Guest Post: The Library of Congress National Recording Preservation Plan by Stephen Bolech

This week’s post comes courtesy our Audiovisual Digitization Specialist, Stephen Bolech. In his work to save the recorded materials in Baylor’s collections, Stephen has kept up to speed on standards and practices in the field. This post gives information on one of the most important, recent publications from the Library of Congress. Take it away, Stephen!

I know Eric has mentioned me on this blog before, but since I’m writing a guest post, I thought I would officially introduce myself.  I am Stephen Bolech, the Audiovisual Digitization Specialist here in the Digital Projects Group.  As my title suggests, I handle all in-house digitization of audio and video materials for Baylor University.  That includes materials in the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project; the George W. Truett sermon discs; audio and video from The Texas Collection, the Baylor University Institute for Oral History, and the Crouch Music and Fine Arts Library; and just about any other A/V that needs digitization.

I wanted to bring to our readers’ attention a document released in February 2013 by the National Recording Preservation Board.  You’ll have to bear with me here, because there are several entities and names that differ by essentially one word.

First a little history: back in 2000, Congress passed the National Recording Preservation Act, which created the National Recording Preservation Board, the National Recording Registry, and the National Recording Preservation Foundation.  The Board was tasked with selecting recordings for inclusion in the Registry, and also with developing and implementing a national plan to safeguard our nation’s recorded sound heritage.  “The Library of Congress National Recording Preservation Plan” is the result of this charge.

Cover, “The Library of Congress National Recording Preservation Plan”

The Board estimates the astounding figure of 46 million sound recordings held in our libraries, archives, and museums, with many more in the hands of record companies, artists, broadcasters, and collectors.  These sound recordings are an important part of our cultural heritage, and many of them are in danger of being lost forever, whether through degradation or obsolescence.  The Plan is a 78-page document that seeks to outline how to “implement a comprehensive national sound recording preservation program,” part of the mandate given in the National Recording Preservation Act.  Congress also indicated that greater access is the goal of this preservation effort: “The Librarian shall carry out activities to make sound recordings included in the National Recording Registry more broadly accessible for research and educational purposes…”

To these ends the National Recording Preservation Plan identifies four broad categories of recommendations: preservation infrastructure, preservation strategies, access challenges, and long-term national preservation and access strategies.  In total the Plan sets forth 32 specific recommendations related to these areas.  I encourage you to read the Plan, and think about what roles your institution should play in implementing these recommendations.  The National Recording Preservation Board cannot preserve our nation’s recorded sound for us, but they have given us many actionable steps so that we can all play our part in this important effort.

For more information, download a PDF of the Plan at http://www.loc.gov/rr/record/nrpb/PLAN%20pdf.pdf or visit the National Recording Preservation Board website at  http://www.loc.gov/rr/record/nrpb/

Stephen Bolech is the Audiovisual Digitization Specialist with Baylor’s Digital Projects Group. He can be reached via email at stephen_bolech@baylor.edu.

Let’s Get To Know One Another, Shall We?

Inset of photo taken at undated meeting of IOOF in Austin, Texas. See the full image here.  Image courtesy the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections, from an original held by The Texas Collection.

Thanks to a hallway conversation with our new metadata librarian, Kara Scott, I found out today that we have a couple of loyal readers from the University of Richmond. And that got me to thinking: out here in Waco, Texas, we’re excited to put new content into the realm of digital collections scholarship, but so often we don’t know much about the people who are actually reading and using our resources. So I think it’s high time we remedy that with a good old-fashioned poll! We hope you’ll take a moment to answer these questions so we can continue to provide quality content geared to the needs and interests of our readers. Let’s get started!

We really appreciate you taking the time to let us know more about yourselves. We will use your feedback to keep improving our blog, finding new ways to tailor our content to your interests, and basically continue taking over the digital collections blogging corner of the Internet, one post at a time. Thanks for joining us on this journey!

