“And On Your Right Is One Of Only Five Cruse Large-Format Scanners In Texas”: Tips From the Tour-Guiding Trenches

If this picture were a movie title, it would be The Men Who Stare at George W. Truett: Former U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards receives a demo from Eric Ames and Darryl Stuhr during a tour of the RDC.

Since opening our doors in October 2008, the Riley Digitization Center has hosted dozens of groups for tours, demos, information sessions, mingling, and general collegial carousing. Baylor presidents, regents, library fellows, donors, academics, provosts from other universities, students (graduate and undergraduate), former congressmen, football players – the list is almost endless.

Over the course of five years we’ve learned a great deal about what makes for a good tour, from knowing your audience to staging the scene and providing informative handouts. Below, we’ve outlined some tips for other digitization and archival colleagues who might find yourselves hosting a get-together.

Tip One: Know Your Audience

What’s true for marketing is true for tours: know whom you’ll be addressing before they arrive. That means going beyond the basics (how many? are they affiliated with a particular group? any special interests?) and into advanced work like inquiring after any special considerations regarding physical access, past giving habits or other philanthropic work, hobbies, political affiliations, even whether they recently went on a trip somewhere special (that happens to relate to items from one of your collections!).

If you suspect the tour may lead to a possible gift or other collaboration, be sure to do some research into what kinds of parameters they may have set on past contributions. For example, if you suspect a potential donor may be interested in providing funds to support an ongoing project, be sure to have plenty of examples from that collection available for perusal and schedule some time for in-depth conversation as part of the tour. It also pays to have someone available on your tour team with expertise in your visitor’s interest area. This person can serve as a confidante or intermediary during the tour and help guide conversations toward ways they can help support the project.

Tip Two: Set the Stage

What do selling a house, putting on a theatrical production and providing a tour of a digitization center have in common? They all require attention to appropriate staging. Odds are, your visitors have never been in a place like this before, so it’s up to you to make them feel comfortable and welcome in a situation that may be far outside their comfort zones.

As much as possible, arrange your work area to provide plenty of room for people to move about comfortably, and be sure to do the little things like tiding up a workstation or vacuuming the floors. Be sure doors are unlocked (unless they’re keeping a restricted area off-limits for the tour) and replace any burned-out light bulbs. Wash windows, water the plants – the usual things we do right before an in-law or realtor comes calling.

When it’s time to choose physical items to display, look for eye-catching examples that are safe to be handled by staff as well as visitors. Visitors love to hold items you’re digitizing, so only put things out for display that won’t be negatively impacted if someone asks to hold them. It also pays to have a “show-stopper” piece to display at some point during the tour. Superlatives like, “oldest,” “biggest,” “only one in the world” and “rarest” are always attention-grabbers and can revive flagging interest (if the tour has been going on a for awhile) or seal the deal when it comes time to make “the ask.”

Tip Three: Practice Makes Perfect

Maybe you only give one tour a year. Maybe you’re brushing the dog and currying the pony once a week. Either way, it pays to practice what you’ll be presenting to your visitors in advance. Our team has done the standard “nickel tour” of the RDC so many times we can probably do it in our sleep, but we always try to get together beforehand and discuss anything that might be new, different or challenging about that day’s tour. High-level visitors – a major donor, the Board of Regents, the Boss (our dean, not Bruce Springsteen) – warrant more practice time, of course, but even if you can only carve out five minutes to get together beforehand, it will pay off.

Tip Four: The Little Things That Thrill

After you’ve done your groundwork, staged your office and practiced the spiel, true success on a tour can come down to the use of some “small touches” that really speak to your audience. Some of the things we’ve seen make a big impact include:

–       Creating a sign to welcome the group by name. Nothing excites a tour group quite the same as a sign that says, “Welcome to the Riley Digitization Center, Cat Fancy Magazine Subscribers of Central Texas!”

–       Wear a tie (or a coat, or a jacket, or all three). Even if your usual workaday attire involves an ironic t-shirt and black Converse tennis shoes, take the time to spruce yourself up for a tour. They’ll notice if the team is all wearing their Sunday best – and, alternately, they’ll notice the one guy that didn’t get the memo, so don’t be “that guy.”

–       Have a sense of humor. I can think of only a couple of tours where the visitors and subject matter were so serious that a joke or two would have felt out of place. Most people love a good laugh, even if it’s at a corny “because we’re a Baptist university we save these files ‘forever and ever, amen’” kind of joke. Often, you’ll find a group has its own corporate sense of humor, and tapping into it can lead to a bond that would be missed otherwise.

–       Wear your nametag. Even if there’s only one of you. People need reminders.

–       Be flexible. Some people get really hung up/excited about one particular piece of equipment or want to know more about one project at the expense of spending more time looking at something else. This is okay. In fact, it can be helpful to explore those interests further, as it may lead to gifts, loans or other support.

