Tag Archive for lagniappe

(Digital Collections) Rain-Soaked, Pit-Smoked, Pretty Stoked: Digital Frontiers 2013 and Digital Collections as Culinary Theory

Last Friday, I was honored to present on a panel at Digital Frontiers 2013, hosted by the good folks at UNT’s Digital Scholarship Co-Operative. I joined Elizabeth Hansen from the Texas Archive of the Moving Image and Liza Talbot of the LBJ Presidential Library for a discussion titled, “Using Social Media to Engage Users with Digital Collections.” I’d presented a previous incarnation of this talk with Elizabeth at the Texas Association of Museums’ annual conference earlier this year, and it was great to reconnect with her and to meet Liza, whose creative use of Tumblr to present the life of President Johnson is an exciting approach to making mid-20th century history relevant to an expansive audience that includes young users who weren’t even alive during his presidency.

With Liza Talbot (center) and Elizabeth Hansen at Digital Frontiers 2013.

Aside from participating on our panel, I was also pleased to develop further connections with folks like Cindy Boeke, Digital Collections Developer at the SMU Norwick Center for Digital Services and form new connections with relative newcomer to the digital collections field Amy Caton, Reference/Metadata Librarian at the Rosenberg Library in Galveston. Cindy’s session exploring the use of data analysis and documenting outcomes for digital collections was eye-opening and I got lots of great ideas for how we can better engage our users and provide relevant, impactful reports to our command structure further “up the chain.”

During the drive from Waco to Denton – which normally takes about 3 hours but, due to torrential rain, took considerably longer this time – I had time to think about the state of our digital collections and, because I was trapped in a car with little else to do, how I could derive a metaphor using our collections and awesome food.

It took a little work, but here’s my Unified Theory of Baylor Digital Collections As They Relate to Food. (I’m working on a more concise title, but this is still a working theory.)

Why Food?

I could certainly compare our collections – and our philosophy, our workflow, our center, etc. – to something else, like a precision Swiss watch, an American muscle car, or a football team (like our currently undefeated Baylor Bears – Sic ‘em!). But food is universal, it’s something everyone can grasp, and when people encounter a meal that hits all the right notes, displaying obvious skill and quality, it can impact us in ways nothing else can. So let’s dive right in, shall we?

  1. Like good ribs, we take time to make our collections right

You can’t rush good ribs. Sure, you can quick-grill some country style ribs and pretend that’s good enough, but for something truly noteworthy, you need hours of smoking over choice wood, attention to the right balance of dry rub vs. sauce, and a finished product that’s the right balance of toothy and spicy, with a glaze that should require copious amounts of napkins to clean up. Like these:

Pecan-smoked pork ribs with Mexican corn and barbecue sauce, Woodshed Smokehouse, Ft. Worth (Apologies for the crummy quality photo; it was all I could do to snap a quick shot before diving in.)

Those beauties came from the Woodshed Smokehouse in Ft. Worth, a Tim Love-owned joint that, quite honestly, serves up the best pork ribs I’ve ever eaten. These things deserve lyrical odes, interpretive dance, a Greek chorus, you name it; nothing will be sufficient to describe their awesomeness.

And that’s what I like to think about our collections – well, minus the hyperbolic praise part – because we take the time to do it right. Our philosophy has always been that our collections should be drawn from excellent sources, sufficiently described to make them findable and useful, and presented in a format that is approachable and rich. Some institutions put their stock in quantity over quality, and that’s certainly one way to do it. But we feel having rich metadata, contextual research and a blend of outreach to make them relevant put our collections in a different category altogether. Are they perfect? Certainly not, and we are always working to improve them. But I’d wager if you sat them down side-by-side with any other digital collection online today, their quality would stack up byte for byte.

2. We don’t lose sight of the benefits of mass appeal

Ribs are awesome. But not everyone likes ribs. That’s okay: how about an amazing hamburger? Behold the Cowboy Murrin, a burger tour-de-force from Rodeo Goat, also in Ft. Worth and also totally worthy of your dining dollars.

