RaRe OnLinE : Snapshots of a Successful Shift

Spring 2020:

Celebrating a year since Baylor acquired The Saint John’s Bible Heritage Edition, we scheduled several opportunities with community outreach and an exciting on-campus event with one of the Bible’s artists.

Along with the rest of the world, our plans came to a screeching halt.

We did not pause for too long.  Inspired by our students and faculty, we found new ways to provide access to this wonderful creation.  If you’ve wondered how rare books can be shared online or how this work is incorporated into the university’s curriculum, please keep reading!

Most of The Saint John’s Bible events moved into the online environment starting with a late spring Truett Seminary course: Christian Scriptures.  Led by Nathan Hays, we completed an online course guide that allowed him to provide assignments in stations, using digital images from The Saint John’s Bible and other rare Bibles in our collection.

This option was successful enough to look at our summer and fall classes to investigate other online options.

Summer 2020:

Prof. Steve Reid (Truett Seminary) and Josh Been (Director of Data and Digital Scholarship) joined us in the summer to find a creative way to present digital images with access points supporting seminary studies.  At this point we also invited Professor Heidi Hornik (Art Department) to provide her expertise in art research and a knowledge of The Saint John’s Bible.  The result is a database that contains The Saint John’s Bible (SJB) images and images from other rare Bibles in our collection that match SJB themes.  The Baylor Biblical Art database was created and work began to gather images and metadata throughout the summer.  While a lot of this work was accomplished remotely, the libraries were partially open and we were able to scan and work in the collections.

Fall 2020:

The Baylor Biblical Art (BBA) database began to take shape as we focused only on the first 2 volumes (Pentateuch, Historical Books) for this initial pilot stage. In the second week of classes, we assisted Prof. Reid with an in-person class (Truett Seminary/Christian Scriptures).  We needed to shift from group work to individual assignments for social distance safety measures.  Following a newly created online course guide, the students worked on a visio divina assignment and were the first visitors to our BBA database site.

The new database not only highlights The Saint John’s Bible images, it provides an opportunity to showcase other rare Bibles in our collections.  The Saint John’s Bible ancient tradition combined with technology and modern images provides a unique portal to other rare, historical Bibles.

An Honors Christian Scriptures course taught by Prof. Mikeal Parsons, requested a video tour of The Saint John’s Bible and other rare Bibles in our collection.  We were able to provide live video stream through the student’s Zoom class and answer questions while Prof. Parsons provided historical significance of each item.  This use of video has a lot of potential and we anticipate improving this method next semester.

As we began the fall semester, we were contacted by another one of our campus partners, Matthew Aughtry, who helps lead University Chapel.  Typically, these are in-person events with 3,000 + students in an auditorium.  Last fall, Brad Neary (St. John’s University) was one of our speakers and students were able to hear the SJB story and see all 7 volumes in the lobby.  This fall, Chapel moved online.

Read Matthew’s beautiful words below on this successful shift.

“We’ve been able to utilize The Saint John’s Bible in a variety of ways in Chapel this semester, which has been completely an online-only experience. We have been taking a year to explore the larger story of scripture and have been laboring under the assumption that beauty is often the midwife to human beings falling love with truth and learning live in the goodness of God. For that reason it’s impossible to overstate how grateful we are to utilize Baylor’s Heritage Edition of The Saint John’s Bible.

Here is a beauty you can see and smell and touch, in short—here is a variation on that great incarnational theme of the Bible itself. Video works best when we can imagine ourselves in the room with the speaker or actor, when we can almost feel his or her presence with us wherever we are. Even on camera The Saint John’s Bible leaps off the page and through the screen like a great speaker or captivating cinematic performance. Just as God pushed past all the barriers that we would erect to enter into our world and, thus, transform it forever. Thank you so much for this gift to our world and our university.”

Click here to view the Chapel video

Another online opportunity presented itself as a result of Prof. Hornik’s Data Research Fellowship.  Working with Josh Been,  Prof. Hornik’s Mannerism class created a data visualization project with Microsoft Power BI. Using an algorithm tool found in art forgery work, they created a similarity score between images they picked for their class project and The Saint John’s Bible images. Many thanks to Josh Been and Prof. Hornik for this new and creative way to explore images online and build digital humanities expertise.

In the middle of all of this online work, we welcomed our brand new custom-designed display case. The case was designed and built right here in Waco, Texas by Harp Designs.  Look for more information on this beautiful case in future posts.

To finish off this semester, Dr. Elise Edwards (Religion Department) generously agreed to share her talents and help us create a series of Advent videos.  Eric Ames (Assistant Director for Marketing & Communication/Libraries) filmed and edited the videos.  Dr. Edwards read directly from The Saint John’s Bible Heritage Edition in our beautiful Elliston Chapel.  There are 4 videos that will be available starting on Friday 11/27/20 and a new one will post each Friday throughout the Advent season.  You can find them on this Baylor Libraries YouTube channel or you can follow on Baylor Libraries Facebook page.

Whew.  These are quick snapshots of our shift to online, as projects progress we will highlight them on this blog.   I can’t wait to see what we create this coming Spring semester!  Stay tuned!

Our gratitude goes out to all our partners this fall.  Many thanks to Andrea Turner who is the backbone to all these adventures.  Thank you to Dean Jeffry Archer, Sha Towers, and Eric Ames for their continued cheerleading and support.

The featured image on this blog is: Hannah’s Prayer, Thomas Ingmire, Copyright 2010, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota USA. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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