–       Prepare your handouts. Flyers, posters, trinkets, whatever: people love a takeaway, and if it happens to provide them with the URL for your digital collections or your Facebook page, all the better.

–       Have a good anecdote or fact ready at all times. Know the stories hiding in your collections and be ready to tell them when one of your visitors uses a key word that can serve as a segue. For instance, any time someone says the words “my grandfather went to Baylor,” I can take them to a computer, open the Baylor University Lariat collection and do a keyword search for their grandfather’s name, and more often than not, he’ll be there.

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These are just a few things to keep in mind the next time someone takes time out of their schedules to come learn more about what you do. Remember: you’re doing them a favor, but they’re doing you one, too. Anyone who walks in your door could turn into your next major donor, advocate or employee, so give them plenty of reasons to remember their visit fondly.

The Brazos River: Impacting Life in Waco, Scholarship at Baylor

In support of our colleagues at The Texas Collection and their upcoming event, The Brazos River and the Baylor Achives, we’re reposting a link from last year that shows the awesome power of the Brazos River in flood stage from 1908. We encourage you all to attend this excellent event next week, and don’t forget to check out The Texas Collection’s web site for more information!

Hidden In Plain Sight: A Springtime Brazos Flood, 1908
(Originally posted July 26, 2012)

The Brazos River at flood stage, 1908
(Click to enlarge)

For residents of early twentieth-century Waco, the Brazos River was a study in contrasts. It provided a reliable source of potable water for myriad daily uses, but its temperamental nature made it prone to violent floods that damaged property and took lives. The Brazos could be both savior and destroyer, a source of community pride – embodied in the suspension bridge built across it in the 1870s that still stands today – and of widespread destruction.

This panoramic view of the Brazos in flood stage was captured on May 24th, 1908. It is actually a series of five individual photos that were printed and pasted together onto a cardboard backing to create the appearance of a single, panoramic photograph. That approach accounts for the somewhat distorted and disjointed nature of the image when viewed as a whole. But owing to the technology available at the time, it is an effective way to capture a stunning view: the Brazos River at a flood stage level of 36 ft. 8 in. – the “highest ever recorded” according to a note written on the print.

Notes on the print also reveal the image was captured by a photographer from The Kodak Place who mounted the steps to the top of the Crow Brothers Tower to capture the scene. The Crow Brothers were long-time Waco launderers who had taken up residence in the former courthouse at 2nd and Franklin Avenue.

The scene captured by our anonymous photographer on May 24th is one of great devastation. The focal point of the photo is the river itself: a shining path stretching the entire length of the scene, it is easy to note how the Brazos has surmounted its banks and intruded into the city itself, especially east Waco along Elm Street. This low-lying region of the city contained a mix of industrial and residential buildings in 1908, much as it does today. Wacoans unlucky enough to find their dwellings on this side of the river repeatedly bore the brunt of the destruction left behind after one of the Brazos’ many floods.

A closer look at the various bridges across the river give some context for just how high the river had risen on this particular date. First up (from left to right in the photo) is the “iron” bridge (today’s Washington Street bridge), built less than a decade prior to the date of this photograph.

Washington street / “iron” bridge

Next is the suspension bridge, a sight familiar to residents of Waco since the 1870s. Although its facade was covered with stucco and “updated” in the 1970s as part of the American bicentennial celebration, its iconic towers and unsupported span are instantly recognizable. Also visible in this photo are ads on the bridge’s downtown side for the Miller-Cross Company and the Sanger Bros. dry goods and clothing store.

The suspension bridge

Finally, this view of two railroad trestles a bit further down the river shows two important links in the city’s commercial viability being seriously threatened by critically high water levels.

Railroad trestles

The photo below – of another Brazos River flood, this one in December 1913 – gives us a closer look at flood waters lapping the bottom of a railroad trestle as dozens of spectators risk being swept away for a chance at a first-hand perspective. Water levels for this flood were nearly identical to those from the 1908 flood pictured in the panorama above.

Spectators line a railroad trestle to view the flooded Brazos River, 1913

While nature’s destructive power is the central player in this panorama, it also bristles with small details about a prosperous Texas town at the dawn of the twentieth century. Scanning the image, we see the names of local businesses on buildings, signs and fences, including:

  • The Morning Star Lunch Room
  • Pippin & Fuston, Horses and Mules
  • T.J. Cunningham
  • Louis Lipshitz (A family name associated with a present-day business located on Elm Avenue)
  • Riverside Livery Stable
  • D. June Machinery Co.
  • Industrial Cotton Oil Co.

Advertisements for Miller High Life beer, Lawrence Barrett and Mild Havana Cigars and the National Biscuit Company (now known as Nabisco) can also be spotted in the image.

