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New View of an Old Frontier: Texas Collection Digitizes Baylor’s History

By Daniel Houston

The Texas Collection is in the final stages of an ambitious project to digitally archive more than one hundred years of Baylor history.

The staff plans to launch a completed collection of digitized and fully searchable copies of the Lariat student newspaper, the Round Up student yearbook, and official university press releases dating back more than a century, according to John Wilson, director of the Texas Collection. With the help of the Digitization Projects Group, a branch of the Baylor University Library system, the new digital copies are scheduled to be released around Homecoming (Nov. 2-3) and will be open to public access on the Texas Collection’s website.

The accessibility of the online collections will make it possible for the first time to locate specific information about former students or university events prior to 1995 without having to comb through dozens, if not hundreds, of physical documents in the Texas Collection.

Despite having limited resources and many other collections that would benefit from increased electronic exposure, Wilson said the decision to digitize the newspaper, yearbook, and press releases at the same time was very deliberate, a result of consistent demand for these materials.

“It’s not incidental; it’s quite purposeful,” Wilson said. “The items that were selected tend to be the most asked-for and used items.”

Family members of Baylor alumni are among the most frequent requestors of yearbook information, searching for photos of their loved ones, as well as other information about their activities at Baylor. While before this type of search would have required a call or a visit to the Texas Collection on Baylor’s campus, it will soon be available from any location with an Internet connection.

One of the greatest benefits for researchers, Wilson said, is the ability to search for specific names and terms in the digital Lariat archives. Researchers now have access to all the same Lariat articles with a simple Internet search, saving them the hassle of travel and hours rummaging through old issues.

Most of the Lariat archives are already uploaded on the Texas Collection website, making campus history, as viewed through the eyes of student reporters, more accessible than ever.

“Whatever people think about the Lariat throughout its years — and I think over the years they covered the Baylor campus in a pretty fine fashion — it does document the history of Baylor and its students and its organizations,” Wilson said, “in its great moments, and even sometimes in its not-so-great moments.”

Wilson said the official press releases offer a great deal of detail on many subjects not otherwise available, ranging from administrative policy to information about high-profile campus speakers.

Although the Texas Collection staff are currently focusing their efforts on digitally archiving Baylor-related materials, they are involved in a broader push to make more archives available online.

The Texas Collection previously published on its blog an intimate chain of Civil War letters between a Confederate soldier and his wife. The collection, named “Believe Me Your Own,” after the way Dr. Alex Morgan would sign the letters to his wife, Fanny, featured a number of multimedia features that were made possible by the online format.

“If you just had it out there without having all this richness, I don’t think you become as attached to the letters, or the family, or the situation, or begin to understand the hardship of the time, the war,” Wilson said.

The Civil War letters attracted 968 visitors to the website, a number the physical letters would have never seen in such a short period of time.

Wilson is optimistic that, in the same manner, digital archives of university publications will increase the impact these materials have on our understanding of university history.

“It’s a story, and we’re really storytellers,” Wilson said. “I think in a way you get captivated by people and their lives and their journeys.”

The Texas Collection is a special collections library that is part of the larger Baylor University Library system that includes the Armstrong Browning Library, the W. R. Poage Legislative Library, the Electronic Library, and the Central Libraries (Moody & Jones).  To connect with the Texas Collection and Baylor Libraries, visit their various social media pages below:

Texas Collection

Baylor University Libraries

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