Category Archives: Technology

'Aḳedat Yitsḥaḳ. Owner: Moshe Yarak. Owner signature/bookplate in extant copy. The Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies.

Read, Hot and Digitized: Footprints – The Chronotope of the Jewish Book

Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this series, librarians from UTL’s Arts, Humanities and Global Studies Engagement Team briefly present, explore and critique existing examples of digital scholarship.  

Working as a book conservator back in the days in Tel Aviv, I was always intrigued by the notes and scribbles found on flyleaves, covers, and pages of centuries-old books. It seemed that this text, which supposedly was not related to the actual content of the book in hand, had its own story to tell – about places, people, and events. Now this data is playing the main role in Footprints; these pieces of information could be interlinked, and show us a new spatial landscape of Jewish texts through generations.

The goal of the project, a collaborative initiative by the Jewish Theological Seminary, Columbia University, University of Pittsburgh, and Stony Brook University, is to create a “database to track the circulation of printed ‘Jewish books’ (in Hebrew, other Jewish languages, and books in Latin and non-Jewish vernaculars with Judaica contents).”[1] Those notes, scribbles, and ‘marginal’ pieces of information are scattered in many forms. Footprints lists many types of evidence while documenting the movement of books, and presents visualizations of mobility, including mapping. Some types of evidence include owners’ signatures and bookplates; handwritten notations of sales; estate inventories; references to exchanges of books in correspondence of scholars or merchants; unpublished booklists copied in flyleaves; printers’ colophons; subscription lists, and lists of approbations indicating backers or patrons of the books who presumably received a copy of the product.[2]

Footprints website.

Take for example the literary work titled ʻAḳedat Yitsḥaḳ (“the Binding of Isaac”) – a collection of philosophical homilies and commentaries on the Torah by Isaac ben Moses Arama (1420-1494).

This text is represented by five different imprints. Each imprint is represented by various unique copies, and each copy has between one to nine ‘footprints.’ For example, the imprint published in 1547 in Venice, Italy, has five unique ‘holdings’ in the database. One of these copies is traced through six different ‘time stamps’, owners, and locations, from 1599 (Modena, Italy) through 1986 (New York, NY). Another fascinating example is the journey of a copy of Masekhet Nedarim (a Talmudic tractate) printed in Venice in 1523. In 1663 it was bought (and sold) in Yemen. Between 1842 to 1894 it was owned by Alexander Kohut in New York, and since 1915 this particular copy has been owned by Yale University, New Haven, CT.

Inscription with details of the sale of Masekhet Nedarim in Yemen, 1663. (https://footprints.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/footprint/6085/)
Inscription with details of the sale of Masekhet Nedarim in Yemen, 1663. (https://footprints.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/footprint/6085/)

Librarians and researches from Europe, Israel, and Unites States are constantly adding new information and validating accuracy of current entries. The database currently includes 7638 unique footprints, and is searchable by keywords, footprint year, and publication year. Here in Austin, The Harry Ransom Center is also collaborating with Footprints; data gleaned from the Center’s early Hebrew books holdings, mainly those dated pre-1800, will be uploaded soon to the database.

Footprints is an open-source and open-access tool; it uses a PostgresSQL, an object-relational database system, which is available on Github. As such, it is both a digital humanities project and a global collaborative project. The digital platform makes public the very process of scholarship performed by trusted crowd sourcing. The collaborative platform invites immediate feedback, editing, and revision.[3] The project owners anticipate future uses to include inferential statistical analysis and network visualization. They anticipate that “cultural historians and statisticians would leverage their mutual areas of expertise to offer a statistical analysis that takes into account social, cultural, political, and economic contexts.”[4] In addition, they plan to visualize networks of book movement showing connections between places, and networks connecting individuals to each other or to other places.

Footprints brings to mind Bakhtin’s Chronotope, where time and place are merging into one meaningful experience. A physical printed book travels through times and places; created, owned, and used by various individuals, carrying with it ideas and intellectual meaning. A Chronotope of the Jewish book, Footprints is a multidimensional bibliography, which highlights and makes use of previously unknown resources in a way that re-imagines the practice of Jewish book history.


Further reading (all available at Perry-Castañeda Library)

Pearson, David. 2007. “What Can We Learn by Tracking Multiple Copies of Books?” In Books on the Move : Tracking Copies through Collections and the Book Trade, edited by Robin Myers, Michael Harris and Giles Mandelbrote, 17-37. New Castle: Oak Knoll Press ; London : British Library.

Walsby, Malcolm and Natasha Constantinidu, eds. 2013. Documenting the Early Modern Book World: Inventories and Catalogs in Manuscript and Print. Leiden: Brill.

Dweck, Yaacob. 2010. “What is a Jewish Book?Association for Jewish Studies Review 34: 367-376.

[1] http://footprints.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/about/

[2] http://footprints.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/about/#about02

[3] Michelle Chesner, Marjorie Lehman, Adam Shear, Joshua Teplitsky. “Footprints: Tracking Individual Copies of Printed books Using Digital Methods.” 2018. Medaon, 23. https://www.medaon.de/en/artikel/footprints-tracking-individual-copies-of-printed-books-using-digital-methods/

[4] http://footprints.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/about/#about05

 

 

PCL Media Lab

The Unseen Library: Technology

As we’ve spent the last several months gathering information and feedback from the campus community regarding the future of the University of Texas Libraries, more than once we’ve encountered the response, “I wasn’t aware the Libraries did that.”