The DPG will not share your information with anyone. It will be used solely for our internal planning and evaluative purposes. If anyone calls you during dinner on a Thursday and says they got your information from us, it’s a scam. Hang up and continue enjoying your pasta.

“There’s No Hiding Place Down Here” – Confronting the Challenging Content in Our Collections

Inset from 1980 Soviet anti-American propaganda poster entitled “Svoboda po Amerikanski,” (“Freedom the American Way”) from the Keston Digital Archive. The poster accuses the American system of suppressing freedom of speech (“opinion”) by bribing the judicial system, represented by the dollar signs in the magistrate’s eyes.

The Digital Projects Group serves as the central source for digitizing materials from Baylor’s special collections libraries and other on-campus institutions. This puts us in the unique – and sometimes difficult – position of passing materials through our workflow that contain challenging and, occasionally, blatantly offensive content. In many instances, that content passes through the hands of our student workers and graduate assistants. And if these materials aren’t placed in their proper context, or if there are no opportunities for students to talk about the emotions and thoughts they experience when handling them, it can add an unwanted layer of discomfort and awkwardness to our work.

This potential challenge is a greater likelihood in some collections than others. You’re much less likely to see negative stereotyping or racially insensitive materials in a collection of famous Baptist sermons than you would be in a set of anti-semitic brochures collected for decades by a professor in the Department of Church-State Studies. But even seemingly innocuous collections can harbor unpleasant glimpses of the past, so it’s important to have a process in place to help our student workers – and, in some cases our researchers – process what they’re finding in our digital collections.

The Trouble With Perspective

I once heard it said that people’s historical perspective begins on the day they’re aware of their own uniqueness. In other words, it’s impossible for us to completely embrace the complex blend of social conventions, viewpoints, events and cultural touchstones that existed before we were born, as we all instinctively judge the present through the lens of how it developed from the time of our childhood up to the present day. We can intellectually grasp a concept – “People once thought illness was caused by vapors, not germs! Isn’t that funny!” – but it can be difficult to fully appreciate the internal motivations of events carried out and documented by people who lived in the past.

For a simple test of what I’m talking about, take a look at the following image and see what comes to mind.

If you were alive and aware of the world in 1963, you’ll immediately recognize this as a still from the Zapruder film, one of the most famous artifacts attached to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. But for many 19-year-old undergraduate students, this may as well be a vignette from the Bayeux Tapestry for all the relevance it has on their daily life – at least as far as they’re concerned. However, if you show them an image like this …

… their perspective changes radically. The September 11, 2001 attacks occurred during their lifetime, and while they may only have been in elementary school at the time, they can tell you exactly what was happening the day they saw the Twin Towers fall, much as a Baby Boomer can pinpoint their location on the day Kennedy was shot.

The challenge of perspective is difficult enough to address with a subject as complex and nuanced as a presidential assassination or America’s worst terrorist attack, and those are events that happened within the span of living memory. But what does it look like when our students face materials created more than a half-century before their parents were born?

Universally Offensive?

A surprising source of challenging content is our Frances G. Spencer Collection of American Popular Sheet Music. While the entire collection contains some 28,000 pieces, the initial offerings digitized and placed online were chosen from a list of Mrs. Spencer’s own subject headings. They examine a variety of topics, but among the most important are depictions of race and cultural identity in turn-of-the-19th-century America. The original subset was dubbed The American Melting Pot Collection.

The images contain equal opportunities for offending almost every possible ethnic and racial identity group in the country. Some titles are patently offensive by modern standards.

Cover of “Chung Lo: A Chinese Monkey Doodle” sheet music, 1909

Others are more subtle in their negative depictions.

Cover of “Minnie-Ha-Ha Donohue, An Irish-Indian Love Song” sheet music, 1908

Still others represent inaccurate or fictionalized interpretations of groups that lacked adequate means of expressing their own cultural identities in a medium like popular piano sheet music. In this piece, a woman with a bad reputation (a “good for nothing”) finds redemption by serving as a nurse during World War I.

