Category Archives: Uncategorized

Support for the Economy Furniture Co. strike in Austin from Chicanos in Leavenworth, 1970.

Special Collections Bring Students to Digital Scholarship

An ambitious fall semester project in the Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies provided the opportunity for cross-campus collaborations that brought together the Harry Ransom Center and the Benson Latin American Collection.

The Department of American Studies Ph.D. candidate Amanda Gray’s course “Latina/o Representation in Media and Popular Culture” took students out of the classroom and into special collections to get a hands-on feel for archival research. The course took advantage of the “Mexico Modern: Art, Commerce, and Cultural Exchange, 1920-1945 exhibition” at the Ransom Center in late September before returning there on October 5th for an instructional session working with collection materials led by Andi Gustavson, Head of Instructional Services. Gustavson’s selected materials featured photographs of Mexican migrant workers from the 1960s, an anthology of early Mexican American literature, and items from the papers of acclaimed Dominican American author Julia Alvarez. However, it was Ernest Lehman’s collection on the film West Side Story that caught the eye of many students who were interested in how Puerto Ricans are represented, especially when many non-Puerto Rican actors played their roles, often in brown face.

Publicity materials for West Side Story. Box 102, folder 1. Ernest Lehman Collection, Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin.
Publicity materials for West Side Story. Box 102, folder 1. Ernest Lehman Collection, Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin.

On October 10th, the class came to the Benson for another show and tell wherein I focused on archival materials relating to Latina reproductive health, the 1968-1972 Economy Furniture Company strike here in Austin, and the establishment of what has come to be known as the National Chicana Conference. Between the two archival visits, students saw a wide array of Latino representation, whether self-representation or dominant cultural representation, from the 1950s to the present day.

Program of the first Conferencia de Mujeres por la Raza. Box 1, folder 1. Lucy R. Moreno Collection, Benson Latin American Collection, General Libraries, the University of Texas at Austin
Program of the first Conferencia de Mujeres por la Raza. Box 1, folder 1. Lucy R. Moreno Collection, Benson Latin American Collection, General Libraries, the University of Texas at Austin

Under the guidance of Latin American Studies Digital Scholarship Coordinator Albert A. Palacios, the students incorporated the show and tell materials, along with their own research, into group digital projects using storytelling tools like StoryMapsJS and TimelineJS. The projects touched on a variety of issues, including class, disability, ethnicity, gender, race, sexuality, and other subjectivities. Scholarly Communications Librarian Colleen Lyon chipped in with a copyright crash course that taught students the best practices for posting academic findings online.

A card expressing support for the Economy Furniture Co. strike in Austin from Chicanos in Leavenworth, 1970. Box 3, folder 11. Economy Furniture Company Strike Collection, 1968-1972, Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.
A card expressing support for the Economy Furniture Co. strike in Austin from Chicanos in Leavenworth, 1970. Box 3, folder 11. Economy Furniture Company Strike Collection, 1968-1972, Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.

The students showcased their digital projects at one of the PCL Learning Labs on December 15th to the delight of an audience that consisted of UTL and HRC staff as well as faculty from the Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies. As for the students, they exclaimed how much they preferred working with these tools in a group setting as opposed to writing a traditional final paper. To that end, Professor Gray’s innovative pedagogical approach represents the possibility for integrating the library into courses going forward and in the process, strengthening relationships across campus.

If you would like to view the final projects, click here.

Small press hero image.

Discovering the Texas Small Press

Ask A Librarian GRA Mitch Cota curated an exciting exhibit for the PCL Scholars Commons and Poetry Center called “Lone Star ImPRESSions: A History of Small Press in Texas.” This exhibit is the fruit of many months’ labor and the culmination of Mitch’s iSchool Capstone project, and features books published by small presses in Austin, Houston and San Antonio.

