From Books To Bytes

August 24, 2006
Gone are the days of poring over card catalogs, indexes and other similar research tools. Now, Baylor library patrons worldwide can access a variety of information, from music listening assignments to full-text articles, books and special collections using only their Web browser. This digitization of resources not only makes Baylor's offerings more accessible, it brings research material from all over the globe to the University's students, faculty and staff and shares Baylor's unique collections with researchers around the globe.
Baylor has come a long way since the late '80s, when it first started installing computer terminals in the University's libraries, to the late '90s, when the Crouch Fine Arts Library began the first digitization project on campus. The new technology has significantly changed the research process, says Tim Logan, director of Baylor's electronic libraries.
"One of the jobs of libraries is to maintain, preserve and make available unique collections," Logan says. "In the early part of the 21st century, that means digitizing them and making them more broadly available."
Digitization in the library refers to the process of taking source material -- manuscripts, recordings, sheet music, books, or other media -- and converting it into a digital file. It also includes the process of assigning descriptive information to each of the digital items so researchers can search for resources of interest. This process was too expensive until recently, Logan says, and the technology was deficient. But with the advent of mass storage, which allows huge quantities of information to be contained in a tiny microchip, the process has become affordable and feasible.

A sea of information
Researchers once faced the dilemma of locating information and then accessing it wherever it was located. Digitization makes the information more accessible from anywhere with Internet access -- computers, personal digital assistants such as BlackBerrys, cell phones and elsewhere.
"I think at one time it was a rite of passage to go to the library, use the card catalog and pull out the Readers' Guide or the Humanities Index and spend hours making note cards. However, it was more drudgery than learning," says John Wilson, director of library advancement and special projects. "So if you can get [information] quicker, easier, then I think what we're doing is helping our students to spend their time more wisely and more effectively."
The information in Baylor's online catalog, BearCat, is also contained in an even larger search engine of cataloged material from all over the globe -- WorldCat. By using Google's or Yahoo's "Find in a library" function researchers from anywhere in the world can see what Baylor has to offer, and in turn, Baylor researchers can access information from any location, including that jewel of serious research -- primary source material.
Data centralization has changed the way researchers conduct their searches.
"People want to find information, they don't want to go to the library catalog," Logan says. "It never really made sense for you to have to go to separate, discrete search engines to find information. Instead, let me look [the subject] up and let some intelligent search engine return the full array of information. That's the beauty of these huge searches. You don't have to know ahead of time where you need to go. You [only need to] know what you want to know," Logan says.
Today, researchers frequently start with a large search engine such as Google Scholar to locate information from a variety of locations. "The core material was once in very discrete locations in libraries, and I had to go to each of those," Logan says. "But now I'm in the center and these things are being fed to me. It changes the whole model of being informed."
With so much information readily available, informed cataloging, or describing the information so that it can be searched in logical ways, is even more important.
Using the old card catalog method, researchers sorted information mainly by author, title, or subject -- a broad index. If they didn't search under the right word, they might never find what they were looking for.
Hatt Fadal, BA '75, degree planner and admissions officer in Hankamer School of Business, says the searching process has changed for the better since the mid-80s when she was working on her thesis prospectus. Two decades ago, "the librarian had to do [the search] for me. ... It cost $75 for [the librarian] to do a search that, today, I can do myself and that takes 10 seconds," she says. Fadal and the librarian chose key concepts to search, which produced about 20 sources. "It was very time consuming," Fadal says. "You really thought about what your keywords were. If you made a mistake, it was costly."
Today, Fadal, who will graduate next May with a master's degree in student services, conducts research at home with the help of scholarly search engines available through Google or Baylor's library Web site. It's a long way from the old method: "going up to the second floor of Moody Library and ... sifting through those journals to see if there was anything I could use," she says.
Technological advances have not negated the need for well-informed librarians, however. In a way, they act as lifeguards, patrolling the vast digital pool of information so readily available, Logan says.
In the digital age, the role of librarians -- in part to help people find valid information about the right topic -- becomes all the more important, especially in an academic setting.
For example, typing "George Washington" into an Internet search engine will yield a plethora of information of varying trustworthiness, from official government biographies to a school report written by a fourth-grader, and it may not be properly documented. Logan says inexperienced researchers often have problems determining the validity of the sources they find.
On Baylor's Web site, researchers can access search engines designed to help patrons go directly to the types of sources they need, such as peer-reviewed or research journals. These online databases save time and effort for those concerned with source quality. Online tutorials are available to help those unfamiliar with the resources.
"There's this huge amount of importance about cataloging, "Logan says. "There are very thoughtful decisions to be made about what to digitize and what is the meaning of this stuff. You have people who are librarians who are trained in assisting people with learning about accessing information and learning how to distill and distinguish the quality of information."

