Category Archives: People

Rallying the Next Generation of African Leaders

YALI participants on-site at PCL.

As the Business Librarian at UT Libraries I frequently work with entrepreneurs from the McCombs School of Business and sometimes from the Cockrell School of Engineering. For the first time this summer I had the honor of working with a group of young entrepreneurs from Africa.

The 25 attendees here at UT Austin were part of the 500 Mandela Washington Fellows for Young African Leaders Institute (YALI) selected from over 40,000 applications for this prestigious program. President Obama invited the group to the U.S. from Sub-Saharan Africa as part of his signature effort to invest in the next generation of global leaders. Twenty universities were selected to host the fellows. UT Austin chose the theme of Business & Entrepreneurship for its institute.

The UT Austin YALI Fellows are creating and/or growing businesses back home. Their interests are broad; women’s and children’s health initiatives, farming, training computer scientists, and translation services. One of the most inspirational companies is one that trains women incarcerated for prostitution to become fashion designers and tailors. The fashion company hires these women upon their release thereby improving the women’s situations and helping them stay out of prison.

Just like I would for students on our campus, I provided a business research workshop to the YALI group and coordinated with the UT Austin International Office to develop a course guide and a hands-on research workshop for these entrepreneurs. In the workshop we practiced search strategies and I introduced them to resources containing market research, economic, and demographic data.

At the end of their UT visit, the Fellows participated in a pitch competition in front of a three-judge panel of successful Austin entrepreneurs. I saw first-hand how they incorporated their research into their pitch for future funding. The judges asked tough questions about growth and sustainability. The Fellows handled the inquiry with aplomb and you could see the passion they all had for their projects.

To cap off the 6-week event all 500 Fellows attended a summit in Washington, D.C. where they met with Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama. At the summit President Obama announced the program was to be renamed the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders to honor Nelson Mandela. Not only is the program going to continue next year, but the President has also committed to double the number of participants to 1000 for the summer of 2016.

I hope that the University of Texas will be hosting again next year and that I have the opportunity and privilege to work with these global entrepreneurs as they go out and change the world!


A Poet in the Science Library

“Backmasking” by Harold Whit Williams.

One wouldn’t necessarily expect to find a poet in the stacks of a science library, but then again, creativity often occurs in the least anticipated of places.

The Life Science Library boasts among its staff a prize-winning poet, as Library Specialist Harold Whit Williams has garnered praise for his work, which is both a catalog of his experience as a musician, and reflective of his southern heritage. His most recent collection of poems, Backmasking, earned Williams the 2013 Robert Phillips Chapman Poetry Chapbook Prize from Texas Review Press, and his poem “Blues Dreams,” received the 2014 Mississippi Review Poetry Prize.

In some ways, it would seem to make perfect sense that Williams would understand the finer points of cadence and pentameter  — he’s also the guitarist for notable Austin pop band Cotton Mather.

Williams’ first collection of poetry, Waiting For The Fire To Go Out, was published by Finishing Line Press, and his work has appeared in numerous literary journals.

Whit kindly indulged a line of questioning about his poetry, his music and his life at the Libraries. 

When did you start writing poetry? Was it an outcropping of your music?

Harold Whit Williams: I’ve been writing poetry off and on since college days, but started giving serious attention to it, and publishing, now for about seven years.

Strange, but poetry is a totally separate thing to me from songwriting. As a guitarist first, my songs, or the guitar parts I play in Cotton Mather, happen musically first. Then lyrics come later. But with poetry, it’s all wordplay from the get-go, and the musicality in the words themselves tend to direct where I go in a poem.

Does the inspiration for poetry and music come from the same place, even though the jumping off point is different? Or are they driven by different urges? 

HWW: Good question. What makes me plug in an electric guitar and make loud horrendous noise has to come from a much different urge than the one making me get to a quiet place, alone, to jot down a poem. Continue reading

In Memoriam: Dr. James E. Boggs

Dr. James E. Boggs. Photo from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

James E. Boggs, longtime chemistry professor and library benefactor, passed away on June 2, 2013, at the age of 91.

Dr. Boggs came to The University of Texas at Austin in 1953, after working in the Manhattan Project as an Oberlin College undergraduate and then getting his PhD at the University of Michigan.  In 1948 he married Ruth Ann Rogers, a librarian.  They had originally planned to stay only a few years in Texas, but ended up spending the rest of their lives in Austin.

A physical chemist specializing in molecular structure and dynamics with over 400 scientific publications, Boggs established the long-running Austin Symposium on Molecular Structure, which convened here starting in 1966.  As a popular teacher he pioneered a course on science in society and taught freshman chemistry for many years.

Boggs was an avid traveler and internationalist, and worked for years with the Overseas Study Program to seek out talented chemists in far-flung places around the world, providing them with professional opportunities to publish, travel, and work as post-docs in his lab.  While he retired officially in his seventies, as professor emeritus he maintained an active work schedule and a funded laboratory up until the time of his death.

