Throughout the fall of 2018, I was honored to be able to convene UT South Asia Institute’s Seminar Series, “Popular | Public | Pulp: form and genre in South Asian cultural production.” Throughout the series, speakers explored printed examples of South Asian popular culture—mysteries, romances, comics—as they underscore and grapple with historical and contemporary concerns such as identity, power, & representation. In addition to interrogating literary approaches, speakers in the series further addressed questions of gender, of sexuality, of caste & religion, and of authority, helping readers and scholars alike challenge what qualifies as “worthy” both in terms of style and substance.
One goal of the series was to draw attention to UT Libraries growing collection of popular and pulp fiction in South Asian languages, a collection that is nationally and internationally unique in gathering and preserving popular materials and subsequently making them available for users. Beyond publicity, however, the series was also intended to uncover reading and distribution networks for these materials so that I might continue to creatively and productively acquire them while on acquisitions and networking trips to South Asia. In November and December, and with the generous funding of both UTL and the South Asia Institute, I was privileged to travel to India and more deeply explore a venue repeatedly invoked in the fall speaker series: small lending libraries.
Small lending libraries are a cultural phenomenon throughout South Asia which support themselves through highly localized, neighborhood-based memberships. Unlike UT Libraries which has a long-term and “long-tail” research agenda, the mission of these lending libraries is to support current and highly popular reading practices, not unlike many small public libraries in the U.S.
While in Chennai, I was able to visit two lively lending libraries—Easwari and Senthil—to observe their operations, to ask questions about the popularity of particular authors, and to acquire second-hand materials. Both libraries carry all the bestsellers—in English [Mills and Boon, Harry Potter, James Patterson] and in Tamil [Rajesh Kumar, Indira Soundarajan, Raminichandran]—and experience high circulation of their books. Because preservation is not part of their mission, the libraries are willing to sell the most ephemeral of their materials, namely monthly periodicals which include crime, detective and “women’s” fiction (romances as well as family dramas).
Despite the vibrant activity I observed at both these libraries, I am told that lending libraries are slowly vanishing from the South Asian landscape, ceding space to other entertainments and ways of “time pass.” I was happy to have had the chance to visit these libraries and I do hope they will still be open and serving their readers on my next visit. If not, though, I am comforted knowing that UT Libraries is participating in documenting and preserving some of this literary and cultural history for researchers long into the future.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 mission of UT Libraries is to “advance teaching, fuel research and energize learning through expansive collections and digital content, innovative services, programs and partnerships to develop critical thinkers and global citizens that transforms lives.” In recent years, our mission is fulfilled through a number of ongoing thematic “Purposeful Pathways” and short-term focused “Current Priorities.” In this blogpost, I would like to highlight how my recent efforts in Pakistan demonstrate the realization of a number of our pathways and priorities, namely those related to collections of distinction, collaborative collection development programs, and visibility and impact in the global knowledge ecosystem.
While in Lahore, I partnered with my colleague from Cornell University Libraries, Dr. Bronwen Bledsoe, to co-lead a workshop for librarians. The 2-day workshop was sponsored by the Lahore University of Management Sciences (most commonly known as ‘LUMS’) and by the American Institute of Pakistan Studies (known as ‘AIPS,’). Entitled “Exploring Library Cooperation,” the workshop focused on themes of how to identify opportunities for and strategies to work across institutions to improve access to resources and services.
Approximately 30 librarians from across Lahore attended, including those from LUMS, Punjab University, Government College University, Kinnaird College for Women, and the Government of Punjab Research Wing. While our opportunities for collaboration here in the U.S. are deeply embedded in our ongoing work (not only efforts such as the South Asia Cooperative Collection Development Workshops noted above but also structural support such as our robust InterLibrary Services), it was clear from our workshop that our colleagues in Lahore are also interested in working together. For example, they shared details of their work to more fully describe and digitize their collections, to collectively petition funding agencies to advance their missions, and to continue developing professional networks and strategies for the common good. I was impressed and inspired by their commitment and enthusiasm and am looking forward to growing these newly formed professional relationships long into the future.
UTL’s Director, Lorraine Haricombe, often cites this maxim: “Working alone, I can go fast, but working together, we can go farther.” I am excited and committed to continuing to work in cooperative ways and have already seen how far it can take us—at least halfway around the world!
