Reflecting on 10 Years in Leadership: A DPG Exit Interview with Dean of Libraries Pattie Orr

Dean of Libraries/Vice President for Information Technology Services Pattie Orr. Photographed in Moody Memorial Library on May 9, 2017 by Carlye Thornton, BU Marketing Communications.

When I sat down this past March with Dean of Libraries and Vice President for Information Technology Services Pattie Orr, we were in her office in Moody Memorial Library, surrounded by ten years’ worth of mementos both personal and professional. A construction helmet from the ceremonial groundbreaking for McLane Stadium. A print of a sheet music cover from the 19th century. Books written by or about Baylor luminaries. And on the table before us one of her ever-present cups of iced green tea, fresh and cold from the upstairs Starbucks location that she helped shepherd from idea to reality in 2011.

The purpose of our visit was to document Dean Orr’s memories of the Digital Projects Group on the eve of her upcoming retirement. After a decade of service to the libraries and ITS, Dean Orr will retire from Baylor on May 31. Pattie likes to joke that she’s leaving at 5:00 PM on that day, but her husband Steve, who preceded her in retirement two years ago, likes to say it won’t be a moment longer than 5:00:01. Maybe that’s because he’s excited for her to join him in the post-workaday world, or maybe it’s because he knows she’s accomplished so many big things during her tenure that he’s afraid she’ll find one last thing to do – which could lead to another, and another and a further delaying of her well-deserved time off. Either way, you get the sense he’s not taking any chances, hence the very specific timestamp for her final day’s work as dean.

Day One: A Chance Encounter, A Longtime Partner

Darryl Stuhr (from left), Prof. Robert Darden and Pattie at an event in Washington, D.C. promoting the BGMRP, 2016. Prof. Darden would be one of Pattie’s earliest and most dedicated faculty supporters.

I asked Dean Orr to relay her first memory of the DPG, the group that has grown under her leadership to oversee a digital collection of more than 400,000 items, a suite filled with sophisticated digitization equipment and a flagship project – the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project or BGMRP – that is now part of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History & Culture. And it seems fitting somehow that her first memory involves meeting the BGMRP’s patron saint, Robert Darden.

“Bill Hair [interim dean, Pattie’s predecessor] and I were walking through the Goodpasture Concourse [in Moody Memorial Library] and Bob Darden was standing there, and Bill introduced me to him, and he told me what a great partner he was and how he’d worked so closely with all of you [in the Digital Projects Group],” Pattie told me. “He said Bob was one of our most supportive faculty and he turned out to be the very first faculty I met in the library.

“Bob told me about all the great work you were doing [in the DPG] and the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project and how wonderful it was, and so I started my first day with a compliment from faculty lips, so it was  good way to start.”

That hallway conversation would start a relationship between Dean Orr and Prof. Darden that would culminate in a nationally recognized effort to save imperiled recordings of America’s black gospel music heritage, a project that would find its way into the National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, D.C.

From a Dark Room to a Bright Future

Darryl Stuhr drafted the initial plans for the Riley Digitization Center (then suite) in 2006

I asked Pattie to recall her first meeting with the team that would become the Digital Projects Group – at the time, a team composed of Darryl Stuhr (now Associate Director for Special Projects), audio engineer Tony Tadey and myself. “My earliest memory of the Electronic Library digitization group in particular was in this room that became the Riley Center that had stacks of books and that y’all were in the dark, working on your scanning,” Pattie said. “And I just thought that was so interesting because I saw the Riley Reading Room [on Moody 2nd floor] and realized there was more to it than just that room, but my main vision of you all in the beginning was you all sitting in the dark, scanning, lights all off.

“And then you and Darryl showing me the recording studio and realizing why you put it down there – which made perfect sense – and I just remember [thinking], ‘This is such interesting work that’s being done. It’s a shame that they’re in the dark.’ And then not too long after that we began to think about what we could do to expand it and how could we move things and I remember that first summer we met with Harold Riley.”

Harold Riley would play a crucial role in the development of the Digital Projects Group, and Pattie’s visit in the summer of 2007 – along with then-director of development John Wilson – would pave the way toward Mr. Riley’s generous gift to fund the creation of the Ray I. Riley Digitization Center, named in honor of his father. Pattie said that while she hadn’t met Mr. Riley prior to their summer meeting, she had heard he was a man of great faith, so she asked us to put images from the BGMRP and other projects onto a laptop to show him the kind of work the DPG was doing in its current sub-optimal configuration – literally, in the dark, among stacks of books in an underutilized space called the Scholars Room.

