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#WeAreSpecialCollections: Volunteer Edition

September 18, 2017

Every so often we like to pull back the curtain and give readers a behind-the-scenes look at the work that we do here in Special Collections. A few months ago we posted Part I of this series about our Main Campus students.  In Part II, we’re spotlighting some of the hidden but invaluable labor that our volunteers contribute at our HemisFair Park/ITC location.

Part II: ITC Photographs Volunteers Spotlight

We’ve all heard the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words;” but an undescribed, unfindable picture is essentially worthless until someone dedicates time to giving it (at least a few) words of description, then makes the image and the description findable to people who might be looking for it.  And then, one must dedicate time and resources to preserving it so it will last long into the future…  It’s a big task, but we have a key resource to help us—our valiant photograph volunteers!

At UTSA’s HemisFair Park campus, on the third floor of the ITC building, there’s a workroom just behind the reading room that is often abuzz with activity.  In this space, under the direction of our Photographs Curator, dozens of volunteers contribute their time every week to a seemingly Herculean task—cataloging, describing, preserving, digitizing, and uploading scans of the 3 million+ images that make up our historical photograph collections.  These images, which span 6 major collections, are an invaluable resource for visualizing San Antonio’s history through the lenses of prominent commercial photographers, as well as from the private collections of Texas communities and families who generously chose to donate to the Institute of Texan Cultures’ photograph collection.  These images are frequently consulted, from research here at UTSA to international researchers who contact us with requests or people who view the digitized portions of our collections online from several different countries.  Below is an overview of the kinds of things our volunteers do that helps with our mission to make these photograph collections more accessible.


Volunteers Jane Whitaker (left) and Shirley Bass (right) re-sleeving negatives from the original acidic photographer assignment sheets and precisely transcribing descriptive information.

It all begins with description, and this is where our volunteers really shine.  Some of them have been working with the photograph collections for almost 40 years, and the current crew averages about 15 years of service per person.  Many of them have lived here in San Antonio or neighboring communities for decades, if not their lifetime.  They are experts at identifying street scenes, events, places and notable people who are found in the collections.  They also painstakingly transcribe any available information images may have, such as notes from photographers on old assignment sheets, carefully writing this down as negatives, slides and prints are transferred to new preservation sleeves.  The volunteers also note the image’s call number (a unique identifier we assign) and file and store the originals in preservation storage environments.


Volunteers Peggy (left) and Bill Jameson (right) sorting negatives and prints from two collections.  Peggy Jameson holds the current record for length-of-service at 39 years!

In addition to physically handling original images, our volunteers also help us add descriptive information into our photographs database so that these can be more easily searched for reference requests.  They enter new information, but also tirelessly work to edit the typos and inconsistencies that are an impediment to searching (and are always found in databases that have been migrated multiple times!).


Volunteer Tillie Cortez types descriptive information into the Express-News collection names database for easier searching.

Another major task our volunteers contribute to is the digitization of selected images, both for patron requests and for adding to our digital library.  When images have been selected for digitization, they handle the necessary sub-tasks for us with amazing speed and accuracy.  They retrieve the images from cold storage, digitize the negatives or prints according to our detailed technical guidelines, and add in both administrative and descriptive information about each image to the photographs database.  During the 2016 calendar year alone, a group of 5 volunteers digitized 4,133 images, helping us grow our digitized holdings substantially.  Hundreds of patrons who requested images not yet scanned were able to quickly get their requests fulfilled because of this hard work.


Volunteers Phil Holts (left) and Jeanie Kwan (right) at scanning stations, where they digitize originals, update information in the photographs database, and repeat…thousands of times a year!

Post-scanning, a volunteer (Judy Sauter, called out here for her remarkable 1-person work!) does an initial quality control review of the scans, then prepares archival packaging for fragile negatives in need of freezer storage.  Digitized images are again prioritized for upload to our digital collections library.  These represent just a sliver of our photographs holdings, but the additional descriptive detail meticulously applied to these images means that these photos are findable by anyone using major search engines.  In just the past year, online views from these photograph collections surpassed 70,000 views.


Volunteer Peggy Durack meticulously enters additional descriptive information to images prioritized for upload to our digital library.