In 1998 he and his wife established the James E. and Ruth Ann Boggs Endowment Fund, which has benefited the Mallet Chemistry Library as it strives to remain one of the best chemistry collections in the country.  The endowment has enabled the purchase of many expensive monographs and reference sets over the years, and along with the Skinner Endowment provides the margin of excellence that a top research library needs.  Memorial donations may be made to the Boggs Fund via the UT giving site.

David Flaxbart is the head librarian of the Mallet Chemistry Library. 

“You know this already: I am insatiable when it comes to books”

Gehard Werner.

The University of Texas Libraries remembers an important scientist, insatiable library user and the source of the above quote — Gerhard Werner.

Gerhard’s first retirement was in 1989 when he left an extensive academic career as a medical doctor, dean, professor and researcher. Gerhard then began his second phase where is spent the next 5 years as Chief of Staff at Veterans Hospital in Pittsburg. His third retirement phase was as Research Scientists with Motorola here in Austin. This is where we all first met Gerhard and as if this wasn’t enough, soon he was also an adjunct professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering.  Until his recent death at 90 he studied complex adaptive systems, nonlinear dynamics and the conceptual foundation of neuroscience.

Gerhard’s wide ranging interests meant that he could regularly be seen in almost all of the libraries on campus at one time or another.  His most likely venues were Life Science, Engineering, Physics Math Astronomy and PCL.

Gerhard was known and loved as a heavy libraries user. At the time of his death he had over 21 books checked out and 9 items on hold. What’s even more amazing is that he had requested over the last few years he requested that we purchase over 70 titles. We never denied him. Best of all he came to check them all out. What a feat. He was an intellectually and physically active man—he’d walk to any library on campus, carrying a stack of books and he’d always stop to chat.

His wonderful smile is evidenced in all his photos but particularly in the one taken at his 90th birthday.

Here are a few specific memories of Gerhard:

From Nancy Elder—Life Science Librarian

“Probably my favorite memory is of Gerhard popping in with a stack of books, saying he had to stock up for the weekend. I used to tease him about how much he could carry. I think Christmas was his least favorite time, because it would be “too many days” with no library to go to. He would really stock up before the holidays!  The most remarkable thing was all of us thought he was “our” library user. Wherever I went on campus, there he would be:  at PCL, at PMA, at Engineering and, seemingly, every day at Life Science. Not a week went by that he didn’t have a request for one of our New Books. The lack of a new book shelf at PCL was one of his longtime frustrations.

When it came to requesting books, Gerhard was unfailingly polite and appreciative. Never demanding, always asking with a please, for my birthday, for Christmas or “just one more request”. Once the book came in, he was always here first thing to check it out, sometimes commenting on the quality at return. His interests were so wide-ranging and his appetite so unquenchable, I could never pigeonhole what he would be interested in. As he said himself “I am insatiable when it comes to books.”

I’ve grown accustomed to Gerhard at my door, just waving or stopping by for a comment, several times a week; always cheerful, just happy to find yet another book to read.  We will miss him at the door, at the desk to check out books, sharing tales of his conference travel, always on the track of a new author, new book or new idea.

From Susan Ardis—Engineering Librarian

“Gerhard was a wonderful library user. His impish delight in getting a book from the collections or one that we’d ordered specifically for him will always be remembered. What I liked best about Gerhard is that he always recognized library staff on campus–even if we were “out of our uniform location.” We all knew, just from what he borrowed that he had wide ranging interests and epitomized a lifelong learner who values libraries and books.

His smile, jaunty wave and enjoyment of libraries and books will forever remain with me. I saw him on campus two weeks ago getting a book on hold and he smiled and waved.  He was one of a kind; he was one of the best.

From Larayne Dallas—Engineering Librarian

Several years ago he called one morning to apologize because  he wouldn’t be able to return an overnight  book  he had checked out  9am. He wanted to explain why “ I had to take my wife to the emergency room.” My response  was  “Oh Gerhard—don’t  worry about it. Return it when you can.” He was in later that morning to return the book and report all was well with his wife and say “you have to be very tough to be old.”

From Molly White —PMA

Molly shares with us two emails from Gerhard that aptly demonstrate why he was so loved by the Libraries.

I received an email from him requesting a book purchase on a Saturday, and replied that I would rush order it on Monday.  Here is his reply:

Working on weekends is not good for your health !!!

This is what the Doctor says –

Thank you,

Gerhard

And here is another email:

Dear Molly,

On account of the libraries being closed today (Sunday), I suffer from withdrawal symptoms…

To alleviate my suffering would you please consider the following:

We do have in PMA the 2000 edition of the book by Didier Sornette, Critical Phenomena in Nature.

There is now a new edition available (2003) of which I currently have a copy on loan through ILL.

The new edition is significantly expanded and has also some new chapters.

Would you consider ordering a copy ? (published by Springer) It would be very helpful.

Thank You

Gerhard

Susan Ardis is Head Librarian at the McKinney Engineering Library. 