When I began my degree in information studies, one of the many reasons that drove my decision was the tension between libraries and the corporate publishing and copyright model. I do not believe that anyone really enjoys having materials chosen for them or having materials withheld from them while pursuing research and education. While literature has its own unique set of complications between authors rights and non-traditional content, it too is affected by this tension. My project to examine small press was an exploration into the individuals who are fighting for the right to publish content they view as valuable and different. Texas small press is born out of a denial by large publishing houses to acknowledge underrepresented voices and content that defies easy categorization.

Lone Star imPRESSions: A History of Small Press in Texas

We are getting ahead of ourselves though. Small press is a term that often inspires a multitude of definitions in everyone’s mind. For the exhibit, small press was defined as a press that is truly home grown. Some of these presses began in Texas, while others started somewhere else and now call Texas home. There are presses in the exhibit with a more historical presence and others that have begun in the last five years. They all share one core goal, to publish content that is different and voices they believe deserve to be heard.

Group discussion at Slough Press.

Historically, presses like Wings, Thorp Springs, and Slough were created in an effort to publish content that each saw as pushing against the large publishing house model. Many of the materials utilized in the research of the exhibit are located right here on campus. The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History has a portion of the archival collection of Joanne Whitebird, the original owner of Wings press. The Harry Ransom Center has the entire archival collection of Thorp Springs press. While Slough and Wings are still currently publishing work, Thorp Springs has now gone defunct with the loss of their original creator and editor John Paul Foreman. Each of these presses were created in order to publish specific work, whether that be female authors, Southwest/Texas authors, or authors of color. The small presses of today have broadened their approach to include voices from queer and trans authors. Without someone focusing on producing this type of content, there would be far less work to represent these different communities.

Wings press books.

The PCL collections serve to preserve these materials for generations to come. One of the largest hurdles small publishing faces are financial constraints. In conducting interviews and combing through archives, I found that many of the papers and materials from different presses were never preserved. Work was lost in time. The University of Texas Poetry Center and the general collection here at the PCL now serve as a medium to protect these small presses from fading into history. Not only do these materials represent unique voices, they also serve our students in critical theory research in literature. Whether they are looking through a historic, feminist, racial, or queer lens, these collections here at the PCL serve to not only preserve the presses, but provide examples for beliefs and ideologies of the times in which they are situated.

The exhibit — Lone Star imPRESSions: A History of Small Press in Texas — also examines different authors situated throughout the history of small press. One of these authors, a poet actually, worked right here at the PCL and has work that speaks to his time while employed here. Some voices like Jim Trainer and Andrew Hilbert represent fresh voices from today who refuse to play by the rules. A few of these authors own their own small presses while publishing their work through other small presses. The content produced by authors and presses alike includes multiple different genres, mediums, and formats. Many of the items are handcrafted with hand sewn bindings. When you purchase an item from a small press, you are getting an item that is one of a kind.

Lone Star imPRESSions: A History of Small Press in Texas

So, come visit! The exhibit has been extended into January, and we have items in both the Scholars Commons and University of Texas Poetry Center.

Besides what is on display, there are items in the PCL collection to read and check out. I have also taken the liberty of producing an exhibit catalog that has a more extensive examination of each press and author. One of the other great services this exhibit provides is a link in the catalog to each small press that is accepting open submissions. Students and faculty looking to publish work can review each press and see which one would best suit the content they have to offer.

Texas small press is home grown from the sweat and tears of the hard-working editors that believed in the content they were producing. Come visit the PCL and see the fruits of their hard work, support small press but furthermore support the idea that large publishing houses do not have the right to choose content for everyone.

 

 

 

Three stories you made happen at UT Libraries

The following post is part of UT Thanks Day. UT Thanks Day is an extraordinary time every year when our UT community comes together as one to thank donors. We are inspired and better-off through your generosity. Here are three stories you made happen.

You helped offset Sana’s tuition.

