Category Archives: Meet the Talents

Lydia Fletcher. Liaison Librarian for Physical and Mathematical Sciences

Meet the Talents: Lydia Fletcher

Liaison Librarian for Physical and Mathematical Sciences Lydia Fletcher is currently co-chairing the STEM Librarians South conference, which brings together information professionals and academics from across the Southern U.S. and beyond to share their ideas, current research, best practices, and unique insights that help librarians advance the cause of STEM education and research. 

When not organizing conferences, Lydia provides research, teaching and publishing support for all students, faculty and staff in the departments of Physics, Mathematics, Astronomy, Statistics & Data Science, Computer Science and Electrical & Computer Engineering.

She graciously agreed to answer a few questions about her work and experience for us. 


 

Tex Libris: First love — librarianship or science?

Librarian at NASA.
Lydia Fletcher.

Lydia Fletcher: Definitely science! Especially space science – I wanted to be an astronaut for a really long time, and I went to Space Camp when I was 10. Some of my favorite memories as a kid involved going to Johnson Space Center in Houston. I couldn’t get enough of the place! But at some point I got more interested in history and literature, and even though I was always excited by whatever NASA was doing, for a while I focused on other things.

 

Lego minifigs on a bookshelf.
Science Legos on a shelf in Lydia’s office.

 

Where did you study?

LF: I did my BA at the University of Texas at San Antonio and did a Master of Studies degree at the University of Oxford in the UK. Both of those were in English, and it wasn’t until I started working in libraries and got my MSIS here at UT that I realized that I could work with scientists as a librarian. And that I love it!

 

When did you join the UT Libraries, and what drew you to Texas?

LF: My three year anniversary with the UT Libraries will be on August 15! Some days it feels like I just got here, and other days it feels like I’ve been here forever. Texas is home for me – I’m from San Antonio – and UT is an exciting place to work. I love getting to interact with the researchers here, especially the folks at McDonald Observatory.

Library at the McDonald Observatory.
Library at the McDonald Observatory.

 

Speaking of, you undertook a reorganization project for observatory a few years back. What did that entail, and what was the experience like?

LF: The folks out at McDonald Observatory wanted to make some improvements in the Otto Struve 82” Telescope (the original 1939 telescope) building ahead of their 80th anniversary this summer. The library collection had spilled out of the library into the hallways and they wanted me to help them clear those hallways. I got to spend a week at McDonald Observatory – which was amazing! – and at the end we identified materials to be brought back to Austin. I also helped them get former director Harlan Smith’s collection displayed more prominently and created a display collection of works by and about McDonald Observatory. It was a great collaboration and I’m very proud of how the library looks now.

Library at the McDonald Observatory.
Library at the McDonald Observatory.

 

What are your responsibilities?

LF: As a liaison librarian, I support students, faculty, and staff with their research needs in the departments I liaise with: Astronomy, Computer Science, Electrical & Computer Engineering, Mathematics, Physics, and Statistics & Data Science. At the moment that looks like working with faculty to make sure they understand some new National Science Foundation Open Access mandates, but it also includes a range of reference and scholarly communications support.

 

What aspect of your job is the most fulfilling?

LF: Solving puzzles for people. Sometimes I get reference questions where someone has an incomplete or incorrect citation, and I really love figuring those out. Or looking for a translation – recently someone wanted a translation of an article written in the Soviet Union in the 40s. I tracked a translation of it down to a microfilm held by the British Library and was able to scan a copy for the researcher. That was fun!

 

Your studies were in the humanities, but you’re immersed in science now. What are the differences you see in the discipline-specific approaches to research and general library use by STEM and humanities folks, and do you recognize any differences in styles within the departments you liaise with?

LF: Scientists are so different from people who do research in the humanities. Scientists use different materials from those in the humanities – most scientists rely on journals instead of books, but they also need things like datasets and specialty software. So, most of the students from those areas look to the libraries for computers where they can access all those things. I love that the Libraries IT staff do such a great job making sure we provide software like Mathematica and LaTeX. Of course, there are outliers even among scientists – Math researchers tend to be different from other scientists, and actually more like humanities researchers in that they love books!

  

What do you think the prospects are for wider adoption of open access practices by STEM faculty and researchers?

