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?
University of Houston Libraries honored outstanding librarians and staff at an online awards ceremony this week. Interim dean of Libraries Marilyn Myers commended not only this year’s award recipients but all Libraries staff for being adaptable and thriving in this period of great challenge to health and safety.
The Dean’s Library Advocate Award was presented to Joujou Zebdaoui, director of minor planned projects in UH Facilities Planning and Construction. This award recognizes an employee who has worked closely with the Libraries during the past year, and who has made a significant contribution to the success of the Libraries. Zebdaoui facilitated multiple long-term construction projects for the Libraries. She praised the great work of her team in her acceptance of the award.
The Student Achievement Award recipients are Corey Sherrard and Jess Spiehler. Sherrard is creative, dependable, and brings passion to work every day. Over the past three years, Sherrard has grown into the role of lead producer in the Hamill Foundation Multimedia Studio and assists with the training of incoming studio technicians. Spiehler is a natural leader who is a driving force behind one of UH Libraries’ efforts to support research productivity and make that research globally available. Spiehler collaborates with colleagues to develop and streamline workflows, and routinely organizes new projects.
The McGovern Outstanding Student Awards went to Alys Garcia Carrera and Marus Jenkins, who work in tandem to push forward UH Libraries’ efforts to become a national leader in LGBT library collections. They work effectively with both Special Collections curators and community partners to preserve, catalog, and engage students with UH LGBT collections, and have made monumental efforts at organizing thousands of issues of local, regional, and national publications.
The McGovern Staff Rookie of the Year is Stefanie Florencio, an incredibly fast learner who has acclimated quickly and become both an integral member of the team and an important asset to the Libraries. She has fostered very good relationships with administrators and staff across campus and throughout the Libraries, and is able to juggle multiple responsibilities with discretion, diplomacy, sound judgment, and efficiency.
Reid Boehm is the Librarian Rookie of the year. She has developed relationships with colleagues across campus and in the Libraries, establishing herself as an effective collaborator, and contributing insight and knowledge to several ongoing projects. Boehm made immediate contributions to the Libraries’ research services initiatives, and is building a research data management program to strategically address identified needs and support existing research productivity efforts.
The second Librarian Rookie of the Year is Ian Knabe, who demonstrates high integrity, creativity, and strong librarianship on a daily basis. Knabe has strong knowledge of electronic resources, contract management, and vendor relations, and his problem-solving acumen has been in constant use as the Libraries worked through many challenges related to the system migration to Alma in the past year.
This year’s Outstanding Group is Research Materials Procurement. The members of this department have worked actively with the Alma migration, including new monographic processes with Metadata and Digitization Services, and with Information and Access Services on circulation workflows during the transition.
Ariana Santiago is this year’s Trailblazer Award recipient. Santiago took on the challenge of coming into a new, high-stakes position as open educational resources coordinator, one that required creative thinking, innovation, flexibility, and strong leadership skills. She has moved forward the Libraries’ strategic plan goal of being a leader in student success by making educational resources more affordable for students, particularly through the Alternative Textbook Incentive Program (ATIP).
The inaugural recipient of the Dean Dana C. Rooks and Dr. Charles W. Rooks Diversity Award is Andrea Malone, a voice for all employees related to diversity and inclusion. Malone played a key role in developing the Libraries’ Plan for Advancing Diversity and Inclusion and served as the first chair of the Libraries’ Committee on Diversity and Inclusion (CODI), working tirelessly for three years to get the committee launched and moving in the right direction, in support of broad equity, diversity, and inclusion efforts.
Chris Galloway is the winner of the Staff Achievement award. Galloway is known as a great resource and a great person who continually goes the extra mile, and then goes even further to make things better. During the Alma migration, Galloway quickly learned the software and became a point of contact because of his strength in using the software. He took on learning Alma modules, administrative tools, and analytics even though it was not required; he did it because it helped others and the library to adapt during the migration.
