Go With the (Work)Flow: How Things Get Done in the RDC

One thing we’ve learned about digitizing Baylor’s unique collections is the importance of front-end planning for the overall success of a project. It’s the crucial step that separates a “well, that went smoothly” project from a “nightmare of epic proportions” project.

The challenge with workflow planning is that it’s the least glamorous part of almost every project, so giving it its due isn’t usually our first point of interest. Lots of digitization outfits fall into the trap of rushing to get items onto scanners as quickly as possible, assuming that things like useful filename identifiers and quality controlling will just work themselves out over the course of the project. Unfortunately for them, this is rarely the case, and failing to plan ahead becomes the first step in a rapid spiral into a project with no direction, frequent backsliding, and endless frustration.

So how do we avoid these pitfalls with projects that can encompass hundreds of thousands of items and up to a dozen different employees taking part in the process?

1.    Practice restrained exuberance. No matter how exciting the source material you’ve been tasked to digitize, letting the awesomeness of the items overwhelm your better judgment is a classic rookie mistake. Taking time to dispassionately evaluate the materials gives you a better handle on things like the items’ physical state, the extent of the collection (number of items), logistical challenges, and content-related concerns.

2.    Go with what works. Years of experience (and trial and error) have provided us with some practical tips that work with projects of almost any size. In the end, it comes down to some little things that make a big difference: get an accurate estimate on the number of items; use filenames that make sense (texas-johnson-diary-001-01.tiff) so you can find things easily; scan using best practices (300 dpi tiffs for preservation, etc.); and assign people to the kind of work that suits their personalities. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel for most digitization projects, and if you have to be inventive, make it an upgrade, not a complete redesign.

3.    Figure out who’s doing what. DPG staff handle the higher-level planning and ultimate quality control on all projects, but graduate assistants and undergraduate student workers carry out the bulk of the actual digitization and file manipulation for most projects. That means explicitly assigning portions of a project among one to ten people, something that can be a major hassle, unless you …

4.    Create a spreadsheet. Free tools like Google Docs offer our group a fast, free, cloud-based solution to keeping large groups of people in step with one another over the course of a project. Google Docs offers spreadsheets, documents and more with customizable levels of access so we can see at a glance where any project stands.

Workflow spreadsheet for the Browning Letters Project

5.    Create a workflow chart. DPG Manager Darryl Stuhr is a big fan of workflow charts, and his creations are virtuoso-level masterpieces of data management. Take a look at this piece (currently taped in his office window) for our Baylor University News Releases Project. These visualizations of how things work help him plan each byte from scanner to preservation server and online access.

Darryl Stuhr's workflow chart for the BU News Releases Project

6.    Stay on top of everyone’s work. Managing data is only half of the task; keeping the team on task is the other. It takes a great deal of effort to ensure students are scanning at a high level of quality, that files are ending up where they’re supposed to be, and that the final product is a collection people will find useful, accurate and interesting.

7.    Celebrate successes. Adding end-of-project pizza parties to our workflow has been a fun way to reward hours of often-repetitive effort on the part of our student workers. (College students like free pizza; who knew?) But often it’s the simple act of saying “Thank you” and celebrating together that makes the difference.

So if you’re setting out to start a major digitization project, keep these tips in mind. This may be the blog post that prevents you from regretting tackling one in the first place, and who knows? It may even give you an excuse to celebrate with pizza.

Stop the Presses, Start the Scanners: Digitizing Baylor’s News Release Archive

Baylor University news releases from the 1930s

It’s hard to imagine given the pervasive nature of the media outlets available today – from the major broadcast networks, cable news networks, blogs, microblogs, social media avenues and more – but there was a time when the concept of a press release didn’t exist. The content readers found in their daily newspaper or heard over the air on their RCA radios came from journalists doing “shoe-leather” reporting, hitting the streets with steno pads and press passes, determined to get the scoop.

That began to change in the 1910s and 1920s with the advent of the field known as public relations. Early practitioners like Ivy Lee and Edward Bernays pioneered tactics like crisis communication and publicity via the media. As more and more corporate and public sector clients began to use tools like the press release, the idea of seeding the media with pre-packaged news items – professionally written, accurately worded, and unfailingly positive for their originators – became common practice.

