Digital Collections

Oppression, Visualized: New Videos Added to the Keston Digital Collection

One of our most challenging collections is housed at the Keston Center for Religion, Politics and Society. Containing materials related to religious persecution in Communist countries – most notably the former Soviet Union – the Keston Digital Collection features items ranging from anti-American propaganda posters to photographs, brochures, and other ephemera. It is an important and difficult collection to wrestle with given its very nature and the fact that the vast majority of items are not written in English.

But that’s not always the case. In this post, we’ll look at three new additions to the Keston Digital Collection, two of which are available in English. Recently, the Digital Preservation Services team added 88 new videos to the collection, and we offer a deeper look into one here, along with links to two more you may find of interest. We encourage you to explore the collection and take a peek behind the Iron Curtain into a world where religion, statehood, and governmental control overlap in ways both similar to and strikingly at odds with our modern Western ideas.

Metro Rides, a Renovation, and a Mystery Letter

In this video, curated under the title “Danilov Monastery Visit,” we are guided through a portion of 1989 Moscow as an unnamed and unseen narrator – a man with a British accent who also speaks fluent Russian – creates a video log of his outing from his hotel to the Danilov Monastery. The narrator addresses a group of “people back home” who are ostensibly interested in his visit to the site, which claims a 13th century founding; the purpose (we discover later) is to deliver a letter to someone he names as Sergei Seraphim Trofimov.*

The narrator uses his camera to capture his rides to the monastery and back using the Moscow metro (subway) system. He notes that “until recently” it was illegal to film on the metro, and that only in recent months would he have been able to do so without fear of reprisals. His trips on the metro are a swirl of bodies in overcoats and the traditional “ushanka” fur hats worn by generations of Russian men.

Upon his arrival at the monastery, the narrator points out several renovations and updates to the complex since his last visit. He mentions having made at least five prior trips to the monastery over the years, and this is the first time he can recall seeing the Orthodox monks roaming the grounds without a sense of tension in the air.

Eventually, the narrator finds a place to deliver his letter for Sergei – who is not at the monastery at the time of his visit – and he makes a return trip to his hotel on the metro. This time, he notes an increased interest in his actions on the part of local police, so he turns off his camera for a large portion of the trip.

The last section of the video is a 360* panning shot of the crossroads outside his hotel. The narrator repeats his well wishes to the people “back home” and makes a request for them not to use his name or the purpose behind his visit when telling others about his trip. It is a not-so-subtle reminder of the difficulties of doing business in a collapsing Soviet Union in the late 1980s – early 1990s. Just because things were beginning to change did not mean it was safe to be too conspicuous – a statement that likely remains just as applicable today.

*A quick Google search turns up numerous people under variations of the name “Sergei Trofimov.” It will remain to a more skilled and dogged researcher to try to suss out just whom our unnamed narrator was hoping to meet in the monastery on that cold February day in 1989.

View the video: Danilov Monastery Visit

“A Report on the Development of the Russian Baptists”

Commissioned and distributed by the Christian Mission to the Communist World, this 43-minute documentary details the trials and difficulties faced by Baptists in the post-revolution era in Russia. It intersperses footage of various prisoners’ stories with a service at a Russian church, which includes a performance by the parish choir.

View the video: The Bitter Cup

The People of Ukraine Assemble: Autumn 1989

Our last selection is a nearly 3-hour compilation of raw footage of “public and religious events in Lviv,” filmed during October, 1989. It includes footage of a 30,000-person meeting in support of “alternative” election law; the consecration of the first primate of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church Metropolitan; footage of a crowd at the Lviv Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul; and comments by Archbishop Volodymyr Sterniuk.

View the video: Ukrainian Independence Public and Religious Events in Lviv in Autumn 1989

The videos in the Keston Digital Collection are a rich source for the study of peoples whose religious freedom has been tamped down, restricted, and sometimes completely eliminated by communist regimes. While it requires a knowledge of the Russian language to be its most useful, simply spending time viewing the images from that time and place is often sufficient to reinforce the notion that the struggle for religious liberty is long, difficult, and sometimes calls for the ultimate sacrifice.

If you would like to help us by providing translation or other cataloging-related data for the items in this collection, please email and we will put you in touch with the proper team member to facilitate your interest.

