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A Month in Special Collections: June

July 23, 2019

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Many years in the making: SRT Mexican Manuscript Collection digitized and open for online access

July 8, 2019

I am excited to announce that the two-year project digitizing the Sons of the Republic of Texas (SRT) Mexican Manuscript Collection has come to a close. Virtually all of the manuscript documents (more than 4,000 of them) have been scanned, and they are now available in our digital library.  This collection comprises 30 linear feet of printed and manuscript documents, periodicals, pamphlets, and broadsides ranging in date from the 16th to the 20th centuries. It includes government documents, financial records, legal petitions, political and ecclesiastical decrees, wills and legal testaments, and personal and business letters. These manuscripts cover a broad array of topics, including information on government, politics, finances, work, religion, social status, marriage and family, and numerous other subjects of social and historical interest.

Over the past two years, I have been scanning each document and uploading them to our digital library. Digitization of the SRT manuscripts actually began in 2011, and I’m thrilled that as of July 2019 – it is complete. As more and more documents have been added to our digital library, we have seen massive growth in users from Mexico and Latin America visiting our Special Collections website and engaging with the SRT materials. I like to think that my work in refining and improving the descriptive metadata associated with each document has also improved digital access to these unique materials.

In May 2019, I had the opportunity to present about the closing of the project at two conferences. First, I traveled to Tucson, Arizona and spoke at the joint conference of Inter-Mountain Archivists & Society of Southwest Archivists. It was great to share the work on this project with individuals from across the Southwest United States who have similar collections that cross borders. Additionally, I presented at the Texas Conference on Digital Libraries in Austin. These experiences were a wonderful way to bring the project to a close and share our work with peers across the state of Texas and the western US.

Here are some blog posts I’ve written over the past two years that examine parts of the collection in more detail:

I look forward to continuing to build our digital collections here at Special Collections.

“Out and Proud in San Antonio: Pride Celebrations Across the Years”

July 1, 2019

UTSA Special Collections Exhibit at the San Antonio Public Library-Central Branch, June 1 – July 31, 2019

Every June, LGBTQ communities across America celebrate Pride month to commemorate the Stonewall riots of 1969 in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan in New York City. The Stonewall Inn was a favorite spot for members of the gay and as such, was a constant target of police raids. In the early hours of June 28, police raided the bar once again. But this time, patrons push back and the clash ignited several days of spontaneous riots.

The event was the catalyst that launched the modern gay rights movement. For many gay men, lesbians, and transgendered persons, gay liberation translated into visibility, the path out of the darkness of the closet. Newfound visibility was cause for celebration and in large cities throughout the U.S., Pride parades, picnics, and rainbow flags marked the collective coming out of a community once relegated to silence and invisibility. Pride month was and is a time to reaffirm solidarity in and among queer communities across the country.

To celebrate Pride month, UTSA Special Collections is highlighting several of its LGBTQ holdings. Several items displayed depict rainbows which are a symbol of LGBTQ Pride. The second part of the exhibit is in memory of Gene Wesley Elder (1949-2019). Artist, Activist, Archivist.

Gene Elder announced his candidacy for Mayor of San Antonio on February 28, 1979 from his campaign headquarters at the Friendly Spot. “I’m running for San Antonio Mayor because I feel it’s important for artists to become involved in the political process of the community. . . .The arts have always transcended economic and social barriers that hinder a community’s communication and cooperation.” Elder’s mayoral race was the first of its kind–holding fund-raisers and rallies in art galleries—and forming his own political party, the “Party, Party.” Despite a colorful non-traditional campaign and lots of press coverage, Elder did not become the Mayor of San Antonio. Exhibit items are from the Gene Elder Papers, MS 428, UTSA Libraries Special Collections.

TranSanAntonian: Anatomy of an Exhibit

June 24, 2019

In September of last year, the McNay Museum approached UTSA Libraries Special Collections about a possible collaboration in tandem with a ground breaking exhibit set to open in June 2019: Transamerica/n is the country’s first exhibition of artwork to explore gender, identity, and appearance today. The exhibition showcases artists from underrepresented backgrounds, many of who are local.

