Agnieszka Czeblakow Hopes to Inspire a New Generation of Book Collectors and Archivists

Jul 01, 2017

By Bianca Reuter, Customer Service Assistant III

Rare Books Librarian Agnieszka (Agnes) Czeblakow is a lucky woman. Every day she puts her fascination with history and archival materials to work, building and preserving UTSA Libraries Special Collections and overseeing the university’s collection of nearly 27,000 rare books.

“Being able to work with distinct and historically significant materials never ceases to amaze me,” said Agnes. “But I think the greatest joy comes from meeting faculty, students, librarians and curators who are a constant source of information, stories and inspiration.”

Agnes, who has worked at UTSA for over a year, was born and raised in Warsaw, Poland. She holds a Ph.D. in Latin American History from Emory University and an M.L.I.S. from the University of Wisconsin.

“As a historian, I am captivated by the role of archivists in collecting and describing rare materials, and how the actions of individuals affect the production of historical narratives and knowledge,” says Agnes.  

Though items in the collections number in the hundreds of thousands, Agnes does have her favorites. One example: a book created by prisoners from San Quentin State Prison and Central California Women’s Facility that is shaped like a prison guard tower.

“It is one of the most powerful items in the collection because it is a work of art, beautifully and masterfully crafted by human beings considered by our society to be disposable, undesirable and hideous,” said Agnes.

UTSA’s Special Collections bring national recognition to the university for their uniqueness and value to researchers studying the diverse histories of South Texas. One of the indicators of a Tier One research university is the caliber of its primary resource materials, and the UTSA Libraries has increased efforts to raise awareness regarding the richness of its archival collections. One year ago, for instance, Agnes created an Instagram account to bring UTSA’s rare books and other unique holdings to a larger audience.

“I have found the library and archives insta-verse to be incredibly supportive, encouraging and fun,” she says. Each month, a library will issue a challenge on Instagram to seek out themed items in their collections. So far, UTSA has participated in #libraryfeast, #hatsinthelibrary, #libraryisloveisloveislove, #librarypoolparty and #publisherbindingthursday. In October, Special Collections will host their own challenge, #whoatemybook, which will focus on conservation issues found in rare books collections.

For Agnes, her most important goal is to introduce the collections to students, and to increase their interests in rare books as physical artifacts layered with a multiplicity of meanings. In her short time at UTSA, her passion and curiosity have already inspired many UTSA students and visiting researchers.

“Books are more than texts, or simple sources of information or data,” she says. “They are complex objects embedded with deliberate production and design choices, myriad linguistic and social codes, and historical precedents. To really read a book is to decipher how all of its elements have interacted over time, and are continually interacting in the hands of the reader.”