Tag Archive for General Information

(Digital Collections) An Update on the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project

All good things require patience, as the Evangelistic Soul Seekers well knew, given the title of this ca. 1965 track.

If you’ve been reading the local newspapers of late – the Waco Tribune-Herald and our on-campus daily, the Baylor Lariat – you’ve seen Baylor’s Black Gospel Music Restoration Project (BGMRP) get some generous front-page coverage. This publicity has centered around last week’s Pruit Symposium, a two-day affair held at Truett Seminary celebrating the project and the impact of black gospel music on American culture.

One of the most tantalizing possibilities being discussed is the possibility of sharing content from the BGMRP with the still-in-development National Museum of African American Culture and Heritage (NMAACH), the newest project of the Smithsonian Institution. The NMAACH is currently under construction on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. (check out their live construction cam here!) and is scheduled to open in 2015.

In recent months, several members of the project – most notably Prof. Robert Darden of the Baylor University Journalism Dept. and Tim Logan, Associate Vice President for the Electronic Library – have been in talks with staff at the NMAACH about potential ways to integrate content from the BGMRP into an exhibit on black gospel music at the museum. These discussions have focused on ways to provide unique content from the project for access by patrons visiting the museum’s exhibits. While these discussions are in the very early stages, we have received positive feedback on working together to explore ways in which this partnership might benefit NMAACH visitors and further the goals of the BGMRP.

One thing that will not change, regardless the outcome of discussions with the Smithsonian, is the way in which the important work of gathering, digitizing and presenting online the materials from the BGMRP is being done. The project will stay at Baylor University, and it will continue to be carried out by members of the Digital Projects Group – a group housed in the Electronic Library, a special collection of the Baylor University Libraries. Control of the project will continue to reside with Baylor faculty and library staff.

Obviously, we are excited about the interest being generated in this important project, and we look forward to finding new ways – and partnerships – to promote the BGMRP and its impact on scholarship, research and enjoyment by people around the world. We look forward to sharing more details on the project’s growth and development as they are solidified, and we encourage you to direct any questions, ideas or offers to assist the project to digitalcollectionsinfo@baylor.edu.

Baylor University Libraries staff members involved with the project are:

–       Darryl Stuhr: Assistant Director for Digital Projects Group

–       Stephen Bolech: Audiovisual Digitization Specialist

–       Kara Scott: Metadata Librarian

–       Eric Ames: Curator of Digital Collections

–       Allyson Riley: Digitization Coordinator

–       DPG graduate assistants and undergraduate student workers

For more information on the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project, please visit http://www.baylor.edu/lib/gospel. The publicly accessible collection may be found at http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu/cdm/landingpage/collection/fa-gospel30.

(Digital Collections) More Than the Sum of Its Parts: The JFK – Other Materials Collection

As we approach the 50th commemoration of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, we will be highlighting a number of JFK-related collections here on the Digital Collections blog. The William R. “Bob” Poage Legislative Library has become a hub for materials related to the assassination and its fallout, and we look forward to exposing those collections to a wider audience via the blog, our Facebook page and other promotional avenues. Read part one of the series here and part two here.

 The impact of the Kennedy assassination can be measured in any number of ways, from changes in government policy to the stain it left on the reputation of Dallas, Texas. Accompanying these shifts in the cultural landscape were reams of documentation and artifacts that were preserved in quantities too small to justify the creation of entire digital collections but no less important for being less in number. For materials like these, we created a “JFK – Other Materials” collection.

“The Truth Letter” – Typewritten, Equal Opportunity Printer of News

Among the more interesting items in this collection are the “Truth Letter” newsletters. Published by Joachim Joesten between 1968-1971, the “Truth Letter” billed itself as “An Antidote to Official Mendacity and Newsfaking in the Press,” as well as a purveyor of “All the News That’s UNFIT to Print.” These typewritten, single-spaced publications were a platform for Joesten’s personal theories, responses to other publications and overall discourses on the subject of Kennedy’s assassination.

“Truth Letter” Vol. I, no. 14 – April 1, 1969

Representations of the “Mainstream” Media

There are several examples of materials drawn from the more prominent outlets of the media included in this collection. Two of particular note at the teletype transcripts of the assassination’s coverage, one from UPI and the other from the AP. These fragile artifacts were the forerunner to Twitter-style updates on a breaking news situation: short, declarative statements with “time stamps” provided a continuous stream of information for reporters across the country.

Excerpt from UPI teletype, November 22, 1963

Newspaper articles make an appearance in the collection via a notebook containing dozens of clipped and pasted articles that form a notebook donated by Robert Cutler. These annotated clippings document mainstream media coverage of the fallout from the assassination, as well as related events like the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.

In addition to these materials, the JFK – Other Materials collection provides several one-off items related to the life and legacy of John F. Kennedy that did not fit easily into an existing collection, so we encourage you to explore them as you dive deeper into the multifaceted story of November 22, 1963.

***

We will continue to highlight additional JFK-related collections throughout October and November as we participate in the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination. If you have any questions, please email us at digitalcollectionsinfo@baylor.edu or visit the Poage Legislative Library’s JFK Materials Website for more information.