Too often, the support that libraries provide to users goes unnoticed. Much like electricity or running water, the services and resources that backstop the central work of research and learning at the university don’t get much attention unless something prevents them from being available. Students routinely assume that the Libraries’ website just leads them to other websites that have the articles they need. Researchers who access journals directly from web searches in their offices can’t understand why going to those same links when they’re off campus generates a page requesting payment for a resource. Users rarely conceive how a book requested through interlibrary service can arrive in their hands from points across the globe in a few short days.

Libraries tend not to focus much attention on blowing their respective horns. Mostly they’re too busy bootstrapping the work they’re expected to do. But they’re also doing the unexpected, especially in areas of need associated with reliance on modern technology. So let’s take a look at how the Libraries Information Technology (LIT) team spends their time when they’re not keeping a website that serves 10 million people a year running or managing the hundreds of computers and providing support for the untold volume of hardware and software required by a top-tier academic library.

Dan Rather - American Journalist. Website from the Briscoe Center.

The Libraries has discernible connections to complementary organizations on campus like the Harry Ransom Center and the Briscoe Center for American History; the historical ties to these collections are long-standing, and the Libraries is an ever-present supplementary resource for researchers at those campus gems. But our LIT team also provides the technical backend support for the HRC and Briscoe Center that allows them to focus efforts and resources on more essential work. They administer the Ransom Center’s staff portal that provides support for the professionals that care for the center’s world-class collections. And our team have helped to build and manage several sites that provide web access to the Briscoe Center’s high profile collections, including the archives of journalist Dan Rather and former Texas Governor Bill Clements and provide the digital versions of the center’s Sanborn Fire Maps collection.

Global Middle Ages Project website.

LIT also plays a central role in developing digital scholarship tools with researchers and faculty from across campus, but especially heavily in the area of digital humanities. For more than 10 years, the Libraries has worked in the creation and management of Voces, a Latino/a experience oral history site developed by Dr. Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez of the Moody School of Communications; Voces celebrated a relaunch of their enhanced website last year. The Libraries worked with associate professor of English and comparative literature Geraldine Heng to build a web portal for to the digital resources collected through the Global Middle Ages Project for collaboration among scholars to weave together independent work into a cohesive resource. LIT has also worked with Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services (LAITS) to support the digital efforts of the Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America (AILLA), which will include resultant work from an NEH grant AILLA received last year.

Voces website.

Libraries’ technology expertise is also deployed in service of academic units around campus in support of learning and research on campus, by helping to provide access to departmental-specific digital collections. Faculty in the College of Fine Arts (COFA) relies heavily upon the Fine Arts Library’s digital image collections for teaching, and staff in the library coordinate with LIT to make those resources available through the portal to the Visual Resources Collection.

Source: Colección Conflicto Armado del Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen
Source: Colección Conflicto Armado del Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen. Available in LADI.

The support our LIT staff provides extends far afield of campus, too. Significant global partnerships — especially those connected to efforts at the Benson Latin American Collections — have been reliant on core contributions from the Libraries. Initial work developing a landing site (Kigali Memorial Centre) for the Kigali Genocide Memorial, where digital records of the survivor testimonies reside, were handled by Libraries’ IT staff in coordination with Benson archivists and KMC staff. The Libraries’ also provided the resources for the construction of Primeros Libros, an international effort by collecting institutions to digitize the first books published in the Americas. One of the most notable and controversial projects endeavored by the Libraries was to help facilitate the digital preservation of the Guatemalan Police Archive (AHPN), a cache of over 10 million documents that provides evidence of human rights violations in the Central American country between 1960-1996; LIT has helped to build, maintain and enhance the web resources of this project since its inception, ensuring that this important record won’t be lost to sociopolitical transitions in the region. More recently, staff from LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections and the LIT team have been building upon a project — initially funded from a 2014 Mellon grant award — that takes a more comprehensive approach to preserving the culture and history of Latin America. The Latin American Digital Initiatives (LADI) repository represents multiple collections shared through the practice of post-custodial archiving to catalog digital resources provided by our southern neighbors.

Francisco Bravo’s "Opera Medicinalia" (1570).
Francisco Bravo’s “Opera Medicinalia” (1570). Available at Primeros Libros.

Beyond their hands-on expertise, Libraries’ technology professionals have accepted roles on various committees across campus to help guide university policies in technology and digitization, currently holding seats on the Central IT Executive Commission and Identity & Access Management Committee. Our staff are not just regarded for their excellence in libraries, they are recognized as leaders in the field.

The stereotype still prevails at times, but it’s worth reinforcing: the library is not simply a book storehouse. It is an active participant in the digital environment, and essential – though much of the time, behind the curtain  – to the successful work of others.

Though the lights will on occasion go off, and the water may cease to flow, our committed experts doing their best to make sure that on normal days, things are working better than they should and library users are none the wiser.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Tennis Balls

The Infinite Atlas Project, Or a Supposedly Fun Project the Library Didn’t Create

Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love In this series, librarians from UTL’s Arts, Humanities and Global Studies Engagement Team briefly present, explore and critique existing examples of digital scholarship.  Our hope is that these monthly reviews will inspire critical reflection of and future creative contributions to the growing fields of digital scholarship.