By the Numbers: Updates to the Digital Collections, 2019-Present

The creation and growth of digital collections always seems to move in fits and starts. That often means months of behind-the-scenes effort digitizing items, describing them, preserving their high-resolution master files, and – finally – adding them to the access system. For us, that can involve working through hundreds of Black gospel music recordings, dozens of manuscripts for a famous Victorian poet, or meticulously scanning more than 100,000 pages of a notable Baptist publication. All of those assets eventually make their way into our Digital Collections for use by scholars around the world and right here on the Baylor campus.

This post highlights some of the notable collections we’ve created, added to, or completed over the past two years, a timeframe that saw operations disrupted by the Covid pandemic, a shift to off-site work for several months, and the need to train and employ staff ranging from student workers to temporary employees to full-time staff. We’ll post updates like these as new collections materials are added, but for today, enjoy this brief look at some of our latest resources!

Detail of center label for Columbia disc by the Seventh Day Adventists’ Choir featuring their version of “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks We Stand”, 1927

The Royce-Darden Black Gospel Music Collection

By the Numbers: 1,000 new items added, bringing the total collection to just over 7,500!

Coming soon: Items from an important collection of 78’s loaned from collector and scholar Robert Marovich. This batch will include some items the Black Gospel team identified as “gems!”

Project personnel: Hannah Engstrom

View the collection

Page one of manuscript titled, “Concierto en do menor para cello y orquesta: El Hombre (The Man)” by Florentín Giménez, 1986

Composer Manuscripts Collection

Collection home: Arts & Special Collections Research Center

Focus: works by Paraguayan composer Florentín Giménez Martínez (1925-2021)

Project personnel: Alfredo Colman (on-site digitization), Ben Johansen (technology advisor), Jon Snyder (metadata)

View the collection

Still image from video of Anatoly (Natan) Sharansky’s first interview on British television after his release from the Soviet Union, 1986

Keston Digital Archive

Collection Home: Keston Center for Politics, Religion, and Society

By the numbers: 88 new videos added. Digitization was outsourced thanks to an internal Keston grant.

Project personnel: Larisa Seago (video editing and metadata)

View the collection

The Manuscripts of Robert Browning

Collection home: Armstrong Browning Library

By the numbers: A new collection of more than 130 items pertaining to the Victorian poet Robert Browning.

Project personnel: Laura French (metadata), Rachel Asselta (digitization)

View the collection

The Manuscripts of Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Collection home: Armstrong Browning Library

Project personnel: Allyson Riley, Evangeline Eilers, Will Overton

View the collection

Address portion of a letter written by Walter Savage Landor to Robert Browning, April 21, 1861.

The Browning Letters Collection

Update: Full text added to the Landor Letters (2019). The letters were digitized in 2019, the metadata created in 2021, and the transcripts were added this summer.

Project personnel: Allyson Riley and Evangeline Eilers

View the collection

“The Baptist Standard” 

By the numbers: A new collection of 109,806 digitized print newspaper pages launched in March 2022. The collection contains scans of all known extant physical volumes of “The Baptist Standard,” and where print volumes were unavailable, microform versions are being digitized off-site for later inclusion in the collection.

Project personnel: Evangeline Eilers, Libby Ehlers, Allyson Riley, Kat Collazo

View the collection

(Digital Collections) Celebrating the life of Rev. Clay Evans of Chicago, Illinois (1925-2019)

The world lost a titan in the field of African-American religion on November 27 when the Rev. Clay Evans passed away at the age of 94 in his home city of Chicago. Evans was the founder and long-serving pastor of the Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church and an accomplished recording artist and songwriter.

The Baylor Libraries’ Digitization and Digital Preservation Services team worked tirelessly for several years to digitize and thoroughly describe the video archive of Rev. Evans’ recorded sermons, with the goal of adding them to a refreshed digital collections site in 2020. The videos will be searchable and extremely useful to researchers thanks to the efforts of Evangeline Eilers, who spent months reviewing the recordings and documenting the necessary metadata to make them into useful digital objects. (We previously wrote about the Clay Evans connection to Baylor here, in a post detailing Evangeline’s trip to his 92nd birthday party back in 2017.)