(Digital Collections) What We Did On Our Pre-Summer Vacation: News, Updates and Miscellanea from the DPG

If you follow our Facebook page (and if you don’t, we’d love it if you would!), you saw that the DPG took time the past two weeks to participate in our bi-annual “shutdown” period. We instituted this time a couple of years back to allow for recalibration, updating, new machinery installations and more as a way to ensure we’re running as smoothly as possible the rest of the year. It’s a good time to do it – the end of a semester means no students around and a natural lull in production due to a loss of student labor – and we’ve found it to be a great opportunity to catch a quick breather before we dive headfirst into summer.

We wanted to use this post to update you on some changes that have come or will be coming in the near term, including the announcement of some new equipment for the RDC, updates to collections at http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu and a personnel note related to our staff.

We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Toolbox: New Scanners on the Way

Although they’re currently sitting in a central shipping warehouse somewhere on campus, we will soon be in possession of two new scanners that will update and enhance our ability to get things done.

The Kabis III

The first is a Kabis III, an upgrade for our current Kirtas APT 2400 high-speed book imager. The Kirtas has been a workhorse for us since its acquisition more than four years ago, digitizing hundreds of thousands of pages from documents including oral history transcripts to 19thcentury women poets’ books and binders full of JFK assassination-related documents. The Kabis III will reach speeds up to 2,900 pages per hour!

The CopiBook HD

The second new scanner is a CopiBook HD. This will replace the oldest of our specialized scanners, the Zeutschel Omniscan 10000tt. We anticipate using the CopiBook to digitize the same kinds of materials previously handled by the Zeutschel, including rare and fragile books, photographs, small manuscripts and the like.

Both of these scanners were acquired to replace machines that have been extremely effective and efficient but have been supplanted by improvements in technology over the past few years. We’ll have some videos and photos of the scanners in action in a future blog post.

Changes Major and Minor: Updates to Our Digital Collections Site

I spent a good deal of the shutdown doing some revisions, updates and additions to the metadata for our collections. A couple of collections were rebranded as hybrid collections – meaning their source material is derived from multiple holding institutions – and the order the collections appears in on the homepage was tweaked to reflect those changes.

A major metadata enhancement project was wrapped up when I completed the enhancement to the page structure navigation on the Round Up collection. Our campus yearbooks now feature more helpful page titles for quicker navigation via the right-hand panel (illustrated below). Instead of reading “Page 1, Page 2,” and so on, their headings now reflect the title or page number of the physical item, ensuring that the digital surrogate and the physical original mirror each other exactly.

The newly enhanced navigation for the Round Up. This functionality will be added to other collections.

Next, we added some new navigational functionality to our global headers. Now, you can click “View Previous Collection” or “View Next Collection” to quickly move from collection to collection without returning to the homepage. This will be especially helpful when users want to peruse a set of collections from one institution. For example, if they want to move quickly between all of the collections from Poage Legislative Library, this will speed up that process considerably.

Lastly, we’ve made some follow-up passes through our collections in order to make some corrections, updates and other enhancements to the metadata throughout. These updates should make them more searchable, more accurate and more in line with what people are coming to expect from how metadata is displayed in online digital collections.

“Orienting” New Students To Our Collections

This month, we’re taking part in a rite of passage for all Baylor students: New Student Orientation! For the second year in a row, Moody Memorial Library is hosting Dr Pepper Hour in the afternoons, and we’ve been asked to show off our digital collections to the 300-600 students (and their parents) who come through each day. That’s tons of great exposure for our digital assets, and a chance to expose students to the rich history and traditions of our university.

Our setup for Orientation

A Colleague Departs: Saying Farewell to Austin

On a sad note, we said goodbye to Austin Schneider last week. Our former Digital Collections Consultant for the Texas Collection left to take a new job opportunity off-campus. Austin was with us for just one year, but her contributions to the productivity and workplace atmosphere are much appreciated and she will be missed.

Best of luck in your new position, Austin, and don’t be a stranger!

(Digital Collections) Loan, Give, Tip: How Your Materials Can Become a Part of Our Collections

Materials from the S.E. Tull Collection of historic Baptist sermons

One of the most rewarding parts of our work in the DPG is knowing that our efforts will lead to better exposure for Baylor’s unique collections and a better understanding of the world in which we live. The materials housed in Baylor’s special collections provide ample resources for a career’s worth of output, but there are times when even our enviable collections could benefit from some outside augmentation.

That’s where you come in.

Several of our major projects are at their best when they’re aided by you, our users and supporters. One important way is through lending or outright gifting of materials to either the Digitization Projects Group directly, or indirectly through our campus special collections partners.

Lending or Donating to the Digitization Projects Group

Our two biggest ongoing projects that can most benefit from your help are the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project (BGMRP) and the Baylor University Libraries Athletics Archive (BULAA). While very different in content, they both operate on the same principle: we’re digitizing as much material as we can find that fits our criteria, and we know that a substantial portion of it lives off-campus. If you – or someone you know – is a collector of black gospel music or Baylor sports memorabilia, you can lend or donate materials to our group for digitization and inclusion in our digital collections. (See the end of this post for contact information on how to lend or give to the DPG.)