Nilsson Scholarship recipient Sana Saboowala in the PCL Maps collection
Nilsson Scholarship recipient Sana Saboowala in the PCL Maps collection

Sana Saboowala is pursuing a B.S.A. in Biology and a B.A. in Anthropology and is in the Polymathic Scholars and Liberal Arts Honors Program. She is also our student government documents and maps assistant in the Perry-Castañeda Library (PCL) and the recipient of the Nilsson scholarship for library student workers.

Thank you for helping offset tuition for Sana while we helped train her for the workforce. In her role, Sana safeguards and preserves official publications and information products of the U.S. Government in all formats. She protects materials vulnerable to decay, technical obsolescence, malicious cyber-attacks, and neglect.

Sana was overwhelmed by the daunting projects we put in front of her as a freshman four years ago but she overcame. Now a senior, we trust Sana to determine what is valuable to keep and what can be discarded before the digitization process.

Sana speaks in front of representatives from the Government Printing Office during audits—essentially officials evaluating the libraries and her work. A skill she was grateful to learn now having to present her own work at academic conferences. Sana stuck it out, excelled, and is now grateful for the lessons in leadership, self-initiative, self-confidence, and diverse array of skills she accumulated.

Her work experience at PCL helped her conduct independent research as a Mellon Mays Fellow, winning a highly competitive internship at the Harry Ransom Center, and writing an honors thesis.

You supported Sean and his 3D printed violin.

Foundry
Sean Riley with his 3D printed violin

Doctoral candidate Sean Riley needed a six-string electric violin to play American composer John Adams’s “The Dharma at Big Sur.” Six string violins are uncommon, so he went to The Foundry in the Fine Arts Library to make one. To complete the violin, Riley needed to collaborate. He enlisted Rebecca Milton, an undergraduate student in studio art, and Daniel Goodwin, a recent graduate in mechanical engineering, and they began working in The Foundry.

The story of Sean creating his six string violin in The Foundry will be highlighted in January on UT’s homepage. Be on the lookout to learn how he landed on his final violin design, to include designing it to not melt in the car.

You helped jump-start opening the Genaro García collection to the world.

UTLEmail-3
Christina Bleyer, Head of Special Collections and Senior Archivist at the Benson Latin American Collection

The Benson Latin American collection is arguably the best library devoted to the region of Latin America in the world. The Genaro García collection within the Benson was our first major purchase of treasures from Mexico. It has been attracting world-renowned faculty and recruiting the brightest students to UT since 1921—for almost 100 years. Researchers from every corner of the world come to sift through documents to shed light on Mexico’s history, it’s evolution from a colonial territory of Spain to a modern independent nation.

You helped purchase supplies and employ the student labor needed to digitize this collection. This material has been accessible only in person since 1921—until now. Thanks to you, the Genaro García collection can be viewed by everyone, from the casual observer emerging themselves in Mexican history to the distinguished researcher on the opposite side of the world. Thank you for allowing us to share this rare collection with the world.

Open Access Month – OA Creates Momentum for Discovery

October is Open Access Month. Throughout the month, guest contributors will present their perspectives on the value of open access to research, scholarship and innovation at The University of Texas at Austin.

This installment provided by Rayna Harris (ORCID ID:0000-0002-7943-5650), PhD Candidate, Cell and Molecular Biology.

Open access publishing is critical for ‘daisy chain’ reading of scientific papers

Rayna Harris.
Rayna Harris.

Whenever I read a scientific paper, there is almost always a citation that grabs my attention and begs to be read. I love it when I can click on a citation and then read the full text. This ‘daisy chain’ process of citation searching (where the second paper leads me to a third paper, which leads me to a forth, and so on) gives me a great appreciation for all the previous research that contributes to current knowledge.

Figure 1. An example of citation searching or ‘daisy chain’ reading of scientific papers. In this example, McKiernan et al. 2016, cite Brenner 1995, who refers to Watson & Crick 1995. All these papers are open access and can be read by all.
Figure 1. An example of citation searching or ‘daisy chain’ reading of scientific papers. In this example, McKiernan et al. 2016, cite Brenner 1995, who refers to Watson & Crick 1995. All these papers are open access and can be read by all.

