I Say O-MEK-a, You Say O-MEE-kah, Let’s Call the Whole Thing AWESOME: Introducing Our Digital Exhibits Platform

omeka-post-headerWe’re always looking for new ways to connect the unique content in the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections with our many and multi-faceted publics. So when it came time to find a way to create digital exhibits based on either a.) formerly physical exhibits or b.) entirely digital content, we settled on web publishing platform Omeka – specifically, a hosted omeka.net account.

As a small staff with plenty of work to do digitizing, curating, preserving and cataloging the items in our care, we needed a solution that would allow for template-based, low-cost entry into the digital exhibit creation game. Omeka’s hosted solution was the perfect fit. Going hosted meant we didn’t have to install and maintain yet another piece of software and using its template-based approach means no time lost writing code for a custom solution.

Once we settled on a solution, we set about creating our first digital exhibits. The first – and most elaborate so far – was for the physical exhibit created for the Armstrong Browning Library’s “Uses of ‘Religion’ in 19th Century Studies” conference held in March 2016. The physical exhibit featured numerous artifacts curated around the many ways the word (and concept) “religion” were used in the 1800s; topics covered include social issues, literature, religious discourse and more.

Next up was another ABL exhibit, this one inspired by the 150th anniversary of the publication of Lewis Carrol’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The exhibit, titled “A World of Their Own: Children’s Literature at the Armstrong Browning Library,” focused on examples of children’s literature held in the ABL’s vast collections, including numerous examples of first editions, fanciful illustrations and morality tales used to educate 19th century youth.

We shifted gears fairly radically with our third exhibit: Visions of Rapture. We came up with the idea for the project – using Baylor art students to design covers for American black gospel songs that had been released without accompanying cover art – and proceed to mount both a physical and digital exhibit featuring their work.

Our most recent collaboration is with the Baylor Collections of Political Materials, an all-digital exhibit titled, “Poage’s Passport.” It focuses on the world-traveling expeditions of Congressman W. R. “Bob” Poage, namesake of the Poage Legislative Library and long-time member of the House Agriculture Committee. The exhibit is the first to fully integrate materials from a collection housed in CONTENTdm, meaning that all of the images from the exhibit link to full item records in the Digital Collections system. This integrated approach will be the preferred way of creating digital exhibits moving forward, as it provides an additional inroad into the Digital Collections without adding duplicate records in another system (i.e. Omeka).

Future exhibits will be coming online in the near future, with exhibits on the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project, American involvement in World War I and Baylor athletics on the drawing board. For now, we encourage you to click on the exhibits below to view them in Omeka, and let us know what you think. We look forward to using this helpful platform for many years to come!


ARMSTRONG BROWNING LIBRARY

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 3.56.29 PMA World of Their Own: Children’s Literature at the Armstrong Browning Library

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 3.56.52 PMThe Uses of “Religion” in 19th Century Studies


BAYLOR COLLECTIONS OF POLITICAL MATERIALS

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 3.55.53 PMPoage’s Passport


ELECTRONIC LIBRARY / DIGITAL PROJECTS GROUP

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 3.57.32 PMVisions of Rapture: Art Inspired by the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project

 

Spotlight On Graduate Student Scholarship: Digital Exhibits From MST 5327, Archival Technology and Digital Collections Management

One of the great privileges afforded by my work with our digital collections is the opportunity I’ve earned to teach some of Baylor’s finest graduate students from the Department of Museum Studies. Over the past three years, I’ve taught several courses on technology, marketing, historic preservation and digital archival management, and I can say that it’s been one of the most rewarding experiences of my professional career.

Following the success of a combined technology/marketing course first offered in the Spring 2013 semester, I worked with the MST department and my excellent supervisory chain in the libraries to split that coursework into two new courses: Archival Technology and Digital Collections Management (Fall 2014) and Outreach and Community Relations (Spring 2015).

For the Archival Technology course this semester (which was limited to second-year students only), their capstone project was to create a new digital exhibit using curated materials from our Frances G. Spencer Collection of American Popular Sheet Music. In this post, I’m excited to reveal the excellent work they’ve done, and to encourage you to check out their insights into four themes that interweave the collection: dance, humor, love and war.

Each student chose their own pieces from the more than 5,600 pieces in the digital collection that illustrated their assigned themes. They chose the WordPress templates and plugins they felt best displayed their work, and the contextual research they conducted helped make the topic more relatable and enhanced users’ engagement with the items from the collection. In short, they had total editorial and creative control on their exhibits, and I think you’ll be pleased with the results.

Without further ado, I present the capstone projects of MST 5327: Archival Technology and Digital Archival Management!

Click the image of each project’s homepage to access the exhibit.


Let’s Dance! Dance in Late 19th and Early 20th Century Popular Sheet Music (Jennifer Browder)

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Humor in Music of the Early 20th Century (Becca Reynolds)

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American Diversity and Love in Early 20th Century Popular Music (Raquel Gibson)

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Masculinity and Music in Turn of the Century America: An Examination of the Spencer Music Library (Erik Swanson)

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Big thanks to Becca, Erik, Jennifer and Raquel for their outstanding work this semester. You can learn more about the Baylor University Department of Museum Studies at their website or on Facebook

An Open Letter to Darius Rucker Re: The Black Gospel Music Restoration Project

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Dear Mr. Rucker,

Allow us to introduce ourselves. We are the Digital Projects Group, five dedicated professionals in the world of digital collections in academia, specifically Baylor University in Waco, Texas. You probably don’t know who we are, but we know you’re familiar with Baylor: you and your buddies in Hootie and the Blowfish played a huge concert here in 2005, as evidenced by this photo and article from our campus newspaper, the Baylor Lariat:

Vintage you (and your buddies) from the December 1, 2005 "Lariat"

Vintage you (and your buddies) from the December 1, 2005 “Lariat”

But we’re not writing today to relive the glory days of Waco’s early 2000s music scene. Our goal is to pique your interest in our Black Gospel Music Restoration Project, about which we’ve written extensively on this blog, and you may have seen featured on NPR’s “Fresh Air” and in various publications across the country. It’s even going to be a part of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, set to open on the National Mall in 2016.