Donating to Our Partners

If you’d like your materials to have a permanent home at one of Baylor’s special collections or institutions, you can contact them to arrange for a meeting with a representative who can appraise and research your materials for possible inclusion in their collections. Then, if they make good candidates for digitization, we’ll work with our liaisons at the special collections to queue them up for digitizing and uploading. (See the end of this post for contact information on how to lend or give to our special collections partners.)

Tips

Know someone who has a large collection of Civil War letters? How about antique maps or black gospel albums from the 1950s? If you do, and you think they’d like to contribute to our work, send them the link to our digital collections homepage, pass along our email address (digitalcollectionsinfo@baylor.edu) or have them stop by the Moody Memorial Library on campus and meet with us. We rely on word-of-mouth and user tips from people who collect materials we’re digitizing to help us create larger, more complete digital collections.

So take a minute to peruse your bookshelves or filing cabinets, give that obsessive collector a call, or take an extra minute to look through the gospel section of the used record store for things that might help us create a bigger, better digital collection. We’ll even make sure to list you as the custodian or lender if you’d like to see your name in our records!


The Digitization Projects Group
ATTN: Eric Ames
Baylor University Libraries
One Bear Place #97148
Waco, TX 76798-7148

The Black Gospel Music Restoration Project
ATTN: Denyse Rodgers
Baylor University Libraries
1312 S 3rd Street
Waco, TX 76706

The Texas Collection
http://www.baylor.edu/lib/texas
or txcoll@baylor.edu

Armstrong Browning Library
http://www.baylor.edu/lib/abl
or Rita_Patteson@baylor.edu

W.R. Poage Legislative Library
http://www.baylor.edu/lib/poage
or Poage_Library@baylor.edu

(Digital Collections) The DPG Team: An Essential Primer

The Team (from left): Darryl Stuhr, Allyson Riley, Eric Ames, Austin Schneider and Stephen Bolech

After one of our previous posts went viral, exposing us to a much larger audience, we decided it would be a good time to formally introduce our team to the world. So, without further ado, meet the folks who scan, curate, digitize, import, outreach, and generally save the world, one scan at a time.

  1. When did you join the DPG? The day it was created.
  2.  What degree(s) do you hold? From where? Bachelors of Music from Florida International University and Masters in Music Composition from Baylor University
  3. Where were you born? Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
  4. In five words or less, describe what you do at the DPG: Manage Digitization projects and infrastructure.
  5. Coolest/strangest/most unique item you’ve worked with at the DPG: A 1948 aluminum-core radio transcription disc in excellent condition.
  6. Why do you think the work we do is important? Because we share Baylor’s unique materials with the world, provide access for researchers to digitized original source materials, and work to preserve the digital objects in perpetuity.
  7. If you could spend the day with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be and why? Carl Sagan, there are billions and billions of reasons.
  8. Favorite bands: Foo Fighters, Mumford & Sons, Taking Back Sunday
  9. What do you do when you’re not at work? Spend time with wife and three kids doing fun kid stuff.
  10. Your favorite random fact? Hard to say this is my favorite but it is definitely random, Seinfeld (not Friends) became the first television series to get more than a million dollars/minute for advertising.

  1. When did you join the DPG? November 2005
  2. What degree(s) do you hold? From where? BA in Public Relations from Texas Tech University and MA in Museum Studies from Baylor University
  3. Where were you born? Borger, Texas
  4. In five words or less, describe what you do at the DPG: Curate. Research. Outreach. Media. Materials.
  5. Coolest/strangest/most unique item you’ve worked with at the DPG: Digitizing a 13th c. hymnal, hand-illustrated on vellum
  6. Why do you think the work we do is important? I have a full slate of anecdotal stories about why what we do is important, but it boils down to this: We make the previously semi-accessible instantaneous, which leads to new insight, new scholarship, and new understandings.
  7. If you could spend the day with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be and why? Chicago architect – and planner of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition – Daniel Hudson Burnham. If that answer confuses/intrigues you, please see Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City. I think you’ll understand why pretty quickly after that.
  8. Favorite bands: The Old 97’s, Foo Fighters, Led Zeppelin
  9. What do you do when you’re not at work? Read, eat, spend time with my wife Amy and 2-year-old daughter Sophia
  10. Your favorite random fact? Lincoln Logs were invented by Frank Lloyd Wright’s son.

  1. When did you join the DPG? October 2010   
  2. What degree(s) do you hold? From where? BA in Film and Digital Media from Baylor
  3. Where were you born? Austin, Tejas
  4. In five words or less, describe what you do at the DPG: Manage project flow and student workers (I know that’s 6 but I’m not counting “and” as a word =))
  5. Coolest/strangest/most unique item you’ve worked with at the DPG? 1920’s Football Playbook
  6. Why do you think the work we do is important? So people can access these items online and find useful information from them without having to handle the actual materials.
  7. If you could spend the day with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be and why? Will Smith because he is just oh so funny.
  8. Favorite band: The Rocket Summer
  9. What do you do when you’re not at work? Shopping; Get all artsy and start making things.
  10. Your favorite random fact? On Friends, the iconic frame on Monica’s door was originally a mirror but a crew member smashed it.