The photograph volunteers also contribute in many other ways, from helping us keep the reading room photograph catalog orderly, to even washing the cotton gloves used to handle prints and negatives.  The quality of their work is undeniably high, and we’re in awe of the dedication and enthusiasm that they have while completing tasks that aren’t exactly glamorous or easy.  The photograph volunteers have been working in this space with these collections since 1976, with nearly 100 different people generously giving their time through the years.  We owe an immense debt of gratitude to those who have enabled us to process these images faster, allowing us to connect more and more people with photographs that will help them envision our region’s rich history.

With additional thanks to our reading room supervisor Carlos Cortez for taking photos of our less camera-shy volunteers.


Go Roadrunners!

September 11, 2017

Ticket stub, December 11, 1981.

I don’t play favorites with the collections under my care in the University Archives, but if I did, the publications from UTSA’s Center for Archaeological Research (CAR) would be a strong contender. This collection includes more than 500 reports from archaeological projects, mostly in South Texas, that offer an intriguing perspective on the history of our region. Further, I’m not the first archivist to observe that archaeology and archives can be thought of as cousin disciplines, since both involve carefully cataloging and analyzing evidence from past activities, and both highly value context in understanding historic materials.

With this in mind, I was delighted when the University Archives received a load of boxes from Thomas Hester, the first director of CAR back in the early 1970s. These boxes, which now comprise the Thomas R. Hester Papers (UA 99.0030), span the years 1973-1999 and include manuscript drafts, correspondence, committee files, grant files, lectures, conference files, and other materials related to Hester’s career as an archaeologist and a professor of anthropology. The bulk of the materials date from 1973-1987, and document Hester’s role in creating UTSA’s cultural resource management program at CAR. The archive also includes information about his research, which focuses on lithics in the American Southwest and the Mayan zone in Belize.

The student assistant who processed the collection, Christina Frasier (an anthropology PhD candidate herself), uncovered a stash of sports memorabilia from the early 1980s. Tucked among the folders of syllabi, reports, and correspondence, these materials offer a broader picture of what life was like here at UTSA in its first decades.

Men's Basketball Program, December 11, 1981.

The UTSA Basketball teams played their inaugural season in 1981-1982. I get the feeling that many faculty and staff were avid fans, because this is not the first time I’ve found athletics items in a collection. In Dr. Hester’s case, he kept several ticket stubs and a few programs, including one from December 1981 when UTSA played Sul Ross in the Convocation Center. It’s always entertaining to see how haircuts, uniforms, and mascots have evolved over time.

Men's Basketball Schedule, 1986-1987.

Dr. Hester also included a typed copy of the 1986-87 Men’s Basketball Schedule. I find this item particularly fascinating since he meticulously recorded the score from each game and updated the team’s win-loss record as the season progressed. This fits with my impression of an archaeologist’s temperament, methodically gathering data about a situation.

Basketball fans, 1982

Basketball fans, 1982. UTSA Office of University Communications Photographs, UA 16.01.01.

There’s a picture in our photo archives showing fans in the crowd at a basketball game holding “Go Road Runners” signs. We’ve used the photo in slide shows and promotional materials to demonstrate how school spirit has a long history at UTSA. I was delighted to see an actual one of these posters, and to discover that there was a team roster on the back.

Go Road Runners! poster (front)Go Road Runners! poster (back) showing basketball roster.

Finally, Dr. Hester gave us a round UTSA patch and an orange felt pennant. The shape of the patch calls attention to the connected curves of UTSA’s original logo, while the felt pennant has a hole on one end, which I imagine was the result of pinning the pennant to a bulletin board.

Round UTSA patch.Felt UTSA pennant.

The research value of this collection is concentrated in the academic and administrative materials, but this memorabilia offers us a view of the non-academic side of campus life at UTSA, which is also important. These items add color—both literally and figuratively—to our picture of the first decades of the university’s existence.

A Month in Special Collections: August

September 5, 2017
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SVREP: Conference Travel 2017

August 28, 2017

This year I had the wonderful opportunity to attend three conferences to promote the SVREP collection. Besides giving a presentation, attending others, and networking, another wonderful aspect about conferences is the opportunity to visit and experience different cities around the country. While most conferences choose larger cities to host, smaller organizations often offer the chance to explore lesser known cities. For each conference I have listed some quick facts, a grade for networking and an overall grade for the conference.