David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest is considered, by some, a masterpiece of late 20th century American literature. The Harry Ransom Center’s acquisition of Wallace’s personal papers in 2010 gave his work a higher profile among scholars[1], and “Wallace Studies” has emerged as a sub-discipline.[2] Curiously, his writings inspire an obsessive fan base that resembles the enthusiasm and devotion found at sci-fi cons rather than serious literary study.[3] (Wallace had his own obsessions with television and “low-brow” pop culture, and perhaps he would find his fandom amusing.)[4]

I started reading Infinite Jest while I was living in Boston, and I was struck by the novel’s sense of place. Wallace set the novel in a dystopic future where the United States has merged with Mexico and Canada to form the Organized North American Nations. Despite this setting, Bostonians will quickly recognize places in the novel because Wallace reimagines the city in excruciating detail. Critic Bill Lattanzi suggests Wallace was mirroring James Joyce’s painstaking recreation of Dublin in Ulysses. But Lattanzi recognizes what many readers familiar with Boston understand about the novel: There is a distortion of the city in Infinite Jest. It’s not Boston, or even the United States, as we know it. [5]

In this context, I chose to evaluate the Infinite Atlas, an interactive, crowd-sourced mapping project that geo-locates references in Infinite Jest.  William Beutler, a communications consultant, created the Infinite Atlas and the travel blog Infinite Boston in 2012. The site’s “About” section describes it as “an independent research and art project.”[6]

Infinite Atlas 1 Ennet House copy
The Infinite Atlas includes fictional and fictionalized locations unique to Infinite Jest. The Ennet Drug and Alcohol Recovery House is set in the town of Ennet, a fictionalized version of Boston’s Brighton neighborhood.

The Infinite Atlas is built on Google Maps, with design work by the firm JESS3 and programming from the web development company Red Edge. (It’s unclear if Beutler paid for the design and programming.) Beutler credits his friends and family for helping him with data collection, which included going through all 1,000+ pages of Infinite Jest one-by-one. The project also allows users to create their own locations and upload photos and descriptions, so the Atlas has expanded beyond the Boston area.

What can academic institutions take away from this project? What strikes me is the dedication, love, and passion Beutler and his friends brought to it, and their continued maintenance of the Infinite Atlas. Maintenance of digital projects is an ongoing issue for academic institutions and libraries, which can’t afford trendy design firms. However, we can learn from the Infinite Atlas team’s dedication. We should choose projects that we are passionate about, ones that we will care for and attend to in the future, much in the same way we care for our physical book collections.

Infinite Atlas 2 Ryles copy
This is the Infinite Atlas entry for Ryle’s Jazz Club in Cambridge, which was the setting of a notable scene in Infinite Jest and is a place you can actually visit.

This project also has interesting implications for scholars. Infinite Jest is a very difficult book. It is long, convoluted, and full of footnotes. It requires stamina of its readers. If the novel is, as Lattanzi suggests, a fragmentation of Wallace’s experiences in Boston, it is logical that fans would try to make sense of that. Beutler told Fast Company in 2015, “I re-read Infinite Jest after Wallace’s passing, and became obsessed with the idea that there was a way to treat Infinite Jest as a very large data set.”[7] The Infinite Atlas is an attempt to better understand this novel through data, and that is one of digital humanities’ primary goals. Furthermore, the Infinite Atlas could be an object of study unto itself. It is, in a way, a primary source potentially useful for scholars interested in reader response to Wallace’s work. In the universe of digital projects, a non-academic work like the Infinite Atlas is an intriguing example because it challenges our notions of scholarship and leads us to other potentially better questions.[8]

You can find editions of David Foster Wallace’s fiction and non-fiction, including Infinite Jest, at the PCL, where you can also find critical and scholarly works on Wallace’s writing.

[1] Meredith Blake, “What’s in the David Foster Wallace Archive?” The New Yorker, March 9, 2010, https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/whats-in-the-david-foster-wallace-archive

[2] See the Preface to Boswell and Burns’s 2013 book Companion to David Foster Wallace Studies for a brief history of Wallace Studies: http://catalog.lib.utexas.edu/record=b8828072~S29

[3] See fan sites like the Infinite Jest Wiki: https://infinitejest.fandom.com/wiki/David_Foster_Wallace and the Uncyclopedia: http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/David_Foster_Wallace And then there’s this particularly, er, challenging essay by Mike Miley in The Smart Set magazine from 2014: https://thesmartset.com/article08181401/

[4] See Wallace’s famous essay “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction” in his 1997 book A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again for Wallace’s examination of his own fraught relationship with television: http://catalog.lib.utexas.edu/record=b4267999~S29

[5] Bill Lattanzi, “Messing with Maps: Walking David Foster Wallace’s Boston,” Los Angeles Review of Books, February 6, 2016, https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/messing-maps-walking-david-foster-wallaces-boston#!