Lastly, in the center foreground of the image is a single railcar sitting on a siding. It bears the name “Missouri Kansas and Texas,” the well-known “Katy” railroad with a major presence in Waco for decades.

An M-K-T boxcar on siding

While the obvious occasion of this series of photos was the record-breaking flood, the wealth of detail available to modern viewers helps us construct a better mental image of what Waco looked like on a late spring day during one of its most productive decades. And though the Brazos would continue to flood until engineers built a series of dams decades later, the people of Waco continued to rebuild after each one, proving their tenacity in the face of great difficulty.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this closer look at another of the panoramic treasures from the holdings of the Texas Collection. There are dozens of large format photos in the collection, with more being digitized and added online regularly, so be sure and check out http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu for more great photos.

Images enhanced for online presentation. Digitized from original prints housed in the photographic holdings of the Texas Collection. Visit The Texas Collection online at http://www.baylor.edu/lib/texas for more priceless Texana.

A Club for Every Interest: The 1906 “Round-Up”

One of the great joys of my job as Curator of Digital Collections is the opportunity I get to go in-depth with the materials we host as part of the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections. They are drawn from every special collection library on campus, and they are filled with hidden treasures both revelatory and mundane – glimpses of a time long past, a name forgotten, or an event as contemporary as last week.

While working to enhance the metadata for the Baylor University Annuals (The Round Up) Collection, I came across some interesting photos of student groups in the 1906 edition. Baylor has a long history of student groups both high-minded (the Philomathesian Society, the Erisophian Society, the Mission Band) and decidedly irreverent (the NoZe Brotherhood), but the clubs found in this volume run the gamut from the temporary to the absurd. And what better time to showcase them than the week before our students go on Spring Break, a time of relaxation and revelry where anything can happen – and anyone can form a group that may find its way to the pages of the campus yearbook!

The West Texas Club from the 1906 “Round-Up.” Click to enlarge. (Image via the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections, courtesy The Texas Collection)

West Texas Club

Embracing their home region’s stereotypical mode of dress (and even throwing in a six-shooter or two for good measure), the West Texas Club was a co-ed celebration of all this Western. While this group was only a generation or so removed from the “closing of the West” that took place over the last decade of the 19th century, they certainly helped keep its spirit alive.

The “10 Club” from the 1906 “Round-Up.” Click to enlarge. (Image via the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections, courtesy The Texas Collection.)

“10 Club”

As straight-forward as it gets, this club of 10 Baylor men is a dapper assembly.

The Gethere Club from the 1906 “Round-Up.” Click to enlarge. (Image via the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections, courtesy The Texas Collection.)

Gethere Club

One of the more interesting elements of the clubs of the early 20th century is their willingness to coin new words or adopt unique spellings for their group’s name. This co-ed group created a portmanteau of the phrase “get there” and became the Gethere Club. This approach is not without its perils, however: on the page preceding this image, the club is listed as the “Gethera Club,” an equally made-up but less logical moniker that proves sometimes a unique spelling is more trouble than it’s worth. They do receive bonus points, however, for disguising the male group members in this photo as “bon bons” to be delivered to Georgia Burleson (G.B.) Hall.

The Fat Men’s Club from the 1906 “Round-Up.” Click to enlarge. (Image via the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections, courtesy The Texas Collection)

Fat Men’s Club

“Strive above all things to become fat and handsome.” Advice most college students – men and women alike – would be hesitant to embrace on campus nowadays, but a credo thought important enough to justify the creation of a group dedicated to celebrating the more full-figured among the student body of 1906.

The T.A.F. Club from the 1906 “Round-Up.” Click to enlarge. (Image via the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections, courtesy The Texas Collection)

T.A.F. Club

Another in the long line of unexplained acronym-based clubs, the girls of T.A.F. get the award for Best Use of a Prop Ladder in a Group Photo.

The Banana Club from the 1906 “Round-Up.” Click to enlarge. (Image via the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections, courtesy The Texas Collection)

Banana Club

Bananas are inherently funny. For decades they have served as comedic props, from the use of their peels as implements to inflict a fall or the absurdity of placing a banana in one’s ear while pretending it’s perfectly normal, the comedically inclined among us have long embraced them to make people laugh. However, these gentlemen took their appreciation of the peel-able fruit to a new level when they formed a club devoted to the object of “increas[ing] the banana trade.” Their password – “Give me a banana” – is absurd simplicity at its finest.

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As you’re perusing our campus yearbooks in your own research, keep an eye out for any interesting, unique, or downright bizarre clubs and shoot us an email with your favorites!

The 1906 Round-Up is available online via the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections, digitized from the original held by The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, Texas. For more information on materials available at The Texas Collection, visit www.baylor.edu/lib/texas or email them at txcoll@baylor.edu.