Preserving treasures at Baylor
At Baylor and around the world, digitization also is a method for maintaining and preserving valuable primary source material for use in the future. "There also are original materials that you own that are here that people can come and see," Logan says. "And the more it's known, it seems to me, the greater Baylor's prestige. We've got pockets of stuff that is nowhere else."
For the management of these unique digital resources, Baylor uses CONTENTdm, which allows for extensive cross-referencing with little effort, helping scholars pinpoint specific unique resources in little time. Although descriptive information still needs to be entered manually, the result is faster and more efficient searching of unique Baylor resources that doesn't require sifting through a stack of musty note cards.
Choosing which items to digitize is a decision of great importance. Given the vast number of materials in the Baylor library, it would not be feasible to digitize them all. And each academic department may have its own priorities. Logan says Baylor is hoping to hire a preservation librarian to aid in choosing which items are digitized and deciding how to catalog the information so it can be easily located.
One of Baylor's most noteworthy library projects is digitizing the Spencer Sheet Music Collection, which was acquired by the Crouch Fine Arts Library in 1965 from a sheet music collector, Frances G. Spencer of Waco. At 30,000 pieces of sheet music, dating from 1860 to the late 1950s, it is one of the largest American popular sheet music collections in the country, says Darryl Stuhr, electronic access services coordinator. The project was initiated in 1999 by Stuhr and Sha Towers, assistant professor and music/fine arts librarian, after Baylor received a grant from Texas State Library's TexTreasures Grant Program that enabled them to purchase equipment for scanning and cataloging the sheet music.
Wilson says digitizing the sheet music has brought it the notice it deserves. "We've had this collection for years, but most people wouldn't know we have it, nor did they have access to it. It was in a card catalog and a broad index," he says.
Student workers have been using the Riley Digitization Center (see sidebar page 31), created in 2002, to scan each piece of music. So far, they have completed about 1,000 pieces. This digital collection includes images of each page of sheet music -- including the cover art and advertisements -- and searchable descriptive information including the lyrics, composers, publishers and a detailed description of each object.
"It's hugely rich, and that's just one collection," Logan says.
In the future, Stuhr and his team would like to use a program that will analyze scanned images of music and generate a MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) file. This file can be played back with any of today's popular media players. Listeners will then be able to hear a sample of each piece online.
The Spencer Collection is an example of how digitization helps libraries maintain their goal of preserving fragile materials. "Sheet music is relatively big paper and consequently, moderately fragile, particularly as it deteriorates," Logan says. "It's nice to be able to digitize that material so people can make use of all that content without having to thumb through the pages."
With digitization, Baylor is able to use technology to make primary materials owned by other people or institutions available online. An example of this is the Lady Layard Journals, a collection of 16,440 journal entries by a contemporary of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, which can be accessed through the Armstrong Browning Library's Web site. The original journals are held by the British Library and a microfilm copy of those journals was purchased with the intent of enhancing the information in the online Browning Research Guide. The full text of the journals is now available; in time the Baylor Libraries plan to associate digital copies of the journal entries with the searchable full text.
Scholars from all over the world are using these materials, Wilson says. Last fall, English archivists Annette and Chris Booth discovered the Layard journals while searching the Internet from their home in Froyle, North East Hampshire. They were looking for information on a former English noble named Sir Hubert Miller, but didn't know what sources were available. Their Google search led them to the Baylor Web site and the journals, where they found some unique and valuable data.
They had not heard of Baylor prior to their search, but were subsequently pleased with the University's collection. "All in all, the journal was a wonderful discovery which has greatly increased our knowledge of Sir Hubert's Italian escapades," Chris says. "I don't quite know how we would have found out so much in any other way." He was impressed with the volume of information available on the Baylor Web site and with "the amazing amount of work that must have been done to transcribe them," he says.