[6] “About Infinite Atlas,” Infinite Atlas, accessed February 7, 2019. http://infiniteatlas.com/about

[7] Teressa Iezzi, “Infinite Atlas: A Location-Based Visualization Of A Literary Masterpiece,” Fast Company, January 26, 2015, https://www.fastcompany.com/1681555/infinite-atlas-a-location-based-visualization-of-a-literary-masterpiece

[8] No discussion of Infinite Jest would be complete without its own set of self-aware footnotes.

wind turbines and modern solar panels in the country side in the evening

CLIR Fellow Contributing to Renewable Roadsides

If you’ve spent much time in the past decade or so traveling in Texas, you might have noticed the increasing ubiquity of wind farms cropping up along spartan stretches of highway across the state. If a new project involving a fellowship recipient in residence at the Libraries holds any promise, you might soon see more solar panels along your travels, as well.

Emily Beagle.
Emily Beagle.

Last August, the university welcomed a new Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) fellow, Emily Beagle, who spent the fall splitting time between the Research Support & Digital Initiatives at the Libraries and the Webber Energy Group in the Mechanical Engineering Department. Beagle was one of a group of four cohorts in a Data Curation for Energy Economics track for CLIR who are working at various energy institutes and libraries across the country. Beagle’s specific project work throughout the fall related to a renewable energy project funded through The Ray (at The Ray C. Anderson Foundation in Georgia) — one that could potentially bring solar power generation to those long stretches of Texas highway.

The Ray began as a project specific to an 18-mile stretch of I-85 southwest of Atlanta as an exploration of ways “to create a regenerative highway ecosystem” through a reconsideration of the land and communities surrounding our collective highway system. The Ray has already deployed several pilot technology projects along the route including solar-powered vehicle charging, a tire safety check station and solar-paved highways, and the component of the project tasked to the Webber Group was to investigate the placement of solar photovoltaic panels along the right-of-ways nationwide to provide additional energy to the power grid. To do so, the group had to consider the over 45,000 miles of roadways that make up the U.S. interstate network.

Interchange types.
Interchange types.

Narrowing the scope down to a manageable sampling required the research group to come up with some exclusionary criteria, removing swaths from consideration like protected areas (e.g. National Parks and Forests), and focusing on locations close to existing transmission lines, adjacent spaces that are large enough to accommodate development, and locations near exits to make them easy for maintenance access. This allowed them to use existing environmental data for the available space to determine where voltaic clusters would be most efficient and effective.

The Webber Group’s work on The Ray project began in March before Beagle arrived, but that worked out well for her contribution to the project, which involved the development of a data management plan, prepping data for sharing and preservation in repositories like Texas ScholarWorks, and validating reproducibility in findings. She has worked closely with Libraries colleagues to develop and implement  the data plans for the group, while also providing ongoing assessment of the process and the effectiveness of Libraries’ tools and resources as an embedded member of the project team.

Solar Potential Map developed by the Webber Energy Group.
Solar Potential Map developed by the Webber Energy Group.

Working throughout the fall, the group was able to create a report for the foundation in December, and develop an online tool — the Solar Potential Map — that shows the best options for locating panel installations along roadways across the U.S. With the potential for a significant national infrastructure investment under discussion, components conceptualized through a project like The Ray could eventually become a reality. The Ray has already piloted one cluster of solar panels along I-85, and now they have the data to support an expansion of the idea on a much larger scale.

Beagle will continue her stint as a CLIR fellow through the spring, coordinating with her peers in Mechanical Engineering to supervise graduate student work on data-intensive research projects and use that interface to inform and develop data management resources and services at the Libraries. She’ll also using the knowledge she’s gained from the fellowship residence to co-teach workshops for other researchers on campus.

She isn’t the first CLIR fellow the Libraries have hosted — there are currently two Postdoctoral Fellows for Data Curation in Latin American and Latina/o Studies at the Benson Latin American Collection: Edward Shore (continuing from 2017) is overseeing a project to preserve and digitize rare historical documentation on quilombos, communities organized by fugitive slaves in colonial Brazil, and Jennifer Isasi (2018) is working with Benson Digital Scholarship Coordinator Albert A. Palacios to contribute to collections as data efforts, educational resources and digital scholarship initiatives at LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections. And 2017 fellow at the Benson, Hannah Alpert-Abrams, recently completed her term working to develop the repository and interface for the digital Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional, a collection of records relating to the national police of Guatemala. 2013 CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow for Data Curation in Medieval Studies Ece Turnator took part in a collaborative bid between the Libraries, the English Department and research units on campus — including the Texas Advanced Computing Center — to create a global gateway to all the digital resources currently available on the Middle Ages, the Global Middle Ages Project (G-MAP).

The CLIR program has been of great value to the Libraries by allowing us access to trained scholars and researchers with perspectives informed by current trends in the interrelationship between libraries and community stakeholders,” says Vice Provost Lorraine Haricombe. “Their presence provides an opportunity to bridge between unit-level research and scholarship and library resources and services, and to use that bridge to improve and elevate what we do.

The CLIR Postdoctoral Fellowship Program offers recent Ph.D. graduates the chance to help develop research tools, resources, and services while exploring new career opportunities. Host institutions benefit from fellows’ field-specific expertise by gaining insights into their collections’ potential uses and users, scholarly information behaviors and current teaching and learning practices within particular disciplines.

Beagle says the fellowship experience so far has played out as advertised, but in unexpected ways.

“Being split between Engineering and the Libraries, I was expecting that my duties for both would be very different and not have much overlap,” she says. “But I have been pleasantly surprised at how much I have been able to collaborate between the two groups and how much work in one area has informed a project in the other.”

