In 2027, University of Houston will celebrate its centennial. As this auspicious milestone nears, students, alumni, faculty, staff, and supporters are working together to honor the University’s rich history as a mission-driven institution shaped by forward-thinking stakeholders. An exhibit at MD Anderson Library, opening in September 2023, will feature pivotal points from 100 years of distinction.
Agents of Change: Celebrating Innovation at the UH Centennial is part of a three-year storytelling collaboration between UH Center for Public History, UH Libraries, and Houston Public Media. The 100 Years of Stories project was made possible through a gift from Carey C. Shuart, a Houstonian and supporter of art, education, and women’s causes throughout the region.
The exhibit is the culmination of a partnership aiming to engage UH students in collecting, sharing, and preserving notable narratives of UH and its people.
In 1927, Houstonians were eager for higher education that fit the lifestyle of working adults and served the needs of a growing city. Emboldened by a spirit of innovation, students, faculty, and members of the community shaped University of Houston into the trailblazing institution it is today. Over almost 100 years, these agents of change have led UH on its journey from a junior college to a major, urban research university. Along the way, they expanded access to higher education and increased diversity, brought innovative approaches to learning, and created an institution that has had a strong impact on both local and global communities.
Jesus Sanchez, a graduate student in history, was one of the scholars to work on the 100 Years project which included exhibit planning and design, archival research and selection, and metadata writing. In organizing and cataloging historical documents, photos, and artifacts that connected with Agents of Change, Sanchez discovered prevailing themes in the primary source materials.
“University of Houston is a college for the people of Houston, regardless of race, gender, wealth, or religion,” Sanchez noted. “I saw how students impacted UH, and how they became influential figures, like Maria Jimenez, who worked tirelessly to help vulnerable communities decades after her years as an activist at UH during the 1970s.”
The project gave Sanchez, who wants to become a historian, practical insights. “I had no experience, and learning more about the field and seeking guidance from experts in archival work was very helpful,” he said.
Cady Hammer also worked on the project as a student curator during her first semester at UH.
“I was excited when I got the syllabus and saw that we would be formulating the concept and major elements of the 100 Years of Stories exhibit,” Hammer said. “This was the first direct interaction I had with exhibit development, which is something I would love to do in my career.”
The overarching concept that guided the exhibit, the “big idea,” was categorized into three UH eras: its founding, expansion, and contemporary community impact.
“My classmates and I found that this concept worked best for incorporating key stories that the Center for Public History wanted to represent in the exhibit,” Hammer noted. Class members selected items that would fit with the focus of each era and wrote descriptions. The impact of activism and advocacy at UH was a significant theme that emerged from the archives. “So many of the biggest changes at UH were student-driven,” Hammer said. These improvements “signified the power of young people banding together to accomplish an important goal.”
Archives curation offers interesting contextual lines of inquiry. Hammer offers this advice to other students: “Learn how to read between the lines. No matter what you’re researching, there are at least two stories to every document. The first one is the story on the page. You can pull facts, people, and events from it easily. The second is the story hidden in the details of the document and how they connect to other materials. Some of the most important points of a document are the voices that have been left out of the narrative.”
Alec Story noted that talking to librarians and archivists who curate the collections at UH Special Collections is a good first step when working with primary source materials. “Going into your research with a strong line of inquiry and a curious mind will help uncover truly incredible documents,” he said. “As we worked on this project it became clear that University of Houston has an unpretentious and humble legacy. UH challenges the notion of what a university is supposed to look like.”
Agents of Change will be on display at MD Anderson Library from September 2023 through May 2024. The opening will accompany the launch of the fall 2023 issue of Houston History, published by the Center for Public History. The exhibit is being produced collaboratively between UH Libraries Special Collections, UH Libraries Preservation and Reformatting, and UH Center for Public History.