Another digitized Armstrong Browning collection is the Aurelia Brooks Harlan Collection, a collection of 80 letters between Elizabeth Barrett Browning and some of her literary contemporaries during the mid-19th century. This collection of rare materials was donated by Martha Brooks Taylor, who inherited them from her aunt, Aurelia Brooks Harlan, the daughter of Samuel Taylor Brooks.
"At every institution ... we all have unique collections. For years, you had to travel to that institution and to that library to even get a peek at those collections," Wilson says. "Many times the institution doesn't even know that they have them. The technology of the past had not lent itself to being able to discover these collections. So what digitizing does is it makes these unique collections that are at Baylor available."
Stewardship plays a large part in Baylor's desire to preserve and bring to light historically valuable materials, Logan says. A new project that seeks to catalog and maintain recordings of black gospel music from 1940-1970 came about as a result of a book titled People Get Ready: A New History of Black Gospel Music by Robert Darden, associate professor of journalism at Baylor. In the book, Darden explores the musical genre and its historical importance.
Charles Royce, a New York philanthropist who had no previous association with the University, read an editorial by Darden in The New York Times about People Get Ready. Royce was moved to preserve these deteriorating recordings, for which there is not a known centralized repository, Wilson said. In March, he pledged $350,000 for the purpose of digitally preserving this music.
All of the gospel recordings and any information contained on the album covers and envelopes, will be digitized and placed in a CONTENTdm collection, with appropriate descriptive information assigned to each album, making the collection fully searchable. Because the music is still under copyright, listeners will be able to hear 30-second samples of the music and determine if they need to make a visit to campus.
Baylor hopes to borrow recordings and materials from collections around the country. Already, recordings have been lost in recent church fires and other disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.
"We're saying, 'Let us help you preserve it,' Wilson says.
The money donated by Royce will fund the hiring of an audio engineer and a cataloger to work with this collection and provide for the purchase of additional equipment needed for the project.
Another digital audio project includes maintaining and updating Baylor's audio reserve system. Music students have the option of streaming their listening assignments on a computer or carrying the songs with them on Apple iPods. These MP3 players, which store and play audio files, can be checked out from the Crouch Fine Arts Library.
Brian Marks, assistant professor of keyboard studies, says the online audio reserves program benefits students because they don't have to sort through CDs or wait for copies to be returned in order to study. "The ability for students to budget their time effectively is greatly increased," he says. "My students really like this."
Having music in a digital format has given him the tools to expose students to more educational material, Marks says. Because he doesn't have to pull multiple CDs from the library or cue albums in order to play them in class, "I might talk about [and play] music that students aren't required to listen to. It has been a huge time saver." He hopes that musical scores required for class will be digitized so that multiple people can study them at the same time and they can be accessed remotely.
Other digitization projects being pursued at Baylor are the John Wood project, a collection of pamphlets and leaflets in the Church-State Studies department; items in the Baylor Collection of Political Materials and Institute for Oral History; and unique and rare collections within some of Baylor's other libraries: Armstrong Browning, Texas Collection, Crouch Fine Arts, Moody Memorial and Jesse H. Jones.

Taking the leap -- the future of digitization
Like most technological advances, digitization of library materials has its risks. A major concern among technologists is whether or not the digital files available today will still be viable in the future, Logan says. Many text documents are stored in files called PDFs (Portable Document Format). "PDFs are great today, but in 2050 am I going to be able to read a PDF?" he says. "Once you get it in digital format, it doesn't necessarily live forever; it has to be curated and preserved long term." Although books have endured the test of time over centuries, they are still susceptible to natural deterioration, fire and other disasters.
However, Wilson believes the possibility of losing these materials forever necessitates the risk involved with digitizing and also ensures the availability of those materials for years to come.
"I think it's worth taking the risk to digitize as opposed to doing nothing and being more vulnerable to natural elements," Wilson says. "[Digitization] certainly does pose a challenge, but for me, it's the best of both worlds."


To find out more about Baylor's digital library, visit or
Are you looking for more News?