The Baylor Libraries join in the memorializing of Rev. Evans and mourn his passing along with countless others across the country and around the world who were touched by his connection to God, his passion for civil rights, and his gift for song.

For an example of Rev. Evans’ engaging, unique style, suitable for the season, here is a video clip of a presentation of the story of the birth of Christ to a group of children from FMBC.

For more information on Rev. Evans’ remarkable life, the Chicago “Tribune” offers a fitting obituary and write-up, available here.


(Digital Collections) Celebrating Aretha Franklin

Cover of Aretha Franklin’s 1972 album “Amazing Grace,” from the collection of the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project. All rights reserved, Atlantic Records (1972)

The passing of legendary artist Aretha Franklin has elicited an outpouring of praise from around the world, including in both mainstream and music-centered journalism outlets. Everyone from Rolling Stone to Pitchfork, the Detroit Free Press and Waco’s own Tribune-Herald have paid tribute to the “Queen of Soul” since her death from pancreatic cancer last week at the age of 76. Baylor’s own Bob Darden, the inspiration behind our Black Gospel Music Restoration Project (BGMRP), offered his reflections on Aretha’s legacy in two major pieces featured in Christianity Today and Vox.

“Aretha Franklin matters in a way that few artists have ever mattered and fewer still may ever matter again,” Darden told me via email. “In my opinion, she uniquely combined the sacred and the profane and thus made music that spoke to all people.”

For the BGMRP team working with the digital collection from within the University Libraries, the connection between Franklin and the project is both specific and historic: Aretha was the daughter of the Reverend C.L. Franklin, a man associated both with the BGMRP and its spin-off, the Black Preaching Project. While Aretha’s gospel recordings in the collection number fewer than ten, her father has a larger presence with 26 recordings digitized and included in the collection.

Rev. Franklin’s long career and importance to the black church shaped Aretha’s early life and, later, her legacy. Aretha “was a child of the black church, steeped in the Baptist sermons of her father, the Rev. C.L. Franklin, mentored by Clara Ward, and taught piano by the Rev. James Cleveland,” Darden said. “She knew all of the old hymns and spirituals. And more than once, she stopped her concerts to preach to the adoring crowds of mostly white faces.”

Her fans … knew that sometimes you need Sunday morning to forgive Saturday night.

Aretha’s connection to black gospel music and her roots in it weren’t always appreciated by other gospel artists. “At Mahalia Jackson’s funeral, Franklin sang Take My Hand, Precious Lord,” Darden said. “A gospel legend, the flinty Sallie Martin, was furious: ‘Worst thing I ever heard … a nightclub singer at a gospel singer’s funeral.'”

“Her fans knew that Aretha wasn’t perfect, and that made them — and me — love her more,” Darden said. “They knew that sometimes you need Sunday morning to forgive Saturday night. And they also knew that she meant every single word she sang.”

The importance of music to Franklin’s life cannot be understated, but we’ll leave it to Bob Darden to offer his evaluation: “For Aretha Franklin, a song, be it soul music or a classic gospel song, wasn’t just a combination of lyrics and chords, it was a living thing, it was a performed page from her biography. She sang the songs because she believed them.”

Learn more about the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project at

(Digital Collections) Visions of Rapture 2018: The Online Exhibit

The third annual Visions of Rapture exhibit celebrates the music from Baylor’s Black Gospel Music Restoration Project, specifically the 45 rpm discs that were released without cover art during their original pressings. Working with students in Prof. Andrew Baker’s ART 3333 course on Type and Design, the project showcases their visions of what cover art would look like for these songs if they were designed and released in record stores either in the 1960s or today.

Explore the students’ artwork from the 2018 exhibit below, and see the link at the bottom of this post to listen to the songs that inspired the designs.


Listen to the songs that inspired the exhibit at this link. Learn more about the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project at the project homepage.

The physical exhibit for Visions of Rapture is available through summer 2018 in Moody Memorial Library. Our thanks to Prof. Baker, graphic design intern Kacey Byrne and exhibits coordinator Erik Swanson for their invaluable contributions to this exhibit.