“I remember we sat on the couch together and I showed him those images and played him the music and he was very inspired by that,” Pattie said. “I told him a little bit more about it and after we talked about this he said the words that every dean loves to hear: ‘How can I help you?’ And I’ll just never forget that – the happiest words, ‘How can I help you?”

Those five words sparked a flurry of planning and dreaming on the part of the Electronic Library, particularly with Darryl as he worked to create an outline of what the Riley Center could look like if it were to serve the needs of the DPG for decades to come. Pattie returned to Mr. Riley with a plan to house current and future DPG employees and their necessary work spaces and specialized equipment in one central location: the space that would become the Riley Center.

“I’ve been really proud of that space. I think it was well-planned by the group. You all did the thinking power behind how that space could work,” Pattie said.

A Day with Lev and Ella

Pattie’s second major memory of the pre-Riley Center digitization space was the day the team and Dean Orr spent with our dear friend, the late Lev H. Prichard III. When Mr. and Mrs. Prichard read a story in their local newspaper, written by Professor Robert Darden, lamenting the scarcity of America’s recordings of black gospel music. A black gospel music collector and fan, Mr. Prichard and his wife Ella Prichard became interested in finding ways to work with Baylor to address the problem.

Lev and Ella got connected with Dean Pattie Orr and a visit to the digitization center was arranged. After a tour of the Riley Digitization Center and meetings with Electronic Library staff, Mr. Prichard spent the balance of the day with Darryl, Tony and myself listening to recordings of black gospel songs and generally being overwhelmed with the power and potential of the project.

“I remember you all spending the day with Lev and watching him listen to the recordings you had saved for the BGMRP and seeing his obvious love of the genre. And that love of the black gospel music led his family to create a generous gift to support the project.”

It would come to pass that this visit would be Mr. Prichard’s last to the campus that he loved so dearly and supported so strongly; he passed away in 2009 . And it would be one that would prove incredibly important in the life of the BGMRP, as it eventually led to the creation of the Lev H. Prichard III Black Sacred Music Endowed Fund, an important source of revenue that helps us continue the work of the BGMRP.

The Prichard family’s generosity toward the libraries would take form in two other ways under Pattie’s watch, as well. Lev’s Gathering Place, a beautifully furnished space in the Crouch Fine Arts Library, was created to showcase items from the BGMRP and to provide listening stations where students, faculty and visitors could listen to gospel tunes year-round. In 1996, Lev and Ella established the Pruit Symposium, an annual gathering of researchers and scholars that examines contemporary issues through the “perspective of the Christian intellectual tradition.” In partnership with the College of Arts and Sciences, along with many other academic partners, the Pruit Symposium has focused for the past several years on the topic of black sacred music and its evolving place in African American culture, as well as the broader role of religion in American society.

Workers install the sound isolation booth in the Scholars Room, an area that would become the Riley Digitization Center, in 2007.

On Fundraising

If it hasn’t become clear to this point, one of Pattie’s strongest skills is her ability to match a library need with an interested party in a fundraising version of the Match Game. I asked her if raising money was something specific she’d set out to do in her career in higher education administration or if it was something she found a natural talent for along the way.

“If you really feel strongly about what you’re raising money for, it’s the easiest thing to do,” she told me. “I’ve raised money for very practical things – air conditioning in one case, bathrooms in another – a lot of things that aren’t necessarily exciting on their own. When we held the Regents’ Dinner in the space outside the Riley Center in 2008, right after the RDC opened, they [the Regents] could look around at the old furniture nearby from 1968 and they could see the need to upgrade and they said, ‘Oh, boy, there’s work to do’ to renovate the library. That made it easier to find donors to support that work.

“[With the BGMRP] we can really care about the music and the message. We can paint a vision for what we can do for this genre,” Pattie continued. “Baylor’s a unique place where we can combine the academics with the message of Jesus and we can work together to save these irreplaceable recordings for future generations. That makes raising money for the project much, much easier.”

How Do I Love The(se Digitized Letters)?

The members of the Browning Letters Project gather for a tour of the RDC (from left): Roberta Rodriquez (BU), Anna Sander (Balliol, Ofxord), Ian Graham (Wellesley), Fiona Godber (Balliol), Darryl Stuhr (BU), Eric Ames (BU) and Allyson Riley (BU) in 2014.

Pattie’s previous employer, Wellesley College, is known for having the “love letters” of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. So when she arrived at Baylor in 2007, she jokes that she kept getting asked one question over and over by fans of the Armstrong Browning Library: “Did you bring any of those love letters with you?”

