Category Archives: Technology

infrastructure

The library of the future starts with infrastructure

This commentary appeared in the Houston Chronicle, August 26, 2017.

Ask what the campus library does and many will say, “It provides access to books.” Looking toward the future, if libraries are to succeed, they will need to increase investment in services that extend beyond such user assumptions. Libraries should invest in virtual spaces that complement existing technology, unique collections, and content expertise, and library space as a concept will need to be redefined to accommodate work in new arenas.

In a 2015 AACU survey employers reported that they believe only 27 percent of recent graduates are proficient at written communication and even fewer are “innovative/creative”. When thinking about this in concert with student impressions of campus technology in a 2016 ECAR study, the library must contribute to both creative and deepened use of technology in the classroom. Leading students into virtual environments to create research products, utilizing classrooms designed with multiple screens for active small group work, and helping students manage work with the use of project management tools all present opportunities for rich collaborative teaching partnerships between librarians and faculty.

It’s also important for libraries to invest in infrastructure to support web publishing platforms, virtual reality, makerspaces, and large visualization walls that complement existing university resources. Integrating these technologies into the classroom experience will challenge us all to think in new ways about where and how learning occurs. Libraries can provide support to students and teachers as they engage with, critically examine, and build community in and around these spaces. But in order for this to occur, a shift in the way people conceptualize library spaces and services has to occur. By working in new environments, libraries can help students improve communication and develop critical thinking and digital literacy skills that will serve them in all areas of their lives.

In order for us to be successful, campus level administrators have to provide a seat at the executive table for library leadership. Increasing the visibility of challenges being faced by libraries sheds light on the complexity of our current operating environments. Sharing information about the value of library services, and about staffing and IT infrastructure needs, provides an opportunity for those that are invested in the library to ask questions about future directions and provide input on anticipated needs.

Libraries are increasingly becoming key testing grounds for innovative classes and research projects that take advantage of emerging technologies. Administration can demonstrate support for these innovative faculty-library collaborations by providing financial, administrative, and moral support for departments that are attempting to reinvigorate the curriculum. Libraries are not operating in the same way that they were five years ago, and it is imperative that administrators see and fully understand the ways in which our services are evolving, and the ways in which our services provide pathways for new ways of teaching and learning.

Library leaders, similarly, need to fully understand the challenges faced by library staff as they revise organizational and operational models to accommodate new working environments. By providing services in hybrid environments, libraries are demonstrating their capacity to play a key partner role in the teaching and learning process in higher education. This role can advance the critical inquiry and discourse skills of our students, and can contribute to student success post-graduation.

So much of what we think about when we think about our students after graduation is focused on success in the workplace, but at a higher level, many in academic communities are concerned with the development and evolution of civil society. As we expand library services more and more into virtual spaces, we will increasingly ask our communities to redefine their understanding and expectations of our role in developing capacity to engage in dialogue. By investing in the changing landscape of libraries, we are also inviting them to adapt to the ever-evolving landscape of communication and civic engagement.

Amber Welch is the head of technology enhanced learning for The University of Texas Libraries.

 

 

 

Lunch on the Glickman Center patio.

Taking It to the HILT

Sunny June weather welcomed a lively group of 126 faculty, graduate students, and information professionals to the University of Texas Austin campus for HILT – Humanities Intensive Learning + Teaching. HILT is an annual week-long Digital Humanities (DH) training institute for researchers, students, early career scholars, and cultural heritage professionals.

“HILT is awesome! It’s like nerdy summer camp for adults, and you actually learn things that are useful for your professional life,” one HILT participant in the course Introduction to the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) for Historical Documents states.  

In its 5th edition, HILT 2017 offered eight immersive Digital Humanities training courses on tools and methodologies including Scalar, Python, text analysis, Text Encoding Initiative (TEI), audio machine learning, and crowdsourcing. Courses were led by 11 expert guest instructors, hailing from institutions across the United States, such as University of Delaware, Emory University and the University of Southern California Libraries. Participants each enrolled in one course of their choice and dove in for four intensive days of learning. The PCL Learning Commons and the College of Liberal Arts’ Glickman Conference Center served as classroom space.