Edith Villasenor Cruz is the next Staff Achievement recipient. She is known for making the Libraries a joyful place to work for both colleagues and patrons while developing programs that engender student success. She oversees a robust schedule of pop-up libraries and has implemented many other innovative programs this year, including establishing a collection of circulating non-consumable art supplies and creating many student outreach events that remind students that the library is a space for inspiration and delight as well as research.
This year’s Outstanding Staff Award recipient is Yesenia Umana. She is not only extremely effective at her job, but is also a true pleasure to be around. Umana is an ideal colleague, always dependable, patient, helpful, and generous with her time, and has quickly become the go-to person for all things finance. She was also an active participant in the Alma migration, and played an integral role in not one but two departments.
Veronica Arellano Douglas is the recipient of the Librarian Achievement Award. She enjoys a reputation as a rigorous scholar, passionate educator, and advocate for centering labor and care in library practice. Douglas has an active, robust, and highly regarded research agenda, having authored numerous journal articles, book chapters, and presentations on topics such as relational-cultural theory in librarianship, the gendered divide of labor in libraries, and the emotional labor performed by instruction librarians. She has also made significant contributions to the profession at the national level, and was recently selected to be a member of the 2020-21 cohort of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) Leadership and Career Development Program.
The next recipient of the Librarian Achievement Award is Wenli Gao, known for being an effective collaborator and strong leader, one who has gone above and beyond her core responsibilities to build a data services program from the ground up. Gao has a strong body of scholarship, having published seven journal articles in the last two years and actively presenting at conferences both local and national. Gao was elected vice-president/president-elect of the Chinese American Librarians Association (CALA) and received the CALA President’s Recognition Award for her exceptional work and leadership chairing several CALA committees.
This year’s McGovern Outstanding Librarian recipient is Kerry Creelman. She has been a leader at UH Libraries for more than ten years, and is known for her strong voice, strategic thinking, and collaborations with departments and librarians throughout the library. A long-standing faculty senator, Creelman has raised the visibility of UH Libraries to faculty, served as chair of the Undergraduate Subcommittee, and has twice been elected to the Faculty Governance Committee. Creelman also has a strong record of service in the profession going back many years, including a prestigious appointment as chair of the University Libraries Section of Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), and current appointment to the ACRL Excellence in Academic Libraries Award Committee.
The 2020 Library Excellence Awards committee members are Emily Deal, J Fisher, Ian Knabe, Tim McGittigan, Alex Simons, Shawn Vaillancourt, and Christin Zepeda.
Students from the C.T. Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston conducted a digital humanities project using primary documents preserved in UH Libraries Special Collections University Archives.
The Bauer History Project, which was sponsored by the UH Libraries Digital Research Commons, involved the capture, cataloging, processing, and analysis of historical College of Business Administration/Bauer College materials. Students of senior professor of practice Emese Felvégi worked in small teams to produce a digital database using physical objects, processing a total of 147 items and creating 596 unique scans in the first phase of the project.
Esther Adaramola, whose major is management information systems, was one of the project managers. Her role involved scheduling days to file and process the archives. She and fellow project managers collaborated to determine a digital tagging system for the archives that were photographed, and oversaw the capturing, processing, analyzing, and tagging phases.
Flexibility and collaboration were key to the success of the project. “Like the rest of the world, COVID-19 took us by surprise and made us rethink how to proceed,” Adaramola said. “Thankfully, I work with amazing people who were willing to hop on many video calls to strategize how we could continue to make progress. Things worked out well since we all understood the potential benefits associated with completing this project on time. I think what made this project extra special to me was that my coworkers and I were genuinely excited about working on it and sharing our findings.”
Project manager Sorosh Malekzad, also majoring in management information systems, said the important aspects of the project involved planning and adapting to obstacles. “We were prepared for the process by attending a training with university archivist Mary Manning and reading articles recommended by director of digital humanities services Dr. Claude Willan and Dr. Felvégi,” Malekzad said. “We enhanced and picked up new skills along the way. I learned how to batch rename images on my own and created a short video to show others my findings—this is a process that automated a tedious manual process and saved us a lot of time.”
