Tag Archive for General Information

(Digital Collections) Mrs. Neff’s Portrait: Or, The Things We Scan That Aren’t Online

If you’re a regular reader of this blog,* you know we feature items in this space that are drawn from our digital collections that we believe are unique, interesting or otherwise worthy of added exposure. And for that purpose, we have more than 35,000 objects online to write about – more than enough to keep bloggers busy for years to come.

But what about the things we digitize at the Riley Digitization Center that don’t go online? What makes something worthy of occupying a spot in cyberspace and what makes something a candidate for relegation to a dark archive, securely stored and likely never to see the light of the Internet?

In general, there are four major reasons to digitize an item:

  • Rarity. The object in question is one-of-a-kind.
  • Fragility. The object is in a state of physical disrepair and digitization is a step on the way toward better storage, conservation or digital enhancement.
  • Access. The object will make a beneficial addition to an online environment.
  • Preservation. The object isn’t deemed an acceptable candidate for online presentation for any one of a number of reasons.

The reasons for keeping an item offline are numerous, including copyright concerns; lack of provenance information (source, date, authenticity, etc.); sensitive content; or potential for misuse.

Copyright Concerns
Some material we digitize in order to preserve the information on a physical medium (a 45 rpm disc, for example) before it can be lost. However, the copyright holder’s status for such an item may be unclear, as happens often with items from our Black Gospel Music Restoration Project. In these cases, the files are preserved (but access is limited) until copyright claims are established and addressed.

Lack of Provenance
In some cases, there is very little background information on an item, and that uncertainty makes is usefulness as a digital object less clear. For an item to be truly considered useful, the more verifiable information we can gather about it, the better. Sometimes an item is scanned to preserve information but held offline until further research can reveal crucial information that would make it a useful online object.

Portrait of Mrs. Pat M. Neff, courtesy Baylor University

This portrait of Mrs. Neff is an example of an item scanned for preservation – as part of a 2010 project to digitize all 13 official portraits of Baylor’s past presidents – but is not online due to a dearth of information about it. Until further research is done to establish some basic information about the provenance of the portraits, they are being held offline; in the future, they may be added to an online collection.

Sensitive Content
Sensitive content generally takes the form of information that could be considered patentable or otherwise copyrightable. For instance, original research generated by a doctoral student as part of a dissertation – which is then commercialized in the form of a book or product – may be digitized for preservation but not placed online due to its potential marketability.

Potential for Misuse
Items in this category include things like the blueprints for extant buildings. The Digitization Projects Group worked with Baylor’s architect and his staff to digitize the original blueprints for many of the buildings on campus, including recognized landmarks like Pat Neff Hall, Armstrong Browning Library and Tidwell Bible Building.

Unfortunately, because these items could be used for nefarious ends by people intent on doing harm, we will not be releasing them online. This is a true shame, as the plans include amazing details, all of them hand-drafted in a era before computer assisted design (CAD) became the standard for draftsmen. Below is a small excerpt of the ornamentation of Waco Hall’s main entrance to illustrate the kind of material in this category.

Detail of main entrance to Waco Hall, courtesy Baylor University architect’s office

Doomed to Darkness?
That’s not to say that these items will never be included in our digital collections. Often, they are slated for addition to future collections, or they are queued up for further research that will make them valuable additions to existing collections. Regardless of whether they find themselves displayed in your browser window someday, the staff at the DPG is committed to keeping them safe, secure and functioning for decades to come, a commitment that extends to any object that finds its way through our doors and onto our equipment.

*If you’re a regular reader and haven’t yet signed up to receive email notices when a new post goes live, take a moment to do so in the side bar. It’s the easiest way to ensure you’ll never miss a word of what’s happening with the DPG!

(Digital Collections) Everyone’s a Curator!

There was a time in the not so distant past when the word “curator” wasn’t heard much outside the polished marble halls of the world’s museums. People imagined curators as bespectacled, retiring types who, armed with a PhD in art history or some obscure subset of archaeology, would arrange items in a back room until they were ready for display in a museum exhibit, often accompanying their selections with densely-worded labels peppered with phrases in Greek or Latin.

Today, anyone with a Pinterest account can claim the title.

So what happened? Simply put: the advent of new technologies democratized the way in which people select, describe and display materials online. There are almost no limits on how people can choose to express their interests in a “curated” way: in a Flickr photostream, by the types of information they display on Facebook, or in the objects they find on Etsy and then display tastefully in their living rooms. In some senses, if you find it, talk about it, and choose it out from a larger set, you could be said to “curate” a collection.

But not everyone is happy with the sudden broadening of the definition of curation. A viral blog post titled “An Open Letter to Everyone Using the Word ‘Curate’ Incorrectly on the Internet” begins with this rather aggrieved introductory paragraph:

Stop it. Just stop. Do you have a business card? Read it. Does it say “Curator” under your name? No? You are not a curator.

The post, written by someone with “curator” on their business card, neatly encapsulates the borderline rage that fills some of the professional museum/library/archive staff members whose job it is to select, preserve and display the items in their care.