Course group working.
Course group working.

“I really like the format of an intensive class,” a participant in HILT’s Text Analysis course reported. “It is different than other conferences I’ve attended where you go to hour-long sessions and someone presents on a project they did. I also found the instructors and participants to be extremely knowledgeable.”

UT Libraries staff partnered with School of Information and Department of English faculty to plan the 2017 institute in collaboration with HILT Co-Directors, Trevor Muñoz and Jennifer Guiliano. Combined with the expert DH knowledge of the course instructors, the team successfully executed the largest HILT institute yet, and participants shared an enthusiastic response.

“[The Black Publics in Humanities: Critical and Collaborative DH Projects] course has been one of the most enriching experiences of my professional life. Grateful for the work of these folks,” says HILT participant Casey Miles (Assistant Professor in the Writing, Rhetoric & American Cultures department at Michigan State University).  

“HILT helped me learn real skills, make real connections, and plant seeds for a new path in research and teaching,” said one attendee. “It was the most valuable professional development work I’ve done since I filed my dissertation a decade ago, hands down.”

Keynote by Maurie McInnis.
Keynote by Maurie McInnis.

Daily coursework was balanced with additional learning opportunities. Day one of HILT was activated by a keynote address from UT Austin Provost Maurie McInnis. Provost McInnis shared insights on the importance of digital humanities work through her own research experience. Mid-week, HILT participants shared their research insights with each other through lively 5-minute Ignite Talks. 

To facilitate networking platforms for this diverse group of participants, UT Libraries staff organized evening dine arounds at favorite local restaurants, and the UT Libraries and the Dolph Briscoe Center hosted social receptions. Participants were also invited to engage in UT Austin’s Cultural Campus through organized activities, including sunset viewing of James Turrell’s The Color Inside: A Skyspace, and specialized tours at the Blanton Museum of Art, Harry Ransom Center, and LBJ Presidential Library.

Attendees at James Turrell's "Skyspace."
Attendees at James Turrell’s “Skyspace.”
HILT sharing with Dale Correa.
HILT sharing with Dale Correa.

UT Libraries was pleased to sponsor nine staff to attend HILT. Following the institute, a summer series, coordinated by the UT Libraries Digital Scholarship department, provided a venue for staff participants to share insightful overviews of what they learned in their courses.

One summer series session featured UT Libraries staff Beth Dodd, Christina Bleyer, and Susan Kung presenting on their Collaboration for Complex Research: Crowdsourcing in the Humanities HILT course experience. New insights will be applied to projects such as “Digitizing and Crowdsourcing the oversize Garcia Metadata” in the Benson Special Collections.  Another session featured Dale Correa, who described TEI challenges with non-English, non-Roman languages as discussed in the Introduction to the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) for Historical Documents course.

The well-attended summer series informed a broader understanding of DH techniques among Libraries staff, fueled momentum for HILT-inspired projects, and generated a desire for additional training.

“I learned so much, especially to not be afraid of learning. It was phenomenal. I can’t imagine not returning every year for new courses,” shared a participant in the HILT course Getting Started with Data, Tools and Platforms.

Among all 2017 HILT participants, 98% say they will recommend HILT to a friend or colleague. With new and similar courses offered each year, many participants plan to return in 2018 and beyond. Next summer HILT will be hosted at the University of Pennsylvania from June 4-8, 2018. For updates on future learning opportunities, follow the HILT Twitter: @HILT_DH.

HILT Participants traveled across the continent to attend the institute. See a Carto map of participant locations here: HILT Participant Map.

More photos from HILT: 

Article contributed by Jenifer Flaxbart and Hannah Packard.