TranSanAntonian is San Antonio’s first exhibit that explores identities and appearance across the gender spectrum through the lens of archival materials housed at UTSA Libraries Special Collections. Initial concepts, digitization, planning, item selection, writing, meeting with McNay staff, and finally, installation, took place over ten months.

The process gave us a better sense of how to execute an exhibit on a large scale within the context of a larger exhibition. With the help of the extraordinarily talented staff at the McNay, the exhibit came together piece by piece. When the installation date arrived, we were ready!

Neither Katie or I had worked with such a large space before, so making our materials stand out proved to be a bit of a challenge. But with trial and error and much thought, we configured the fixturing for maximum impact. Everything fit perfectly and thanks to the assistance of the wonderful folks at the McNay, the exhibit was ready for the Transamerica/n VIP preview on June 18.

Transamerica/n drew a large crowd for the VIP preview (over 200 attendees) and the members only preview the following evening brought in well over 600 people! How exciting and validating for everyone who worked so hard to make this happen.

Much to our delight, TranSanAntonian, located in one of the galleries below the main exhibition, drew quite a few patrons. Comments included thoughtful, moving, brilliantly executed, and important. Special Collections LGBTQ archival materials provided historical context for the contemporary interpretations of gender, appearance, and identity represented in Transamerica/n.

Transamerica/n will run from June 20 through September 15, 2019. For more information on the exhibition visit

TranSanAntonian curators, Katie Rojas, Manuscript Archivist and Melissa Gohlke, Assistant Archivist, UTSA Libraries Special Collections (photo by Chris Rojas)

Introducing: Updated Digital Collections

June 18, 2019

Earlier this month, on June 7th, we launched our new and improved Digital Collections page!

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New UTSA Libraries Special Collections Digital Collections landing page, June 7, 2019. 

After months of work and collaboration, we are proud to show off the improvements made to the landing page for our collections’ digital materials. While not radically different, there have been a number of improvements we are eager to share with you.

Our greatest improvement is that our Digital Collections page is now 100% responsive.

Since the update, it is accessible on any handheld device without the awkwardness that comes with resizing and moving the page around that happens when the page is not built for your phone or tablet.

Another change is simply the look of the new landing page. Instead of having the collections featured below in list form with a link, we have now given the page a face-lift. Using thumbnail images that correspond to each collection, clicking on one will take you to a landing page for each collection with a more detailed description of its contents and a link to its collection guide and digitized material.

Within the collections’ digitized materials, audio and PDF materials are now downloadable. In particular, with the oral history collection, nearly all of the transcripts and audio files are available for download onto personal computers. To make the viewing of video easier on patrons, especially on mobile and handheld devices, it is now embedded in the browser instead of switching to another browser window on a video hosting platform.

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An example of a digitized oral history. The turquoise circle indicates the download button on the new page.

Previously, the layout for digital collections had thumbnails and limited info next to it. Users could mouse over the material objects listed on the database, prompting a pop-out to appear to give more information about the item. To make our digital materials more responsive, the new listing has the information needed under the photo instead of in a pop-up. While this creates more information on the screen, scrolling  and scanning are now smoother actions. These changes we hope will make use and accessibility of our digital collections smoother and more straightforward.

We hope to see an increased use of our digital materials now that it is more easily accessible on mobile devices. Please visit our new page at and please don’t hesitate to share your thoughts or concerns about our updated web page. We would love the feedback!


“Fix” vs. Fidelity: how we steward our digitized images

June 4, 2019

Recently we checked our department email and got a message from a patron about a photo in our digital library:

I fell in love with this photo entitled Woman at San Antonio & Aransas Pass station and spent hours digitally fixing it.

Here is my fixed, cleaned up version for your collection so people can enjoy a better view of it.

Chino Chapa

We’re always excited to hear from our users! And this is a very interesting share—the image Chapa found clearly had tears in it and he was able to digitally mend those right out:


“Woman at San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railroad Station,” 100-0520, General Photographs Collection, UTSA Special Collections. Original image scan on left, restored image on right.

In the images above, readers can see the fruit of Chapa’s labor. The original physical photo, a picture of a smiling young woman waiting on a railroad station platform in a fun skirt, must have been damaged at some point. These tears and scratches that were visible in the original scan have disappeared with Chapa’s careful edits.