Lessons Learned: SX 2012 Edition

Photo by Flickr user Our HoliDaze.

After the crowds have left and the cacophony of another SXSW has subsided, it’s time for reflection. So the ALA Membership blog over at American Libraries invited a bevy of librarians – among them our own Anna Fidgeon and Cindy Fisher – to comment about their impressions and insights on attending the interactive portion of the festival.

Apparently, there was actually some productivity at the Drinkup.

Back to the Drawing Board…

We’re in the thick of it again with the looming end of the semester and the approaching zero-hour for projects and exams driving long nights and early mornings around the Libraries.

That also signals the return of whiteboard art, the spontaneous creative fits resulting from a combination of stress, anxiety, exhaustion and some small degree of relief that the end – be it affirmative or not – is nigh.

You can view a slide show of the finer examples of this phenomenon captured by our own Frank Meaker at the University’s Know website or at the Libraries Flickr page.

BONUS STACKS DISCOVERY:

A student “settles in for the long haul” on 5th floor of the PCL.

In the Land of Peace and Quiet

Susan Ardis is Head Librarian of the McKinney Engineering Library.

I recently had the amazing opportunity to visit two technical libraries in Hanoi one at Hanoi University of Technology (HUT) and the other at Vietnam National University (VNU)-Hanoi not to be confused with the largest university in Vietnam with the same name in Ho Chi Minh City.  Both universities have over 30k students. My visit was in conjunction with an outside consulting project where  I’m the library representative on a team charged with planning for a new technical university to be built 60 kilometers outside of Hanoi.

Hanoi is an enormous city with an estimated population of over 6.5 million and I think I may have seen nearly half of them.   It was the rainy session so if you think about what Houston would be like on serious steroids then you’d have a sense of the temperature and the humidity. I was told how lucky we were since it didn’t rain much (only 20 minutes one day) during our visit. But it was kind of weepy at times.

Sadly there wasn’t much time to be a tourist but I did see and learn a number of things. Cars and motor bikes are everywhere and only cars need to follow road signs such as the one way sign and no driving on the sidewalks.  How do I know? Our driver got a ticket for driving down the wrong way on a one-way street. The motorbikes did not. We saw cars of all types from BMWs to Daewoos to Cadillac Escalades to Fords.  I was surprised to be driven around town in new Ford Explorer. Probably the most interesting aspect of transportation was to see a guy with two front doors tied on to his motorbike just zipping down the street.

All these two-stroke engines means the air is quite polluted so nearly everyone on a motor bike is wearing a face mask. I never saw anyone out of the probably 1m motorbikes not wearing a helmet so this must be an enforced law.  Hanoi is a city on the go, everyone is moving all the time and building are being build and remodeled all over town at an enormous pace. Everyone has a cell phone and everyone is calling all the time even during meetings with what we were told were “high officials.” Continue reading

A Killer Diversion for Galloway

James Galloway, longtime evening supervisor in the Mallet Chemistry Library, has published a book chronicling a fascinating but little-known episode in Austin’s history:  The Servant Girl Murders: Austin, Texas 1885.

The book gathers extensive primary source materials and original research and puts it all together to tell the story of a frightening and ultimately unsolved crime wave in the capital city during the time when UT was in its infancy.  The tale is complete with clues, suspects, detectives, gory details and an elusive perpetrator that had the population of Austin on edge in 1885.

During the course of that year, six women, one man, and one child were murdered in their sleep by a silent, axe-wielding killer.  Many more were attacked.  The police and Pinkertons alike were powerless to stop the crimes. Then the murders ended as mysteriously as they began.  Who was responsible?  How was the person able to escape detection and capture?  And why did the murders stop?  James adds an accompanying essay that examines these still-tantalizing questions.

David Flaxbart is Head Librarian of the Mallet Chemistry Library.

Breaking Through Austerity

“An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”

-Benjamin Franklin

You’ve probably heard the news that UT-Austin has initiated a plan to cut $14.6 million in expenditures for 2010 – 2011. Everyone on campus has been looking for places to trim back, trying to decide what is core and essential and what is just “nice to have.”

The UT Libraries has a long-standing commitment to staff training and professional development and that commitment has not wavered during these tough economic times.   However, we have had to find creative ways to provide this training with fewer financial resources.

One approach we have taken is a program called Learning Breaks.  Every other week, someone from the Libraries staff will do two 30 minute presentations, one in-person and one online through our online meetings software, about a topic in which they have expertise.  This approach has allowed us to offer trainings on a wide variety of topics ranging from Web 2.0 applications such as Twitter, Flickr, wikis and blogs to time management practices such as managing your to-do list.

Since these topics are suggested by staff we know they fulfill a need.  What’s more, the benefits of Learning Breaks go beyond what is learned in the training; this peer-to-peer model also allows the Libraries to recognize and value the expertise and diverse talents of the staff.    And by incorporating ongoing training into the work day on a regular basis, Learning Breaks send a message that library staff are worth the investment.

Catherine Hamer is Interim Associate Director for User Services.