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“Why is this not digitized?” A/V Edition

July 9, 2018

From time to time, we’re asked the question “so when will all of this be online?”  The answer is—you might want to sit down for this—not everything will be digitized.  While we love to connect our patrons with every resource they could ever want to use online, there are several reasons why we’re just not able to do this for everything.  Below I’ll outline some reasons why we might not digitize audiovisual (A/V) items in our collections.


Not everything is digitized. This is the truth.

Prioritizing projects

Digitization takes a lot of resources, both in physical resources and in people hours, so we want to be sure we’re getting the most out of our efforts.  We do our best to find content to digitize that will have the highest degree of utility for our patrons, so this means we put a lot of effort into assessment. Readers of the Top Shelf might remember this post that discusses some of the guiding principles and objectives that allow us to select and prioritize material in our holdings for our digitization program.

We have a giant inventory of A/V from all of our collections, with almost 2,000 media objects recorded so far.  We order and prioritize this inventory in many ways, including the research value of the collection the items belong to or the individual value of the information content on the reel or tape.  But even if we had a magic wand and could create the army of people and resources necessary to digitize and quality check it all (including having access to every esoteric form of media device needed to read all A/V formats we have), there would still be reasons why we would not want to do this for every item.

Copyright and legal risks

First, a major hurdle to digitizing any library or archives holding that was produced in the U.S. of A.: United States Copyright Law (title 17, United States Code).  While libraries and archives do enjoy a special exemption (§ 108 Limitations on exclusive rights: Reproduction by libraries and archives) that allows us to make a duplicate of an item in our holdings for preservation purposes, we are not automatically given the right to make it freely available on the internet.  We’d need to research the copyright status of the item and determine what rights we have to use it, which, again, takes time.  Further, making a case for fair use of something that is not clearly out of copyright involves some degree of risk—such as risk in being sued by the copyright holders and risk in reputational damage if we didn’t perform due diligence.

When A/V is more than a digitized video

Some A/V in our collections may have value in the physical carrier or container, but the information content on the media is not rare.  The labels and titles can tell a story about the collection creator that we find valuable.  In the Norma Cantú Papers (UA 99.0022, a former UTSA Department of English professor emerita whose collection is being processed currently) we have many A/V recordings that are rare and unique, including interviews and readings, that we recognize as having a high priority for digitization.  But there’s also a small collection of VHS tapes that Dr. Cantú kept to show to students in her Borderlands Studies classes here at UTSA in the late 1990s and early 2000s.  She was able to show these to her students for educational purposes under fair use.  Several of the titles were produced by public television stations or other motion picture companies and can be easily found and purchased for viewing or checked out from your local library, which makes these a low priority for us to digitize.


Sample box of A/V from the Norma Cantú Papers (UA 99.0022).


In another University Archives collection, the Miroslav Synek Papers (UA 99.0029, a former UTSA professor of physics, chemistry & math), we recently came across a film reel titled “Powers of Ten,” with a copyright notice that it’s meant for educational use only.  The film is Powers of Ten: A Film Dealing with the Relative Size of Things in the Universe and the Effect of Adding Another Zero, a 1977 film that you can enjoy on YouTube right now.  This film is not in immediate danger of disappearing (indeed, it was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress) but it could serve as evidence of Dr. Synek’s pedagogy and offers a glimpse into teaching materials used in the 1980s at UTSA.  It might evoke an image of a reel projector being wheeled into class, lights being turned off, and student faces being illuminated by the waves of moving images of Earth, the conjectured Universe, and our own atoms being zoomed in and out by powers of 10 as the film reel clicks away.


Powers of Ten film reel from the Mioslav Synek Papers (UA 99.0029). You can watch this on YouTube.

When A/V dies : (

Finally, and sadly, not all A/V can be digitized (even with a magic resource wand) because all A/V will degrade over time.  This is especially true for A/V that is stored in hot, humid locations, like your garage or attic where you might have home movies that you might one day want to watch again.


A distorted 35mm negative.

This is a pretty big problem for everyone: for example, in the motion picture industry, it’s been estimated that around 90% of American silent films and 50% of American sound films made before 1950 are lost films, meaning there’s no known copy available to view anywhere.  While we do our best to house our materials in the proper storage environment to ensure long-term shelf life, we can’t reverse previous damage.  If patrons find a title in our collection that they would like digitized there’s no guarantee that the film can be viewed.  But rest assured, this is definitely part of our assessment, where we consider the film format and the risk of decay when prioritizing digitization projects.

We can’t digitize everything, but we’re doing our best to get content digitized for preservation and shared in our digital collections portal.  Check out what we’ve got online so far by looking at UTSA Libraries Digital Collections.