  1. When did you join the DPG? I joined the DPG in late July 2012.
  2. What degree(s) do you hold? From where? I have a Bachelor of Arts in English from Baylor University.
  3. Where were you born? I was born in Tifton, Georgia [aka the Deep South].
  4. In five words or less, describe what you do at the DPG: Manage projects for Texas Collection.
  5. Coolest/strangest/most unique item you’ve worked with at the DPG: I particularly enjoyed getting to see and read some of the letters between Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning and gaining unique insight into their romance.
  6. Why do you think the work we do is important? Society continues to advance technologically, and as a result, valuable pieces from our past are often disregarded as having little value or are left to fall apart. The DPG works diligently to make sure that the items entrusted to or relating to Baylor University are well preserved in order to benefit future generations.
  7. If you could spend the day with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be and why? It would have to be C.S. Lewis. Not only was he an incredible author, but he was also one of the wisest and funniest theologians of all time.
  8. Favorite band(s): John Mayer, The Civil Wars, Ben Rector
  9. What do you do when you’re not at work? I love to read, shop, and attempt to tackle cool projects I find on Pinterest
  10. 10. Your favorite random fact? The peach was the first fruit to be eaten on the Moon [since I’m from the “peach state”].

  1. When did you join the DPG? Joined full-time in May 2012; split time between here and Crouch [Fine Arts Library] for a year before that.
  2. What degree(s) do you hold? From where? Bachelor of Music from Baylor and Master of Library Science from UNT
  3. Where were you born? Victoria, TX (grew up in Yoakum, TX)
  4. In five words or less, describe what you do at the DPG: Digitize audio and video materials
  5. Coolest/strangest/most unique item you’ve worked with at the DPG: I digitized a bunch of cassettes of David Koresh’s phone conversations with hostage negotiators.
  6. Why do you think the work we do is important? I think that the materials we work with (most of them at least) are an important part of our cultural heritage, and many of them are in danger of being lost because of degradation or obsolescence. 
  7. If you could spend the day with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be and why? President Obama, because I’m really curious what the average day of a US president is like, and he seems really cool.  I don’t want to play basketball though.
  8. Favorite bands: Radiohead and Pearl Jam
  9. What do you do when you’re not at work? Watch TV, cook, or work on recording and mixing music
  10. Your favorite random fact? I once attended a two-day, hands on, European-style hog butchery class.

***
We hope that gives you a better understanding of the people charged with digitizing and making available the unique resources of Baylor University’s special collections, libraries, and institutes. If you have any questions for us, leave them in the comments, or send us an email at digitalcollectionsinfo@baylor.edu!

Photos from the fine folks at Baylor University Marketing and Communications – Photography.

(Digital Collections) The DPG Team: An Essential Primer

The Team (from left): Darryl Stuhr, Allyson Riley, Eric Ames, Austin Schneider and Stephen Bolech

After one of our previous posts went viral, exposing us to a much larger audience, we decided it would be a good time to formally introduce our team to the world. So, without further ado, meet the folks who scan, curate, digitize, import, outreach, and generally save the world, one scan at a time.

  1. When did you join the DPG? The day it was created.
  2.  What degree(s) do you hold? From where? Bachelors of Music from Florida International University and Masters in Music Composition from Baylor University
  3. Where were you born? Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
  4. In five words or less, describe what you do at the DPG: Manage Digitization projects and infrastructure.
  5. Coolest/strangest/most unique item you’ve worked with at the DPG: A 1948 aluminum-core radio transcription disc in excellent condition.
  6. Why do you think the work we do is important? Because we share Baylor’s unique materials with the world, provide access for researchers to digitized original source materials, and work to preserve the digital objects in perpetuity.
  7. If you could spend the day with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be and why? Carl Sagan, there are billions and billions of reasons.
  8. Favorite bands: Foo Fighters, Mumford & Sons, Taking Back Sunday
  9. What do you do when you’re not at work? Spend time with wife and three kids doing fun kid stuff.
  10. Your favorite random fact? Hard to say this is my favorite but it is definitely random, Seinfeld (not Friends) became the first television series to get more than a million dollars/minute for advertising.

  1. When did you join the DPG? November 2005
  2. What degree(s) do you hold? From where? BA in Public Relations from Texas Tech University and MA in Museum Studies from Baylor University
  3. Where were you born? Borger, Texas
  4. In five words or less, describe what you do at the DPG: Curate. Research. Outreach. Media. Materials.
  5. Coolest/strangest/most unique item you’ve worked with at the DPG: Digitizing a 13th c. hymnal, hand-illustrated on vellum
  6. Why do you think the work we do is important? I have a full slate of anecdotal stories about why what we do is important, but it boils down to this: We make the previously semi-accessible instantaneous, which leads to new insight, new scholarship, and new understandings.
  7. If you could spend the day with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be and why? Chicago architect – and planner of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition – Daniel Hudson Burnham. If that answer confuses/intrigues you, please see Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City. I think you’ll understand why pretty quickly after that.
  8. Favorite bands: The Old 97’s, Foo Fighters, Led Zeppelin
  9. What do you do when you’re not at work? Read, eat, spend time with my wife Amy and 2-year-old daughter Sophia
  10. Your favorite random fact? Lincoln Logs were invented by Frank Lloyd Wright’s son.

