Meet Caleb Del Rio, Digital Support Specialist

Caleb Del Rio, Digital Support Specialist

I began working at Smathers Libraries back in September 2016 as an OPS Imaging Assistant in the Digital Support Services (DSS) department. During my 5 years there, I familiarized myself with the hardware, software, and processes DSS utilized to digitize archival photographic materials, documents, and books for upload to the University of Florida Digital Archive (UFDC). Covid-19 threw an unexpected twist into my workflow with the addition of new responsibilities that saw me working closely with Special and Area Studies Collections (SASC) personnel—included among these was a more in-depth role concerning the handling of incoming and outgoing shipments of archival theses and dissertations for the Retrospective Dissertations Scanning Project (RDSP). This new knowledge combined with my familiarity of the digitization workflow served as a strong foundation for my next position within the libraries.

In November 2021, I began my current position as the Digital Support Specialist within SASC. My main duties are thus:

  • bridging the gap between special collections curators and project managers at SASC and the personnel at DSS to facilitate the digitization of archival materials
  • supplying scans of archival materials to off-site patrons who are unable to visit the Special Collections themselves
  • providing Public Services assistance to the front desk of the Grand Reading Room when needed.

The rapidly-evolving nature of the position has posed an interesting challenge: simultaneously learning the complexities of each collection as well as the nuances of my various duties, all the while creating and updating documentation for them.

Students gather to protest the arrest of 66 Black students in peaceful protest on the steps of Tigert Hall.
Students gathered in protest on the steps of Tigert Hall.
Black students gathered on the steps of Tigert Hall on Black Thursday.

I recently had the opportunity to work with University Historian Carl Van Ness and the Matheson History Museum in digitizing unlabeled 35mm film strips in the hopes of identifying them. The mystery negatives contained previously unknown photos of Black Thursday, a pivotal 1971 protest led by Black students against UF administration with the goal of having more Black representation in the student body and in the faculty of the school, as well as fair and equal treatment to Black employees. The events that transpired throughout the day have been well-documented, but the clarity of the photos throws this ugly moment in the university’s history into a stark light.

Black Thursday Protest
Gainesville Police officers arrest a student on Black Thursday
Tear gas being used at Black Thursday Protest
Tear gas being used to disperse student protesters.

These photos were used as part of an excellent exhibit on Black Thursday by the Matheson History Museum. To me, they really highlight the necessity of robust cataloguing, special collections, and archival materials at institutions with rich, and at times fraught, histories like UF. Were it not for the accidental discovery of these mystery photos at the prompting of a museum curator, this pivotal piece of university history could have easily sat undiscovered for several more decades.