When my citation search leads me to a paper that is not open access, I get frustrated because its halts the excellent momentum I had going for gaining new new knowledge. There is a saying in my lab that “if the research isn’t published it doesn’t exist” because it has not been disseminated to broader audiences. I would like to modify this quote to say “if the research is not published and open access then it doesn’t exist” because pay-walled papers are not freely discoverable.

Open access publishing is necessary for dissemination of ideas because it gives readers the ability to read any paper anytime anywhere. My hope is that one day I will publish a scientific paper that 1) is open access, 2) cites only open access papers, 3) which in turn cite only open science papers, and so on. This way, future readers can daisy-chain their way through the history of research that lead to current understanding.

 

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.

 

Architectural rendering of PCL.

You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

Though most of the current denizens of the Perry-Castañeda Library (PCL) are too young to appreciate it, the campus’s flagship library turns 40 this year, which is significant in the life of a modern library given the change that the institution has experienced in the last couple of decades.

When PCL was conceived, it was believed that the new building would accommodate the growth in physical collections for the foreseeable future; little did our 20th century forebears imagine the impact digital technologies and a global information network would have on the preservation, storage and distribution of knowledge.

With the upcoming celebration of the Perry-Castañeda Library’s 40th anniversary on the horizon, let’s take a moment to look back at what else was happening back in 1977…

  • Biochemist Lorene Rogers is president of The University of Texas at Austin, and Harold Billings is director of the university’s General Libraries, and enrollment at UT is 41,660.

UT President Lorene Rogers at the dedication ceremony for PCL.

 

  • Dolph Briscoe is the governor of Texas, Austin has a population of 321,900 (now 947,890), and Texas has 13.19 million (now 27.86 million).
  • Median income: $13,572. Average cost of: a house — $54,200; a car — ~$4,300; a gallon of gas — $0.62; annual tuition, room & board — $2,411.
  • Apple Computer is incorporated, and later in the year, the first Apple II series computers go on sale.

Apple II.

 

  • The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough is the best-selling fiction of the year.
  • Laverne & Shirley is the top rated TV show.
  • The critically-acclaimed television miniseries adaption of Alex Haley’s Roots airs.

ABC's miniseries adaptation of Alex Haley's "Roots."

 

  • The punk band The Clash’s debut album The Clash is released on CBS Records.
  • Optical fiber is first used to carry live telephone traffic.

Fiber optic installation. Chicago, 1977.

  • The first Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre opens in San Jose, California.
  • George Lucas’s Star Wars opens in cinemas and becomes the highest-grossing film of its time. Woody Allen’s Annie Hall wins the Oscar for Best Picture. Also released: Close Encounters of the Third KindEraserhead, and Smokey and the Bandit.

Star Wars movie poster.

 

  • Rod Stewart’s “Tonight’s the Night,” is Billboard’s Top Hot 100 single for the year, and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors is the top-selling album.
  • Elvis Presley, the “king of rock and roll”, dies in his home in Graceland at age 42.
  • Jimmy Carter signs legislation creating the United States Department of Energy.
  • NASA launches the Voyager 1 spacecraft.

Artist's concept of Voyager in flight.

 

  • British punk band Sex Pistols release Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols on the Virgin Records label.
  • San Francisco elects City Supervisor Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official of any large city in the U.S.

 

  • Saturday Night Fever is released, launching the careers of John Travolta and resulting in multiple hits for the Bee Gees.
  • Atari, Inc. releases the Atari 2600 game console in North America.

Atari Video Computer System (or Atari2600).