Cover of “The Little Good For Nothing’s Good For Something After All” sheet music, 1918

Opportunities to Educate, Find Context

When our students and researchers come across images like these, it can be a shock to them, especially to college students who have grown up in an age of multicultural awareness and who are unused to seeing blatant racism on casual display in popular culture. In these cases, we take time to explain to them that while the material they’ve encountered may be discomforting or difficult to address, it is nonetheless a part of the historical record, and pretending it doesn’t exist will not magically negate it. Instead, we choose to present an uncensored window into our collections, allowing researchers and scholars the chance to assess each piece’s impact on our understanding of history without selectively “cherry-picking” only the materials that are safe and non-offensive.

In the handful of occasions when our students have approached us with material they find offensive, we have been quick to have honest, open discussions with them about their feelings and why we are making such materials a part of our digital collections. And in each case, they have seen the importance of including the offending piece. In fact, they often say something to this effect: “It happened in the past, and we can’t pretend it didn’t just by choosing not to scan it. We need to give people a chance to see history as it was so we can see how much things have changed for the better.”

When I hear reactions like that from students in their late teens and early twenties, it gives me great hope that we are educating a generation of scholars that sees archival resources for what they are: a collection of viewpoints, set in a fixed medium for preservation and use by future generations, by no means all-encompassing of every voice, but valuable simply for having been saved.

The Historical Context Statement appears on collections that may contain potentially sensitive materials.

For the general public that accesses our collections, they may encounter wording on a collection’s landing page that spells out our Historical Context Statement. This paragraph, drafted by DPG staff and vetted all the way to the top of the university’s administrative structure, notifies users that materials they are about to view may be difficult to experience due to their content, but should be taken as examples of the time, cultures and mores that produced them. They are also informed that Baylor University “does not endorse the views expressed in such materials.”

***

The documentary evidence of our cultural heritage contains many wonderful treasures. Personal reflections, institutional histories, official publications and unpublished manuscripts all offer insight into the minds and souls of the people who created them. And while researchers may encounter materials that challenge their contemporary values and beliefs, the richness of the subject matter – positive and negative – is an essential element to understanding what it means to be human.

On A (Little Blue Bird’s) Wing and a Prayer: Announcing the @GWTruettSermons Twitter Account!

This is the third and final installment in a special three-part blog series on the project to digitize and present online the final sermons of George W. Truett (1867-1944), noted pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas and namesake of Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary. Read Part I here and Part II here.

Over the past two weeks, we’ve seen how technology and theology worked hand-in-hand to deliver the sermons of George W. Truett to thousands of Americans in the early 1940s. The process of creating transcription disk-based recordings of his live church sessions, shipping them to a 50,000 watt “border blaster” radio station and playing them over the air a week after their original delivery was a state-of-the-art approach in 1941. Truett and his broadcast partners understood the powerful ability of radio to transmit his message to a vastly larger audience than could be accommodated at First Baptist Church of Dallas’ sanctuary, and it is impossible to gauge the impact those sermons had on the listeners who tuned in on Sunday evenings at 9:30 for three years from 1941-1943.

Today, we’re excited to announce a decidedly 21st century update of this process with the launch of our first-ever specialized Twitter account!

Starting today, you can follow @GWTruettSermons for twice-weekly messages taken directly from the George W. Truett Sermons Collection. On Tuesdays and Thursdays each week, you will receive tweets containing transcribed quotes from Truett’s sermons found in our collection, and with many, an accompanying link will give you access directly to that item for your further examination.

Our first Tweet, sent on August 7, 2013. Many more to come!

If you’re a Twitter user, we’d love for you to follow us. If you’re not, this could be just the uplifting, historically intriguing account that makes signing up worth it. We promise not to turn this account into a promotional source for the Digital Collections; it will remain solely dedicated to delivering Truett’s words to your social media consumption device of choice. And with more than 80 total sermons to distribute, there’s no shortage of material to keep this account freshly updated for a long time to come.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this special three-part blog series on the George W. Truett Sermons Collection. We’re excited to see what new directions may come from creating this exciting new resource, and we look forward to hearing from you, our readers, about ways the collection has been of help to you in your personal, scholarly or spiritual research. Drop us a line at digitalcollectionsinfo@baylor.edu or feel free to retweet or direct message us on Twitter at @GWTruettSermons.