The University of Texas Libraries is pleased to announce the creation of a new pilot residency program to encourage participation in library professions by historically underrepresented populations.
The Consuelo Artaza and Dr. Carlos Castañeda Diversity Alliance Residency Program will align with efforts of the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) Diversity Alliance to increase the hiring pipeline of qualified and talented individuals from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. By working together and thinking more broadly, ACRL Diversity Alliance institutions will help diversify and enrich the profession.
A recent membership survey of ACRL members revealed that 83 percent of respondents identified as white. The ACRL Diversity Alliance was established to collaborate with institutions in the creation of programs that could combat the diversity disparity in library professions.
The Diversity Residency Program will be designed to help tackle this challenge. University of Texas at Austin alumnus and Libraries Advisory Council Member Gustavo Artaza has generously contributed the $100,000 toward the establishment of the program in honor of his mother, Consuelo Artaza, and his grandfather, Dr. Carlos Castañeda, who was the original librarian of the university’s Latin American Collection and namesake of the Perry-Castañeda Library.
Artaza’s contribution will go toward the overall challenge to raise $133,000 in order to obtain a matching grant from the university. The Libraries will focus on raising the remaining $33,000 this year’s 40 Hours for the Forty Acres fundraising campaign, taking place April 4-5.
Meet the Talents is an occasional series dedicated to introducing experts from around the UT Libraries. This month’s focus is Porcia Vaughn, Liaison Librarian for Biosciences, who joined the Libraries in late 2016. Porcia earned her MS at the University of North Texas and previously worked at the University of Houston Libraries and the Fondren at SMU.
How did you get here, and what do you do?
Porcia Vaugh: I’ve wanted to be a librarian since middle school and have always had a love of science. It was in 9th grade that I found out that I could blend my love of libraries with my science passion to become a science librarian. So, I made the plan to get a degree in biological sciences with a minor in health studies to then proceed to graduate school to obtain a MS in Information Sciences focusing on Health Informatics. And here I am today with the ability to connect faculty, students and staff at a major R01 research institution to library services… I’m definitely living my dream!
I’ve made my way to UT to support the biological sciences programs, including Integrative Biology, Molecular Biosciences, Neurology, Biomedical Engineering and other bioscience related programs. I provide research, publication, curriculum and instruction support to the biosciences programs and disciplines here on the UT Austin campus.
Services I provide for UT researchers include, but are not limited to, locating grants, assisting with formal literature review searches, identifying data sets, identifying best practices for publishing and making one’s work discoverable, and assistance with data management principles and practices for compliance in the biological and life science disciplines. The success to UT’s research enterprise is important to me and the role of the library to be involved with identifying specialized needs and seeking innovative solutions to those needs is always a priority of mine when serving our researchers.
In addition to researcher support, I offer strategic library services to the biosciences undergraduate curriculum by providing hands-on training for students regarding Information Literacy — the proper ways to find and use biological and life science information tools and resources appropriately to be successful as a student and future biological researcher. I assist instructor or teaching assistants with instructional design around course assignments and program learning outcomes using library resources or other open educational resources.
Where do you think the love of science comes from? Genetic, organic or other?
PV: My love of science has always been focused on biological and life sciences. Growing up in an area with a culture, Hispanic & Native American in New Mexico, I grew to love and respect the environment and the living organisms within the environment. The love was then fostered by fantastic middle school science teachers and librarians who supplied the great natural sciences books to feed my interest.
I do really love every aspect of trying to understand living organisms — physical structure, chemical composition, function, and development of living organisms. My undergraduate research focused on parasitology and I loved studying those little and sometimes gross organisms but they are so important to how we evolve in our environment.
I know from talk around the watercooler that you have a bit of a competitive streak (esp. sports). Where do you think that comes from, and do you see those aspects of yourself in your work?
PV: Yeah, I do have a little bit of a competitive streak. I’ve played sports all my life, my dad is an athletic coach who coached my varsity soccer team and my entire family plays sports. I still am very active in sports playing softball and tennis a couple nights a week. I feel that my competitiveness drives me in my daily work, knowing that I can always do better and provide more adaptive services to build others up.
Is there some aspect of UT’s particular research in the sciences that drew you here? Or have you discovered some interesting research that you weren’t aware of?
PV: I was drawn to UT because it is a Tier 1 research institution and the library is in the top 15 on the ARL Library Index Ranking. There are many exciting research opportunities that are occurring here and I can name a few:
But, there are so many more research opportunities to call attention to that excite me!