 

  • The first children’s cable channel The Pinwheel Network (later known as Nickelodeon), is launched.
  • The first ever event is hosted at the newly opened Frank Erwin Center on November 29 when the Longhorn men’s basketball team defeats Oklahoma, 83-76.
  • The Longhorn football team finishes the regular season with an 11–0 record, and running back Earl Campbell wins the Heisman Trophy, leading the nation in rushing with 1,744 yards.

What were you doing in 1977?

Re-think it 2018: Open Call

Re-think it logo


About the Conference
conferences.lib.utexas.edu/rethinkit2018/
January 8-10, 2018, the UT Libraries, Austin Public Library, and Austin Community College Libraries will co-host Re-think it: Libraries for a New Age, inaugurated at Grand Valley State University in 2015. The conference will be held at the University of Texas and other locations in Austin and Central Texas.

Re-think it: Libraries for a New Age will bring together academic and public librarians, administrators, technologists, architects, designers, furniture manufacturers, library users, and educators from across the country to discuss, share, learn and collectively re-think the increasingly important role libraries play in the communities that they serve.


Submit a Proposal
conferences.lib.utexas.edu/rethinkit2018/call-for-proposals.html
Re-think it  is now accepting submissions for twenty-minute presentations and brief eight-minute lightning round talks that address best practices, case studies, projects, and creative ideas supporting any of the following themes.

Design to:

  • Develop a forward-thinking organizational culture
  • Transform physical library spaces and places
  • Promote innovative services, programs, or technologies
  • Assess and evaluate spaces, services, technologies and programs
  • Reflect community values and needs

All proposals should include:

  • Proposed program title
  • Name of speaker(s)
  • Contact information
  • Presentation description

Descriptions should be limited to 500 words for presentations and 150 words for lightning round talks.

First round of submissions accepted through August 25, 2017.

To get involved or ask questions, please email Hannah Packard at rethinkit@austin.utexas.edu.

PCL 40th Anniversary Celebration Weekend

In recognition of the 40th anniversary of the Perry-Castañeda Library, the Libraries will be hosting a series of events welcoming  members of the Perry and Castañeda families back to the Forty Acres.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017
PCL 40 Cake Celebration
Perry-Castañeda Library Lobby
Noon – 1 p.m.
Open to the public.

Thursday, September 7, 2017
Castañeda and Perry Family Welcome
Gabriel’s at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center
4-6:30 p.m.
Parking: TBD
RSVP to Jason Mendiola at 512-495-4363 or jason.mendiola@austin.utexas.edu

Friday, September 8, 2017
Castañeda Family Welcome Breakfast
LLILAS Benson
Sid Richardson Hall, Unit 1
8:30-10:30 a.m.
RSVP here
Parking: Manor Garage

Perry Family Welcome Breakfast
Perry-Castañeda Library
8:30-10:30 a.m.
RSVP here
Parking: Manor Garage

Distinguished Leader Dinner
University of Texas Club
Entrance on the east side of the Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium
6-9 p.m.
Parking: Valet or Manor Garage
RSVP to Jason Mendiola at 512-495-4363 or jason.mendiola@austin.utexas.edu

Saturday, September 9, 2017
UT v. San Jose State Tailgate
Perry-Castañeda Library
Plaza and UFCU Room
11:30 – kickoff
Open to the public.

All events are by invitation only, except where noted.

Turning 40 on the Forty Acres

Daily Texan supplement announcing the opening of PCL, August 29, 1977.
Daily Texan supplement announcing the opening of PCL, August 29, 1977.

In February, one of the university’s oldest libraries — the Tower — celebrated a landmark 80th birthday. Not to be outdone, one of the youngest will mark its 40th this fall.

Situated just off the southeast edge of the original Forty Acres, construction of the Perry-Castañeda Library (PCL) was authorized by the UT System Board of Regents in 1972, and construction began a few years later. The project was completed and the doors swung wide for the incoming class on August 29, 1977. The Library still ranks as one of the largest academic library buildings in North America today.