LF: It’s a little funny for me to talk about Open Access adoption because the departments I work most closely with – Physics, Math and Astronomy – are already committed to not just Open Access publishing but Open Science principles like data sharing. It’s almost universal to see Physicists and Astronomers making versions of their articles available as preprints, and most Astronomical data is publicly available. But they’ve been doing it for a long time already – the Arxiv preprint server was developed by Physicists in the early 1990s. I definitely think other disciplines will adopt open practices, but it will take some time. It doesn’t happen overnight. We just have to keep working on sustainable models and promoting them.

 

What are you reading this summer?

LF: I just finished “American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race,” since I’m so excited about the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Lydia Fletcher sitting at her desk.
Lydia Fletcher.

 

Still want to travel to space? Mars mission perhaps? Or the Space Force?

LF: If anyone at NASA or SpaceX is reading this and looking for a librarian to go to Mars, they can definitely call me.

 

uri1

Meet the Talents: Uri Kolodney

Uri Kolodney is the Hebrew, Jewish and Israel Studies Liaison Librarian as well as liaison for Film and Video at the UT Libraries. He recently took time to talk about his love of books and traveling abroad in search of rare volumes in a brief interview.

When did you start at the Libraries, and what made you decide to become a librarian?

Uri book hunting in Israel.
Uri Kolodney book hunting in Israel.

Uri Kolodney: I started working on my Masters in Information Science (MSIS) at the Information School in Fall 2002, and got a job at the Libraries a couple of months later on December 2002. Worked as a GRA until my graduation, and started a full time position on September 2004.

I always loved books and reading and was a pretty nerdy child with thick horn-rimmed glasses and all. When I was 14 I even cataloged my own book collection at home (LOL). When I grew up I worked as a book restorer and paper conservator and also owned a book restoration business. Did that for around 15 years, and then decided to move to the States and get a librarian degree. So basically I worked with books all my life….

Do you keep up with your preservation skills? Also, I assume you have a pretty large personal library. What’s your favorite personal volume?

UK: I still keep my preservation ‘tool box’ with all kinds of scalpels, scissors, and knives, but I didn’t use it since I closed my business in Tel Aviv.

Favorite volume – tough question… I’d probably say the Hebrew translation of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey…  and also The magic of walking (English) – a great book from 1967 about my favorite outdoor activity.

A library stop in Jerusalem.
A library stop in Jerusalem.

Can you characterize your current job responsibilities?

UK: I am currently wearing two hats at the library – I manage the Hebrew/Jewish/Israel studies collection, and I also manage the library’s budget (across all subjects) for film & video. For each of these main areas, I am responsible for research support, scholarly communication, digital scholarship, collection development, engagement, and outreach.

Tell me a bit about your collections strategy for your subject areas. How do you decide what to buy, and how do you acquire it?

UK: The decision in what areas to collect has to do with the actual scope of the current collection, current research on campus, and the bibliographer who was/is curating the collection. When UTL started collecting Jewish and Hebrew resources almost 100 years ago, naturally the first items acquired were rabbinic literature, Kabbalah, Jewish history, philosophy, and law. By now we hold almost every seminal text in these subjects. During the years, different librarians collected in various subjects according to their own professional and personal connections, as well as their own interest. Those before me concentrated on Jewish items in Hebrew and Yiddish published mainly in the US, South America, and South Africa, with less attention to modern Israeli resources. Faculty and student requests are a great selection tool, as they reflect the current intellectual interest on campus. This intellectual ‘activity’ should be reflected in the collection. Communicating with ‘my’ faculty members, I know what are their research topics, so I’d select items that would fit their preferences. Sometimes, collection decisions have to do with cooperative initiatives among colleagues and universities across the US. For example, when it comes to Israeli cinema, my peers know that I am ‘taking care of it,’ so they would not duplicate efforts. On the other hand, I know that Ohio State and Arizona State collect extensively in other areas (literature/poetry and fanzines respectively), so I would be much more selective when it comes to those subjects.

Uri Kolodney searching through books wearing a dust mask and gloves.
Hazardous conditions in the book trade.