  1. When did you join the DPG? October 2010   
  2. What degree(s) do you hold? From where? BA in Film and Digital Media from Baylor
  3. Where were you born? Austin, Tejas
  4. In five words or less, describe what you do at the DPG: Manage project flow and student workers (I know that’s 6 but I’m not counting “and” as a word =))
  5. Coolest/strangest/most unique item you’ve worked with at the DPG? 1920’s Football Playbook
  6. Why do you think the work we do is important? So people can access these items online and find useful information from them without having to handle the actual materials.
  7. If you could spend the day with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be and why? Will Smith because he is just oh so funny.
  8. Favorite band: The Rocket Summer
  9. What do you do when you’re not at work? Shopping; Get all artsy and start making things.
  10. Your favorite random fact? On Friends, the iconic frame on Monica’s door was originally a mirror but a crew member smashed it.

  1. When did you join the DPG? I joined the DPG in late July 2012.
  2. What degree(s) do you hold? From where? I have a Bachelor of Arts in English from Baylor University.
  3. Where were you born? I was born in Tifton, Georgia [aka the Deep South].
  4. In five words or less, describe what you do at the DPG: Manage projects for Texas Collection.
  5. Coolest/strangest/most unique item you’ve worked with at the DPG: I particularly enjoyed getting to see and read some of the letters between Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning and gaining unique insight into their romance.
  6. Why do you think the work we do is important? Society continues to advance technologically, and as a result, valuable pieces from our past are often disregarded as having little value or are left to fall apart. The DPG works diligently to make sure that the items entrusted to or relating to Baylor University are well preserved in order to benefit future generations.
  7. If you could spend the day with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be and why? It would have to be C.S. Lewis. Not only was he an incredible author, but he was also one of the wisest and funniest theologians of all time.
  8. Favorite band(s): John Mayer, The Civil Wars, Ben Rector
  9. What do you do when you’re not at work? I love to read, shop, and attempt to tackle cool projects I find on Pinterest
  10. 10. Your favorite random fact? The peach was the first fruit to be eaten on the Moon [since I’m from the “peach state”].

  1. When did you join the DPG? Joined full-time in May 2012; split time between here and Crouch [Fine Arts Library] for a year before that.
  2. What degree(s) do you hold? From where? Bachelor of Music from Baylor and Master of Library Science from UNT
  3. Where were you born? Victoria, TX (grew up in Yoakum, TX)
  4. In five words or less, describe what you do at the DPG: Digitize audio and video materials
  5. Coolest/strangest/most unique item you’ve worked with at the DPG: I digitized a bunch of cassettes of David Koresh’s phone conversations with hostage negotiators.
  6. Why do you think the work we do is important? I think that the materials we work with (most of them at least) are an important part of our cultural heritage, and many of them are in danger of being lost because of degradation or obsolescence. 
  7. If you could spend the day with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be and why? President Obama, because I’m really curious what the average day of a US president is like, and he seems really cool.  I don’t want to play basketball though.
  8. Favorite bands: Radiohead and Pearl Jam
  9. What do you do when you’re not at work? Watch TV, cook, or work on recording and mixing music
  10. Your favorite random fact? I once attended a two-day, hands on, European-style hog butchery class.

***
We hope that gives you a better understanding of the people charged with digitizing and making available the unique resources of Baylor University’s special collections, libraries, and institutes. If you have any questions for us, leave them in the comments, or send us an email at digitalcollectionsinfo@baylor.edu!

Photos from the fine folks at Baylor University Marketing and Communications – Photography.

(Digital Collections) “So We Can Throw These Out Now, Right?”: What We Learned From Microfilming Newspapers and How It Shapes Our Digitization Strategy

Pictured: Scanner Fuel, from the stacks at Baylor University.

Recently, I attended a workshop for a topic mostly unrelated to my work in digital collections. At introduction time, I gave a nutshell view of what I do by saying my group digitizes Baylor’s special collections and makes them available online. Despite the whole thing taking about 15 seconds and being intentionally generic, I’ve done this intro enough times by now to know what was going to happen next.

An older gentleman sitting on the front row got what I can only describe as the “ah-ha!” look on his face, and at the first break, he approached me and asked a question I get more often than not when I talk to people about what we do at the Digitization Projects Group.

“I work at a small museum, and we’re being told to digitize our collections. Once we do, we can just throw those old papers out, right? And is a DVD a good storage solution?”

My answer to him was simple, but it probably wasn’t what he expected to hear.

“Do you remember microfilm?” I asked him. “And when was the last time you used it and thought ‘Gosh, I wish I could get my hands on the original just to compare it to what I’m looking at’ only to find it’s been decades since anyone saw a paper copy? That’s why you can’t just throw things out once they’re scanned.”

“Also,” I added, “DVDs are terrible.”