 

Libraries Host Digital Humanities Gathering

This June, the Libraries will be ramping up efforts in the area of digital humanities by hosting an immersive, hands-on one-week institute for people interested in getting involved in the burgeoning field.

HILT 2017HILT — Humanities Intensive Learning + Teaching — took place previously at the University of Maryland and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, and is this year heading to UT. The Libraries has played a key role in bringing this learning opportunity to campus and will host HILT classes and events in the recently renovated Learning Commons in the Perry-Castañeda Library.

Nine courses, taught by nationally-recognized experts, will introduce a national cohort of participants to a wide variety of digital humanities and digital scholarship tools, methodologies, approaches and considerations.

Following HILT, the university is hosting the “DH@UT” Pop-Up Institute, a series of planning sessions involving librarians, faculty, researchers and other members of the campus community who want to confer and consult with experts from HILT on specific ideas for digital humanities and digital scholarship projects.

The Pop-Up Institute — one of three in an initial foray sponsored by the Office of the Vice President for Research —  will provide opportunities to develop grant proposals for support from sponsors such as the National Endowment for the Humanities and Institute of Museum and Library Services, and to develop an organized research unit proposal for an Institute for Digital Scholarship at the university.

Both HILT and the Pop-Up Institute will foster scholarship, interdisciplinary community-building and collaboration here on campus and across the spectrum of disciplines and institutions represented at HILT.

The Libraries currently supports digital humanities and digital scholarship with software and tools, and through consultations, workshops and course-related instruction. Staff are constantly expanding expertise in these areas to provide individualized, experience-based project and research support. HILT is an exciting opportunity that will enable many Libraries subject specialist liaison librarians to develop new skills, and the Pop-Up Institute offers new opportunity for Libraries staff to partner with faculty in foundational efforts to digitally evolve research, teaching and learning at UT Austin.

A full description of HILT 2017 courses is available on the registration site, and an inventory of digital humanities work being done at UT Austin is available on the web pages describing the Pop-Up Institute: https://sites.utexas.edu/utdh/

Learn more about the UT Libraries’ efforts in digital humanities and scholarship here. 

In the Realm of Digital Humanities

Humanities meets technology.

You may have heard the phrase digital humanities (DH), or broadly, digital scholarship (DS), and wondered, “What exactly does that mean?” The reality is that DH or DS means different things to different people.

Within the University of Texas Libraries, we think about digital scholarship as research and teaching that is enabled by digital technologies, or that takes advantage of these technologies to address questions in a new way. Dr. Tanya Clement, UT faculty member and leading scholar in the digital humanities arena, believes that DH work applies technology to humanities questions and also subjects technology to humanistic interrogation.

DH and DS are interconnected and yet not interchangeable. In her recent book, When We are No More, author Abby Smith Rumsey describes the DS landscape as involving and leveraging “use of digital evidence and method, digital authoring, digital publishing, digital curation and preservation, and digital use and reuse of scholarship” to discover new things. Her description creates capacity for interdisciplinary investigation and the application of DS tools and methodologies to disciplines beyond the humanities.

Development of a framework to support digital scholarship is one of UT Libraries four current strategic priorities. The reorganization that we’ve undertaken in the last year has established a digital scholarship department that brings together a small team of experts focused on scholarly communication and open access initiatives, research data services, digital project work — including education and partnerships — and innovative spaces and services associated with the Scholars Commons pilot project.

The digital scholarship team is building on and expanding the UT Libraries capacity to engage with and support DH and DS projects and pedagogy. Much of this work involves UT Libraries subject specialist liaison librarians, colleagues in UT Libraries Information Technology (IT) and Discovery and Access divisions, collections, graduate students, and faculty, both as researchers and as teachers.

The UT Libraries has had some early successes with digital scholarship projects related to Human Rights and Latin American initiatives in LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections, the partnership between the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies and the Benson Latin American Collection. These projects include Primeros Libros, LADI, the Latin American Digital Initiatives archive, and research and teaching initiatives built around the Digital Archive of the Guatemalan National Police Historical Archive (AHPN), among others.