What sort of impact do you think librarians should have on research — what role do you want to play in the research life cycle?
PV: I think librarians have a huge role to play in research and any part of the campus enterprise, including teaching and learning the practices of the research life cycle. I assist and am always looking to collaborate with researchers at any stage of the research life cycle. I find it an important part of the biosciences services and tools for researchers for the librarian to participate in project scoping, identifying and tracking grant and funding opportunities, assist with building research data management practices, following through to disseminating, archiving and preserving researchers scholarship and communicating their research to the general public.
And how do you see your role in collection development and management? How does that aspect of your work differ from a librarian in a discipline like the humanities?
PV: I see collection development and management in two categories, course and curriculum needs and the gathering of faculty and graduate research and instructional resources. I identify materials that will enhance instruction and give students fundamental knowledge to enhance their own research priorities as they move forward in their education; this includes identifying Open Educational Resources for faculty and teaching assistants to use in course instruction. Bioscience collections can include textbooks or traditional print books, but also include a wide variety of software (i.e. Mapping and GIS) or electronic resources (i.e. lab protocols and journals) to improve understanding of research methodologies. It is important to work closely with faculty and students to make sure that we are providing resources that make them successful while they are here at UT Austin.
The Digital Humanities questions is a different story unrelated to collection development in my subject areas. DH is the adoption of computational methodologies and digital technologies for humanities research; whereas, in the STEM disciplines have been using data-driven approaches and technology for centuries. Differences between approaches include the types and quantity of data that is collected along with differing approaches to dissemination and preservation of research and scholarship.
You seem to have a pretty full plate in the present. What do you think your job will look like in ten years, and where would you like to be professionally?
PV: Looking toward the future, librarians will likely be further embedded in a role that supports and enhances research across the university and globally. Libraries will continue to look for ways to benchmark library successes within the research enterprise while strengthening our connections to curriculum and instruction. Academic libraries will also play a large role in community engagement and translation of scholarly research to those beyond the university bubble.
Professionally, I’m aiming to be in a management role that will advance the philosophy and methodologies of library programing and services that directly connect to the academic mission and success stories.
What gives you the greatest sense of accomplishment in life?
PV: Doing what I love gives me a sense of accomplishment. Every morning I get to wake up and have the privilege of working with amazing people and if I can help anyone of them advance their personal or professional goals by providing support makes me happy.
Brittany Rhea Deputy is the Librarian to the Moody College of Communication and the College of Liberal Arts Department of Linguistics. A native Floridian and Texas transplant, Brittany holds an MLIS in Library and Information Science from the University of South Florida and a BS in Public Relations from the University of Florida. She offers a wide variety of teaching and consultation services with specializations in finding data and statistics, analyzing current and historical print and broadcast news coverage, and utilizing research resources and specialized tools. Her previous employers include The University of Alabama, The University of South Florida – Health, and The University of Florida.
So, how did you come to the University of Texas Libraries?
Brittany Deputy: I came to UT Libraries in 2013 after working as a human environmental sciences librarian for the University of Alabama Libraries. Before I became a librarian I worked in public relations and communications for the University of Florida’s Graduate School, so when I saw the opportunity to get back into that discipline but in a new role, I jumped into action. I really loved the job I was in, but I couldn’t pass on the perfect mashup of communications and librarianship that I have in my job here at UTL.
It’s great that you were able to find something that married your interests like that. What’s an average day (if there’s such a thing) for the communications liaison/librarian at UT?
BD: Honestly every day is different. My days really depend on what semester we’re in and what’s happening at that time in that semester. For example, up until last week you probably wouldn’t have seen me much in the PCL because I was teaching over in the Belo or CMA buildings at the Moody College.
Now, the classes are tapering off, but I’m seeing more and more one on one research consultations. These are mostly with graduate students or faculty members, and sometimes with research institutes on campus, who need really specific, in-depth research help and expertise. Then as the month wears on and we get closer to the end of the semester, I’ll switch over to my special projects. Things like the Graduate Research Showcase the Social Science Librarians Team is hosting or a special lecture I’m giving on the history of fake news.
Of course during all of this I’m doing day to day things like answering reference questions, purchasing items for the library collections, and serving on committees and groups as well. I’m never bored that’s for sure!