***

Okay, so I wasn’t quite that blunt on the DVD answer, but the effect was the same: a stunned look of disbelief. In some ways, I don’t blame him. There’s a lot of misinformation (and outright falsehoods) out there about digitization, data preservation, and care of digitized materials, and the more channels it has to filter through to reach people at smaller institutions, the more distorted it can get.

If you haven’t done so, I encourage you to check out a book by Nicholson Baker called Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper. Baker’s central premise is that during the microfilming heyday of the 1980s and 1990s, libraries and other institutions put too much faith in the technology of microfilming and weren’t always diligent about properly preserving and storing the newspapers that had been filmed. It is a polemical, biased, uncomfortable book to read, and it is less than popular among librarians. But that was exactly Baker’s point.

Baker wanted to draw attention to the notion that just because a technology had come along that promised better access and a smaller storage footprint didn’t mean professionals could become lax about enforcing good practices of physical archival storage. While much of Baker’s criticism has been ably (and thoroughly) countered by library professionals in the decade since Double Fold’s publication in 2001, it remains a stirring think piece on the dangers of over-reliance on a “silver bullet” solution at the expense of long-term viability.

At the heart of Baker’s issues with microfilm was the prevailing attitude that, once a run of newspapers had been filmed, it was perfectly acceptable for the originals to be tossed, as the filmed versions were thought to be a reasonable substitute that preserved both the look and content of the papers at a fraction of the space required to store them. But what happens if the film is bad and no one noticed until the originals were long gone? Or what if a page was skipped, or an entire volume? Or what if the film falls prey to “vinegarization” – an inherent agent of deterioration wherein the films layers begin to breakdown and disintegrate, producing a distinctive vinegary, “salad dressing” smell – and now cannot be viewed?

If the originals are gone, the answer is clear: there’s nothing you can do.

***

Which brings me back to my fellow workshop attendee’s question: once things are scanned, they’re safe to pitch, right? The problems outlined in Baker’s book could just as easily apply to the process of digitizing archival materials. We believe the technology behind digitization is reliable, replicable, and sustainable, and we’ve learned a great deal about how to approach digitizing materials thanks to the lessons revealed by the great microfilm boom of the last century. As such, we’ve got processes and technologies in place to monitor our digital files, keeping them secure and accessible for decades to come.

But what about the things we can’t predict? What if the next generation of computers is so different from what we’re used to today that the very idea of digital files changes completely? What if a specialized virus destroys every TIFF file in creation? What if the Mayans were right, and civilization as we know it craters at the end of the year, rendering all our painstaking efforts profoundly moot?

The best answer is to do what people have done since 200 BC: go back to the paper versions.

That’s why we counsel our partners to use the process of digitizing materials to serve as a catalyst for rehousing materials in archival storage if they’re not stored that way already. That’s why we urge conservation of fragile materials before they arrive at our center. That’s why we never tell them it’s safe to throw something away just because it’s been scanned, cataloged and placed in a digital collection.

That’s why I told the man from the workshop that the answer to his question is a very simple, “No.”

And the DVD question? Think about this: when was the last time you popped a CD into your car’s stereo that you hadn’t listened to in a while, only to find that your favorite song was skipping like a hyperactive preschooler thanks to a series of almost-imperceptible scratches? It’s happened to all of us, and the same thing can happen to a supposed “100 year, archival” gold DVD.

But for years, digitizers at institutions large and small were told that backing up your files to a DVD and putting it on a shelf was a great example of a reliable backup, to the point where many early digitization outfits didn’t keep any other versions of files around once they were burned to disc. But we found pretty quickly that those discs weren’t reliable enough to be a sole backup source, so now we keep multiple copies on spinning discs, analog tape, and in the cloud both on- and off-site to ensure long term stability of our digital assets.

***

All of this makes good sense, but if professionals at big institutions like the Library of Congress, the National Archives and even Baylor’s own DPG have to keep constant watch on evolving technology trends just to stay up to speed, how can we expect staffers at small to mid-size institutions to keep up?

Ultimately, it comes down to education and using a common sense approach to digitization projects. Education on the part of large institutions like the Library of Congress, the Texas Historical Commission, and, at a local/regional level, our own staff to educate people at small institutions on the basics of digitization and file management. Workshops, webinars, websites and more can be found that contain basic information about how to scan documents, how to manage the data that results, and what to do to keep it safe, and more access to this kind of information can do great good to counteract some of the old misconceptions that are still out there.

And common sense? That’s something Baker’s Double Fold should give us reason to trust in spades. If something is important enough to scan and put online, isn’t it common sense to think that it’s important enough to preserve physically? If an archival collection was kept safely stored for decades in the right environment, does it make sense to throw it out now that it’s been scanned? And if we know that paper-based items can last for centuries when properly stored, doesn’t it make sense to hold onto them as long as we can, just in case?

***

Is digitization an important undertaking for libraries, museums, and archives of all sizes? Undeniably.

Should we take steps to ensure our cultural heritage – digital and physical – is properly stored, displayed, and accessed? Without a doubt.