Recently, five graduate students worked with members of University of Houston Libraries Digital Research Commons (DRC) to develop digital components of their dissertations. The students were selected by application to attend the Spring 2022 Digital Research Institute, a multi-day intensive experience aimed at building the foundational skills and knowledge needed to initiate and develop a piece of digital research. Each participant chosen for the Institute was awarded a $500 scholarship, provided by the UH Graduate School and UH Libraries, to assist in furthering their projects.
“I applied to the Digital Research Institute seeking help in defining background information for the question of how diversity in engineering has changed over time,” said Kristin L. Schaefer, P.E., a mechanical engineering PhD candidate whose research focuses on the persistence of women in engineering. “I was interested in data-mining the graduation data reported to the American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) from 1998 to present to determine if there are any trends in how graduation has changed in the various disciplines and between different ethnicities, since we typically see infographics that simply discuss male/female B.S. degrees, ethnic distribution, or discipline distribution for a particular year, rather than exploring the trends with a longitudinal and intersectional view.”
Schaefer is the first graduate student to research this topic under Engineering Education (ENED) with Dr. Jerrod A. Henderson. The Digital Research Institute provided a new perspective to Schaefer’s work.
“I was able to think more critically about the message that I want to present in the introduction to my thesis, and I’m now inspired to further explore alternate methods to share the data,” Schaefer said. “I am encouraged that the things I’ve learned may uncover unexpected themes.”
Olusegun Babalola is a PhD candidate in industrial/organizational psychology whose work focuses on individual career interests and how they affect perceived career opportunities and choices. Using a sample of low- to medium-skilled youth from South Africa, Babalola is testing a well-known theory of vocational interests, Holland’s (1985) model which may hold utility for career counseling, recruitment, and selection in less developed parts of the world.
“This study focuses on lower skilled individuals,” Babalola said, “and I am testing the structural and predictive validity of the model for this sample while considering the broader context of a less structured economic and labor market than is typically studied.”
Over the course of the Institute, Babalola developed new ideas for research productivity. “I was introduced to numerous useful visualization tools that will undoubtedly help me in communicating my research in an interesting and impactful way to both academic and wider audiences,” Babalola said. “Also, I gained data management and analysis skills which will make the initial stages of my data cleaning process smoother, quicker, and much more insightful in the future.”
Michelle N. Martinez is a doctoral student in clinical psychology with a focus in neuropsychology. She is conducting research on Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD) in Hispanic and Latin American populations, specifically the relationship between perceived discrimination, stress, and cognition in a heterogeneous sample of Puerto Ricans.
“Prior research within my lab with Hispanic and Latin American community members from the Houston metro area has demonstrated that research and results need to be presented in a way that is more accessible and easily digestible by a range of community members,” Martinez said. “I can leverage the digital research methods I have learned, such as data visualization and use of data management tools, to help facilitate this goal and assist with disseminating my results.”
Danielle Llaneza, who is in her second year of a PhD program in counseling health, and Lucia Lopez-Hisijos, a first-year PhD student in political science, also participated in the Digital Research Institute.
“The experience of working with the researchers is always exciting,” said Reid Boehm, research data management librarian and lead instructor. “This cohort had exceptional projects that led to a lot of positive experimentation and discoveries throughout the week.”
“This was a remarkable cohort of researchers—a complete joy to work with,” said Taylor Davis-Van Atta, director of the DRC and the lead organizer of the Institute. “We hope to continue working with each of these researchers as they progress through their programs and future phases of their dissertation work.”
The Digital Research Institute is offered twice annually and is intended for graduate and professional students who are in the beginning phases of a piece of digital research, using computational tools that will form the basis of an article or a part of their thesis or dissertation. Digital research is defined here as the use of computational tools to produce new knowledge, and selection for the Institute is weighted toward applicants working at the intersection of traditional disciplines or who are applying digital methods to traditional modes of inquiry.
The Digital Research Commons exists to encourage and facilitate interdisciplinary research and build communities of practice around modern digital research methodologies. DRC staff members partner with faculty and students in the humanities, social sciences, and experimental sciences on digital research projects of all sizes, from the earliest stages of formulating a research question to publication and beyond. Contact the DRC.
