories, art and objects dating from around 1500 to the present.

Founded in 1921, the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection at The University of Texas at Austin has become one of the world’s great libraries for the study of Latin America, as well as the largest university library collection of Latin American materials in the United States. Encompassing all areas of the Western Hemisphere that were ever part of the Spanish or Portuguese empires, the Benson Collection documents Latin American history and culture from the first European contacts to the current activities of Latina/os in the United States. The Benson is partner in an innovative collaboration with the Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies — collectively called LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections — that attracts top students, scholars and researchers from around the world.

The Benson collections represent one of the most extensive compilations of materials related to Latin American culture and history in the world, housing approximately 1 million volumes, 4,000 linear feet of manuscripts over 400,000 slides and photographs and an additional 50,000 other items of ephemera and media, representing North, Central and South America, as well as the Caribbean.

The 229-page volume features color images and plates of the unique holdings paired with essays and reflections by distinguished scholars of Latin American and Latina/o studies, who describe the role that the Benson Collection has played in the research and intellectual contributions that have defined their careers.

Benson Librarian and Director Melissa Guy is elated by the book’s publication.

“’A Library for the Americas’ is unique in that it is both a beautiful representation of the Benson’s holdings, as well as a selection of thought-provoking essays from researchers who have used the Benson’s vast holdings to do their work,” says Guy. “Both the seasoned Benson user and the casual observer will find it fascinating.”

“A Library for the Americas” was edited by Julianne Gilland and José Montelongo, and includes contributions from faculty, researchers and historians of Latin American from across the hemisphere. The book features analysis of the overall collections with special focus on collections of distinction like the Relaciones Geográficas, the Gloria Anzaldúa papers, the Ricardo and Harriet Romo print collection and the Borderlands archive, with accompanying full-color imagery.

The Libraries will host a preview and benefit dinner on September 6 in preparation for the upcoming centennial (2021) of the acquisition of the Genaro García Collection, which served as the foundation of the Benson Latin American Collection. Attendees to the event will receive a copy of the book with their tax-deductible contribution. For more information on attending the event, contact Natalie Hester at 512-495-4349 or nataliehester@austin.utexas.edu.

“A Library for the Americas” is available for purchase through the University of Texas Press at utpress.utexas.edu.

 

Whit Williams playing guitar

Whit’s Picks: Take 1 — Gems from the HMRC

Resident poet and rock and roll star Harold Whit Williams has recently taken on a project to catalog the KUT Collection, obtained a few years ago and inhabiting a sizable portion of the Historical Music Recordings Collection (HMRC).

Being that he has a refined sense of both words and music, Whit seems like a good candidate for exploring and discovering some overlooked gems in the trove, and so on occasion, he’ll be presenting some of his finds here on the blog.

Recently added (and highly-recommended) Music from the KUT Collection at the HMRC

Angela Faye Martin / Pictures From Home

North Carolina singer/songwriter turns Appalachian music on its head with odd synth and fuzz burbling background. Quietly brooding and beautiful. Produced by Sparklehorse’s Mark Linkous.

 

Ruxpin / Where Do We Float From Here?

IDM electronic musician Jónas Thor Guðmundsson hails from Iceland and creates blips and bleeps as Ruxpin. Less frenetic than Autechre, not as dark as Aphex Twin, Where Do We Float From Here shines with bright and melodic northern lights.

   

Olivier Messiaen / Visions de l’Amen

French avant garde composer’s challenging suite of seven pieces for two pianos. Marilyn Nonken (piano I) and Sarah Rothenberg (piano II) in a brilliant performance captured at Stude Hall, Shepherd School of Music, Rice University.  

Jews and Catholics / Who Are? We Think We Are!

 Following in that grand Southeastern tradition of rock duos (House of Freaks, Flat Duo Jets), Winston-Salem’s Jews and Catholics bring their amped-up indie pop to spike the punch at your summer backyard party. Audacious, nervy, overdriven. Produced by the legendary Mitch Easter of Let’s Active.

 

Georgia Anne Muldrow (as Jyoti) / Ocotea

 Muldrow takes a break from her breathtaking vocals and rhymes on Ocotea, as she deftly experiments with avant jazz swirled around inside chill electronica.