For the mainstream Hebrew/Jewish/Israeli collection I rely on vendors’ catalogs, and once every few months I’d sit down and select relevant titles. I also select items ‘on the fly,’ or when the opportunity arises – either through correspondence with vendors, special offers, unique item that come up in an auction, etc. By now vendors I work with in Israel already know what I’m looking for and would let me know if anything that falls under my criteria comes their way. Consuming all sorts of media content in Hebrew (newspapers/blogs/social media), sometimes I would learn about a new ‘cool’ publication which would be a good candidate for the collection. Jewish resources in English are obviously purchased locally, and are much easier to get. Acquisition trips are another way to enrich the collection with unique items that cannot be purchased remotely online. Networking with vendors and collectors in the ‘field’ allows me to put my hand on rare items which I could not get any other way. These items are what makes our collection so special, as in many cases we are the only holders of these items.

Currently the prioritized subject areas I collect are Israeli cinema and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – that means everything which is and about these topics, either in Hebrew or English. Rarely I’d collect in other languages as well. Other topics of importance are Jewish and Israeli literature.

As for film & video, I solely rely on faculty and student requests, as our priorities in this area lie with teaching and curriculum needs on campus. Sometimes I would cooperate with subject liaisons and we would share expenses according to our funding policy. All of these purchases are done online, communicating with distributors, production companies, and individual directors/producers.

How do Libraries collections in your subject areas complement other notable special collections on campus, say for instance the Gottesman Collection or Isaac Bashevis Singer papers at the Ransom Center, or the Texas Jewish Collections at the Briscoe? Do the presence of those local collections impact your own area collections practices?

UK: While the Briscoe mainly holds personal archival collections of notable individuals, the UTL collection would hold the actual published works by those individuals, or works they have owned. For example, the Briscoe holds the Henry Cohen papers. Cohen (1863-1952) was a prominent Rabbi in Galveston between 1888 and 1949. But his personal library was donated to UT Libraries in 1948; it included over 5000 volumes related to rabbinical literature, Jewish history, as well as general sociology, psychology, and literature. Upon receipt, the Hebrew portion of the collection was named “The Henry and Mollie Cohen collection of Hebraica and Judaica.” During the years, when collections were moved around and re-arranged, this collection was included in the general PCL collection.

Another example is the HRC South African Judaica collection. While this collection mainly holds books, the PCL collection of South African Jewry complements it with many rare and unique holdings of South African Jewish periodicals. My predecessor in this position, Nathan Snyder (1944-2009), had personal and professional connection in South Africa and managed to build a unique collection of South African Jewish periodicals.

In my collection efforts I am trying not to duplicate holdings which already exist at the Briscoe or the HRC, as my goal is to strengthen our current collection with items not yet available on campus. Yet, since HRC and Briscoe holdings do not usually circulate, in some instances one could find a circulating copy of a specific title at PCL. From time to time, if I come across an item which would complement existing subject areas at PCL, I would definitely consider it for purchasing, even if it would not fall under current collection priorities.

Tell me a bit about your acquisitions trips. How do you decide when and where to go, and how have you established or built relationships with vendors overseas?

UK: Since the distinct language I collect is Hebrew, the only geographical area appropriate for international travel is Israel. Materials in other languages that have to do with Jewish, Hebrew, and Israel Studies could be purchased remotely either in the US or Europe. Depends on budget, I would usually go once a year during summer, usually around June. This is the time when the Israeli “Book week” is taking place around the country, and it is a good opportunity to come across alternative/non-mainstream items with reduced pricing. Sometimes I would plan my trip around specific conferences or film festival, in order to take advantage of opportunities to meet vendors and colleagues. Book fairs or film festivals present one-time opportunities, with limited edition publications which could not be purchased once the event is over. For example, in July 2016 I attended a reception at the Jerusalem Film Festival and managed to put my hand on a limited edition of the first issue of a new Israeli cinema periodical. It was never sold in the marketplace, and ceased publication in 2017, after its second issue was published. UT Library holds both issues and is the only institution outside of Israel to do so.

When I go on an acquisition trip, I would usually take one week to visit the big cities (Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa), and by now I know to which stores or markets to go to and where I could find what I am looking for. The second week I would travel to more remote or less-known locations, such as special book stores in kibbutzim, or institutions and organizations which are in the ‘periphery’ of the country. Planning the trip, I would schedule with individual collectors or vendors who live and work away from the main cities, and these are usually the locations where I would find the most valuable ‘treasures.’

One of Uri's book vendors in Haifa.
One of Uri’s book vendors in Haifa.