The reason we see this as something that might be of interest actually harkens back to a bonus track featured on the Blowfishes’ seminal 1994 album Cracked Rear View. Tucked away at the end is a beautiful a cappella rendition of the traditional Negro spiritual Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child. We know YOU know what that sounded like, but for our readers who may not have experienced it yet, here’s a version from YouTube.

It’s impossible to say just how much emotion, history and tradition are embodied in that 54-second clip. According to Wikipedia, this particular song dates back to as late as the 1870s, with an early documented version showing up in 1899. It has particular resonance for African Americans given its ties to the destructive era of slavery in our country, but it also holds universal appeal to anyone who’s felt alone, lost and without a destination beyond the hoped-for “home” beyond this earthly life.

Our Black Gospel Music Restoration Project contains a dozen different versions of this song performed by artists ranging from Willa Dorsey to the Singing Stars of Louisburg, North Carolina (a short five-hour drive up the road from your native Charleston, South Carolina, as the map below indicates).

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In case you were interested in a road trip!

Of all the versions of that song to be found in the BGMRP, we are partial to the one recorded by the Malcom Dobbs Singers ca. 1963 for their album Great Spirituals. It is spare – only vocals, a timpano and an ethereal organ – but it contains a world of emotion, and it builds to a satisfying payoff of grandness tinged with sorrow. Take a listen below.


(Copyright RCA Camden, all rights reserved. See the full item in our Digital Collection for more information.)

Whichever version you prefer, it’s obvious to us that you felt a connection to this song, and we wanted to take a moment to point out its prominence in a collection we are very proud of. We hope you’re able to discover a new version you hadn’t heard before, and we hope our collection helps further your love of American gospel music.

We’re certainly not asking for anything on your part – you can consider this a publicly available version of an FYI – but if you were to, say, offer to come back to Waco and grace us with a concert of your favorite gospel-inspired songs, we certainly wouldn’t be opposed to that. (But seriously, if you want to talk, drop us an email: digitalcollectionsinfo@baylor.edu.)

Best wishes on a successful tour of the UK!

Your friends in the Baylor University Digital Projects Group


This post is part of a series of Open Letters to musicians, authors and others that we hope will connect our collections to prominent people in America. If you have someone to suggest, or if you’re the subject of this post and want to drop us a line, send us an email (digitalcollectionsinfo@baylor.edu).

For more information on Darius Rucker’s music, including available discs, upcoming shows and info on his latest release of Christmas music called Home for the Holidays, visit his website.

It’s Your Turn: What Should We Blog About?

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After three years of weekly content, we’re more than 150 posts into this whole “blogging about digital collections” thing, and we’ve been uniformly pleased with the response we get from you, our dedicated readers. But sometimes we forget that blogging is a two-way street, and as a result, we don’t always do enough to thank and involve you in the process. So we’re taking this opportunity on the three-year anniversary of our first post to ask a simple question:

What do you want us to blog about?

That’s a lot of pressure, sure, and we’re not asking you to plot out 52 weeks’ worth of content or anything, but we’d like your ideas for things you’d like us to explore here on the virtual pages of our blog.

Tell us what you’d like us to explore, and we’ll put it into the hopper for upcoming post ideas, and we’ll even cite you as the inspiration! As a general rule, we tend to put our posts into one of a couple of categories:

Specific collection insights: Want to know how a certain collection came into being? How about the background of a collection’s namesake collector?

Item spotlights: Did you find a single item that you’re just dying to know more about?

Long reads (opinions): Curious as to what we think about digital collections curation, management, creation or even favorite foods?

Humor: Subjective, of course, but we do like to write things that elicit the occasional chuckle, chortle, guffaw or snort.

So if you’ve got something you want to see explored in-depth here on the blog, leave us a comment or send us an email at digitalcollections@baylor.edu. We’re excited to see what you come up with!

A Little Inspiration

In case you wanted to relive some highlights of the past three years of blog content, we put together a little list that may help jump start your creative juices. Happy (re)reading!

First postSemper (Hi-)Fi: Marine Corps Command and Staff College Utilizes High-Resolution Images from Digitization Projects Group for Officer Training

Most popular post: “So We Can Throw These Out Now, Right?”: What We Learned From Microfilming Newspapers and How It Shapes Our Digitization Strategy

Second most popular post: In A Time Of Uncertainty, The Pursuit of Permanence Reinforced

Post most in need of some extra love: “Female Education: Address Delivered at the Annual Examination of the Baylor University by Col. William P. Rogers”

Most recent post: Revisiting a “Miracle” 40 Years Later: The Baylor vs. UT Game, 1974


Image based on ballot for Campus Queen from the April 20, 1926 issue of the Baylor Lariat

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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!

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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!

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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.

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

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