Want to know more about film care and other projects working to preserve A/V?  Here are a few resources you can explore:

A Month in Special Collections: June

July 2, 2018
  • Please click below image to enlarge and access links.


Southwest Voter Registration Education Project Records Open for Research

June 25, 2018

willie 8In 2016, UTSA was awarded a $146,000 grant from the National Archives to process the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project (SVREP) Records. A look back on our journey has been shared through many blog posts from these past two years that have documented our progress, travels, and events relating to the collection. Today we are happy to announce that the collection is now open for research. The finding aid is available to view online, as are selected audio visual materials that have been digitized and can be viewed here.

SVREP was established in 1974 by William C. Velásquez in San Antonio, Texas and is the largest and oldest non-partisan Latino voter participation organization in the United States. SVREP is responsible for conducting thousands of registration drives in hundreds of cities and for registering millions of Hispanic voters. The organization continues to thrive today, continuing the work that was started over 40 years ago.

The SVREP collection spans 1974-1994 and contains over 400 boxes of first-hand documentation of important aspects of SVREP operations. SVREP originally focused solely on voter registration but soon expanded into conducting surveys and filing lawsuits. The collection also contains materials by the research arm of SVREP, the Southwest Voter Research Institute (SVRI).

The SVREP Records are organized into nine distinct series: Organizational Files, Department Files, Publications and Writings, Projects, Artifacts and Ephemera, Photographic Materials, Electronic and Audio Visual Materials, Outside Publications, and Maps. These series include material such as field organizing records, voter registration training materials, legal case files, research files, exit polls, opinion polls, booklets, pamphlets, newsletters, and over 700 redistricting maps.  A large portion of the audio visual material which focuses on public service announcements and documentation of SVREP’s travels, has been digitized and can be viewed online.

UTSA Special Collections is honored to be the gatekeepers of this amazing collection and hope it will serve as an example of how diversity within an archive can benefit the local community and encourage the perspectives of underrepresented voices to be heard. It is vital that we recognize local individuals who have been extraordinary role models in the community and have made a lasting impact on society.

The SVREP Records can be found at UTSA’s 1604 Campus and can be viewed by appointment in the John Peace Library Special Collections Reading Room. The complete finding aid is available online. In addition, select audio materials are available to view online.



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

Rare books at the Southwest Research Institute

June 18, 2018

Last week, several members of Special Collections staff were fortunate to receive a tour of the Thomas Baker Slick Memorial Library from Vasu Iyengar, Rare Books and Preservation Administration. Located on the grounds of the Southwest Research Institute, the Slick Library houses a collection of more than 130 rare scientific and technological books. The collection’s publication dates range from the 16th to the 20th centuries and feature the work of European and American scientists.

Vasu and Amy

Vasu Iyengar and Head of Special Collections Amy Rushing

Vasu allowed us to explore the temperature and humidity-controlled vault that these unique items are housed in. She also pulled notable materials from the collection and Special Collections staff were able to learn about the books’ individual histories and importance.

book boxes shelf

Each of the rare books are housed in phase boxes, protecting them from additional degradation.

Vasu allowed us to closely examine several of the rare books.

Franklin, 1752, Experiences L'electricite

Kristin Law, University Archivist, examining the first French edition of Benjamin Franklin’s Experiences and Observations of Electricity. Published in 1752.

Boyle, 1661, Pyhsico-Mechanica

Robert Boyle, Nova Experimenta Physico-Mechanica de vi Aeris Elastica, 1661. Removed from its phase box for viewing.

Vasu often collaborates with scientists at the Southwest Research Institute. The next presentation incorporating the rare books and modern science is “Women in Astronomy” on July 12, 2018 from 11:30 am to 12:30 pm. Dr. Amanda Bayless, of the Space Science Engineering Department at SwRI, will be speaking. The event is open to the public.

Katie and Carlos

Carlos Cortez, Library Assistant III, and Katie Rojas, Manuscripts Archivist, view notable rare books from the collection.

The Thomas Slick Memorial Library is open to the public. To arrange a visit, email or call (210) 522-2125.

A Month in Special Collections: May

June 4, 2018
  • Please click below image to enlarge and access links.


A pocket guide to Totonac, an endangered language.

