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Preserving the UTSA Office of Facilities records

July 15, 2022

By Isabella Briseño, UTSA Special Collections intern summer 2022

From June to July of 2022, I was lucky to fulfill my master’s program’s practicum requirement at UTSA Special Collections. The main project I worked on involved the physical processing of oversized architectural documents belonging to UTSA’s Office of Facilities Records, as well as the digitization of select items from the same collection.

These items were mostly blueprints of UTSA Main Campus buildings, but there were also many architectural documents pertaining to the Hemisfair Campus and the Institute of Texan Cultures. The existing finding aid did not have a clear space for the latter set of items to be organized under, so I also got the experience of adding a new series to the finding aid. The Main Campus items were simple to weave into the existing hierarchical structure but starting a section from scratch was a small challenge for me.

The physical items were at first overwhelming to handle while I inventoried them, as they were large and, in many cases, already torn or damaged, but once the roughly 600 items were accounted for and logically placed into folders, it became more digestible to me, an organizer at heart.

Floor plans for the Multidisciplinary Studies Building (previously, as the items are labelled, named “classroom-office”), in the process of being put into folders

As a UTSA alumnus, it was super interesting getting to look at blueprints and other documents that reveal a lot about the University’s history and early planning. It was also interesting to learn about, and to visit for the first time, the Institute of Texan Cultures (which I had become semi-familiar with by going through all its blueprints), where these items are now stored along with the rest of their collection. There, I was able to comb through all the collection’s materials, determining what items should be preserved digitally. Most of the regular-sized items were correspondence relating to the construction of buildings, or inconsequential things such as several letters and blueprints checking what size organ would fit on the Arts Building stage. Many items did not make the cut when determining what was worth digitally preserving.

A set of aerial photographs, site model pictures, and several enlightening planning guides pertaining to both main and downtown campus were selected. Getting to work with several different scanning machines made for a good learning experience and getting to work through the full process of uploading the materials to UTSA’s Digital Collections shed light for me on how much work, trial, and error go into digitizing even such a small assortment of items.

View of screen while using the overhead scanner to capture the aerial photographs

Getting hands-on practice with updating finding aids, using different archival programs, and processing items in a collection has been an amazing experience and I appreciate the support and knowledge that staff has shared. When I was getting my first degree here at UTSA, I had often enjoyed looking at the Special Collections display on the JPL fourth floor, and I am glad to have now gotten an in-depth and immersive look at how such items are organized and preserved for future scholars to enjoy and learn from.

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