From ARL News: “The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) has awarded Jerrell Jones the Julia C. Blixrud Scholarship to attend the ARL Fall Forum 2021. The scholarship was established in 2015 to honor the memory and extend the legacy of longtime ARL staff member Julia C. Blixrud. This year’s Blixrud Scholarship recipient, Jerrell Jones, is a cultural-heritage digitization specialist and professional photographer focused on utilizing digital imaging to inform, elevate, and empower.” Read the ARL Article
Wenli Gao, data services librarian at University of Houston Libraries and 2021 – 2022 president of the Chinese American Librarians Association (CALA), is the co-lead on a project titled Path to Leadership: National Forum on Advancing Asian/Pacific Islander American Librarianship, which was awarded a grant by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).
Gao and colleagues Ray Pun, Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association (APALA) president, CALA executive director Lian Ruan, and APALA executive director Lessa Kanani’opua Pelayo-Lozada, submitted the application on behalf of their organizations. The Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program National Forum grant in the amount of $100,000 will provide the opportunity for 50 library and information science students and professionals to build strategies to develop Asian American and Pacific Islander American (APIA) library leaders and solutions for the barriers that they experience.
The Path to Leadership National Forum will take place in conjunction with LibLearnX: The Library Learning Experience (LLX) in San Antonio, Texas in January 2022. Participants of the forum will discuss the current representation of APIA workers in the library field; identify specific leadership traits of APIA librarians; explore barriers to leading; and generate ideas which will be captured in a white paper that will lay the groundwork for the development of an APIA-specific leadership development curriculum.
Following participation, attendees will continue to build on the Forum work through a series of virtual monthly meetings, followed by a final gathering at the American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference 2022, both also supported with IMLS funding. In addition, webinars sharing the findings of the forum and the white paper will be offered throughout the year following the grant period.
The significance of the forum, Gao noted, is its focus on giving historically underrepresented racial and ethnic groups tools to combat structural racism and discrimination. By convening to capture the voices and perspectives of APIA library workers in leadership and management roles, and those striving to be leaders, the Path to Leadership National Forum aims to shape the conversation of library leadership by sharing the experiences of APIA library workers and increasing APIA presence in library leadership positions.
“I am excited to have this grant that aligns with CALA’s plan and build this strategic collaboration with APALA during my CALA presidency,” Gao said. “Advancing diversity, equity and inclusion are critical components of University of Houston Libraries’ mission and organizational development. I am happy to get involved in this grant to support our goals as well.”
Alexander Rodriguez has a summer internship at the University of Houston Archives, funded by the University of Chicago through a merit scholarship. Rodriguez is working with three extensive audiovisual collections, Marketing and Communications, Special Events, and Development, which contain highly requested material and document important campus people and events. The project will significantly enhance the discoverability of these resources. Rodriguez is a fourth-year student at the University of Chicago, pursuing a major of political science focusing on international affairs and a minor in French.
What inspires your interest in working with archives?
This year, I started work on my undergraduate thesis about decolonization. In essence, I’m asking how and why France still maintains a substantial empire around the globe, even though history presents independence as something realized and done for the formerly colonized world. One aspect of my approach to answering that is to not take for granted the motivations and considerations of the two relevant actors, the French and the territorial residents. To evaluate those motivations, my task is to decode what their goals were, what information they were looking at, and what factors they found important. This kind of research necessitates the records and documents from the critical period, which can best be found in archives. As preparation for this research, I wanted to get more first-hand experience with archives, especially on the internal side. I knew I would be coming home to Houston for the summer, so I reached out to Special Collections about working with them, and the opportunity came together from there.
Please describe the tasks involved in your archival work.