LLILAS Benson is currently wrapping up its National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Office of digital humanities Reading the First Books project, a two-year collaborative effort to develop platforms for the automatic transcription of multilingual books published in 16th-century Mexico. A public symposium on May 30 will celebrate the project’s milestones, which include the developed transcription tool, the interface prototype, and data sets. The symposium will also bring together invited scholars, librarians, developers, and students for a day-long conversation on the themes of digital scholarship, colonial and early modern history, and Latin American studies.

LLILAS Benson digital scholarship Coordinator Albert Palacios works with a number of UT Libraries IT and Discovery and Access experts to complete project work of this nature. He also notes the essential involvement of staff like Hannah Alpert-Abrams — doctoral candidate in the UT Austin Program of Comparative Literature — and the project’s Graduate Research Assistant (GRA), Maria Victoria Fernandez — a graduate student in the LLILAS-School of Information dual degree program — who manage and execute the complex, detail-oriented tasks involved.

Other examples of recent project work include European Studies and Digital Scholarship Librarian Ian Goodale’s use of open source publishing platform Scalar to create an access portal for documents from the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library related to a period of political reform in Czechoslovakia known as the “Prague Spring.” Initiated through collaborations between the Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies (CREEES) Director Dr. Mary Neuburger and UT Libraries Assistant Director of Research Mary Rader, the resulting website recently went live making these locally held documents available to the world.

Prague Spring
The Prague Spring website.

Ian realized their vision with the assistance of several GRAs, most recently School of Information graduate student Nicole Marino, and in consultation with and through support from UT Libraries Discovery and Access experts. Utilizing digital humanities tools and collaborative approaches to leveraging local expertise, the project creates context for important, unique primary source materials and shares them via UT Libraries open access repository, Texas ScholarWorks. Ian describes the Prague Spring Archive portal as an attractive, easy to navigate resource that will continue to grow over time. He collaborated with REEES faculty members Dr. Mary Neuburger and Dr. Vlad Beronja and students in their graduate course last semester to review and annotate additional materials for inclusion. This content and new features, in development, will expand its scope and elevate its impact.

Tamil pulp novels from the South Asian Collection.
Tamil pulp novels from the South Asian Collection.

The UT Libraries is also using Omeka, a flexible open source web-publishing platform for the display of library, museum, archives, and scholarly collections and exhibitions, to feature collections of distinction. Digital Scholarship Librarian Allyssa Guzman and UT Libraries Ask a Librarian GRAs Ashley Morrison and Mitch Cota are working together to create an exhibition of South Asian Popular and Pulp Fiction collection book covers. The items in this collection broadly represent different types and periods of pulp fiction in India. The book covers included  highlight examples of texts that enable scholars to explore literary conventions, cultural themes, social anxieties and alternative uses of South Asian languages such as Telugu, Urdu, Hindi, Malayalam, and Tamil.

Katie Pierce Meyer, our Humanities Librarian for Architecture and Planning, launched a Digital Scholars in Practice lecture series last year. The series showcases scholars conducting research through digital technologies, conducting research on digital technologies, and critically examining digital technologies in practice. It also seeks to celebrate innovative scholarship and build a community of practice of Digital Scholars both on a local and national scale. The most recent lecture featured Dr. Kristine Stiphany, a practicing architect and scholar who holds a visiting postdoctoral fellowship from the National Science Foundation at UT Austin. She spoke about her work using digital technologies to draw social parameters into the design and construction of infrastructure in Brazilian informal settlements.

UT Libraries has several other projects in the works, and once implemented, a reshaped digital project proposal process being created by a Digital Projects Cross-functional Team, will undoubtedly surface others of potential promise and impact. Meanwhile, the digital scholarship departmental team continues to build skills and relationships that will foster a collaborative, sustainable approach to digital project work and digital scholarship within and beyond the UT Libraries and UT Austin.