Tell me a little about teaching at the college. A lot of people mistakenly assume that librarians stay cooped up with the books, but that’s not really the case at all, is it?
BD: Haha, no, that’s not the case at all. I probably couldn’t tell you the last time I handled a physical book. Our jobs are very much online and on the go.
How things go when I’m teaching at the college depends on the class, the department, and the students. The needs of undergraduate students versus graduate students and students in advertising versus those in communication sciences and disorders are extremely different. It’s not unheard of for my first class of the day to focus entirely on how to search databases to find peer reviewed research articles about using computer assisted technology to help stroke victims struggling with aphasia and my second class of the day to center on finding and utilizing data from the census, local maps, and NAICS codes to help students figure out the best advertising strategy for the luxury handbag company they were assigned as a “client.” It’s all so different every time I walk into a classroom, but that’s what makes it the most fun.
Communications studies are sort of all-encompassing in a way that lots of people probably don’t consider. Does it get overwhelming trying to keep up with trends and innovations, especially given the increasingly connected nature of the world?
BD: From the outside it probably seems rather hectic, it can be a lot of work to keep informed of new trends and innovations in any discipline, but if you can discern between what’s hype and what’s helpful, it definitely makes the job easier.
I think this is where my background and expertise really come in handy. I’ve worked in similar jobs, attended the same conferences, and am a member of the same professional associations as the students and the faculty members I work with, so I’ve been where they are and can see where things are going, professionally speaking.
I’m also not alone in my role. I regularly work with librarians at other universities who are in positions like mine, working with students and faculty in communication related fields. We discuss trends, troubleshoot questions, and crowd source ideas almost weekly. A few weeks ago we had a pretty lively discussion about using R or Python to analyze Facebook comments on online news stories. It was pretty cool.
You mentioned a special project, a lecture on fake news, which is a topic of much discussion in the wake of the recent presidential election, but has probably existed for a much longer period of time. What role do you think libraries in general — and the UT Libraries more specifically — play in combating bad information in a world where traditional filters no longer exist?
BD: Fake news has been around for a long time. Historical figures like Marie Antoinette and Mark Antony might have lived a bit longer if it weren’t for fake news in fact. The difference today is our access to it. Instead of graffiti on Roman walls or printed pamphlets in the streets of Paris, fake news stares us in the face from every screen. I mean, there’s probably about five screen devices in my office right now, so that’s a lot of access points!
Thankfully though, the libraries, especially UTL, can help people sort through it all and stay informed of what’s really going on in the world and the communities around them. Librarians are experts at research and evaluation and can teach people how to look at news holistically. It’s tempting to take a news story at face value or maybe even just use a small checklist approach to evaluating it, but in today’s world, with news breaking 24 hours a day, it’s not enough. You really have to be curious and dig deep and that’s were librarians like myself and my colleagues at UTL come in to help. We can walk you through the process and show you some tips and tricks to help along the way.
Now obviously not every person could, or would want to, take a deep dive into every news story they encountered, but even if you do it just once or twice, it can really help you separate the facts from fiction. But if you do fall victim to a fake news story don’t feel too bad. Bad information happens to good people sometimes. I’ve even been tricked a few times!
Given that you help people to navigate sometimes complex or obscure information, you probably learn quite a bit that you aren’t expecting. What’s a discovery you’ve made through your work that you’ve kept with you?
BD: I’m always stumbling on to the new and unexpected when I’m working with researchers. It’s really satisfying to find those hidden gems and watch the research story unfold or even completely change because of it. It’s an exciting thing to witness and be a part of. I don’t think I have one specific discovery that means more than any other one, but I will say the first time I was mentioned and thanked in the acknowledgements section of an award-winning book was pretty special. To see my contributions to a researcher’s work in print was an amazing experience.
Validation is always a nice thing, because so much of life is just doing a good job because it’s what you do. What about the future? Where are you in ten years, and what is the job of the future communications librarian?
BD: I wish I could know what the job would look like in ten years! Things move so fast and change so readily it’s impossible to forecast exact trends that far in advance. I think a lot of people might have the assumption that libraries and librarians have served their purpose and are on their way out due to the internet and online access or that it’s just a building that holds a lot of stuff. But that isn’t really true at all. It is true a lot of things are online and it is true the library has a lot of “stuff”, but without librarians to help people find it, sort it, and make sense of it all, it’s just a book on a shelf. Data is just data. Information is just information. People, librarians and researchers working together, are what turn those things into knowledge. And that will always be the biggest and best part of this job. So hopefully that’s what I’ll still be doing in ten years too.