(Digital Collections) Remembering the West Explosion, Five Years Later (Classic Post)

On April 17, 2013, the course of history for the town of West, TX was changed forever. The following day, we wrote a brief blog post on the nature of recovery, perseverance and the fleeting nature of memory, data and life in general. Today, on the fifth anniversary of that devastating day, we are reposting that article in its entirety.

The article below originally ran on April 18, 2013, one day after a massive explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas destroyed the facility and caused 15 fatalities (mostly first responders) and millions of dollars in property damage.

The aftermath of an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, April 17, 2013. (Photo via

At the time of this writing, the campus of Baylor University is quiet, subdued under a twin burden thanks to the dismal weather (due to a cold front/rainstorm combo) and an event that occurred just twenty short miles up the road in West. As reports roll in documenting the destruction – physical, emotional, communal – wrought by an explosion at a fertilizer plant on the north side of town, the Baylor community is responding with a prayer vigil, offers of donations of materials and financial gifts, and the use of our collective expertise in helping the citizens of West find new hope in the rubble of last night’s wreckage.

As we try to come to grips with the scope of devastation, it comes at a time when the national mood is already unsettled due to the bombings at the Boston Marathon on Monday. Add into the mix the fact that this, the third week in April, has seen traumatic national events in the past two decades (the Columbine High School massacre, the Oklahoma City bombing and the Branch Davidian standoff, chiefly) and you have a general sense of discomfort, a time of unwanted reflection on the darker side of human nature.

All of this may seen like a strange topic for a blog post focused on digital collections, but it reinforces an absolutely inarguable point: life is uncertain. We can build legal structures, steel-studded concrete walls, social norms and inner rationalizations to protect us from the things beyond our control, but they can only take us so far. For all of us will face an event in our lives that we cannot control, that is beyond our power to influence. And in the midst of that uncertainty, it helps to have reminders that our daily work to preserve the documented history of our campus, our community, our world is one way we can provide the tumultuous present with a concrete anchor to the past.

“The Preservers of History”

Chiseled into the stonework of the façade of Pat Neff Hall, Baylor’s main administration building, is a quote from former Baylor president (and two-term Texas governor) Pat Morris Neff. It reads, “The preservers of history are as heroic as its makers,” and I believe this sums up our role in the Digital Projects Group in a simple, profound way that paragraphs of explanatory text cannot. We are the preservers of history, yes, by the nature of our work to digitize physical history and preserve its digital surrogate for access by the future. But more important than simply scanning and archiving data, we are preserving the stories contained within those documents and we are ensuring that those stories will be accessible and available to people many years from now. On days like today, it seems particularly important to preserve the stories happening all around us, even if they aren’t as newsworthy as an explosion, a natural disaster, or a terrorist attack.

This is not a responsibility we take lightly, of course. For every artifact, archival resource, photograph, map or other item that comes through our doors, we know we are handling the “real stuff” of history and it is our job to take that one unique thing and give it a new life, a greater usefulness in the realm of academic scholarship and worldwide access. In a sense, we serve not so much as the preservers of history but as its spokesmen, the professional communicators tasked with taking something out of its phase box, Mylar sleeve or acid-free folder and putting it on an international stage via the Internet so its unique story can reach people on our campus, on our continent, on the other side of the world.

The Way of All Flesh (and Data)

We are given only a short time on this Earth to do the work we were created to do. There will come a time when the words of this blog will be seen as a record of what one group of people thought was important in the early decades of the 21st century. They will read of a fertilizer plant explosion in a small, Czech community in central Texas and want to know more about how it spurred a library staff member at Baylor University to write about its relation to digital preservation.

To those future researchers –and to my 2013 contemporaries reading this post today – I can only say that as this week’s unexpected events have unfolded on the East coast and a half-hour drive from my front door, it drives home to me the frailty of life, the knowledge that the things we create today are not promised to exist tomorrow, and that the challenge for our field is to try to find some permanence in the world, to promise our grandchildren’s grandchildren that they will have access to the world we are living in today. And, more importantly than all of this, that they will have access to our stories.