 

Collection Highlight: The Clifford Antone Lectures

Before his death in 2006, club owner and Austin music scene icon Clifford Antone brought his vast knowledge of music — more specifically the blues and rock and roll — to the Forty Acres for a lecture series hosted by the Department of Sociology called “The History of the Blues According to Clifford Antone.”

Antone’s affable style and enthusiasm for the subject matter easily won over students of the 12-week guest spot in Dr. Lester Kurtz’s course, “Blues, Race and Social Change” (SOC 308).

Antone was the founder of his namesake club Antone’s, a legendary blues club that launched the careers of Texas music artists like Stevie Ray Vaughan, the Fabulous Thunderbirds and Charlie Sexton, and helped Austin to become “The Live Music Capital of the World.”

This is a series of lectures was recorded and resides both in the collection of the Fine Arts Library and online at the university’s digital repository, Texas ScholarWorks.

Building the Data Environment

Data Management Coordinator Jessica Trelogan.
Data Management Coordinator Jessica Trelogan.

Jessica Trelogan was brought in last year to fill the new position of Data Management Coordinator in order to build, maintain and enhance the data services deployed by the Libraries. 

This February will be the one-year mark for me here at UTL. I can’t believe how quickly the time has flown! Looking back, though, I can see why: our Research Data Services unit has been busy. We’ve accomplished a lot in a year, including a website overhaul, a GIS pilot, a move to a new department, and a bunch of workshops and consultations.

Perhaps most exciting of all is the launch of the Texas Data Repository (TDR), which we are shouting loudly about this month. This long-anticipated new service has been the result of a huge amount of effort by our friends at Texas Digital Libraries (TDL), who have been working toward it since Fall of 2013. After initially identifying a need for a repository service to handle small to medium-sized research data, they settled on the open-source Dataverse platform, developed and used by Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science, and they decided to roll it out as a consortial service for TDL members. The Dataverse Implementation Working Group (DIWG) were hard at it for over a year, piloting, testing, assessing, and, at last, launching the service this month.

I am especially excited to be managing our local instance of it here at the Libraries. Thanks to the highly flexible Dataverse platform, each local institution that takes advantage of the service gets to decide how much control to give users. We’ve decided to give our users full control, meaning anyone from the UT-Austin community can log in with an EID, deposit data, and decide how much, with whom, and when to share it. I have high hopes that this new service, which complements our publication repository, Texas ScholarWorks, will help our research community comply with funder mandates for data sharing and archiving, get credit by facilitating reliable data citation, and promote open and reproducible research.  

I look forward to getting the word out this spring about the Texas Data Repository, along with all our other research data-related services. One way we plan to do so is through a workshop series we’re launching called Data and Donuts. You’ll find us talking about research data every Friday this semester at 3pm at the Libraries (mostly at PCL). Oh yeah, plus there will be donuts!

Prague Spring Website Launched

Handwritten note from President Johnson to the Pugwash Conference regarding the avoidance of nuclear war.
Handwritten note from President Johnson to the Pugwash Conference regarding the avoidance of nuclear war.

The Prague Spring Archive project — a collaboration between the University of Texas at Austin, the Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies (CREEES), and the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library — has been made live at http://scalar.usc.edu/works/prague-spring-archive. The project aims to make important primary documents on the Prague Spring openly accessible to a wide and inclusive audience, connecting the University of Texas at Austin with an international community of scholars and researchers.

The project began in 2014, when CREEES Director and Slavic Department Chair Dr. Mary Neuburger met with Assistant Director of Research and South Asian Studies Liaison Librarian Mary Rader to discuss an effort to broaden opportunities to access historical primary resources located in the LBJ Presidential Library’s archives.