Designed to serve as the main library of UT Austin,  the six-level, open-stack facility is named for two former University professors, Ervin S. Perry and Carlos E. Castañeda. Professor Perry was the first African American to be appointed to the academic rank of professor, and Professor Castañeda played a central role in the early development of the Benson Latin American Collection.

The Longhorn marching band recognized the opening of the PCL during a halftime show.
The Longhorn marching band recognized the opening of the PCL during a halftime show.

In recognition of the anniversary, the Libraries will be hosting a series of events in the early fall, including an historical exhibit on the building, a panel discussion on the future of libraries, a blowout tailgate and a reception with members of the Perry and Castañeda families.

The events will take place September 7-9, so keep an eye on the calendar at the Libraries website for details and plan to join us in celebrating UT’s flagship library.

Squirreling Around During Finals

Each fall, a fresh-faced bunch of newlings comes to campus with dreams of independence and future prospects dancing about their heads, a world of opportunity and exciting new experiences presented at every corner. And at the end of each successive spring, harried and exhausted, the same students trudge about PCL all hours in a fog of dread and worry, struggling to meet project deadlines and prepare for finals.

In recent years, staff have attempted to ease attending anxieties by different means, from art therapy on the whiteboards throughout the library to partnering with campus units for healthy snacks and massage chairs to the recurring presence of therapy pets from local agencies, all of which efforts have been met with great appreciation from library users,

Being on the front line, our circulation staff have the most frequent contact with students in the throes of finals pressures, so they also tend to be the most attuned to the stress cycles, and are great at imagining ways to overcome or at least temporarily alleviate them.

This semester, staff wanted to try something new, something fun and goofy that would shake the doldrums and reinvigorate the weary denizens of PCL with a jolt of the unexpected. By now, most people have come across some version of the ubiquitous T-Rex costume that’s been a major currency of YouTube videos; that buzzy novelty is what created the spark of an idea for the eventual decision by staff to create their own costume persona that could serve as the embodiment of silliness and distraction for overtaxed students in need of a break.

Staff settled on creating the albino squirrel.

For the uninitiated, the albino squirrel* has become a bit of a folk hero around the Forty Acres. The squirrel (or squirrels — who knows?) is told in lore to be a harbinger of good fortune to anyone who spots the animal. Students are known to actively seek out the tree-dweller for particularly worrisome exams, so it made perfect sense for staff to conjure the animal for the benefit of students, especially at this particular time of the semester.

Being that staff had an idea and some spanking new tools with which to act upon it — in the form of the new Foundry makerspace in the Fine Arts Library — they only lacked volunteers to set about the task. From among their ranks they discovered that they had the requisite skill sets to create the form for the creature.

Early in the spring, senior library specialist Janeice Connors and Tré Miles, a student associate from the Kuehne Physics-Mathematics-Astronomy Library and Textiles major, began intermittent work on designing and creating a man-size version of the bushy-tailed talisman in the Fabric Arts Lab at the Foundry. By late April, the Connors and Miles had logged dozens of hours cutting, fitting, sewing and stuffing, and the suit was finally ready for its debut.

JD Torian, the Albino Squirrel (aka Joe Dobbs) and Lorraine Haricombe.
JD Torian, the Albino Squirrel (aka Joe Dobbs) and Lorraine Haricombe.

On Wednesday, May 10, accompanied by Libraries Director Lorraine Haricombe and Austin’s Pizza owner J.D. Torian, the albino squirrel stepped off the elevator on the 6th floor of PCL, and began a whirlwind tour of the library, spreading joy and smiles (And pizza. And KIND bars.) to appreciative students who got a much deserved break from their studies and a hopefully a little luck from their friends at the Libraries.

Postscript: Tré Miles graduated in May, and parlayed his experience building a squirrel (not really) to land a spot at Michael Kors in NYC. Congratulations, Tré!

*Yes, yes, Mr. Smartypants…we’re well aware that it’s not really an albino, just a rodent with a recessive gene.