Dating back to at least the 1920s, Baylor University embraced the notion of writing news items for distribution to the media outlets available around the country. Beginning with the University News Service and continuing to the present as the division of Marketing and Communications, skilled wordsmiths began writing stories and announcements that would expand the world’s awareness of the goings-on at the world’s oldest (and largest) Baptist university.

For many years, the Texas Collection kept vertical files of the press releases generated by the university, from the 1920s to the present. In 2011, the Digitization Projects Group began the process of digitizing these important original sources. Texas Collection staff and students spent hours pulling the press releases from their various holdings and condensing them into almost 50 bankers boxes. After months of slow but steady progress, a concentrated effort to finally put the press releases into chronological order was begun two weeks ago.

After 500 combined staff and student hours were spent on the project, the press releases have been sorted into chronological order and duplicates removed. Our rough estimate is that some 60,000+ pages of press releases will be digitized and placed online as part of a fully searchable collection documenting events major and minor in the history of the university.

Below are some photos of the painstaking process of sifting through more than 120,000 pages of documents that overtook the Riley Digitization Center in the past month. (The additional 60,000 pages were duplicates removed before scanning begins.) As digitization gets underway, we’ll update you on progress towards getting these invaluable resources online for everyone to access via the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections.

In addition to staffers Darryl Stuhr, Allyson Riley and myself, the project received excellent efforts from a bevy of student workers:

  • Sarah Minott
  • Holly Tapley
  • Sierra Wilson
  • Leslie Zapata
  • Sannya Salim
  • Kaitlin Pleshko
  • Liz Haddad
  • Brooke Farmer
  • Macy Floyd
  • Jilli Floyd

Getting to Know the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project (BGMRP)

One of our bigger projects here at the Digitization Projects Group is the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project (BGMRP). Established in 2008, it seeks to preserve America’s proud tradition of black gospel music through digitization, access, and new research.

From the earliest days of the project, we established a blog for interested parties to track our progress. Now, as part of our consolidated outreach efforts around the DPG’s various digital projects, we’re excited to announce the addition of the BGMRP blog’s content into this blog. Future updates on the BGMRP will be made via the Digital Collections blog, while users who frequented the old site will be encouraged to keep up with the project here as well.

Below is the introductory post from the previous BGMRP blog, as well as information on some neat national publicity the project has experienced in the past few years. We’ll have more information on the BGMRP’s future as we move forward, and we encourage you to get involved with this unique, important project in any way you can. America’s gospel tradition is definitely something to sing about – and preserve for generations to come.

Purpose of the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project (BGMRP)

The ultimate goal of the project is to preserve and store a digital copy of the audio long term, and to provide standards-based discovery tools through an online interface into a full catalog of materials, along with samples of all tracks from the audio archive.

The BGMRP identifies, acquires, preserves, records and catalogues mainly 78s, 45s, LPs, and the various tape formats issued in the U.S and abroad during the 1945-1970 time period. However, the project will also digitally preserve any ephemera that may be of use to scholars, including PR photos, press packets, interviews, photographs and sheet music.
As work on the BGMRP progresses, we will use this blog to present information such as:

  • Updates on the status of the collection, including updated stats, information on newly received collections/loaned materials, etc.;
  • Notes from Tony Tadey and Stephen Bolech, our audio engineers, on the technical side of digitizing these often fragile materials;
  • Photos of items received, BGMRP staff at work, and much more;
  • Information for collectors, including how to loan/donate to the BGRMP;
  • A system for adding your comments; and
  • A forum where gospel enthusiasts can exchange information, give us tips on sources for materials, reminisce about their favorite gospel memories, and more.

Check back often for more posts, and please email us at librarywebmaster@baylor.edu with questions, comments, or things you think might make this blog more useful.

Thank you for your interest in the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project. You can help us ensure the project’s success by becoming involved and spreading the word, so please feel free to pass along our URLs to one and all. You never know – someone you tell about the BGMRP may be the contact we need to preserve an irreplaceable piece of American cultural history!

Publicity for the BGMRP
Some recent stories involving the BGMRP have been mentioned in the press. Check out more information at these links!

Civil Rights on the Flipside: Baylor Press Release.

“A Life’s Work” – a documentary about “people engaged with projects they may not complete in their lifetime”: Robert Darden and the BGMRP

To See More Posts on the BGMRP
Click on “Black Gospel Music Restoration Project” in the categories list to the right, or click “BGMRP” in the tags below.