The other side of the argument comes from people like Suse Cairns, whose blog “museum geek” offers fun insights into the world of museums from a young Australian’s perspective. She thinks the widespread use of the word “curator” is just fine, thank you very much.

I think that the liberal use of the term curator makes it stronger and more valuable. Some of our sector’s lingo is making its way beyond the walls of our institutions, and getting picked up by the mainstream in a positive way.

Both of these posts are most worthy of your time, and they give good evidence for both sides of the debate.

So What Does This Have to Do With This Blog?

Pictured: Credence to my argument and the essence of digital curation, in a nutshell

As someone who does have the word “curator” on my business card, and as a person whose livelihood is tied up in the idea of curating assets, I’ve been watching this debate closely for some time now. And for me, it comes down to this: if my job serving as Curator of Digital Collections allows someone the opportunity to access, digest, reinterpret or repost something they found because of my efforts, it’s a win for everyone involved.

The Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections are by their very nature a curated set of material, drawn from Baylor’s unique holding institutions. They are digital objects, offered without charge to anyone in the world who wants to study them and use their contents to better their lives (or the lives of others). That may sound like some pretty highfalutin’ sentiments, but I believe it’s at the heart of what we do. We can’t digitize everything in the collections of our special collections libraries, so we start by choosing the materials people most want access to, are the most interesting or are the rarest. Then, we pledge to take care of those digital files forever and ever (amen) as part of our service to the public trust. It’s curation at its finest.

There will be people who rail against the use of the title “curator” outside its historic limits, and there will be just as many people who embrace it on the most tenuous grounds imaginable. But to my mind, if a Pinterest user gains a sense of what “real” curators do by selecting the things that strike their fancy and then telling others about them, it can only serve to make the jobs of museum and library curators more approachable, more meaningful and more relevant.

Now get out there and get to curating. The world is eager to see what you’ve found.

(Digital Collections) Want An Easier Way to Get Updates?

Just a quick note to tip you off to a feature we’ve enabled here at the Digital Collections blog: subscribe via email! Look over in the right-hand sidebar and find the “subscribe by email” box. Just enter your email address and hit submit, and you’ll be on your way to emailed updates every time we post a new entry! Think of it as a hassle-free way to make sure you don’t miss a single character of context, insight, and announcements from our increasingly popular blog.

h/t to Alice Campbell for the idea to add this widget. Check out her work on the Texas Collection’s “Believe Me Your Own” blog at http://blogs.baylor.edu/believemeyourown/.

(Digital Collections) A Post for the Statisticians in the Audience (Or, Who’s Been Looking at Our Stuff?)

The phenomenal success of the Browning Letters Project did more than just expose the world to the first digitized images of more than 1,400 pieces of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s correspondence. It also exposed the server that hosts the collection to more than 1,000,000 page views in just three days! In fact, over the course of a week, the collection was accessed more than 1.3 million times by researchers and curiosity seekers from around the world, including users in the United Kingdom, Canada, Belgium, India, Singapore and New Zealand.

Here’s what that kind of access assault looks like in graph form:

Darryl Stuhr, our Manager of Digitization Projects, gathered gigabytes’ worth of data on how many people accessed our Digital Collections during the week of the Browning Letters Project’s launch. He looked at what sites referred the most people to the collection (Wellesley College’s domain, Facebook, and the New York Times were the top three, with Google and Baylor coming in in the top 10), what times of day were the most popular for access (between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm on the day of launch), and what kind of domain referred the most users (domains ending in .edu accounted for 85% of visits).

The week of the Browning Letters Project also saw residual statistical increases, like:

–       9 new fans on our Facebook page (+13%)

–       331 hits on our blog (+212%)

–       1 television news interview (+100% from previous week)

Keeping track of information like who accesses our collections, when they do so, and where they come from can help us better target where we promote our collections, when to schedule regular maintenance on our server, and even when we’re being crawled by Google’s spider bots.

Of course, numbers aren’t the only way to quantify how our collections are impacting users around the world. Take this recent quote from George Raffensperger, a direct descendant of Henrietta Hardin Carter Harrrison, whose marginalia illustrations were featured in this post.

As a direct descendant (Henrietta Harrison is my great, great, great Grandmother), I was online looking over family history and came across your post. I enjoyed viewing these sketches very much. I have read that she was a fine artist and enjoyed creating decorations at her home at Tehuacana Retreat. Her artistic ability was passed on to my mother, Ruth Harrison Wood, and my children, who enjoy drawing and painting as well.
Thanks you for sharing these.
Best Regards,

However you choose to evaluate our collections, we hope you’re checking back often, as we’re adding new content on a daily basis. As a matter of fact, here’s one last number for you: within the next few days, our collections will be home to more than 165,000 items. Now that’s a number even the arithmophobics* among us can appreciate.

* Arithmophobia is the fear of numbers, as you no doubt guessed.