“It has been very rewarding to work with the Webber Energy Group, UT Libraries and The Ray on a project with real world applicability. I hope to someday see solar panels along the interstate and be able to think ‘I was a part of that.’

 

Esad Arseven, Celal and Cimcoz, Selah, “The Owl of Ignorance.” 1908.

Illuminating Explorations: Satire at the End of the Ottoman Empire

“Illuminating Explorations” – This series of digital exhibits is designed to promote and celebrate UT Libraries collections in small-scale form. The exhibits will highlight unique materials to elevate awareness of a broad range of content. “Illuminating Explorations” will be created and released over time, with the intent of encouraging use of featured and related items, both digital and analog, in support of new inquiries, discoveries, enjoyment and further exploration.

Esad Arseven, Celal and Cimcoz, Selah, “That's a Young Turk, My Son." 1908.
Esad Arseven, Celal and Cimcoz, Selah, “That’s a Young Turk, My Son.” 1908.

Turkey, or the Ottoman Empire, has long occupied the political and strategic sights of the West. Today’s news often focuses on the constitutional amendments—in some cases styled as reforms––that the Erdoğan government has pursued. In Western academia and media, these maneuvers are most often read as an “Islamist” approach to governance; they may be more accurately labeled neoliberal, and indeed follow patterns shared with other eras of reform and significant political change in Turkish history.

In recognition of the contemporary significance of Turkish political change and development, UT Libraries’ “Satire After the Young Turk Revolution” online exhibit brings to the fore poignant political cartoons featured in the bilingual (Ottoman Turkish-French) weekly magazine Kalem. Kalem was founded following the Young Turk Revolution in the early 20th century, a movement that sought to implement significant political and social reforms in the late Ottoman Empire. These reforms and the political issues raised at the time would continue to roil Ottoman society through the First World War and into the formation of the Turkish Republic.

Esad Arseven, Celal and Cimcoz, Selah, “Funeral of the Eastern Question." 1908.
Esad Arseven, Celal and Cimcoz, Selah, “Funeral of the Eastern Question.” 1908.

The cartoon images have been selected for this exhibit because of their accessible meaning, illustration of the top issues of the time period, and aesthetic value. Kalem magazine was chosen for this exhibit because it represents UT Libraries’ rare Ottoman collections that are ripe for digitization to increase access for the public.

This exhibit will be of interest to those fascinated by pre-WWI Europe, the Ottoman Empire, satirical and political cartoons, and French publications in the Middle East. It will be of particular interest to researchers and students of the Middle East, early 20th century Europe, and popular art and literature across cultures.

Esad Arseven, Celal and Cimcoz, Selah, “Now the Ministers Do the Cleaning." 1908.
Esad Arseven, Celal and Cimcoz, Selah, “Now the Ministers Do the Cleaning.” 1908.

The print magazine is available at the Perry-Castañeda Library at UT Austin and through the Center for Research Libraries. An incomplete digital copy (issues 2 – 40) can be found through the HathiTrust Library. It is hoped that a full-color and complete digital copy of Kalem magazine will be available as an initiative of the Middle East Materials Project of the Center for Research Libraries.

Dale J. Correa is the Middle East Studies Librarian & History Coordinator for UT Libraries.

 

 

Collections Highlight: The (Digitized) Letters of Dr. Henryk Bronislaw Stenzel

Henryk Bronislaw Stenzel. From a photograph in Ferguson, 1981, courtesy BEG.
Henryk Bronislaw Stenzel. From a photograph in Ferguson, 1981, courtesy BEG.

In a project to capture a discrete collection at one of the university’s CSUs, faculty and staff from the Jackson School of Geosciences and the College of Natural Sciences worked with UT Libraries staff to get a collection of over 6000 letters added to Texas ScholarWorks, the university’s digital repository.

The letters are to and from Henryk Bronislaw Stenzel, a faculty member in the Department of Geology from 1948-54 who was a notable authority in the field of Tertiary stratigraphy and paleontology, representing a partial record of a career that spanned over 50 years.

The letters cover subject matter both professional and personal, and provide insight into Stenzel’s methodology, specific projects and relationships with his peers both here and abroad.

Stenzel was born in Poland in 1899, and attended Schlesische Freidrich Wilhelms University in Breslau beginning in 1918, where he majored in paleontology and geology with a minor in physics and mathematics. He received his doctorate in 1922, with a concentration on petrofabrics under the supervision of noted German geologist Hans Cloos.

Letter to H.B. Stenzel from Hans E. Cloos on 1921-09-12.
Letter to H.B. Stenzel from Hans E. Cloos on 1921-09-12.

Stenzel emigrated to the U.S. in 1925, and after being denied a position in petrology at Texas A&M, changed his specialization to Tertiary stratigraphy and paleontology to secure a second opening at the university. He taught there until 1934, when he joined the Texas Bureau of Economic Geology, a research unit at the University of Texas at Austin, and took his faculty position at UT in 1948.

Over the course of his career, Dr. Stenzel had 92 works published on petrology, paleontology and stratigraphy of the Lower Tertiary of the Gulf Coast. His most well known publications include the 1949 work Successful speciation in paleontology: The case of the oysters of the Sellaeformis stock (adaptations of species) and the 1971 work: Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology (Oysters).