Does either of those facts mean it’s safe to discard a decade’s worth of 19th century American newspapers once they’ve been scanned, as happened with microfilmed newspapers in the 1990s?

If anyone’s reading this post in 3012, do me a favor: look me up and let me know.

(Digital Collections) Hot and Bot-hered: The Joys of Moderating Spam Comments

The Eternal Struggle for Bloggers

One of the unexpected joys of writing this blog is filtering out the spam comments we receive on almost every post. Many are garden variety garbage gathered by spambots and spit back out as “comments.” These get caught by the spam filters and deleted routinely. Others are from people hoping to use the blog as a launchpad for their own interests: “Play my music on your blog!” or “Check out my book on this subject!” That sort of thing.

But there is a truly special kind of spam comment that I call the “almost reads like it was written by a human being – but not quite” comment. We received four such comments in a row (on four different posts) from an IP address based in Germany whose spambots used commenter names related to payday loans. Let’s read them together and laugh, shall we?

Contact One: Short and Sweet

Excellent article! We are linking to this great post on our website. Keep up the great writing. <URL redacted>

Well, that makes this author feel all warm and fuzzy! Too bad this same comment was probably posted to every possible blog post in the United States.

Contact Two: More Effusive Praise

I was extremely pleased to discover this web site. I need to to thank you
for ones time due to this wonderful read!! I definitely really liked every
little bit of it and i also have you book marked to check out new things in your web site. <Same URL, redacted>

The ego boost from this “commenter” was marred somewhat by the poor grammar. Then I remembered it was generated by a German spambot, and I cut it some slack.

Contact Three: Attempts at Lingo and Self-Disclosed Amnesia

Howdy! I could have sworn I’ve visited your blog before but after looking at a few of the posts I realized it’s new to me. Anyhow, I’m definitely happy I found it and I’ll be bookmarking it and checking back often! <Same URL, redacted again>

Nothing gets a Texan’s attention like the use of a prime piece of regional vernacular, and the lead-off “Howdy!” here sure grabs the eye. But the admission that the writing on this site wasn’t interesting enough for the spambot to remember it fully takes some of the bloom off the rose, so to speak.

Contact Four: The Honeymoon is Definitely Over

Next time I read a blog, I hope that it doesn’t disappoint me just as much as this one. After all, I know it was my choice to read through, nonetheless I genuinely thought you would probably have something helpful to talk about. All I hear is a bunch of complaining about something that you could possibly fix if you weren’t too busy searching for attention. <Same URL, redacted – probably for the last time>

Oh. Oh, my. It seems we’ve done something to upset our semi-sentient German friend. This comment was submitted for the post related to the Browning Letters Project, a post which I thought was uniformly happy and positive, given its focus on love poems. I guess the hive mind behind the commenting spambot has little care for the creative works of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning!

Of Robots and Social Media

Sure, these comments are funny, but what’s the harm? So what if some chunk of code from a Germanic website is blasting our inbox with semi-coherent “responses” to our blog’s output? For the end user, it’s probably not a big deal; if we don’t approve the comment, you’ll never see it. And the Word Press platform (administered by Edublogs) catches all of them, so there’s no real possibility that one will slip out into the general populace to wreak havoc.

The problem is this: these unending automated attacks will only get more sophisticated, and they are not going away. There are plenty of people who would use tactics like this to entice the unwary to click on a link that looks legitimate, enter in their personal information, and find themselves swindled out of the contents of their bank accounts. And while an academic blog related to digital collections may seem like a strange choice for such an attack, it is indicative of the no-holds-barred approach taken by unscrupulous people in their quest for ill-gotten gains.

The unfortunate side effect for archives, libraries and museums (especially small ones) is that these hassles can have a chilling effect on their efforts to use social media to promote their collections to the world. If an institution with little to no Web presence believes these kinds of spam attacks can do real harm to their institution’s computers (to say nothing of its reputation), how many will choose to forgo blogging, Facebook, Twitter and the rest simply out of fear? And ultimately, how many amazing pieces of our cultural heritage will remain unseen online as a result? While we may chuckle about these blatant forgeries, can the time be far off when they become so sophisticated that even major institutions fall prey to their wiles?

A Plea for Human Contact

While these robotic missives may be entertaining (and/or potentially destructive), they are no substitute from well-formed, enlightening, written-by-humans comments. So if you find a post on our blog interesting, informative, enlightening, even enraging, please don’t hesitate to comment. Your voice helps us make this blog – and by extension our digital collections – better every day.

 

 

(Digital Collections) Go With the (Work)Flow: How Things Get Done in the RDC

One thing we’ve learned about digitizing Baylor’s unique collections is the importance of front-end planning for the overall success of a project. It’s the crucial step that separates a “well, that went smoothly” project from a “nightmare of epic proportions” project.

The challenge with workflow planning is that it’s the least glamorous part of almost every project, so giving it its due isn’t usually our first point of interest. Lots of digitization outfits fall into the trap of rushing to get items onto scanners as quickly as possible, assuming that things like useful filename identifiers and quality controlling will just work themselves out over the course of the project. Unfortunately for them, this is rarely the case, and failing to plan ahead becomes the first step in a rapid spiral into a project with no direction, frequent backsliding, and endless frustration.