Another aspect of an acquisition trip is the invaluable networking with colleagues and vendors. During the years I managed to establish professional relationships with both mainstream, well-established vendors, as well as individual collectors, book shops’ owners, and auction houses. Since the marketplace is pretty small, it’s easy to make contact and get introduced. The personal face-to-face encounters are always the best way to get to those unique items I am looking for. Sometimes I would make the contact via email while planning my trip, and then would meet ‘in the field.’ Then, while visiting and meeting face-to-face, more contacts are ‘revealed’ and since I’m already there, I could go and pay a visit to newly introduced vendors. For example, just last month, during a private vacation in Tel Aviv, I accidently realized via social media that a well-known local collector is selling his collection. While paying him a visit two days later, I got introduced to other vendors and collectors; when I came back to Austin, this encounter already proved to be useful, as I have purchased additional materials from those new acquaintances.

I’m sure over the last 15 years, you’ve seen the Libraries undergo a lot of changes. What hopes do you have for the future, and what parts of the library tradition do you expect to (or want to see) hang around?

UK: Indeed, I’ve seen many changes during my time here, in services and spaces we offer, as well as in budgetary and curatorial priorities. Understandably, changes and shifts are part of life; also those in the workplace and the profession itself are unavoidable, and in most cases, highly appreciated by patrons. My hope is that the Libraries would continue to put patrons at the top of its priority list. Our patrons, students and faculty alike, are those who create and advance research, and we need to make sure we accommodate their needs, in any level and any field.

I like it that patrons see the Libraries as a hub on campus, and I like it that they see us as experts they could approach for help. I wish it would continue this way!

 

 

Michael Shensky.

Meet the Talents: GIS and Geospatial Data Coordinator Michael Shensky

Michael Shensky joined the Libraries last year as the GIS and Geospatial Data Coordinator to enhance the resources available from the Research Data Services unit with added expertise in Geographic Information Systems, which are increasingly becoming central to our online lives. Shensky took some time to talk about the importance of GIS and where he sees it in the future.

GIS and Geospatial Data Coordinator Michael Shensky.
GIS and Geospatial Data Coordinator Michael Shensky.

Michael Shensky: Whenever I’m asked what GIS is, and I often am when I tell people what I do for a living, I always start with a very simple definition and expand from there. I typically tell people that GIS is an acronym that stands for geographic information systems and that it is the technology that is used to manage the data behind many of the maps they encounter online and in mobile apps. I also find it helpful to explain that the “geographic information” part of GIS refers to geospatial data (data that features both coordinate information identifying a place on Earth and attribute information that describes something located at that place) while “system” refers to the software and hardware components that are used together to manage this unique type of data effectively.

GIS is incredibly important in our daily lives because it is used to guide and facilitate much of the work that local governments, state and federal government agencies, utility companies, non-profit organizations, and academic researchers carry out. If all GIS software were to suddenly stop working tomorrow, it would be very difficult for those who rely on geospatial data to effectively manage their operations and this would have a dramatic impact on the lives of everyone, not just GIS users. For instance, cities might have difficulty assigning work crews to conduct road repair work if they cannot access their database of pothole locations, fire departments might struggle to respond to the locations of emergencies if they can’t quickly look up the location of an address, and technology companies would see apps that include mapping functionality suddenly break as the data fails to load properly.

While most people do not realize the significant role that GIS software plays behind the scenes in the operations of many organizations, if they look closely enough they can find traces of its impact in their daily lives. If they come across a map when browsing the web, there is a very good chance that GIS software was used to design its layout and manage the data behind the features depicted in it. If a new store or restaurant opens in their neighborhood, it is likely that GIS software was used to analyze demographic and consumer spending data for their local area to determine that this would likely be the most profitable location. If they use the routing functionality built into their car dashboard, the street data used to route them was likely created or edited with GIS software. If they visit the website of their local city or county, it is quite likely they will find a web page designed specifically for sharing geospatial data that has been developed with their taxpayer money and which has been made publically available for anyone to download and use in GIS software.

