(Digital Collections) “What’s Past Is Prologue” – Connecting Incoming Freshmen With Campus History at Summer Orientation

The month of June is reserved for welcoming the newest class of Freshmen into the Baylor family. For the second year in a row, the traditional Dr Pepper Hour mixer – held on the second day of orientation – was hosted by the university libraries in the Albritton Foyer of Moody Memorial Library. This year, the Digital Projects Group made our presence felt by presenting our Digital Collections website on a very large monitor. Our hook? Search our historic Baylor resources – the Round Up, the Lariat and the Baylor University Press Releases – to discover historical evidence of their ancestors who trod our verdant campus in the storied past.

And you know what? It worked.

Over the course of ten one-hour sessions, I manned our table and searched our collections for dozens of people. Admittedly, most of them were parents of incoming freshmen; after all, by this point in the process, our newest Bears have been overwhelmed with a day-and-a-half of information, so voluntarily searching an online database probably isn’t their highest priority. Mom and dad, however, were usually stoked to do something that didn’t require them to sign another form or write another check, so they were often thrilled to tell me the name of their ancestor and see what happened.

By my reckoning, what happened in 85% of the cases presented was the discovery that their ancestor – a mom, a grandmother, a great-uncle – was mentioned in one of the resources at least once. That means the system functioned exactly as we’d hoped: full-text fields were crawled quickly and efficiently, results were retrieved and displayed accurately, and a connection to a bygone Baylorite was made in seconds.

The times the system didn’t work were limited to searches for names that were extremely common and thus returned huge numbers of results – “John Smith,” across all possible dates – or there were the occasional complete misfires – a name not found in any instance across any collection. But for the most part, the system performed remarkably well, and several very interesting stories were shared from this experiment in live, no-nets searching.

The Beauty Queen

Cheryl and Penny M. pose with a photo of Penny’s mother, Ethyle Peacock – Baylor’s first “Miss Baylor”

Penny M. stopped by our setup with her daughter, incoming freshman Cheryl. Penny’s mother is Ethyle Peacock, a Baylor student of the 1960s. As the system searched for mentions of Ms. Peacock, Penny proceeded to tell me that her mother was not only a Baylor student: she happened to have been voted the first Miss Baylor in 1969. Sure enough, we found this image in the April 28th edition of the Lariat.

The Committeeman’s Granddaughter

Jen M. and her grandfather, Clyde Skidmore

 When my daughter’s preschool teacher, Jen M., happened to swing by the table one afternoon, she asked me to look up her grandfather, Clyde Skidmore. And wouldn’t you know it? Here he is posing with a group of seniors tasked with raising funds for the senior gift, class of 1954.

Bus Strike Beauty

Marilyn J. and her grandmother, Betty Rumph

Marilyn J. asked us to search for her grandmother, Betty Rumph. In this photo from the September 20, 1955 edition, Betty is photographed on the moped of Sung Ki Lee along with two other girls. Apparently taken during a bus strike in Waco, Betty won the heart of Mr. Lee – and, just as important, the use of his transportation.

***

Our opportunity to showcase the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections at New Student Orientation was an unqualified success from our vantage point. Hundreds of people at each session were exposed to the collection, hundreds of flyers were distributed with our URL prominently on display, and we made dozens of new connections through our digitized resources.

But next year, if we get the same invitation, I can say with certainty that I will request a table further away from the Dr Pepper floats. I’m not sure I have the willpower to resist their sweet siren song for another stretch of ten sweltering June afternoons.

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