In 2015, with funding from a US Department of Education Title VI National Resource Centers grant and the Texas Chair in Czech Studies, digitization work on an initial selection of archival boxes was completed by undergraduate and graduate students from CREEES and the UT Libraries. Digitization work is ongoing, with new materials being photographed, processed, and added to Texas ScholarWorks by graduate student Nicole Marino and Russian, East European, & Eurasian Studies and Digital Scholarship Librarian Ian Goodale.

The Prague Spring was one of the key events in both the Cold War and 20th Century Czech history. The LBJ’s collections chronicle the United States’ perspective of events leading up to, during, and following the USSR’s invasion of Czechoslovakia, including declassified cables, intelligence reports, letters, and memoranda exchanged by ambassadors, diplomats, intelligence officers, and politicians. Eight archival boxes are currently available digitally through Texas ScholarWorks, with more being worked on and prepared for addition to the repository. Many additional materials that have not yet been digitized are available to researchers in the reading room of the LBJ Presidential Library, as well.

The Prague Spring Archive portal has been designed to replicate the original archival structure of the physical materials in the LBJ Library within a digital framework, allowing the user to “read” and explore the archive on their computer. The portal was designed to appeal to both academic researchers and to patrons conducting personal or non-academic research, with additional features planned that will extend the breadth of the site’s audience. A primer on the Prague Spring in the form of an interactive timeline is one of the site’s features aimed at users not already thoroughly familiar with the events surrounding the incident. A module that will include materials aimed at high school teachers and students, including sample lesson plans and educational activities, will also be added in the future. For researchers who would like to explore what is available in the physical collections of the LBJ, the finding aid for the entire archival collection is also available on the site.

To help maintain the archival integrity of the materials in their digitized format, extensive metadata was created to accompany the materials within the Texas ScholarWorks repository. The metadata allows the materials to be easily searched by researchers working with the materials within ScholarWorks, and can be downloaded by anyone through the repository. Full-text of the documents will soon be added in XML format to accompany the archival PDFs, increasing searchability and providing an additional resource for working with the documents—making digital humanities practices such as text mining or sentiment analysis easier to accomplish, for example.

Cable Regarding United States Place in Czech Crisis.

The Prague Spring site has been an important aspect of embedded librarianship at the UT Libraries. Ian Goodale worked with graduate students in Mary Neuburger’s graduate seminar, REE 301: Introduction to Russian and East European Civilizations, to have the students contribute text for incorporation into the online portal. The students also selected key documents from archival folders to be highlighted on the portal and provided input on the site’s design and features throughout its development. Professors Mary Neuburger and Vlad Beronja contributed their input on design and content, helping to write descriptions of archival materials and select key documents to profile. The finished portal was then presented to the class for additional feedback, and more of their content will be added shortly.

The Prague Spring Archive portal is an attractive, easy to navigate resource that will continue to grow over time. New content and features, in development, will expand its scope and elevate its impact. Utilizing digital humanities tools and collaborative approaches to leveraging local expertise, the project creates context for important, unique primary source materials and shares them in an open access environment for use by local, national and international scholarly communities.

The Red Sheikh 

Abdullah Tariki.

Due to the Geology program’s size, prominence, and traditional emphasis on field science, The Walter Geology Library’s thesis and dissertation collection has always been a central factor in providing research assistance. Prior to the 1980’s, many of these works remained essentially unpublished, and even those that were eventually published were highly condensed, leading researchers back to the original for full access to the complete data set.

When the Texas ScholarWorks digital repository was unveiled in 2008 as the new home for graduate research, we felt it would be advantageous to move as many legacy theses as possible into this new, open, and fully accessible format. A secondary consideration was preservation, for these works are in editions that rarely exceed ten copies, and many have loose plates, glued in photographs, and sometimes low quality paper and binding.

Our strategy was to begin in 1897 scanning the theses of deceased graduates, and to use our extensive alumni network to track down living authors and get their permission to share their work. To date we have been able to produce hundreds of scans of works from the pre-digital era. Is this effective? One recent story serves to illustrate the potential.