The Cowboy Murrin burger, goat chips and chips & queso, Rodeo Goat, Ft. Worth.

Hamburgers are about as American as you can get, and people from all walks of life can approach them and enjoy them because they are comforting, you know what to expect with them, and they can be dressed up to meet any palate. We work to strike a balance in our collections that caters to both the hardcore researcher but also the at-home genealogists, the schoolchild working on his homework and the amateur historian searching for her grandmother in our campus newspaper collection.

We want our collections to be useful to everyone, so we make them findable through a simple Google search or an advanced search of our online library catalog. We identify collections in our partner institutions that appeal to a very narrow research focus and we put out mass-appeal collections like the Baylor Round Ups. We believe that balance puts our collections in a category comprising both depth and approachability, a category I’m going to term depproachability. (All rights reserved.)

3. Want to win friends? Be sweet.

In our final piece of “digital collections as food” theory, you can never underestimate the impact you’ll have if you’re nice to people. Because nothing finishes off a nice meal like something sweet, here’s a shot of a tray of apricot kolaches from the famous Czech Stop in West.

Apricot kolaches, the Czech Stop, West, TX

I am constantly amazed at the number of people who tell me about their horrible experiences dealing with libraries and digital collections that treat their users like criminals-in-waiting, scheming ne-er-do-wells looking to defraud an institution by stealing resources or failing to give sufficient homage. It seems that too many of our peers see their role as less a steward of the public trust than a gatekeeper or roadblock.

With our collections living freely available on the Internet for users around the world to access to their heart’s content (and in their own locales), we embrace a different philosophy. We think it’s important to treat our users as potential partners, people whose passion for their area of interest has led them to our collections in search of new information, better resources or confirmation of something they’ve suspected all along but could never quite prove. And in their search, we do our best to be accommodating and helpful, fulfilling their requests when it’s within our policies and rights to do so, and striving to do so with a smile. Because the old marketing adage applies to digital collections as much as it does to restaurants: “If we did well, tell ten people. If we did not, tell us.”

***

This year marks the 12th year of digital projects at Baylor University, and next month will mark our fifth year in the Riley Digitization Center. In that timespan, we have grown from a handful of collections to more than 55 publicly-accessible collections comprised of some 250,000+ items. We are humbled by the kudos we receive from researchers around the world and are impressed by the innovative ways they are utilizing the collections to impact scholarship on a local and international level every day. And we continue to be thankful for working with our amazing on-campus partners whose physical collections are the basis of our digital collections. We look forward to augmenting our existing offerings with new content on a regular basis and to finding new ways to connect those resources with our users.

In other words, we’re staying hungry.

(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) A Friday Afternoon Lagniappe: Sketches from a Reconstruction Era Diary

We’ve got a big blog announcement going live on Tuesday morning, but until then, we present a lagniappe (from the Creole for “a little something extra”) from one of our current projects. The sketches below were found in the margins of a Reconstruction era diary kept by Henrietta Hardin Carter Harrison, the wife of the owner of Tehuacana Retreat Plantation, located near Waco. The diaries date between 1868 and 1877, a time of turmoil, uncertainty and transformational change for the states of the former Confederacy.

Mrs. Harrison’s diaries record daily weather conditions, the comings and goings of local personages and other family-related information. But like most of us when we’re trying to do something productive, her mind must have wandered, leaving her idle hands to sketch these quaint illustrations in the margins of her journals. Called “marginalia,” these seemingly dashed-off additions to the main entries in a journal or diary often reveal glimpses of the diarist’s personality. In this case, Mrs. Harrison showed an aptitude for sketching flowers, butterflies and the phases of the moon. Enjoy!

View the diaries of Henrietta Hardin Carter Harrison in the Texas Collections – Selections section of our Digital Collections.

Visit the Texas Collection online at http://www.baylor.edu/lib/texas for more priceless Texana.