Conference: Society of Southwest Archivists

Location: Fayetteville, AK

Dates: May 24-27th         

Networking: A

Tours/Extra Activities: Crystal Bridges Museum of Art

Swag: Tote bag, coupons, lots of little extras!

Grade: A

I first attended the Society of Southwest Archivists in Fayetteville, Arkansas, May 24-27th. Amy and I, along with Ann Hodges from Texas A&M University Corpus Christi, and Jennifer Giambrone and Erin Mashni from History Associates gave a joint presentation. We focused on how we processed large activism collections, including project initiation, management, and promotion. Since we were not in the same location, the planning for the presentation was conducted remotely. While it was difficult to sync schedules with so many individuals, we made it work and relied on Google Docs to work on our presentation and Doodle Polls to schedule meetings. At the conference, our panel was well attended and received a lot of positive feedback. It was also wonderful to meet everyone in person after strictly communicating through phone and email.


The rest of the conference was very informative. Not being a native of Texas, it was an opportunity to introduce myself to other archivists from Texas, as well as others from the Southwest region. I really enjoyed this conference because it was smaller, which gave me opportunity to have meaningful conversations with individuals, rather than just exchanging business cards.  Having never been to Arkansas, I was excited to explore Fayetteville, as I had never heard of the city prior to attending. While it was somewhat difficult to get to, I loved it! There was plenty of unique shops and restaurants and the locals were very welcoming and helpful. I almost could see myself living there, which really surprised me! In any case, I know I will be back soon to visit, especially to take advantage of the outdoor activities I didn’t have time for.

Conference: Society of American Archivists

Location: Portland, Oregon

Dates: July 23rd-29th                       

Networking: C-

Tours/Extra Activities: Happy Hour, Portland Food Trucks

Swag: Fancy Name Tag

Grade: B-

The second conference I attended was the Society of American Archivists from July 26th-29th. Since the registration and hotel fee was expensive, I only attended the conference when the panels began and did not attend any workshops. Instead of presenting on a panel, I created a poster presentation. My poster presentation focused on the core issues of the collection that included voter registration, gerrymandering and lack of diversity among elected officials. This required me to accompany my poster to answer questions and network. Having prior experience with poster presentations, I knew I had to have something extra to gain interest. I decided to create a small zine about the collection, including a description of SVREP, Willie Velasquez, accessibility, and the importance of the collection. It was great to offer these out to conference attendees along with my business cards. It was very useful to have those on hand and give a quick reference to the project I was working on. I will use this method for future presentations and have found that those certain handouts are very important to promote any type of collection.


Click here to view my poster!

Since this was a national conference with over 1,000 attendees, it was exciting, but also very difficult to network with others. Sometimes I was lucky to see someone I knew once during the entire conference, which made it frustrating. On the positive end, there were so many panels to choose from that there was always something of interest happening. I was a little disappointed with the high cost of the conference in regards to the swag we received. The University of Arkansas did an amazing job of finding sponsors for every activity and it showed with the effort they put into every event. I was hoping that for a $330 registration fee that we would get a little more than a name tag. However, I realized that bigger conferences cost more, and in all fairness the money probably went to an amazing food truck night where there was about 10 food trucks with free food. This brings me to highlight of the trip: Portland’s food was amazing and I was able to experience many different places in the downtown area where the hotel was. Powell’s Bookstore was my favorite place, claiming to be the world’s largest independent bookstore….yes I spent a couple hours in there!


My next adventure will be this coming week, attending the American Political Science Association annual conference in San Francisco, California. I am eager to present our digital poster to attendees that are not from an archives background and any feedback they will offer us. As achieve professionals, I think it is easy to get caught in our archives bubble and forget about the other career fields that can take advantage of the collections. It is also an amazing opportunity to let others know the archives world exists and how the material could benefit their area of expertise.

***This project is generously funded by the NHPRC**


Drag Divas (and some dudes) of Corpus Christi, 1990s style!

August 21, 2017

RuPaul’s ladies have nothing on these Drag Divas of the fabulous 90s! The hair, the nails, the gowns that shimmer!!!

Miss Corpus Christi America pageant, 1994 and undated


Female impersonators from across the state of Texas flocked to these pageants to secure a place among the royalty of the Miss Gay Texas America pageant circuit which was and is the oldest and largest pageant for female impersonators in the state. After winning at the local level, contestants went on to compete at the state level. Judging by the expression on this lovely lady’s face, snagging a crown was a big deal!