It turned out to be a prophetic question, as Pattie was able to use her connections with Wellesley’s special collections librarians to help facilitate what she calls “the personal project I most wanted to see become complete”: the Browning Letters Project. In partnership with Wellesley and other holding institutions including Oxford and the University of Texas at Austin, Pattie and the staff at the ABL partnered with us to create a joint digitization project that unified Robert and Elizabeth’s written correspondence under one asset management system for the first time ever. That meant more than 4,880 (and counting) letters related to the Brownings were accessible in one site to researchers all over the world, but Pattie was most excited about the impact it could have on undergraduate scholars.

“To think that undergraduates could have unlimited access to those letters … No undergraduate would ever get the kind of access to the original documents that they can get with this digital collection – to improve scholarship, to have unlimited amounts of time to access them, that was the important aspect of the project [to me].”

Who Knew the Cruse Was So Versatile?

One of my favorite moments in our discussion came when I asked Pattie if she had a favorite piece of digitization equipment in the RDC. Her answer surprised me: the Cruse CS-285 large format scanner, or as she’s called it from day one, “Papa Bear.” Most people go with a flashier option like the KIRTAS APT-2900 automatic page turning book imager, but Pattie’s description of the Cruse revealed her fascination with the mammoth German import.

“I mean, it’s a hammer, a Swiss army knife, a shoe polish, a dessert topping – there are so many unexpected uses for this machine!” Pattie said with a laugh. And she’s right: over the years, the Cruse has been used to digitize newspapers, panoramic photographs, student artwork, the official portraits of all the Baylor presidents, architectural blueprints and more. It certainly finds new ways to be useful each and every semester, though none of us have tried it on ice cream (yet).

I mean, it’s a hammer, a Swiss army knife, a shoe polish, a dessert topping – there are so many unexpected uses for this machine!

A Vision for the Future of the DPG

Pattie (far right) surprised the DPG during a photo shoot in 2012. She suggested we do a “jumping shot” with her and the result became legend. From left, Darryl Stuhr, Allyson Riley, Eric Ames, Austin Schneider and Stephen Bolech join in the fun.

We wrapped up our conversation with a discussion of where Pattie would like to see the DPG in the next five to ten years. She expressed her excitement at seeing how the projects we undertake touch the lives of people in unexpected ways.

“My first teaching job after school was with the Texas School for the Blind in Austin,” Pattie said. “So it was a nice surprise to find that the DPG was able to use its scanners to help vision-impaired students through OALA.” OALA is our Office of Access and Learning Accommodation, and for many years the RDC has used its high-speed book imager to create digital versions of textbooks and course materials for students with visual impairments to access on book readers and other devices. Prior to our help, OALA staff members had to laboriously unbind and scan books one page at a time on a flatbed, a process that could take hours for a single book. Now, we can turn around a fully digitized textbook – sometimes upwards of 700 pages long – as a PDF in less than a day.

She also got a real kick out of watching faculty retirees interact with the BGMRP during a recent event on campus. “It was a real joy to do that program for the retirees,” Pattie said. “To see the sparkle in their eyes, to see them interact with the black gospel music and the other special materials was wonderful.”

Lastly, Pattie hopes to see us further expand the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project and its related materials, most notably the nascent Black Preaching Project. As the BGMRP gets larger and more recognition nationwide, we are expanding our collections into preserving the sermons of African American preachers, starting with the Rev. Clay Evans of Chicago, whose recorded sermons will be online in the coming months. Other projects include a “piano bench” project under the guidance of ethnomusicologist and Baylor faculty member Horace Maxile that would focus on saving sheet music published by African American artists and publishers around the turn of the last century. And of course, there’s the dozens of programs and events like Voices & Vinyl and Visions of Rapture that promote and support the BGMRP.

Pattie knows that’s a lot to ask – “You’ll always need a Sabbath; even a horse and a mule need a Sabbath!” she joked – but she also knows we’re up to the challenge. “What you all have been able to do in the past ten years is just incredible and I know you’re only going to keep doing bigger and better things in the coming years.”

That’s high praise from someone who’s overseen a decade’s worth of incredible work from a talent staff of library and ITS professionals, and we’re honored to take it.

***

We ended our conversation as so many of Pattie’s conversations end these days: right before she had to go into another meeting. There’s a steady stream of those nowadays as Pattie works to wrap up her final projects in the last months of her time on Baylor’s clock. But she shows no sign of riding quietly into the sunset. She told me she’s looking forward to transitioning from being the dean to being on the board of advisors for the library – “Now I can tell you what I really think!” she said with a laugh – and to attending the dozens of library events and faculty talks she rarely got to attend when she was dean/vice president.