So how do we avoid these pitfalls with projects that can encompass hundreds of thousands of items and up to a dozen different employees taking part in the process?

1.    Practice restrained exuberance. No matter how exciting the source material you’ve been tasked to digitize, letting the awesomeness of the items overwhelm your better judgment is a classic rookie mistake. Taking time to dispassionately evaluate the materials gives you a better handle on things like the items’ physical state, the extent of the collection (number of items), logistical challenges, and content-related concerns.

2.    Go with what works. Years of experience (and trial and error) have provided us with some practical tips that work with projects of almost any size. In the end, it comes down to some little things that make a big difference: get an accurate estimate on the number of items; use filenames that make sense (texas-johnson-diary-001-01.tiff) so you can find things easily; scan using best practices (300 dpi tiffs for preservation, etc.); and assign people to the kind of work that suits their personalities. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel for most digitization projects, and if you have to be inventive, make it an upgrade, not a complete redesign.

3.    Figure out who’s doing what. DPG staff handle the higher-level planning and ultimate quality control on all projects, but graduate assistants and undergraduate student workers carry out the bulk of the actual digitization and file manipulation for most projects. That means explicitly assigning portions of a project among one to ten people, something that can be a major hassle, unless you …

4.    Create a spreadsheet. Free tools like Google Docs offer our group a fast, free, cloud-based solution to keeping large groups of people in step with one another over the course of a project. Google Docs offers spreadsheets, documents and more with customizable levels of access so we can see at a glance where any project stands.

Workflow spreadsheet for the Browning Letters Project

5.    Create a workflow chart. DPG Manager Darryl Stuhr is a big fan of workflow charts, and his creations are virtuoso-level masterpieces of data management. Take a look at this piece (currently taped in his office window) for our Baylor University News Releases Project. These visualizations of how things work help him plan each byte from scanner to preservation server and online access.

Darryl Stuhr's workflow chart for the BU News Releases Project

6.    Stay on top of everyone’s work. Managing data is only half of the task; keeping the team on task is the other. It takes a great deal of effort to ensure students are scanning at a high level of quality, that files are ending up where they’re supposed to be, and that the final product is a collection people will find useful, accurate and interesting.

7.    Celebrate successes. Adding end-of-project pizza parties to our workflow has been a fun way to reward hours of often-repetitive effort on the part of our student workers. (College students like free pizza; who knew?) But often it’s the simple act of saying “Thank you” and celebrating together that makes the difference.

So if you’re setting out to start a major digitization project, keep these tips in mind. This may be the blog post that prevents you from regretting tackling one in the first place, and who knows? It may even give you an excuse to celebrate with pizza.

(Digital Collections) The Education of a Digitization Projects Group: A Dispatch from TCDL 2012

When the Digitization Projects Group isn’t busy saving the world (one scan at a time), we’re taking time to recharge our creative batteries and hone our technical skills at various conferences, symposia and workshops. This past week, half of the DPG (our Manager, Darryl Stuhr and myself) traveled to Austin for the Texas Conference on Digital Libraries.

This is the kind of group where library and IT types coexist in harmony, focused on the lofty goal of providing access to digital content, management of data, and the preservation of that data now and forevermore. Topics covered at TCDL included collaborative project workflows, data architecture, preservation systems, streaming video and much more. It’s the kind of group where a speaker may use the phrases “crowdsourcing,” “Internet 2” and “replicating server” in the same sentence with confidence that most people in the room will know what they’re talking about.

Darryl presented as part of a panel immediately following the opening session. His portion of the show covered the Browning Letters Project, specifically the challenges and rewards of working in collaboration with multiple parties to achieve a common goal. As outlined in this post, the Browning Letters Project is a major collaboration with Wellesley College focusing on the written correspondence of the poets Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

After a morning of presentations, nothing keeps things moving like a spicy “bowl of red” at the Texas Chili Parlor. We were joined by colleagues Tim Logan (Assistant Vice President for the Electronic Library) and Billie Peterson-Lugo (Director of Electronic Libraries Resources & Collection Management Services) for a lively round of conversation and traditional Texas chili.

Pictured: conference fuel

Presentations in the afternoon included information on streaming video for faculty use; crowdsourcing transcriptions of manuscript collections; and workflow/planning for collaborative projects. There was even an appearance by  Georgia Harper (University of Texas at Austin), a copyright expert who helped consult our group regarding the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project.

Georgia Harper: Copyright Rock Star

The day ended with a poster presentation session/reception where I presented a poster outlining what we’ve been up to in the realms of curation of digital assets and outreach to our respective publics.

Note the irony of presenting info about digital collections on a printed poster.

These conferences always generate lots of good ideas we can integrate into our work back in Waco. And while it can be easy to fall into the trap of “conference high” – where every idea you had seems like the most important thing in the world and must happen right now – there’s no doubt that taking advantage of opportunities like TCDL allows us to network with like-minded professionals, get exposed to new ideas and benefit from the critical mass that forms when lots of people interested in the same thing gather in one place for an extended time.

And did I mention the chili?