My focus here has been stewarding a new acquisition of archival materials from UH Communications and Marketing. The items mostly originate from the turn of the millennium and include a variety of videocassettes, audiotapes, and newsletters. Over the past weeks, I have worked on cataloging and organizing the material. From sifting through the items, I have been gleaning information about individual artifacts and the set as a whole, which can be turned into description information useful for researchers hoping to tap into the collection. Out of the collection, I also select a few for digitization, particularly if they seem fragile or useful to make accessible upfront. Alongside that, I have also been working with collections from Development and Special Events to compare their content to this collection.
What stories/themes do you see emerging from these collections?
One aspect that I’ve noticed is the way the University spotlights its faculty and their work in its outreach initiatives. Many of the commercials and advertisements produced for UH focus on researchers who have advanced their fields while at the University, such as Dr. Paul Chu’s discoveries in superconductivity. Elsewhere, UH professors appear in news segments to discuss their work and share their perspective. The common message for the public is that this work is not only research worth continuing but also knowledge that has an impact on the lives of people outside academia and merits sharing. Through its incorporation with the Marketing materials, it becomes clear how that presentation underlines the importance of the University in supporting and enabling this research, which then encourages the next generation of bright minds to come to UH and join these efforts at the forefront of learning.
What is the significance of making archival collections more accessible?
An archive has to be built with the purpose of being used as a resource for the curious. If holding on to artifacts of the past was the only consideration, we’d do well to encase everything in concrete. These archival collections are a material memory that provides unique perspectives and invites further inquiry. By making them more available, we can encourage researchers to include them into their pursuits, alongside the sort of information they can gain from conventional libraries and websites, which can really only benefit their work. The best research is about going beyond the word of the text and asking questions about the document itself. Why was this created? Why is it in this format? Why is it together with these other items? Part of the point of preservation is to construct that context in a meaningful way, which can help take researchers to a deeper understanding of their subject.
Emily Vinson, audiovisual archivist and curator of the KUHT and KUHF Collections at University of Houston Libraries, is the current recipient of the Rooks Early Career Librarian Fellowship (ECLF). The ECLF endowment was established by former UH Libraries dean Dana Rooks and spouse Charles W. (Mickey) Rooks, PhD to support professional development and research opportunities for UH librarians early in their careers.
Please describe your research.
My central research question was to compare the accuracy of various transcription methods. I had been considering how to make our audiovisual (AV) archival collections more accessible to deaf and hard of hearing users through closed captions. I had imagined that online machine-generated transcripts would be the path forward for making collections accessible.
How did the fellowship facilitate the development of this work?
Without the ECLF funding, I would never have been able to test my assumptions on the accuracy of transcription methods. In the first year of the Fellowship I developed a small research study to compare four methods of transcription, including professional transcriptionist services, artificial intelligence machine-generated services, free “hacks,” and untrained study participants drawn from library student and staff employees. In order to create a study that reflected the types of materials that would be encountered in an archival AV collection, I selected video samples from our collection with a diverse range of recording issues that could affect transcription quality.
The Rooks ECLF provided me with time and space to develop and execute a research study. While this was valuable in its own right, it also had a very positive unanticipated outcome – I was able to draw on what I had learned from the study and tap into the Fellowship funding to launch a project to retain student employees in a remote work project during the COVID-19 campus closure. Along with colleagues in Metadata and Digitization Services, we were able to engage over 25 student employees from across the UH Libraries in the creation of hundreds of hours of high-quality video captions.
What takeaways did you learn from this experience? What advice do you have for other early career librarians?
If you have an idea, give it a shot! I had no experience designing or executing a research study. At UH Libraries, we are fortunate to have many colleagues with expertise to draw on, as well as the wider campus community. I received advice that was integral to creating a well-planned study.
I’ve gained such valuable experience – from navigating the institutional review board process to gaining a deeper appreciation for the vital importance of captions. This experience has also opened the doors to numerous opportunities to present on my research, and I anticipate seeking opportunities to publish on it as well.
Roberto Tejada, Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen Distinguished Professor of English and Art History at University of Houston and 2021 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellow in Poetry, recently donated a limited edition copy of a bookwork to UH Special Collections.