Carolyn is a Texan, born and raised, and earned her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Master of Science in Information Studies from UT Austin. After graduation, she served stints at St. Edward’s University, and UT San Antonio, before returning to UT Austin to work as the Social Sciences Liaison Librarian for Human Development & Family Sciences, Kinesiology & Health Education, Psychology, Social Work, and Sociology.
Research topics are driven not only by access to resources, but quality resources, walk us through how you develop new and curate existing resources for the social sciences.
Carolyn Cunningham: Social scientists use a little bit of everything in their research, from statistical data gathered from research articles and government agencies, books, to qualitative interviews. Some of this information is freely available, but a large portion is only available through our library subscriptions. We try to stay on top of developments in the field so our researchers will have access to the latest journal articles. With publication prices going up and budgets staying the same or shrinking, we have to prioritize carefully to serve the many different types of experts in our fields.
Many social science students go on to work outside of academia after graduation, so they lose access to the library resources they had while they were in school. It is just as important for them to have access to the latest research while working as practitioners as when they are students. Social work students are a great example. The agencies and organizations they work for after graduation sometimes have affiliations that allow research access, but often they are on their own. I try to squeeze in lessons about how to find open access material, how to request material through the public library, and other access points while they are still on campus.
How many patrons do you service on the Forty Acres?
CC: In my role as subject liaison, I serve folks in the following departments, across multiple colleges: Human Development & Family Sciences, Kinesiology & Health Education, Psychology, Social Work, and Sociology. I serve over 4,000 patrons, which includes 316 faculty and instructors, 700 masters and doctoral students, and 3,000 undergraduate students.
I also work unofficially with programs that don’t fit within one department, and I serve the campus at large when I answer questions through the Ask a Librarian chat and at the PCL Research Help desk.
Day to day, we see you in front of classrooms alongside professors teaching students how to access research information or with individuals who have an idea for research but are not sure how to get started. What happens in those sessions?
CC: Teaching in the classroom and meeting with folks one-on-one are some of the best parts of my job. When a faculty member invites me to talk about the art of doing research and exposing the students to the available tools, it can be tough to narrow down the talking points to fit the time allotted. It’s easy for me to go on and on, knowing all the tools we offer. Usually my classroom sessions happen when the students are writing research papers and they need to cite scholarly sources. With undergraduates, I show them how to pick a database and choose keywords in order to find research articles. We spend time during the class thinking about who is writing about their topics, whose expertise is considered authoritative, and what things are appropriate to cite (for example, scholarly articles versus news articles, or cutting edge research versus well-established theory). With graduate students, their projects often require deep interaction with the research in their areas, so we talk about finding works by major authors, methodology, and the process of publishing research articles. I recently worked with a class in which several students wanted to design surveys and questionnaires to measure social behaviors and attitudes about gender bias in the workplace. I showed them how to use the databases to find examples of previous studies that utilize surveys and questionnaires to use as models.
In one-on-one consultations, the meeting is molded by the where the researcher is in their project, and by their comfort level doing research. Undergraduates in the social sciences are often learning about their topics for the first time, and are shaping personal interests into something they can tackle in their coursework. Immigration, access to healthcare, LBGTQ issues; if there is a news story about it, we can usually find scholarly literature to lay the foundation for a research project. In these cases, I spend a good amount of the meeting introducing them to tools beyond Google or Google Scholar, and showing them how to produce a good pool of results. Graduate students and researchers are typically more experienced with the main tools in their fields, so we talk through the best keywords to search, the kinds of things published on their topic, and how to make sure they are not missing any key research in their fields. But this is just the beginning. It can go off in all kinds of crazy directions, sending us deep into the stacks, or deep down an Internet rabbit hole. This is a nerdy example, but I once helped a student dig through pages from the Wayback Machine in the Internet Archive to find a research abstract that was written in Italian. The original website had been taken down, but we had a partial citation. He had Italian language skills, so while I navigated and searched, he translated what we were seeing. It was the epitome of a wild goose chase, but we eventually found the full citation and were able to request the article through our interlibrary loan service.
What is the most satisfying aspect of your job?