Letter to H.B. Stenzel from S.J. Olsen on 1961-10-16.
Letter to H.B. Stenzel from S.J. Olsen on 1961-10-16.

Stenzel’s collection of letters includes correspondence with a number of recognized authorities in paleontology, including Preston Cloud, Leslie Reginald Cox, Myra Keen, Stanley John Olsen, Katherine Van Winkle Palmer, and Remington Kellogg. Stenzel corresponded with many people across his profession, as well as students and those he mentored.

His collection of letters and exchanges have been digitized and stored for viewing on Texas ScholarWorks. Each file has a PDF view of the original letter as well as metadata, including keywords and dates of the original correspondence, if noted.

This effort was advanced by the late Ann Molineux, a curator for the Texas Natural History Collections, who developed much of the metadata for this project, and Gilbert Borrego, who provided support and guidance for the technical processes.

 

 

Fragment of Aztec manuscript, 1520, written in Spanish on native paper, is an illustrated account of the conquest of Mexico by Hernán Cortés. (G8 Ms.)

Pastorelas: Past and Present

“Illuminating Explorations” – This series of digital exhibits is designed to promote and celebrate UT Libraries collections in small-scale form. The exhibits will highlight unique materials to elevate awareness of a broad range of content. “Illuminating Explorations” will be created and released over time, with the intent of encouraging use of featured and related items, both digital and analog, in support of new inquiries, discoveries, enjoyment and further exploration.

Zayas, Manuel Antonio, El triunfo de Jesús contra la lengua del diablo : pastorela en cuatro actos. 1853.
Zayas, Manuel Antonio, El triunfo de Jesús contra la lengua del diablo : pastorela en cuatro actos. 1853.

As the holiday season quickly approaches, many in the Latinx community are gearing up to celebrate both Christmas as well as Las Posadas. A lesser known celebratory act performed during the holiday season are the plays known as pastorelas. Pastorelas can be traced back to the 16th Century when Franciscan monks leveraged the strong artistic culture of the Mexica people in Tenochtitlan to evangelize them by incorporating Christian ideals into their performance tradition.

Historically, pastorelas have told the story of how Satan attempted to thwart the travels of the shepherds following the Star of Bethlehem in search of the baby Jesus. While pastorelas have maintained the general premise of good vs. evil, the roles of what constitutes both the good and the evil have changed to encompass contemporary issues that have faced the Latinx communities. Immigration, racism, politics, and a plethora of other topics have been incorporated into pastorelas to transmit opinions and ideas to audiences, both religious and secular.

Fragment of Aztec manuscript, 1520, written in Spanish on native paper, is an illustrated account of the conquest of Mexico by Hernán Cortés. (G8 Ms.)
Fragment of Aztec manuscript, 1520, written in Spanish on native paper, is an illustrated account of the conquest of Mexico by Hernán Cortés. (G8 Ms.)

While pastorelas have typically been an oral tradition, some have been transcribed to paper. A beautiful example of this is Manuel Antono Zayas’ “El triunfo de Jesús contra la lengua del diablo: pastorela en cuatro actoswritten in 1853. This illustrated play, held in the Benson Rare Books and Manuscript Collection, includes multiple hand drawn illustrations of the costumes to be worn during performances, including those of the angel, San Miguel, and even Satan himself.

Please visit the digital exhibit to see the beautiful illustrations in “el Triunfo” as well as some of the other spectacular rare books available to view from the Benson Collection. Also, peruse Zayas’ entire book, which has been digitized and can be viewed at Texas ScholarWorks.

Gilbert Borrego is the Digital Repository Specialist for Texas ScholarWorks, UT’s institutional repository (IR).

Javier y María José, estudiantes universitarios, organizan documentos del PCN en la preparción para digitalizarlos (foto: Anthony Dest)

¡Afro-Colombianos Presentes! Launching a Post-Custodial Project with the Proceso de Comunidades Negras in Colombia

BY ITZA A. CARBAJAL

Véase abajo para versión en español.

Along the Pacific coast of Colombia lies the vibrant and growing seaport city of Buenaventura. The city also serves as home to a large portion of Colombia’s Afro-descendant communities. Colombia, with one of the largest populations of Afro-descendant peoples in Latin America, serves as home to countless Afro-Colombians, a large number of whom live in coastal regions or rural areas, and more recently in urban spaces—a result of ongoing displacement.

This past October, the LLILAS Benson Digital Initiatives unit at The University of Texas at Austin launched the second of three post-custodial projects with new partners, the Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN), specifically focused on the records held at the Buenaventura office serving the Palenque Regional El Kongal. These materials, held for over two decades by PCN, represent a crucial addition not only to human rights documentation of Colombia’s ongoing war and drug-trafficking related conflicts, but also as testament of resilient efforts by Afro-descendant Colombian communities to define and secure recognition and ethno-racial rights in Colombia. Preliminary selection of potential records to be digitized included photographs of cultural events and community mapping gatherings, notable agendas from previous national asambleas (assemblies), and collaborative environmental and humanitarian reports related to Afro-Colombian community issues.