Abdullah Homoud Tariki, born in 1919 in Zelfi, Saudi Arabia, got a bachelor’s in geology from Fouad University in Cairo, and in November 1945, just two months after the end of WII in the Pacific, found himself in Austin Texas, entering graduate school in the Department of Geology. Apparently he was the first Saudi Arabian to study geology in the US, and, as best we can determine, the first Saudi Arabian to write an academic thesis on Saudi Arabia. He received his MA in August 1947, and, after a short stint in Houston, returned to Saudi Arabia. In a career filled with firsts, he later became the first Saudi Oil Minister, and, (reportedly based on his understanding of the Texas Railroad Commission’s structure and purpose), one of the original founders of OPEC. He was outspoken, and later involved in a number of disputes with Prince (later King) Faisal, which got him sacked, and earned him the title “The Red Sheikh”, according to some middle east sources. He died in Cairo in 1997.

Meanwhile, Mr. Tariki’s poor thesis sat mostly undisturbed on the shelves, having been checked out only a few times over the decades. Recently, a Saudi Arabian graduate student asked to see the thesis. He was born in the same village as Tariki, and claimed him as the founder of the Saudi geosciences technical infrastructure. As far as he knew, no one in Saudi Arabia had ever seen Tariki’s thesis. We decided to add it to our scanning project, and it was posted in late October of 2016. The Geology of Saudi Arabia, now almost 70 years out of date, has demonstrated that with easier access and a wider audience, digitizing such older scholarship brings new life to old texts. In the two months since its release, Mr. Tariki’s neglected thesis has been downloaded more than 50 times around the world. We are thrilled to be able to extend the reach and impact of our student’s work in this way.

What starts here changes the world.

Libraries and Technology — From Clay Tablets to 3D Printers

3-D printing a Longhorn at the Fine Arts Library.
3D printing a Longhorn at the Fine Arts Library.

A fellow library staffer recently observed that libraries are the place where the public goes to get an introduction to new technologies. One may scoff at that notion as an overstatement of importance, but on examination, it’s not such a far-fetched idea.

Libraries are in the business of early adoption for technological innovations, as most leaps forward have a profound effect on how library resources are preserved, shared and consumed. And as we begin to augment ways in which knowledge can be transformed either at the point of inspiration or in the presence of the resources that make transformation possible, it’s a natural progression to provide users with tools to communicate new ideas through the creative process as a next stage of evolution for libraries.

To wit, the very first cuneiform tablets may not seem terribly innovative given our immersion in modern digital technologies, but they represented a leap forward in how to document the knowledge of human existence. And they were collected in the precursors to libraries discovered in Sumeria — some dating as early as 2600 BC — which initially served to house government and religious records, but later incorporated information regarding history, mathematics and sciences.

Clay eventually made way for papyrus and paper, and later the printing press made duplication and dissemination a reality. In their early stages, these techniques and what they produced weren’t available to common people so the library, in time, filled the demand for access. Following a historical timeline forward, libraries have continued this trend, introducing the public to initially expensive and difficult to access post-industrial technologies like typewriters, copiers, PCs, printers and the internet — and to varying degrees, have made freely available tools for manipulating information of all types.

We’ve previously talked about a new kind of space that will launch at the Fine Arts Library (FAL) this fall that will continue precisely this function for library users. “The Foundry” is a maker space being developed to support the new undergraduate major in the Center for Arts and Entertainment Technologies (CAET) announced in February by the College of Fine Arts (COFA) by providing a suite of creativity tools that either have limited availability, limited accessibility or don’t exist elsewhere on campus.

The Foundry will feature numerous studios equipped with the most current technologies for specialized production by students in the CAET program, that will also be accessible to students from any department on campus.