CC: Talking to researchers one-on-one in consultations is incredibly gratifying. I learn something new almost every time. There are many great parts about these meetings, but learning about the issues researchers are interested in is so cool. UT has many movers and shakers on campus, and our faculty often get interviewed by NPR and other media outlets. It’s cool to hear a faculty member on the radio who just invited me to work with their classes.
I had no idea about that part of the job when I went to library school. I toyed with the thought of going into museum studies or preservation, and those specialties remain interests of mine. But I knew academic librarianship was for me early in my time as a student worker in the Geology library, and later as an intern at PCL. Dissecting people’s research questions and connecting them to information somehow works really well with my curiosity and people-orientation. I also love the cross-section of folks on campus: undergrads who are grinding through the college experience so they can go out and do other things in the world, and folks who stay in academia and build expertise in their areas (among many others, of course).
Is there a particularly rewarding or transformational interaction you had during a consultation with a patron?
CC: Transformation is one of the highest goals of pedagogy, and those moments are awesome. Sometimes, I see small transformations of people’s understandings of their topic. I have been working with a graduate student for the past few months who is investigating how college athletes identify as students. Just to give a very specific example of something I consult on regularly, we were searching for articles about college athletes and their student identity, but were not getting good results. I did a little playing around with our search, and we found that the research more commonly refers to “learner identity” or “academic identity.” Once we tweaked the search terms, the databases cracked open and gave us much better results. This student will use what she learns to make recommendations about how to advise and support student athletes in their academic achievement. It’s a great project with very tangible applications.
Other times, the transformation is more apparent in the classroom. I’ve gotten thank you notes from instructors saying their students’ papers are higher quality after a library session. Or they will redesign assignments after having me visit their classes.
Once, a patron high-fived me at the reference desk for finding a book they needed. That was awesome.
Anything you can teach us that will help us in our personal life?
CC: Sure, I can show you a few tips so you can Google like a librarian. Searching within a website can be really useful. If you know certain information lives on a site, but you can’t remember how to get there, you can search that whole site for the page you want. For instance, to find the UT calendar, enter this into the Google search bar:
Or you can easily limit your results to certain website domains. This may be helpful if you want to learn about a topic, but not see every type of result related to it. Let’s say you want find research about coconut oil. If you do a regular Google search for “coconut oil,” you get a lot of varied results, including news, social media, and products for sale. But if you scope to .edu websites, you get useful stuff right up front. Enter this into the search bar:
We talk much of collections and spaces as the resources of great relevance to our users. But let’s not neglect the incredible expertise represented by our staff, whose skill and talent provide the basis for all of the work libraries do.
Jenifer Flaxbart is the Assistant Director of Digital Scholarship for the University of Texas Libraries. She directs the recently created Digital Scholarship department within the Academic Engagement division. Her portfolio includes Digital Scholarship projects, education and partnerships, Research Data Services, Scholarly Communication and Open Access initiatives and the Scholars Commons, a pilot space and related services designed to support scholars engaged in the research lifecycle.
She received her MILS from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and a BA in English Literature from Hiram College.
Why did you decide to enter the field of library and information science? What motivated you to seek a library degree?
Jenifer Flaxbart: I knew I wanted to become part of a profession that facilitates the sharing of information and creation of new knowledge. My high school Math teacher opened each new chapter with a lecture and one was about the Ancient Library of Alexandria. I realized my goals for my own education and career aligned with the opportunities provided by the field.
How has your relationship with academic scholars changed over the years?
JF: I have been in several roles in which I’ve been the information conduit for students and faculty, connecting them with relevant resources through the collections acquisition, research consultation, online guides and video tutorials, classroom instruction and frontline reference assistance at a service desk or via a virtual chat service.
More recently I’ve worked with scholars through focus groups, steering committee work, and collaboration to inform space renovation initiatives, plans services and events, and work to create partnerships in pursuit of shared objectives.
Right now I’m participating in a series of Town Hall conversations with faculty about the next big research question at UT Austin through a program called Bridging Barriers that’s coordinated by the Office of the Vice President for Research. The UT Libraries submitted a concept paper that was layered into each of the six themes under discussion. We are well-positioned to assist researchers with data management as well as the creation of Open Educational Resources (OERs). OERs communicate research outcomes and impacts in transparent ways that support students in their studies and benefit members of the public.
How have the ways academic scholars research changed over the years and how has that changed your job?