 

Given the organic nature of its development, how can standards be developed to manage the proliferation of GIS data?

shensky extraMS: In the GIS world, there are open standards developed by non-profit organizations like the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) and there are often competing proprietary standards developed by for-profit companies like Esri, whose software products dominate the GIS industry in the United States and many other countries. While we are very fortunate that these standards exist so that there is agreement on how data should be structured and how it should be read by GIS software, there are downsides to having multiple standards to choose from. Having multiple standards to choose from puts GIS professionals in a tough position when we want to share data with others, since we often need to ensure that data is available in multiple standard formats to make it easy for other GIS users to work with the data regardless of whether they are using open source software or Esri’s ArcGIS software.  This situation is further complicated by the fact that the popularity of specific standards can fluctuate over time and occasionally completely new standards are developed while older standards may fall into disuse and become functionally obsolete.

For the geospatial data in the UT Libraries’ collections that we are currently in the process of trying to make more easily accessible, we are aiming to share the data in every common standard format that we can.  Our goal is to facilitate access to our data for all GIS users, regardless of which software they use or standards they prefer. This approach of making shared datasets available in multiple formats has become quite common on data portals operated by other universities as well as those developed by cities, counties, and federal government agencies. As any good organization would, we plan to stay on top of the latest geospatial data standards and ensure that we are making datasets available in the formats that GIS users expect to find and like to work with.

 

How did you become a specialist in GIS?

MS: That’s actually a really interesting question, because I sometimes look back on the last decade and wonder that myself. The career path I envisioned for myself shifted quite a bit during my college years and a few chance decisions that didn’t seem particularly significant at the time ended up playing a very substantial role in leading me to the position I’m in today.

As a junior, I was contemplating my changing my major to anthropology or geography since I had really enjoyed taking classes in both disciplines, and I ended up selecting geography partly because I knew that GIS was a required class in that program and that this class would provide me with a technical skill upon graduation. At the time, I had never used or even seen GIS software but I knew it was used to make maps and that sounded really interesting to me. I didn’t actually end up taking that required GIS class until my last semester as an undergraduate and I did I was a surprised to find it a little less exciting and more challenging than I had originally expected. Right after graduation I started applying for a variety of jobs that I thought I might qualify for and the first one I was offered was a paid GIS internship. I didn’t find the job all that interesting at first and during my first few months there did not see myself making a career out of GIS.

This initial lack of fulfillment actually even ended up being a contributing factor in my decision to enroll in a Geography graduate program – I wanted to develop new skills that would open up different job opportunities. While in grad school I continued to work at this same GIS job part time and found that I started to become more interested in the work I was doing as I was assigned more advanced and challenging projects. Because of the GIS skills I gained in this role, I was offered a GIS research assistant position during my last two years of graduate school and then ended developing my master’s thesis project from the work that I did in this role. By the time I completed the work for my master’s degree, my perspective on GIS had changed dramatically, and when I was offered a full time job teaching GIS classes and managing the GIS computers labs for the Geography department at California State University, Long Beach, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to advance my career in GIS. I ended up spending several years in this position which allowed me to further develop my technical skills, gain teaching experience, and develop an even greater respect for the value of GIS software in academic research – all of which prepared me for well for my current role here at the UT Libraries.

What sort of projects have you been working on at UT?

MS: I’ve been working on a few different projects since I started here at UT, the biggest of which is focused on developing a new geospatial data portal that will be part of the UT Libraries website. This portal will allow users to search for geospatial data in our Libraries’ collections that can be used with GIS software. We have been referring to this project internally as the “GeoBlacklight” project because it uses open source software of that name to provide a web interface and data search capabilities. We are optimistic that this project will be completed in the first half of 2019 and that it will be available to the campus community before the start of the fall semester. Once it is rolled out, visitors to the website will be able to search through a variety of geospatial datasets including georeferenced scanned map images from our PCL Map Collection and vector datasets developed from items in other collections like the Benson Latin American Collection and Alexander Architectural Archives. I’m really excited to be a part of this project because I know this portal has the potential to benefit everyone in the campus community regardless of their role and area of specialization. Once the portal is finished and made available, it should be easy for faculty to find data that they can use to develop instructional materials, for students to find data they can use in research projects, for Libraries staff to find data they can use to highlight notable collections, and for everyone in general to browse through when curious about the interesting maps and datasets we have available here at the UT Libraries.