PCN digitization project coordinator Marta works with University student Javier and Maria Jose to identify documents
PCN digitization project coordinator Marta works with University student Javier and Maria Jose to identify documents (photo: Anthony Dest)

As part of the recently awarded Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant titled “Cultivating a Latin American Post-Custodial Archival Praxis,” LLILAS Benson’s post-custodial team coordinated a weeklong training in Colombia. As part of the project’s structural support, LLILAS Benson representatives delivered digitization equipment, facilitated financial resources to pay digitization technicians, and developed custom step-by-step guides on how to successfully complete the PCN digitization project. The trainings, held at the offices of PCN and led by Latin American Metadata Librarian Itza Carbajal and LLILAS PhD candidate Anthony Dest, covered multiple topics, including how to scan historic materials using professional equipment, identifying and documenting metadata about collection materials such as photographs, and brainstorming future visions for PCN’s historic archival collections.

Metadata Librarian Itza demonstrates digitization and description instructions to project team members Marisol and Luz Stella (photo: Anthony Dest)
Metadata Librarian Itza demonstrates digitization and description instructions to project team members Marisol and Luz Stella (photo: Anthony Dest)

Throughout the training, LLILAS Benson and PCN team members reviewed and conducted preliminary scans and developed descriptions for a variety of records, including photographs of early PCN community events, reports on living conditions of Afro-Colombians in the region, and organizational planning documents for mobilization. After the weeklong training ended, the LLILAS Benson project team returned to the United States, leaving the PCN digitization team to begin their critical work.

In the LLILAS Benson post-custodial model, archivists work alongside partners from other sectors to preserve and manage their archival materials, often including the digitization of physical archives in order for the materials to remain in their original home. The digital copies then take on the role of scholarly resources made available to researchers, students, faculty, and the general public.

Marisol and Luz Stella practice their metadata creation skills (photo: Anthony Dest)
Marisol and Luz Stella practice their metadata creation skills (photo: Anthony Dest)

While LLILAS Benson has been implementing post-custodial methods for over a decade, this grant project focuses on formalizing approaches to working with Latin American partners. In 2014, LLILAS Benson received a planning grant from the Mellon Foundation that introduced our first three archival partners, all concentrated in Central America, for the Latin American Digital Initiatives (LADI). This recent grant continues the work of the planning grant with the inclusion of new partners from Mexico, Colombia, and Brazil. Digitization projects are already under way in Mexico and Colombia, and the LLILAS Benson post-custodial team looks forward to beginning work with the Brazilian partner in early 2019 and finalizing the first phase of the overall grant project.

LEER EN ESPAÑOL

A lo largo de la costa pacífica de Colombia se encuentra la creciente ciudad de Buenaventura. Esta ciudad también es hogar a una de las mayores poblaciones de afrodescendientes en toda América Latina. Los afrocolombianos viven mayormente en las regiones costeras y las zonas rurales, pero recientemente han venido a vivir más en espacios urbanos—un resultado del desplazamiento.

Marta, coordinadora del proyecto digital de PCN, trabaja en la identificación de documentos con dos estudiantes universitarios, Javier y María José (foto: Anthony Dest)
Marta, coordinadora del proyecto digital de PCN, trabaja en la identificación de documentos con dos estudiantes universitarios, Javier y María José (foto: Anthony Dest)

Este pasado octubre la unidad de iniciativas digitales de LLILAS Benson, Universidad de Texas en Austin, lanzó el segundo de tres proyectos pos-custodiales con nuestros nuevos compañeros, el Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN). Este proyecto se enfoca en los materiales históricos sobre el trabajo del Palenque Regional El Kongal de PCN, que se encuentran almacenados en la oficina de Buenaventura. Estos materiales, guardados por más de dos décadas, representan una adición esencial al cuerpo de documentos reunidos por LLILAS Benson sobre los derechos humanos. Éstos incluyen no sólo documentos de la guerra civil y los conflictos relacionados con el tráfico de drogas en Colombia, sino también testimonios del esfuerzo de las comunidades afrocolombianas para definir y asegurar el reconocimiento y los derechos etno-raciales en Colombia. La selección preliminar de materiales para digitalizar incluye fotografías de eventos culturales y reuniones para crear mapas comunitarios, agendas de asambleas nacionales anteriores, así como informes ambientales y humanitarios sobre las comunidades afrocolombianas.

Como parte de una subvención de la Fundación Andrew W. Mellon para el proyecto “Cultivating a Latin American Post-Custodial Archival Praxis” (Cultivando una praxis archivística pos-custodial en la América Latina), el equipo de LLILAS Benson coordinó un entrenamiento de duración de una semana para garantizar el éxito del proyecto. El entrenamiento incluyó la entrega de equipos de digitalización, la facilitación de recursos financieros para pagar a los técnicos, así como un repaso de los guías para completar el proyecto de digitalización de PCN. Se llevó a cabo en las oficinas de PCN en Buenaventura y fue dirigido por Itza Carbajal, bibliotecaria de metadatos de América Latina, y Anthony Dest, candidato al doctorado del Instituto de Estudios Latinoamericanos Teresa Lozano Long (LLILAS).