I suspect retirement will be kind to Pattie; with two young grandsons in town and an eager travel companion in her husband, Steve, what’s not to love? But it’s also equally likely that whoever takes the reins as Dean of Libraries in the coming years will have big shoes to fill, especially when it comes to her unwavering support for the DPG.

Darryl Stuhr, Pattie Orr and Eric Ames at Dean Orr’s retirement reception in the Armstrong Browning Library’s Foyer of Meditation, May 9, 2017


Dean Pattie Orr will retire from Baylor University at the end of the day on May 31, 2017. This interview is a condensed version of an interview conducted on March 22. The DPG wishes to thank Pattie for her years of service to Baylor and her support of our work. Enjoy your retirement, Dean Orr, and sic ’em!

 

Announcing the New Look of Our Digital Collections Homepage!

If you visited our homepage, say, any time prior to earlier this morning, it would have looked like this:

RIP our old homepage (2012-2014)

RIP our old homepage (2012-2014)

 

Serviceable, effective, longer than a 4:00 PM Friday staff meeting: you remember how that felt, right? Well, we’re proud to announce that, as of today, the homepage has gotten a much-needed refresh!

Screen Shot 2014-08-25 at 8.52.53 AM

Thanks to the combined efforts of a team from the Digital Projects Group and the Electronic Library’s Instructional Technology team, we have an “above the fold,” streamlined homepage to replace its endless-scrolling predecessor. Let’s take a moment to unpack some of the new features you’ll find next time you visit the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections!

 homepage_annotated

1. A rotating slideshow of highlights from the collections. Right now, it points to five collections we think would be of high interest to casual visitors, but we’ll be updating it when we add new resources or reach milestones with our collections. Click on an image to open that collection or use the dots at the bottom (or the arrows at left or right) to scroll through.

2. One of the biggest new features is what we’re calling our “institutional landing pages” – newly created pages scoped to present only materials from their source collection. Want to see all the digital collections from the Crouch Fine Arts Library? Just click its name and you’ll see this:

The CFAL Landing Page.

The CFAL Landing Page.

This page contains some basic info about the source library, a list of collection highlights, links to the library’s website and a listing of all the collections in the Digital Collections that come from that library. It’s a convenient way for the special collections and our other partners to direct their patrons directly to materials found only in their physical holdings, and it’s the big reason we’re able to eliminate the long list of collections on the homepage. (Note: you can still see that list by clicking on “Browse All Items” on the new homepage. This will take you to the long, scroll-heavy list that was the homepage before the update.)

3. Quick links to our social media outlets. Now you can connect with our Twitter, blog, Facebook, Tumblr and Flickr feeds right from the homepage with a single click. We’ve also added a new Social Media page to the homepage and each institutional landing page (in the gray navigation bar up top).

4. These quick-look icons give users a one-click entry into some of our most popular searches: locating materials by item type. Want to see all the newspapers in the collections? Click the icon. Hear all the audio? Click the icon. View every post? You know what to do. For casual users or people with limited familiarity with the Digital Collections, these fast-links are a fun way to explore the collections without performing more complex, focused searches.

5. Actually, this text didn’t change at all. It was completely copied over from the old homepage. But it is in a gray box now, so that’s something new!

You’ll also notice that the new homepage features the official Baylor University-sanctioned header and footer, something we were unable to do easily under the old design.

We want to give a big shout-out to our colleagues from the Instructional Technology team – David Taylor and, especially, Karen Savage – for their invaluable help on this. Having Karen’s programming expertise on board meant I could focus on things like lining up content for the page, creating icons, organizing and creating the new institutional landing pages (using Karen’s code for the homepage) and doing the requisite bug testing and grammar/spelling/punctuation checks that have to happen on projects like this.

We’re very pleased with the new look, but we want to hear what you think! Take some time to click around on the new pages, explore them, try some searches and tell us if you see something you like/love/don’t like/doesn’t work, etc. We expect something to be a little off somewhere – there always is when you launch something with as many changes as this update represents – so put those searching and sleuthing skills to work.

We hope you enjoy the new homepage as much as we do, and thanks for being part of the Digital Collections environment. We look forward to continuing to bring you amazing new content, rich contextual information and unparalleled access to the unique library and archival holdings of Baylor University for years to come.

***

OH, and it stands to reason that, since this is technically a completed project, we must FIRE THE CANNON!

finished_project_cannon_flag

Spring Break, Spring Cleaning!

Since this week is Spring Break here on the beautiful campus of Baylor University, we’re not going to post a full-on blog today. Instead, we hope you’ll enjoy two “spring cleaning” items of note!