While we’re happy to highlight this on our blog, it does bring up a question that we’re often asked by patrons: why don’t we “fix” photos in our collections or restore them to how they looked when taken?

Let’s break the answers to that down into a few key points:

1) We focus on faithful copies of originals

First, our photo collections consist of over 3 million images, many of which we hold as physical prints or negatives.  Of those, there are many that were collected by UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures staff years ago as part of the General Photographs Collection, a collection of photos that aim to document many of Texas’ communities and ethnic groups.  Photos were donated to the ITC or loaned to the museum’s staff so they could be copied.  For the loans, these were captured as copy negatives or, in more recent times, digital scans of the originals that have since been returned.  When staff captured the copy, they did so to create a faithful copy of the print or negative as it appeared at the time, the same way it would look if you were looking at the physical original.  This particular image was loaned and a copy negative was made, then later a digital scan was created of that copy negative so that it could be shared in our digital library.  The damage apparent on the image is representative of what staff saw when they received the loaned photo and made that first copy.

2) We focus on preservation, not restoration

These photos that we’ve received are often very old, and despite being treasured by the families or groups who’ve cared for them they’ve experienced the normal degradation of time.  When we accept archival material into our collections, we do so with the goal of preserving the material for future generations.  This might mean that we house photographs and negatives in special enclosures to help mitigate the effects of acidic paper, or keep them in a temperature controlled environment so that the chemical reactions taking place in dyes will slow down or possibly cease – and images and colors will remain visible.  Our primary goal is to stabilize the material, so that it stays looking the way it did when we received it, with all of the markers on it that indicate how it has aged and been used.

That being said, as stewards of these collections, it’s up to us to make the determination when archival materials need extra help.  There are times that we might decide that an intervention is needed, such as sending rare books or manuscripts off to conservators so they can be mended and handled safely.  We’ve even sent severely damaged negatives that we received to experts who were able to piece these back together and make them visible again—a considerable feat that you can read about in this post.  For digitized material, we keep the scan as faithful to the original as we can, so we never use software to sharpen images, remove dust or scratches, restore colors or otherwise alter the digital surrogate.

3) We welcome our patrons to interact with our publicly available materials

Our goal in digitizing images in our photographs collections is to make as much of these available to the public as we can.  We put in a lot of time and labor to scan images, create and structure metadata so these are described appropriately and findable, and do what we can to encourage use from the public.  While we don’t edit the content of images, we’re always interested in learning about how our patrons decide to use digitized images, from public exhibits to more personal uses, such as Chapa’s detailed restoration work above.

So keep sharing your stories with us about how you’ve used our digitized collections.  It’s literally what we’re doing all this work for!

Special Collections’ 3rd Annual Ven A Comer Fundraising Dinner

May 27, 2019

On May 5, 2019, Special Collections held its 3rd annual fundraising dinner, Ven A Comer, at Hotel Emma in the Pearl. This year, we were delighted to have Diana Kennedy as our guest of honor.

Just three months prior to the event, Kennedy traveled from her home in Michoacán to donate her culinary archives to UTSA. The collection contains about twelve linear feet personal papers, as well as her personal library of Mexican cookbooks. Selections from Kennedy’s papers were on display at the event, along with eleven 19th-century cookbooks.

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Our featured chef was Juan Cabrera Barrón, the owner of Fonda Fina restaurant in Mexico City. John Brand and Jaime Gonzalez (Hotel Emma), Elizabeth Johnson (Pharm Table, San Antonio), Silvia McCollow (NIDO, Oakland), and Sofia Sada (CIA San Antonio), contributed their expertise to the creation of the wonderful menu that guests enjoyed that evening. Last but not least, we were happy to once again have Pedro Jiménez Gurria (Mezonte Mezcal, Guadalajara) as our mescalero.

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Tickets for this year’s Ven A Comer sold out well in advance of the event. If you’d like to receive news about next year’s event, be sure to check our website and get on our mailing list. Proceeds from the event support UTSA’s Mexican Cookbook collection. If you weren’t able to attend and would still like to show your support, you can become a sponsor of the Diana Kennedy Collection or contact

Thank you to everyone who worked to make this year’s event the best yet! See you in 2020!

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