Miss Nueces County pageant, undated

The Miss Corpus Christi America pageant and related pageants were put on by Texas Crown Productions owned by Rudy Cardona and his partner, Victor Lopez. This past fall,  Victor donated the photographs to UTSA Special Collections. All photographs have been digitized and can be viewed via the online guide for the Victor Lopez and Rudy Cardona Photograph Collection.



The gals weren’t the only competitors on the pageant circuit. The guys came out to compete in the Mr. Corpus Christi pageant and offered an interesting array of talent-nothing says 90s like the fashion especially the performers in the leotards!


Rosemary Kowalski Papers Open for Research

August 14, 2017

Special Collections is pleased to announce that the Rosemary Kowalski Papers have been processed and are now open for research. Additionally, select photos from the collection are available to view online.

Young Rosemary practicing her dance skills

Rosemary Hughes Kowalski was born in San Antonio, Texas on September 27, 1924; she is the only child of Virginia Mergele Hughes and William Upton Hughes. As a child she took dance lessons and attended Blessed Sacrament Academy. She then attended Incarnate Word High School and graduated in 1941. In 1945 she married Henry “Hank” Kowalski. They have two children: Mary Kowalski Carrington and Greg Kowalski.

Rosemary and Henry opened Uncle Ben’s Barbecue Restaurant at 2414 N. Zarzamora Street together in 1946. Rosemary had her first off-site catering event at St. Peter’s Prince of the Apostles Church in 1949, and in 1961 the name officially changed to Catering by Rosemary. In 1968 the business was named the official caterer for HemisFair ’68, the World’s Fair held in San Antonio. In 1972 the business won an exclusive catering contract for the San Antonio Convention Center, a contract that is still maintained today.

Rosemary stands next to an impressive early table display, 1960

Rosemary hard at work in the kitchen, 1968

By the early 1980’s the company had long outgrown the kitchen of Uncle Ben’s Barbecue. As the business continued to grow, it moved to a larger space near St. Paul’s Square, where the business is headquartered today. In 1989, The RK Group was launched, and Rosemary’s son Greg was named President and CEO. Greg further diversified the company to include floral design, a specialized destination management company, a full-service nationwide meeting planning group, emergency management support, and a PR and marketing design component.

Ready for an elegant evening on Alamo Plaza

Rosemary celebrates the opening of Rosemary’s Delivery Service by making the first delivery via motorcycle, 2002

Throughout its history, the company has served Pope John Paul II, their Royal Highnesses Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles, U.S. Ambassador to England Henry Catto, numerous U.S. Presidents, and countless celebrities. Rosemary attributes her success to her long-established reputation for caring about fine details. Despite her success, she is known for her humility, dedication to service, positive outlook, and her courtesy and caring for others. Amongst her favorite sayings are “Say please and thank-you, always,” and “Attitude is everything.”

The RK Group really does it all! Pictured above is the massive catering setup for Valero Corporation’s 25th anniversary celebration held at the Alamodome in 2005.

Rosemary retired from The RK Group in 1997, though she remains Chairman and CEO Emeritus. She is actively involved in the community and is well known for her philanthropic efforts in San Antonio’s cultural, arts, human service, religious, and educational organizations. Her numerous awards and honors include San Antonio Entrepeneur of the Year (1988), Grande Dame of Les Dames d’Escoffier International (2003),  induction into the Junior Achievement Business Hall of Fame (1998) and the Texas Business Hall of Fame (2004).

Rosemary poses for a photo with her children and their spouses at her 70th birthday party, 1994. L-R: Greg and Bekki Kowalski, Rosemary Kowalski, Mary Kowalski Carrington, John Carrington

The Rosemary Kowalski Papers contain paper files, photograph prints, newspaper clippings, appointment calendars, two of Rosemary’s school yearbooks, a childhood scrapbook, VHS and Betacam tapes, CDs, DVDs, and born-digital records. The collection also contains electronic records that were once traditional paper files and photos, but were scanned by RK Group staff and donated to UTSA Special Collections as electronic records.

The Rosemary Kowalski Papers are housed at UTSA’s Main Campus and can be viewed by appointment in the John Peace Library Special Collections Reading Room. The complete collection guide is available online. Additionally, select photos are available to view online.

A Month in Special Collections: July

August 7, 2017
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