San Salvador map from the PCL Map Collection.
San Salvador map from the PCL Map Collection.
Screenshot of the search results page in a still-under-development version of the UT Libraries GeoBlacklight portal
Screenshot of the search results page in a still-under-development version of the UT Libraries GeoBlacklight portal.

addition to the GeoBlacklight project I have also been working on a program of coordinated outreach and education about GIS both internally within the libraries and externally with departments across campus. As part of this effort I have helped organize events like our recent Local Perspectives on the State of Open Data discussion panel which brought GIS experts from the City of Austin, Travis County, Texas General Land Office, and Texas Natural Resources Information System here to campus to share their thoughts on GIS and open data. I’ve also taught several GIS focused workshops that provided an opportunity for all members of the campus community to learn about GIS and further develop their geospatial research skills. In order to introduce library personnel to some of the capabilities of GIS I’ve also spoken at and helped organize a series of linked data information learning group meetings. I’ve been glad to see that this multifaceted approach has been successful in helping get the word out about GIS on campus and I’ve noticed that I am starting to hear from more and more people each week who are looking to learn more about how they might be able to use GIS in their work.

 

What are some of the interesting ways GIS will be used in the future?

MS: While it’s impossible to know exactly how the way in which we use GIS might change in the future, I think there are a few developments that are all but certain. One of the major developments I foresee is growing awareness of GIS and rapid improvement in the capabilities of open source GIS software like QGIS leading to greater adoption of GIS software in a variety of disciplines and industries. If this prediction proves accurate, the lowering of financial and technical barriers that currently hold people back from using GIS software would greatly benefit small businesses, startups, non-profits, municipalities with limited resources, and more. It should also have a profound impact in the academic world as it will make it easier for researchers to incorporate GIS into their work. I think we will see GIS software being used much more widely in fields like history, journalism, linguistics, ethnic studies, and in the humanities more generally. If this does in fact happen, it will not only open up new avenues for research in these fields but will also make it easier for those working in these different disciplines to work together with each other across departments because they are using a shared technology. Even in disciplines where GIS is already widely used, like geology, biology, geography, and anthropology, I think there will be increased rates of adoption, especially among researchers in developing countries who can start using open source GIS software without having to worry about expensive software licensing or significant software limitations. From my experience in a previous GIS position at another university, I saw firsthand how difficult it could be for researchers in my department to work with colleagues from universities in other countries whose institutions could not afford access to the same proprietary software resources until they all started using open source software to facilitate collaboration.

Example of a QGIS project
Example of a QGIS project.

In addition to the many benefits I think we will see from growing awareness of GIS software and open source GIS software in particular, I think GIS technology will become more useful and powerful as technology continues to improve. Perhaps the biggest impact on GIS will come from new and emerging categories of mobile devices that will make it possible to view and interact with geospatial data in ways that are quite different from the manner in which we engage with geospatial data now on the flat screens of our computer monitors and cell phones. In the 9 years that I have been in this field, there have been several completely new categories of devices that have been released (smart watches, augmented reality glasses, and virtual reality headsets being the most notable) all of which can be used to display new types of maps and I think we will see these technologies mature in a way that will affect how maps are made.

Virtual reality is the currently the most significant of these technologies for working with geospatial data due to the availability of relatively affordable consumer grade headsets and their ability to give users a three dimensional immersive map experience. While I think virtual reality maps will become increasingly common and useful, I think augmented reality devices ultimately hold the most promise of any emerging technology. Right now augmented reality glasses are held back by their high price points, large size, and limited field of view but companies like Microsoft, Google, and Apple have all indicated that they are working on addressing these challenges. If any of these companies (or newer companies like Magic Leap who are also focusing on augmented reality technology) can create a wearable device similar in size to a pair of regular sunglasses, sell it for close to the price of a high end cell phone, and have it effectively overlay 3D objects on top of a user’s normal field of view, I think this would revolutionize how GIS professionals manage data and produce maps. It would also of course open up enormous opportunities for researchers who are looking for new ways to explore geospatial data and visualize their research findings. While a breakthrough like this may not happen this year or next, I think it is just a matter of time before our technology reaches this point and GIS software will have to adapt to facilitate the production of geospatial content for these new types of devices.

 

 

 

Porcia Vaughn teaching a workshop.

Meet the Talents: Porcia Vaughn

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 Vaughn.
Porcia Vaughn.

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 Deputy at Research+Pizza.

Meet the Talents: Brittany Rhea Deputy

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 Rhea Deputy.
Brittany Rhea Deputy.

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!

Fake news, circa Feb. 17, 1898.

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.