May 30, 2018

As the digitization of the Sons of the Republic of Texas Mexican Manuscript Collection (SRT) in its entirety progresses, I continue to be amazed and pleasantly surprised by some of the hidden gems that are buried in the unassuming SRT filing cabinets in the Special Collections vault. One of those wonderful moments happened recently when I came upon document 5794, “Vocabulario de la lengua Totonaca.” The vague title featured in the metadata does not do this incredibly interesting document justice. Document 5794 is so much more than just a “vocabulary.” Its cover contains a striking  example of calligraphy, the contents are interesting, unique, and exciting. The document provides a glimpse into the diversity of eighteenth-century Mexico. It features one of the 68 indigenous languages officially recognized by the Mexican government that are still spoken today.

txsau-srt-5794_00001 not cropped

The name Totonac ecompasses a cluster of approximately 9 closely-related languages still spoken by over 200,000 people in the central Mexican states of Veracruz and Puebla. The earliest known research on Totonac was undertaken in the sixteenth century by Fray Andrés de Olmos (famous for his grammar of Nahuatl). The language is considered endangered because several of its dialects have speaker populations of only a few thousand. The Endangered Language Alliance has videos of present-day Totonac being spoken.

txsau-srt-5794_00001 cover image

The author got creative with a mix of several innovative hand-lettering styles on the cover of the otherwise unassuming booklet. The first four letters T-O-T-O overlap the more stylized N-A-C-A in the lower register.

Document 5794 is more than a vocabulary. It functions as a guide to the basics of the Totonac language for Spanish-speakers. The small size (roughly 7 inches tall) suggests a portability; perhaps the author carried the booklet in their pocket as a convenient tool to navigate social interactions in Totonac communities. The document is sub-divided into several themes. It begins with the 21 letter Totonac alphabet (abecedario) as it would appear in the Latin alphabet. (Prior to the arrival of the Spanish, the language existed solely in spoken form. Now orthographies based on the Latin alphabet are used but literacy in the language is uncommon.)

txsau-srt-5794_00003 alphabet guide

Interesting to note, are the pronunciation guides. For example, the ‘x’ is explained as being equivalent to the ‘ch’ sound in French.

Next the reader finds thematically arranged word lists translated from Spanish to Totonac. These themes include: people/anatomy, articles of clothing, family structure, adjectives, animals, plants and food, geography, and colors.

txsau-srt-5794_00008 word list family roles

Wardrobe-related vocabulary (enaguas: petticoat, faja: girdle) proceeds familial roles (padre: father, abuelo: grandpa) in this example of the thematic word lists.

After several pages of thematically-arranged translations, the author depicts verb conjugations. These include the indicative (shown below), imperfect, perfect, and future tenses.

txsau-srt-5794_00023 conjugations 1

Next, the basics of conversation are addressed:

txsau-srt-5794_00028 conversation basics

Basic introductory phrases include: ¿Como te llamas? and ¿Cuantos hijos tienes? These are translated into Totonac on the facing page. 

The second-to-last page of the booklet includes a final word list, perhaps key vocabulary that the author felt necessary at the last moment.

txsau-srt-5794_00036 bell on cat

¿Quien le pone el cascabel al Gato? i.e. Who put the bell on the cat?

txsau-srt-5794_00037 signature

The closing states that this booklet was produced in Papantla on the 27th of September, 1887 by A. Fontecilla y Vidas. Papantla is in northern Veracruz, and home to one of most-spoken Totonac dialects.

Document 5794 is a Totonac language and grammar guide. It would have provided a bridge for someone engaging with a community whose language is remarkably unrelated to any other in the world (including the over 60 indigenous languages still spoken in Mexico alone). I look forward to uncovering additional intriguing documents that neighbor this “vocabulario” in the SRT files. Several thousand SRT documents are already available online, with more added each month.



UTSA Special Collections Participates in History and Genealogy Day at Mission San Jose

May 21, 2018

On April 22nd the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park hosted a special event with displays honoring families who lived at the local missions.  Several mission family descendants had tables with genealogical information, family photographs and artifacts.  Also participating were local historical societies, museums, and libraries with examples from their collections.  UTSA Special Collections staff created albums with images of the mission structures through time, as well as photographs copied in the 1990s from the private collections of mission families.

Tourists from other areas enjoyed looking at our photographs that show the many changes in the mission structures:  the deterioration and subsequent restoration projects.  But the highlight was the visit of mission descendants, who discovered photographs related to their families in our collections.

These are pictures taken that day.

Rudy Gonzales uses his phone to copy our photograph of a family home that was located on the grounds of Mission San Jose.










Special Collections volunteer Judy Sauter shows photos of the missions at our display table set up in the mission granary. The red lanterns, provided by the Park Service, provided extra light in the dimly-lit structure.


Eloy Huizar holds one of our pre-restoration photographs of the granary, once owned by the Huizar Family. His ancestors lived there in the 19th and early 20th centuries.


John B. Martinez discovers a picture of himself when he played for the Mission San Jose parish baseball team in the 1960s.




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