If you would like to assist the people of West in their recovery and rebuilding efforts, please visit Baylor’s “Response for the City of West” web age or contact the Central Texas Red Cross. Photo from REUTERS photographer Mike Stone via Business Insider (

(Digital Collections) State of the Union for the State of the Art: An Update from the Riley Digitization Center

They say life has only two constants: death and taxes. But sometimes “They” forget to add the other immutable law of the universe: change. In any system, there is no such thing as complete static, total immobility, immutability. There’s always some change at work, even if it’s on a molecular level, and given enough time, it will invariably impact everything it touches.

What’s true for the created universe is true for organizations, of course, and that’s why this post exists. In the past few months, there have been changes underway with the team that digitizes, preserves, promotes and provides access to the archival and library holdings of this university. Some are big, others small, but all of them share one common bond: they impact the ongoing work of the men and women who call (or, [spoiler alert] called) the Riley Digitization Center their home.

A New Name

First off, let’s address the most obvious change. The group formerly known as the Digital Projects Group is now the Digital Preservation Services group. The change was made to better reflect the action that is at the core of the work carried out by the DPS’s staff: preserving analog materials in a digital format for long-term access. This change was made during a rebrand of the former Electronic Library (now Library and Academic Technology Services or LATS) which took place last year. While the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections (which are created and maintained by the DPS) will keep their name for the time being, the DPS will be working to rebrand their online presence both on social media and on the Digital Collections site ( in the coming days and months.

New Faces in Familiar Places

The other big changes to the Group Formerly Known as the DPG involve personnel. For some time, Travis Taylor has been part of the DPS team, beginning as a graduate assistant, then a temporary employee and briefly in a dual-reporting position doing audiovisual digitization and monitoring and tracking usage statistics for the various systems administered by LATS. But some internal moves within the LATS structure allowed the DPS to add another full-time position to the team, and Travis has since moved into that spot to serve as a full-time audiovisual digitization specialist alongside long-time employee Stephen Bolech. He is working primarily with the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project’s analog discs but also assists with video digitization and is investigating systems for film digitization as well.

Partnering with the DPS team to take over usage statistics work – and assisting with digitization, quality control and other critical tasks – is Libby Shockley. Libby joined the Digital Library Services and Systems (working under Denyse Rodgers) after serving with the libraries as an Information Specialist in the Library Collections Services department. Libby will work closely with Allyson Riley, who continues in her role as Digitization Coordinator.

A Departure

The final staffing news of note involves our Curator of Digital Collections — me. After working with DPS director Darryl Stuhr for more than 12 years – first as the second (and only additional) full-time staffer and most recently as curator – I left the DPS for a position as Assistant Director of Marketing & Communications for the division of University Libraries and ITS. I am proud to report that my tenure as curator helped grow the Digital Collections from a handful of small collections to a robust repository of almost 500,000 items, including more than 3,000 items in the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project, a complete run of the Baylor “Lariat” (the campus newspaper) and more than 70 additional collections. My curation work, which included loading materials into Baylor’s CONTENTdm instance, will continue under Darryl and Metadata Librarian Kara Long.

I will continue my relationship with the DPS in the role of promoting and publicizing the ongoing work of the group, including its established social media channels, ongoing events (like the Voices & Vinyl concert and the Visions of Rapture art exhibit) and in writing grants for use by the DPS in their ongoing projects. The decision to leave my friends and colleagues at the DPS was not an easy one, and being able to maintain these ties to the amazing work being done by this group of talented professionals was one major reason I was able to make the transition with full knowledge that it was the right (if not necessarily easy) choice for me at this stage in my career.

So What’s Next?

The changes will continue for the DPS as it continues to add content to an already-sizable digital collection, with an expected increase in video digitization coming in the near future, as well as the ingestion of additional resources from our campus archival collections. There’s also a change to the appearance of the Digital Collections site on the horizon, as Baylor transitions into CONTENTdm’s mobile/responsive design template, a move that will make browsing our materials on tablets and phones a more intuitive and engaging experience. There might also be new equipment to tell you about soon, the addition of which will allow the DPS to explore digitization in areas where we’ve only previously dabbled.

In short: change is what’s next. It’s unpredictable, it’s sometimes difficult, but it’s always been something the DPS team has handled with skill, ability and foresight.

So let’s look forward together to what changes await, and thanks for being a part of the journey that’s led us to this moment. Here’s to the future.