Harold Whit Williams is a Library Specialist in Music & Multimedia Resources Cataloging for Content Management. He also writes poetry, is guitarist for Cotton Mather, and records ambient electronic music under the solo name The French Riot.

 

Jennifer Isasi

Jennifer Isasi to Join LLILAS Benson as CLIR Fellow for Data Curation

LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections is pleased to announce that Jennifer Isasi, PhD, will join the staff as CLIR Fellow for Data Curation in Latin American and Latina/o Studies. Isasi will work with Digital Scholarship Coordinator Albert A. Palacios to contribute to “collections as data” efforts, educational resources, and digital scholarship initiatives at LLILAS Benson. She will hold her position from July 29 through June 2020.

In her role as CLIR fellow, Isasi will have the opportunity to alter the way in which students, researchers, and affiliated communities access and engage with the digitized historical record.

According to CLIR (the Council on Library and Information Resources) the CLIR postdoctoral position “offers recent PhD graduates the chance to develop research tools, resources, and services while exploring new career opportunities. . . . Fellows work on projects that forge and strengthen connections among library collections, educational technologies, and current research.”

Jennifer Isasi
Jennifer Isasi

In addition to her work with Palacios, Isasi will work closely with the current CLIR fellow Hannah Alpert-Abrams as well as University of Texas Libraries academic engagement staff and LLILAS affiliated faculty to develop curated data sets, curricula, and workshops centered on digital assets and tools, and open-access resources that support scholarly and public engagement with digital materials.

Isasi will also work closely with the post-custodial archival team and partners in the United States and Latin America to inform the development of forthcoming digital collections and facilitate their use in digital research and pedagogy. As such, she will have the opportunity to alter the way in which students, researchers, and affiliated communities access and engage with the digitized historical record.

Jennifer Isasi holds a PhD in Hispanic Studies with a specialization in Digital Humanities from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Her dissertation, “Data Mining Possibilities for the Analysis of the Literary Character in the Spanish Novel: The Case of Galdós and the ‘Episodios nacionales’” (written in Spanish) establishes a computational reading methodology to extract, analyze, and visualize literary character-systems or social networks, noting how they reflect novel genres and degrees of historicity that replicate close readings of the novels. Currently, she is a lecturer of Spanish at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, where she teaches Spanish, Commercial Spanish, and Foundations of Literacy.

Book preservationist Joey Marez repairing a volume.

To Protect and Preserve

As we’re wrapping up Preservation Week 2018, it’s instructive to remember that at the core of the library mission, the act of preserving the vast collections of the University of Texas Libraries is one of the most important things we do. A lot of times this reality gets lost in issues of actual collection management or access issues, but this annual recognition established by the American Library Association provides an opportunity to highlight the exhausting and often overlooked work of preservation staff at libraries.

You may have seen an earlier story about the efforts of our intrepid staff’s foray into a storm disaster zone to recover items from the heavily damaged Marine Science Institute’s Marine Science Library at Port Arthur. It’s a great example of a dramatic response in service of emergency protection and preservation of important library resources. Almost every year, though, there are examples of less sensational acts of professional heroism that test the buoyancy of our incredible preservation staff. One such example occurred in the fall of 2017 — a short time after the Harvey rescue effort — when a  shortcoming in a renovation project at the Jackson School of Geology resulted in a construction failure that would’ve represented a loss of hundreds of volumes were it not for the expertise and dexterity of our preservationists and onsite staff.

Flood abatement at the Geology Library.

Over the summer of 2017, a lab renovation on the 5th floor of the Jackson Geology Building above the library took place. After hours on a Monday evening the following fall, a water line in the lab failed and water began to enter the ceiling over the stacks of the library, eventually leading to a collapse of ceiling tiles and what was described as water “gushing and pouring” onto the volumes below. Library staff followed protocols to involve emergency response staff and managed to get the water shut off, but by the time this had happened, almost 400 books had been directly damaged by the flow.

For many libraries across the country, this would represent a loss of resources, but the university is fortunate to have a library system that features a robust capacity for ensuring the long-term protection of the knowledge resources that have been built over its 130-plus year history.

Books drying.