(Digital Collections) Tools of the Trade: The Specialized Scanners of the RDC

Following an encounter with one of the Dark Knight’s trademark high-tech gadgets in Tim Burton’s 1989 film “Batman,” the Joker famously quipped, “Where does he get those wonderful toys?” We get a similar question – thankfully, from people of better moral character – when people see the specialized scanners the Riley Digitization Center uses to carry out the digitization projects we undertake every day.

So let us take this opportunity to address your burning questions about how our talented team creates digital versions of objects as small as a pocket hymnal, as lengthy as a 1,000-page shipping manifest, or as large as an official portrait of a past Baylor University president.

 Graduate assistant Hannah Mason digitizes Apollo 11 mission art for an exhibit in the Poage Legislative Library

The Jack-of-All-Trades: the Zeutschel Omniscan 10000

Our tour starts with the oldest of our three specialized scanners, the Zeutschel Omniscan 10000. With a name like “Zeutschel,” you’ve probably guessed it can only come from one place: Germany. Designed to handle rare and fragile books with care and precision, the Zeutschel can accommodate items up to 17 in. x 24 in. in size. It is most effective with bound items, as its adjustable platform allows books with damaged spines to be laid open for scanning without applying undue pressure that could cause further damage.

In addition to its skillful handling of fragile books, we’ve also found the Zeutschel quite adept at processing items from the Spencer Collection of American Popular Sheet Music. The scanner can be configured to create preservation and access images of both a left and right page from a music score in a single pass, a much more efficient way to scan than imaging one page at a time.

The Speed Demon: the Kirtas APT-2400

For bound items, there’s no faster solution in the RDC than the Kirtas APT-2400. This automatic page turning book imager (it uses cameras to snap an image as opposed to a progressive scan, hence the term “book imager” and not “scanner”) utilizes a vacuum head mechanism to turn the book’s pages before clamps hold the pages open and the cameras image both left and right pages simultaneously. Sound complex? The video below may help clarify things a bit.

Kirtas APT in action via Kirtas Technologies and YouTube

The Kirtas has been a workhorse for the RDC, with more than half a million pages digitized in just over two years. From bound oral history transcripts to the only copy of a shipping company’s manifests, the Kirtas makes large scale digitization of bound materials fast, efficient and safe.

The “Big Guy”: the Cruse CS285st large format scanner

When it comes to the “big iron” of the RDC, the Cruse large format scanner is second to none. With effective scanning parameters of 5 ft. x 8 ft., the Cruse is ideally suited to digitizing large format items like maps, framed works of art on canvas, and newspapers. In fact, the Cruse was in heavy rotation for the nearly year-long process of digitizing the full run of the Baylor Lariat, the campus newspaper that dates back to 1900. A Cruse operator could place up to ten issues of the Lariat on the scanning platform at a time, creating up to 20 images in a single pass.

Above is an image of an issue of the Lariat as it passes under the Cruse’s light rig. The UV-filtered lights provide even lighting across the item’s surface and create no unnecessary levels of light on items that may be photosensitive. In this way, the DPG digitized all 13 official portraits of Baylor’s storied line of university presidents, including the familiar face of Pat M. Neff (president from 1932-1947).

Official portrait of Pat M. Neff, former Texas govenor and Baylor University president

So next time you’re perusing our collections and wonder how we got a 34 in. long panoramic photo condensed down to the size of your computer monitor, remember these “wonderful toys” found at the RDC. We’re fortunate and excited to have them, and that’s no joke.

(Digital Collections) Get On Board with the DPG!

Waco-Young Men’s Business League: 1912, from the Texas Collection’s Photos (1)

As we kick off a new year of digitization excellence here at the DPG, we wanted to take a moment to answer a question we’re getting with increasing frequency: “How can I help?” We’ve got three simple answers!

Tell your friends
The more people know about our collections, the better it is for a number of reasons. Of course, we like seeing our materials show up at the top of Google results, and it’s always fun to see us getting mentioned in the news, but it’s also the best way for people to get involved through …

Contributing materials
When people hear about the work we’re doing, many start telling us stories about their own treasured collections. Whether it’s a packet of letters from World War I, a program from a Baylor football game, or a stack of gospel LPs, we’re always looking to enhance our collections through the addition of new materials. Whether you’d like to make an outright donation to the University or if you’d like to loan materials just for scanning and adding to the collections, we’re happy to talk to you about how you can help.

Make a gift
Thanks to generous gifts from supportive donors, we’ve been able to secure some of the most advanced digitizing technology available. From fragile books to large format maps and audio/visual materials, our center can digitize an increasing number of materials. But we’re always looking to augment our technology, hire more graduate students, and purchase other tools that help us in our work. For more information on how your gift can support the work of the DPG, contact Trey_Hagins@Baylor.edu.

If you’d like more information on how to add your materials to the growing digital collections of the Baylor University Libraries, contact Curator of Digital Collections Eric Ames at Eric_Ames@Baylor.edu.

(1) See the full-size panoramic photo at