Bonus Content: Suggested Twitter Hashtags

When you’re retweeting the messages from this collection, feel free to use any of these hashtags – or create your own!

#TruettSermons

#BaylorDigitalCollections

#GWTruett

#sermoninsight

#uplifting

#makesyouthink

#Baylor

The Power Behind the Call: Examining the Rhetorical and Presentation Styles of G.W. Truett’s Sermons

This is the second installment in a special three-part blog series on the project to digitize and present online the final sermons of George W. Truett (1867-1944), noted pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas and namesake of Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary. Read the previous installment here

The human voice is a powerful medium, surpassing the printed word in its ability to bestir, to convince, to cajole and – in the case of a pastor’s words to his congregation – to save. In a preliterate society the power of speech was the sole means of conveying an idea, rousing a people or sending along the latest gossip. And even after humans gained the skills to write down our thoughts via print and share them with others who spoke the same language, we find ourselves captivated, spellbound by someone with an ability to spin ideas from spoken syllables, to offer hope by the combination of his mind, his tongue and his vocal chords.

Perhaps that’s why there is such power in the recorded sermons of George W. Truett. It’s true that you can get the gist of his message by reading a transcript, either from our digital collection or in one of the many publications that cited his words. But nothing can replace the impact, the instinctive reaction that comes with listening to them, as clear as the day they were recorded over 70 years ago. Truett’s voice may occasionally waver, his cadence and phraseology may sound distinctly Southern and turn-of-the-19th-century, but when he infuses even a simple phrase or concept with the force of his well-honed speaking voice, it assumes an authority that can only come from a speaker who is supremely confident in what he has to say.

Building a Successful Sermon

Now that we’ve loaded approximately one-third of the sermons in the G.W. Truett Sermons Collection, a pattern has begun to emerge in the items I’ve encountered to date. While the content of each sermon is unique – covering everything from the Lord’s Prayer to Old Testament prophets and the application of contemporary world events with those experienced by the ancient Hebrews – the pattern of Truett’s delivery follows a noticeable pattern.

  • Opening/Announcement
  • Scripture reading
  • Main point one
  • Side point
  • Anecdote
  • Main point two
  • Anecdote
  • Main point three
  • Altar call
  • Dismissal/Hymn sing-out (occasionally)

It is tempting to label this approach as formulaic, but one must recall that Truett had been preaching for the better part of four decades by the time of these sermons’ delivery in 1941, so to a certain extent they must have come almost by second nature. In fact, while googling a number of passages delivered by Truett in this sermons, I came across several nearly word-for-word matches cited in books published in the early twentieth century. Why? Because they contained transcripts of sermons Truett had delivered as far back as 1917, the content of which was delivered almost verbatim in the 1940s. That makes his 1941 versions seem more like fond reminiscences of a life spent delivering God’s Word and less like rote repetition of a memorized formula.

Portrait of George W. Truett from the narthex of Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University.

Recurring Themes, Surprising Candor

In today’s megachurch society, with its emphasis on the “gospel of prosperity” and the myriad interpretations of what it means to be a Christian, listening to G.W. Truett’s firebrand Baptist delivery can be an eye-opening experience. He makes no bones about the foundation for his entire ministry:

Let me begin my message today by saying, quite personally, that for 40-odd years it has been my sacred privilege to preach from this pulpit. And through all these long years, I have had one theme, and that theme has been Christ. No other theme in all the world would challenge the attendance and the attention of men and women and young people for long, long years, except this theme: Christ. [1]

Listen to audio of this passage

His major recurring theme, regardless the superficial theme of a particular sermon, is always the importance and urgency of bringing souls to Christ. Truett’s preaching carries a sense of impending doom for the unsaved, as one would expect from a favorite uncle or trusted neighbor who has your best interests at heart but has been unable to win you to his cause just yet. It is easy to see a major force behind his constant urging: the ongoing war in Europe, which would come to be called World War II and into which Truett would watch his country plunge in early December, 1941.