The students presented their project to Felvégi, Willan, and Manning. “I was very impressed with the work the students have done—especially as their worlds have been turned upside down,” Manning said. “The project is an excellent example of how students learned, found meaning in, and excelled at their work during COVID-19.”
Uzma Masood, whose major is accounting, was also one of the project managers. “I had the honor of working with Dr. Felvégi in past semesters,” Masood said. “In spring 2020 she introduced the research of Bauer history from UH Libraries and I jumped at the opportunity.”
Masood said the project was significant to uncovering Bauer’s hidden stories. “Our work in Special Collections is significant to not only creating an online database but also bringing to light the past of our business college. We only flourish and become the powerhouse that we are today because we learn from our past, we know our history and we understand where we hail from.”
“The students performed a never-before-completed experiential learning task with our historical records and also provided a service to our college,” said Felvégi, who is part of the Bauer College of Business Department of Decision and Information Sciences. “Once the collection has been processed in full, we will be able to look at changes in materials released by our college from the late 1940s and on and examine how majors, programs, and our campus have evolved.”
The significance of the project was heightened in part by the demands of the pandemic. “The project was a success as an academic project but has also been a success on some level by providing a purpose outside of their quarantine spaces,” Felvégi said. “Having set meeting times and objectives required students to stay connected. For many, this connection may have given a sense of normalcy during an otherwise challenging time.”
“I personally learned a lot while working on this project,” Malekzad said. “It was something I enjoyed doing and I am excited to take it further to the next step.”
The project contributes to UH Special Collections’ mission of making it easier for stakeholders to access archives.
“Our work in Special Collections plays a role in bringing Bauer’s history to life,” Adaramola said. “By shining a spotlight on these historical archives, we can measure how far Bauer has come in terms of curriculum. Being able to contextualize Bauer’s historical timeline is a great benefit not just for the college but also students and visitors. The archives tell a story about some of the roots that helped grow Bauer into the leading-edge and student-centered educational powerhouse it is today.”
University of Houston Libraries Special Collections seeks stories and perspectives from UH students pertaining to the coronavirus outbreak.
It is important that the experiences of UH students during this challenging time are recorded and preserved in the University Archives. UH students are encouraged to share their stories of this unique moment in history through journals and oral histories, and also through creative works such as drawings, songs, and monologues.
For more information and to submit your stories online, visit UH Students! Share Your Experience of the Coronavirus Outbreak.
Dorothy Zayatz Baker and Lawrence J. Baker were inspired to give to UH Libraries.
My husband and I believe that the library is the soul of the university. A university’s library serves every department, every professor, and every student—from the first-semester freshmen to the doctoral candidates. This is why we choose to support the University of Houston Libraries.
Throughout my career at the University of Houston I benefited enormously from the team of student workers assigned to a wide range of library departments, from interlibrary loan and reserves to tech support. They were smart, skilled, and always eager to help—a joy to work with. What is more, their choice to work on campus at the academic center of the university speaks to their commitment to their studies and their school.
To reward these fine students my husband and I created the Dorothy Z. Baker Endowment for Academic Excellence, which provides an annual scholarship for a library student worker who excels in the classroom and in their work in the library. This endowment is both professional and personal for me. Of course, I wanted to express my gratitude to the library student workers who helped me so often in my research projects.
Also, the award is in remembrance of my own introduction to academic life. I came from a modest family with no chance of attending college without a scholarship, so I was grateful beyond all measure to receive a generous award from my undergraduate college—with one of the conditions being an on-campus job. After a semester of washing dishes in the dining hall, I could not believe my good fortune when I was offered a job in the library, a place that quickly became my academic home. There I was surrounded by books, crossed paths with my professors, and truly began my academic career. I see myself in today’s University of Houston Library undergraduate student workers, and I want to encourage them just as I was encouraged.
Dorothy Zayatz Baker is Professor Emerita of the Department of English at the University of Houston. During her career at the university, she published five books and many articles on poetry, Early American Literature, and literary theory.
Lawrence J. Baker holds a Ph.D. in Mathematics and enjoyed a thirty-year career at ExxonMobil, largely in upstream research.