JF: I’ve been an information professional for over two decades. During that time, I have helped others conduct research in many ways, using card catalogs, CD-ROMs, online databases that charge by the use, and databases that charge by the year. I’ve championed and leveraged the technological shift that enables expanded access as we have transitioned from print-based to online searching.
Because technology enables remote access, research can be done almost anywhere. Students and faculty can work at home and in coffee shops or airports as easily as they can in the library. If you watch them in action, they typically use a hybrid approach: several devices, such as a smart phone and a laptop or tablet, as well as a print book or two and some paper notes.
Many who have experienced this migration retain a fondness for the printed object: content that can be cradled, carried, stashed and retrieved at will, without the aid of a computer or device. Yet technology can enhance access to content in many ways. Digital formats can ensure that the content endures beyond the life of the paper on which it’s printed.
Libraries have, in an effort to accommodate group project work as well as the need for silent study, evolved spaces formerly dedicated to the storage of physical formats to compelling, flexible spaces equipped with embedded technology and robust wireless networks. The spaces and added-value services provided attract students and faculty engaging in the modes of research, teaching and learning that define higher education today.
Can you think of an example where access to content has been transformational in your personal life?
JF: Being able to source article or book content from our collections or through our InterLibrary Services unit is one of the privileges of UT affiliation. I’ve leveraged this access in simple ways, like using authoritative reviews to inform major purchases, and in more profound ways that enrich my professional knowledge and my parenting style.
Another fun example of how content can be personally impactful, for my family, is Turner Classic Movies (TCM). The classic film content preserved and shown by TCM provides context for cultural norms and timeless themes, readily available on basic cable. Thanks to TCM, our 8-year-old daughter knows who Marilyn Monroe and Bette Davis were, and her favorite film is the Billy Wilder comedy Some Like It Hot. She and her 13-year-old sister enjoy being scared by Alfred Hitchcock and convulsed by the Marx Brothers. Without vision, technology, and funding, TCM wouldn’t be able to fulfill its mission. It is a credible source of information about and access to an impressive vault of film content.
Likewise, the UT Libraries collect, organize, preserve, and provide access to content. If the content is in digital form, or we can create a digital derivative of it, we can do more with it. We can make it easier to discover and more visible. We can make it available to anyone with an Internet connection on the other side of the globe.
How will libraries mesh the use of print and electronic resources?
JF: This is already happening every day. Content is often available in multiple formats, in print and online, and what’s online can be printed. We make a significant investment in electronic resources, both because some things are only available in that way and because online access extends the reach and impact of these resources. When materials are unrestricted by copyright, we can also digitize and share content worldwide, as with our PCL Map Collection.
What is the academic libraries role in affordability in higher education?
JF: We provide curriculum-aligned research materials, particularly academic journal content that is peer-reviewed, rigorous research, book content and aggregated, proprietary database content, including music, film and special reports that contain proprietary information. This licensed content is subscribed to or purchased by the UT Libraries in support of all students, leveling the playing field in support of student success.
Additionally, we continue to advocate Open Access, to mitigate or eliminate the cost of subscription-based access, given that some of the authors of that content are right here at UT. And we encourage the creation and sharing of Open Educational Resources (OERs) so that faculty and students can access and reuse, revise, remix and redistribute resources that fuel teaching and learning in current and compelling ways.
How do you foresee patrons interacting with libraries in the future?
JF: I think about the Ancient Library of Alexandria and its’ destruction, and draw connections between the past and what’s to come. Physical materials, papyrus and artifacts, are always at risk. Few have direct access to such items and too little is known about the treasures held behind closed cabinet doors.
Technology makes the capture and delivery of irreplaceable content and information about it, what we call metadata, which describe the physical format as well as subject matter, possible in ways unimagined. It enables a scholar in another time zone or on another continent to look at and learn from a digital derivative of a printed pamphlet or text from an earlier era. And the magic of technology extends to ensuring that this captured content is preserved even if the original is lost.
Some argue that artifacts like a scroll or fibula must be experienced in person. When that isn’t possible, technology offers a via alternative, from scanned pages of a calligraphed manuscript to a 3-D printer-generated replica of a metal tool. I would argue that these visual and palpable replicas are vital windows into the past, and that with appropriate funding, staffing and technological resources, libraries are well-positioned to enable and evolve new levels of access to and engagement with content for all forms of scholarly endeavor.