Staff response included immediate assessment of the materials and fanning out the most heavily-affected items on tables and staging industrial dehumidifiers and air circulators to address the water damage as quickly as possible, and some of these needed to be interleaved with additional blotter paper to absorb the appreciable moisture. Of the 394 items that were directly impacted by the flood, 35 required additional preservation attention, including repair and rehousing, and an additional 1200 items were removed from the shelves as a precaution, a not insignificant number that would need sorting, ordering and re-shelving after the cleanup.

Staff treating materials in the preservation lab.

In the course of the emergency, staff spent 24 hours on the initial response, 40 hours on recovery efforts (including transport and triage), and 10 hours of additional effort on coping with the additional preservation work needed to save the most heavily damaged books. And this doesn’t even take into account the work needed to return the library and its collections to the previous state that was undertaken by the onsite staff and facilities crew.

Preservation Week was established by ALA to highlight the need to think about supporting a function of the library that often goes unnoticed or underappreciated. Some 630 million items in collecting institutions across the United States require immediate attention and care. 80% of these institutions have no paid staff assigned responsibility for collections care, and 22% have no collections care personnel at all, leaving some 2.6 billion items unprotected by an emergency plan.

We’re lucky to have a university that provides for the expertise necessary to protect an investment in knowledge built over its long history, that can, as a result, serve this generation and many to come.

The staff that protect and preserve library collections.
Some of the staff that protect and preserve library collections.

 

 

Collections Highlight: Gravitation

"Gravitation" by Charles W. Misner, Kip S. Thorne, and John Archibald Wheeler. San Francisco: W.H. Freeman, 1973.

Gravitation is a seminal work familiar to all advanced physics students, but the Kuehne Physics Mathematics Astronomy Library (PMA) has an uncommon copy of the book.

Co-author John Wheeler presented this copy with his inscription to a former engineering professor at UT, who donated the book to the PMA Library.

A time later, co-author Kip Thorne  gave a lecture at UT and a Physics undergrad asked if he would add his inscription. Finally, co-author Charles Misner visited campus for a lecture and he, too, added his inscription to the volume, completing the trio.

Inscriptions by the authors on the frontispiece of "Gravitation."

Transcription of Mixtec, with Spanish translation. Raúl Alvarez (transcriber and translator). 1981. Rabbit story, with additional translation by Benjamín García Santiago. This will be part of the AILLA archive.

NEH Grant Will Fund Transcription of Indigenous Language Collection

BY J. RYAN SULLIVANT

The Archive of Indigenous Languages of Latin America (AILLA) has received a pilot grant from the Humanities Collections and Reference Resources program of the National Endowment for the Humanities. This grant will improve access to some of the archive’s thousands of audio recordings in indigenous languages by supporting pilot efforts to crowdsource the creation of digital texts for manuscript transcriptions and translations that accompany recordings already in AILLA’s collections. Specifically, the grant will support the transcription of materials in the Mixtec languages of Mexico that are included in the MesoAmerican Languages Collection of Kathryn Josserand. These materials include a very broad survey of the grammar and vocabulary of the Mixtec languages spoken in over 100 towns and villages of southern Mexico.

Transcription of Tehuelche, from the AILLA archive of Jorge Suárez
Transcription of Tehuelche, from the AILLA archive of Jorge Suárez

Digital transcriptions will improve users’ access to these materials and will also facilitate their reuse for humanistic and especially linguistic research studying the dialectology of the Mixtec languages, which, decades after these materials were collected, is still not completely understood. They will also contribute to research on the prehistory of the Mixtec-speaking people, who today number almost a half-million in Mexico. One component of the project will be the development of educational modules that will use the transcription task to teach lessons on linguistic transcription, language description, and historical linguistics. This pilot project will also allow AILLA to develop transcription workflows that can be applied to other significant collections of handwritten documents in the archive’s collections.

Pilot project will improve access to a collection of Mixtec audio recordings.

The project’s principal investigator is Professor Virginia Garrard, director of LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections. The project manager is Ryan Sullivant, AILLA language data curator.

Survey in Chalcatongo Mixtec (with Spanish above), from the AILLA collection of J. Kathryn Josserand
Survey in Chalcatongo Mixtec (with Spanish above), from the AILLA collection of J. Kathryn Josserand

The National Endowment for the Humanities, created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at www.neh.gov.

For more information on the AILLA transcription project, contact Ryan Sullivant.