As our contemporary culture has moved further and further into a “you believe what you believe, I’ll believe what I believe and we’ll both be equally right” mindset, Truett’s candor regarding the way to salvation can strike modern listeners as shockingly exclusionary, even cliquish.

Salvation is not by a church, no matter what church. Greatly important as is the church as an institution, salvation is not by a church. All the churches in Christendom put together could not, in a million years, give the new birth to some soul wrong with God. Salvation is not by a church, nor by an ordinance, nor by a so-called sacrament, nor by some ritual – however imposing and impressive it may be – nor by some ceremony, nor by a creed, nor by a confession. Salvation, spiritual salvation for humanity, is by a person, and that person is Christ. Mark how he calls to us: “No man cometh unto the Father but by Me. I am the way, the truth and the life; I am the door. By me, if any man enter in, he shall be saved. He that climbeth some of the way is a thief and a robber.” [2]

Listen to audio of this passage

Chances are you have heard the last half of this appeal (“I am the way, the truth and the life …”) but it is Truett’s dismissal of any other supposed road to salvation that may be hard for contemporary Christians to swallow.

The language Truett uses to describe life in the early 1940s may also surprise first-time users of the sermons. Americans today are hyper-aware of the words they use to describe people, concepts and events. For someone who has been raised to speak as neutrally and with as little opportunity to offend as possible, it may come as a shock to hear Dr. Truett refer to a boy with physical handicaps as “crippled.” Likewise, hearing him refer to someone as “dumb” or non-Christians as “heathens” may make contemporary listeners uncomfortable.

As with all of the materials in our collections, we urge our users to place these materials in their proper historical context. Truett was a man born just two years after the end of the American Civil War, educated and raised during the “Gilded Age” and matured during the rapid societal changes of the early 1900s. His language reflects his roots, his upbringing and his culture in the same way that today’s Americans are molded by the complex milieu of our societal surroundings. Users should be mindful that Truett’s language and style of delivery – including charming ways of pronouncing words like “parliament” (“pah-lee-ahh-ment”) and “Joshua” (“jaw-shoo-way”) – are reflective of the time and place when they were delivered.

Other notable features of Truett’s style include a fondness for alliteration, as evidenced in this passage from his sermon of June 22, 1941:

And what wonders can be done, sometimes with just one sentence. Many a life has been checked, challenged, changed by one sentence. You may have spoken it – you probably have.

Listen to audio of this passage

Also making an appearance in this sentence is another of Truett’s rhetorical devices, namely, the use of three descriptors or examples to drive home a point. Truett seems to value the well-established efficacy of the concept of the “magic in threes” principle. Human brains are wired to respond more positively and effectively to a series of things that is odd in number, and three seems to be the most effective of all. An example of this, from the same sermon:

Here’s a talent we can use day or night, anywhere in the world we go, at any time: the talent of prayer. [3]

Listen to audio of this passage

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This is just a cursory look at the style and substance of Truett’s sermons, of course, and we welcome your in-depth examinations, comments and cross-postings as you get deeper into the collection. If you find a favorite passage or an insight you think is too good not to share, we’d love to see your tweets, Facebook posts or blog links. Send us a message at digitalcollectionsinfo@baylor.edu or like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/baylordigitalcollections to continue the conversation!

 

Works Cited

[1] From the sermon “Philip at Samaria.” Delivered March 16, 1941. http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu/cdm/ref/collection/fa-gwt/id/199

[2] From the sermon “What Think Ye of God?” Delivered April 8, 1941.
http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu/cdm/ref/collection/fa-gwt/id/221

[3] From the sermon “The Gifts of God.” Delivered June 22, 1941.
http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu/cdm/ref/collection/fa-gwt/id/289