Javier y María José, estudiantes universitarios, organizan documentos del PCN en la preparción para digitalizarlos (foto: Anthony Dest)
Javier y María José, estudiantes universitarios, organizan documentos del PCN en la preparción para digitalizarlos (foto: Anthony Dest)

 

El entrenamiento abarcó varios temas: instrucciones para escanear materiales frágiles, cómo identificar y evaluar metadatos de materiales visuales como fotografías, y cómo planear el futuro del archivo histórico de PCN. Juntos, los representantes de LLILAS Benson y PCN revisaron y crearon metadatos para una serie de materiales que incluyeron fotografías de eventos de PCN, informes sobre las condiciones de vida de los afrocolombianos de la región, y documentos administrativos sobre varios esfuerzos de movilización comunitaria. Al completar el entrenamiento, los representantes de LLILAS Benson volvieron a los Estados Unidos dejando el equipo de digitalización de PCN para comenzar su trabajo importante.

En el modelo pos-custodial de LLILAS Benson, los archiveros trabajan junto a sus socios en otros sectores para conservar y administrar sus materiales históricos. Esto muchas veces incluye la digitalización de los materiales físicos para que éstos permanezcan en su lugar de origen. Las copias digitales entonces asumen el papel de recursos académicos que están disponibles a investigadores, estudiantes, profesoras y el público.

El equipo PCN de digitalización y procesamiento archivos festeja el fin del entrenamiento (foto: Anthony Dest)
El equipo PCN de digitalización y procesamiento archivos festeja el fin del entrenamiento (foto: Anthony Dest)

Si bien LLILAS Benson ha implementado los principios pos-custodiales por más de una década, este proyecto se concentra en formalizar el modelo de trabajo con organizaciones en la América Latina. En el año 2014, LLILAS Benson recibió una concesión de planificación (planning grant) de la Fundación Mellon que introdujo nuestros tres primeros archivos socios, todos basados en Centroamérica; el resultado fue Iniciativas Digitales Latinoamericanas (LADI). La concesión reciente nos permitirá continuar el trabajo de la concesión anterior, ya incluyendo nuevos socios no sólo en Colombia sino también en México y Brasil. Con los proyectos ya lanzados en México y Colombia, esperamos con mucho interés lanzar el trabajo en Brasil al comenzar el año 2019.


Itza A. Carbajal is the Latin American Metadata Librarian at LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections.

 

Harold W. Billings

The Tomorrow Librarian: Harold Billings’s Legacy, 1978-2003

The cover of Billings' book Magic & Hypersystems: Constructing the Information Sharing Library.
The cover of Billings’ book Magic & Hypersystems: Constructing the Information Sharing Library.

Few can claim a career as long or legacy as lasting as Harold Billings. He began working for the University of Texas Libraries as a cataloger in 1954 while still pursuing his Master’s in Library Science and by 1978 was the director of the general libraries. He remained in that position until his retirement in 2003. Throughout his career Billings was able to navigate the immense changes in technology and constant challenge of keeping faith in value of libraries. Billings achieved this by inviting innovations that others of his time resisted. As a result of his leadership, UT Libraries thrived, growing its collections, introducing new digital services, and building its reputation as one if the highest ranking research libraries in the nation.

Today, technology and UT Libraries seem inextricably intertwined as students conduct research using their access to hundreds of online databases, use software in the computer labs, and create 3-D printed projects in the Foundry makerspace. When Billings first entered the field, libraries looked and functioned very differently. Throughout his career, Billings pushed UT libraries toward incorporating innovative technology from early searchable databases and the online card catalog to resource sharing and partnership with other libraries through TexShare.

Library staff member gestures to a poster titled "Searching the Database" that lists database queries.
Library staff member gestures to a poster titled “Searching the Database” that lists database queries.

While leading the general libraries forward in incorporating new technologies, Billings simultaneously continued to build the print and research collections at UT Libraries. A literary scholar himself, Billings’ love of research and books carried over into his many roles over his career at UTL. He maintained a close relationship with Harry Ransom, acquiring collections for the Center, and corresponded with several authors both regarding his own scholarship and to help bring literary collections to UT. The general libraries also saw tremendous growth of their collections over his career, from acquiring their 1 millionth volume while Billings was still a cataloger to holding over 7 million volumes by the end of his tenure as director.

A hand-colored drawing of an owl by Barbara Holman on the linen cover of Billing's book Texas Beast Fables.
A hand-colored drawing of an owl by Barbara Holman on the linen cover of Billing’s book Texas Beast Fables.

Billings’ love of books, research, and collecting extended beyond his role at UT. Inspired by his admiration for and friendships with writers and artists, Billings published literary works and criticism throughout his career and well after. Some of these publications include a biography of one of his favorite poets, Edward Dalhberg, and Texas Beast Fables, a bestiary of Texas folklore. Billings also built a personal collection of art favoring local artists as well as Newcomb pottery and Elvis memorabilia. From his early education through his retirement, two facts are undeniable: Harold Billings loved libraries and he loved Texas.

Harold Billings looking over a large manuscript of sheet music.
Harold Billings looking over a large manuscript of sheet music.

An exhibit highlighting these aspects of Billings’ career and life will be on display in the Scholars Commons beginning November 1st, and an online component can be viewed on Scalar. Borrowing the title of his 1995 essay on the future of libraries, we’ve given the exhibit a name that we think embodies Billings’ role as an innovative leader in the field: The Tomorrow Librarian.

Virginia Barnes and Rachael Zipperer are graduate research assistants from the university’s School of Information.

In Memoriam: Harold W. Billings