1. We changed the look of our site to give it a fresh appearance for a new season. We’ve been at this whole “blogging about digital collections” thing since 2011, and a revamp to the site’s layout was definitely in order. If you see anything odd with your display, functionality or otherwise, let us know! Just shoot us an email at digitalcollectionsinfo[at]baylor[dot]edu.

2. After we announced our new Architecture Collection last week, we thought it’d be fun to periodically add digitally enhanced content to our various social media platforms, so this week we’re adding a revised version of an elevation for the McLennan County courthouse. This was an early version of J. Riely Gordon’s plans for the courthouse; this sheet is virtually identical to plans he’d drafted for the capitol of the state of Mississippi. Though his plans for Mississippi were not accepted, he was able to use a modified version of them to create our county courthouse in 1902.

McLennan County Courthouse, J. Riely Gordon, architect. Ca. 1901. Unretouched elevation of original proposed structure.

McLennan County Courthouse, J. Riely Gordon, architect. Ca. 1901. Unretouched elevation of original proposed structure.

Digitally enhanced image of courthouse plan.

Digitally enhanced image of courthouse plan.

 


 

Thanks for reading, and be sure to spread the word to friends, family, colleagues, strangers on the street, or anyone else you think would be interested in the work we’re doing for the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections!

This Just In! A Quick Look at the DPG in the News So Far This Year

Just a quick post this week to update you all on a couple of the places the DPG and the Digital Collections have been popping up in the media over the past couple of months. We’re always grateful for our work to be featured in any potential arena – digital, broadcast or print – and we thought we’d take this opportunity to share with our blog readers.

Baylor University Institute for Oral History Introduces Online Audio Files

blog-01

Baylor professor Robert Darden restoring vanishing black gospel music

blog-02

Vast New Additions to the Digital Archive of Browning Letters

blog-03

 

 

 

This Train is Bound for D.C.: The Smithsonian-Baylor Digital Projects Group Black Gospel Collaboration Confirmed!

 

Our thoughts on today’s news, as captured by this album from The Trumpets of Jericho.

Some big news regarding the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project was made official this weekend via the social media of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC): the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project (BGMRP), managed and maintained by our own Digital Projects Group, will become part of the permanent collection when the museum opens its doors in 2015!

According to the story from the NMAAHC’s Tumblr, we will contribute highlights from the collection for incorporation into an exhibition called the Musical Crossroads. From the Tumblr:

This permanent exhibition will tell the story of African American music from the arrival of the first Africans to the present day.

Both [NMAAHC curator Dr. Dwandalyn] Reece and [Baylor journalism professor Robert] Darden see these recordings as important additions to the new museum for the stories they can help tell. While planning for the exhibition is ongoing, the Baylor recordings may be used to explore the importance of gospel music to the civil rights movement.

Featuring select recordings from Baylor’s growing digital collection in the Smithsonian will give visitors an opportunity to learn these stories and to listen to many gospel recordings that may otherwise have been lost to history.

Dr. Reece also pointed out the ways is in which materials from the BGMRP can help us better understand the impact of black gospel music at a regional level:

The recordings may also be used to highlight the regional diversity of early gospel music. “Not all gospel recordings made during the pinnacle of gospel’s popularity were made on major labels,” Reece explained. “Many were done in connection with local churches and there are differences in style based on where these types of recordings were made.”

The collaboration announcement post, via the NMAAHC’s Tumblr page.

The project was sparked in 2005 by an op-ed piece written by Prof. Darden for the February 15 edition. In it, he bemoaned the loss of America’s recorded collections of black gospel music. That appeal generated a lead gift from collector Charles M. Royce that funded equipment and the first audiovisual specialist, Tony Tadey. From there, Prof. Darden’s tireless promotion combined with the technological and information handling mastery of the DPG to create a collection of more than 8,000 digitized tracks, 1,200 of which are available online with more added regularly. (For more on the history of the project, please visit the project website.)

We are obviously quite excited to be partnering with an institution with such an august reputation and world-wide name recognition as the Smithsonian Institution, and we look forward to working closely with Dr. Reece and her team at the NMAAHC in the coming months.

The Digital Projects Group is a part of the Electronic Library, a special collection within the Baylor University Libraries. DPG staff involved with the BGMRP are Assistant Director for Digital Projects Group, Darryl Stuhr; Audiovisual Specialist, Stephen Bolech; Digital Collections Curator, Eric Ames; and Digitization Coordinator, Allyson Riley.

For More Information

Read the NMAAHC’s Tumblr post

Read our previous blog post about the partnership

Visit the BGMRP homepage

View the BGMRP collection via the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections

Visit the NMAAHC website

Email us at digitalcollectionsinfo[at]baylor.edu