Why the Assembly Disbanded is an artist’s book co-crafted by Tejada and book designer Cristina Paoli of Periferia in Mexico City. “I’ve been fortunate to work with artists and designers on several collaborative projects at different inflection points in my life,” Tejada said, “so I turned to Cristina to work on an object that would reflect the themes of [the forthcoming poetry collection] Why the Assembly Disbanded—primarily, how to think of possible futures from the relentless social madness of the past in the present—with the help of photographs by Connie Samaras and Rubén Ortiz Torres, whose images activate some of the fears and fantasies I confront in the book.”
Only 100 copies were created and gifted to libraries and collecting institutions, an “engineered scarcity” that connotes the motivation to preserve rare cultural artifacts. “It became clear to me as I worked with Cristina that I wanted this artist’s book to underscore the perversity of value in our social-media environment and its economies of attention and scale,” Tejada noted.
The book viewer is greeted with a message to accept the work as an “act of social faith,” a concept that Tejada, as a young poet, first encountered in the pages of Lewis Hyde’s The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property and which left an enduring effect.
“As opposed to economies of accumulation, [Hyde] argues that gifts and gift-giving keep ‘cultural vitality in motion,'” Tejada wrote. “The gift being ‘property that perishes,’ my aim is to emphasize the life-enhancing commitments, the élan vital, in short, the erotics that sustain every act meant to survive us.”
Fonts of inspiration for this work date back to the period from 1987-1997 when Tejada lived and worked in Mexico City. “My friends included the writer Carmen Boullosa, the painter Magali Lara, and the bookmaker Juan Pascoe, all belonging to a generation of artists who turned to mail art and bookworks as legitimate and surreptitious mediums for collaboration,” he said. “Pascoe has produced beautiful letterpress objects at his preeminent Taller Martín Pescador, including a collaboration between Boullosa and Lara (Lealtad, Taller Martín Pescador, 1981). Magali was the first to speak to me of the great Mexican book artist and multimedia thinker Ulises Carrión who in his writings, including The New Art of Making Books, wrote about the book medium as ‘a sequence of spaces. Each of these spaces is perceived at a different moment—a book is also a sequence of moments.’ (UH Special Collections owns a unique object by Carrión, a marvel of an artist’s book called Mirror Box.)”
Other creative work and collaborations of particular significance for Tejada include Chilean writer-artist Juan Luis Martínez and his “uncontainable” book La nueva novela (1971/1977/1985), the collaboration between poet Jayne Cortez and artist Mel Edwards (Festivals and Funerals, Phase Text, 1971) and bookworks by Chicana conceptualist Celia Alvarez Muñoz.
With the widescale challenges of the past year, the project elicited greater meaning. “Working with Cristina on this book, even at the risk of overstatement, saved me from some of the darkest hours of despair in the global catastrophe of the COVID-19 pandemic, continued acts of racial injustice, the forced relocation of peoples, and the encroaching dangers of illiberal rule throughout the world today,” Tejada shared. “In the process of collaboration, I held a space for the uncounted, for both the cruel fortunes and joyful vitality of what my book calls a ‘society of alternate belonging.'”
Partially quoting the book’s preamble, “Why the Assembly Disbanded wonders, from the uncontainable perspective of a present already becoming the past, whose purpose does it serve to wager on the future’s history?”
“Artist’s books like Why the Assembly Disbanded, Mirror Box, or cartoneras and handmade works from Cuba’s Ediciones Vigía—among many housed in Special Collections—engage with text, image, form and format, through an analog, personal interaction with the ‘reader’ for creative and often political expression,” said Christian Kelleher, head of UH Special Collections. “This is artistic, social and cultural critical commentary that can be a unique experience. We are gratified to be able to make works like this available to students and scholars at UH.”