The Game Development Studio will permit collaborative and immersive game play, game testing and game creation, where users will be able to check out the most recent consoles and connect these to large-format monitors for multi-person, multiplayer activities, as well as tools for developing artwork, sounds and game scripts for a variety of platforms. The Singer-Songwriter Studio will provide a variety of equipment for song creation — keyboard, computer, mixer, microphones and, most importantly, a voiceover booth that provides significant sound isolation for singers and narrators to practice and record vocal parts. A Video Production Studio will provide high-end video technology and software as well as equipment to check out. A 3D Print Workspace will include a cluster of 6 LulzBot TAZ 6 3D Printer stations and a Next Engine Desktop Laser Scanner that will be fully supported from design assistance to production. A Fiber Arts Studio will provide modern sewing and embroidery machines for textile work.  And the Maker Workshop will include microelectronics materials and a variety of shop tools and materials for creating across a broad spectrum of media, as well as a selection of high-end production machines:

a large-format Roland VS-30i Printer/Cutter,

a BOSS LS-2436 Laser Cutter,

a Carvey Desktop CNC Router,

a Roland MDX-40A CNC Mill,

Roland MDX-40a milling machine

and a Manix Precision Hot Wire EPS Foam Cutter.

Manix Hot Wire Foam Cutter.

There’s an air of nostalgia to a book-centric notion of libraries that persists with the institution’s adherents over time. But let’s not forget that libraries have long been on the leading edge of adopting new technologies throughout history — books included — and making them available to everyone.

Forging Ahead with The Foundry

3D Printing at a maker event.
3D printing at a maker event.

“The value of an idea lies in the using of it.”

Those words of Thomas Edison are representative of a sentiment that is increasingly reflected in the way that libraries are evolving to meet modern needs. In a departure from the traditional notion as a place where people go to simply gather information, the modern library is becoming a vibrant space where knowledge is partnered with tools that allow users to immediately synthesize ideas into creative output.

The University of Texas Libraries have, in recent years, been working with campus partners and administrators to reimagine spaces to meet these new expectations, and the results have been worth noting. The opening of the Learning Commons on the entry level of the Perry-Castañeda Library (PCL) provides students with onsite support for writing projects through a partnership with the University Writing Center, and a substantial new Media Lab offers users the opportunity to create the kind of dynamic multimedia projects that are gradually replacing project papers as a measure of student understanding. The Scholars Commons — opened earlier this spring, also in PCL — provides a space for both isolated study and cross-discipline collaboration, and includes a Data Lab for greater capacity for complex data visualization, making synthesis of information possible within arm’s reach of essential resources.

From a Libraries' maker event.
From a Libraries’ maker event.

With the launch of the new undergraduate major in the Center for Arts and Entertainment Technologies (CAET) announced in February by the College of Fine Arts (COFA), the Libraries are partnering with the college to develop a new kind of creative space in the Fine Arts Library (FAL) to support the specialized needs of students in the new program. “The Foundry” will occupy space in the main level of the FAL, and will consist of a series of interconnected studios designed to support audio recording, video production, fabrication, 3D printing, animatronics, game design and fiber arts where students can gather to create independently or collaboratively, and where they’ll have immediate access to traditional library resources and services to augment their work. Although it was developed primarily to support CAET, The Foundry is open to every student at the university.

The focus of the space redevelopment is to provide advanced technological systems for all aspects of performance, game development, music production, digital visual arts, and other forms of digital entertainment. The project is funded by the Office of the Provost, the Libraries, the College of Fine Arts and by a generous grant from the Hearst Foundations.

From a Libraries' maker event.
From a Libraries’ maker event.

It’s not quite Menlo Park (yet), but libraries are finding ways to become a larger part of the creative process by providing the materials and tools that allow ideas the potential to be realized at the point of conception. Edison might even be impressed.

Construction on The Foundry began with the close of the spring semester and is slated to open in time for the students’ return in the fall. Check back for progress reports on the renovation throughout the summer.