Why the Assembly Disbanded is available for viewing in the Special Collections Reading Room, located on the second floor of the MD Anderson Library, by appointment. Researchers are encouraged to contact curators with questions and requests.
University of Houston Libraries welcomes Ana Corral as the new medical and health sciences librarian.
Please describe your role at UH Libraries and talk about some of your professional goals.
I am a medical and health sciences librarian in the Health Sciences Library. I primarily support the College of Medicine students and faculty with liaison services, research support, and evidence-based practices. Some of my goals are to complete my Consumer Health Information Specialization (CHIS) and my Academy of Health Information Professionals (AHIP) credentialing. Long-term, I would love to explore how libraries can support and partner on community-inclusive health research and initiatives.
Please share a bit about your background and interests. How do these inspire and shape your approach as a librarian?
Prior to my arrival, I was the community engagement and research librarian at Virginia Tech where I provided support for community-based research and initiatives. My research interests include community-inclusive research methods and the interactions between language and western research practices and their impact on information access and dissemination. As a librarian, I try to not just focus on providing equitable access to information, services, and programming but take a critical look at who is lacking access and why.
What is your first impression of the University?
My first impression was how friendly and welcoming everyone has been. They have all been excited to share what they enjoy most about working at UH and of course, all wearing red!
What is your favorite hobby/cuisine/book/movie/TV show?
I am a foodie so I love good food, but I would say my favorite hobby is writing and playing with my fountain pens and ink.
University of Houston Libraries Special Collections is home to primary source materials of intellectual, cultural, and societal distinction, both historic and contemporary. A vast variety of rare and unique items, representing collecting areas of women’s research, Houston and Texas history, energy and sustainability, LGBT history, performing and visual arts, and more, are preserved and made available to the UH community and the general public for research and scholarship.
An exploration of UH Special Collections can reveal new directions for research. Frank Guridy, associate professor of history and African American and African diaspora studies at Columbia University, first visited UH Special Collections over a decade ago to learn more about the Houston Astrodome and its impact on the city during the 1960s and 70s. What he found there and in subsequent visits helped shape the work that led to the recent publication of his book, The Sports Revolution: How Texas Changed the Culture of American Athletics.
“The George Kirksey Papers was the first collection I consulted,” Guridy said. “Kirksey was one of the members of the Houston Sports Association, the group that brought Major League Baseball to Houston in the early 1960s. I also consulted the Thomas Cole Desegregation Papers, which enabled me to discover the role of local civil rights activists in the desegregation of the Astrodome.”
A closer look at the archives brought an enhanced view of the existing scholarly framework. “As my research interests widened, I became more interested in the University of Houston Athletic Program’s impact on the racial desegregation of college sports in Texas,” Guridy said. “Here again, the library’s collections became exceedingly helpful, especially the many game programs and materials in the Athletics Department Records, as well as the Daily Cougar and the Houstonian. One can see the ways the program sought to market itself and how the black freedom movement helped change the way in which the program represented itself to the broader public. These records allowed me to see the larger role of the university’s athletic program on the social changes that took shape in the larger sports world in Houston and in the nation as a whole.”
Guridy’s advice for students and scholars? “Be ready for the surprises you will encounter in the archives. I came to Special Collections expecting to work on just one collection and I left with a whole host of archival discoveries that expanded my research horizon and allowed me to write a story of the university’s pivotal role in the growth of the sports industry and the social changes that accompanied that process.”
Anyone is welcome to visit the UH Special Collections Reading Room, located on the second floor of the MD Anderson Library, by appointment. Researchers are encouraged to contact curators with questions and requests.
The University Archives at University of Houston Libraries seeks stories from UH students relating to the coronavirus outbreak. Artistic and creative expressions are welcomed alongside more documentary responses.
Students are encouraged to share stories through journals, photographs, and interviews/oral histories, and also through drawings, songs, and monologues. University Archives will preserve responses to this unique and challenging moment in history for people in the future.
For more information, visit UH Students! How has the COVID-19 Pandemic Impacted Your Life?