Through their digital collections, Texas Digital Library member Baylor University and its Baylor Electronic Library are preserving rare and fragile cultural materials, while at the same time making them more widely available to scholars, researchers, and the public.
The Electronic Library, headed by director Tim Logan, features a wide range of digitized collections, available for the viewing, reading, studying, and listening pleasure of people all over the world. Among its holdings are digitized collections of Civil War Letters, vintage American sheet music, artifacts of Christian persecution in Soviet Russia, and local oral histories.
The Electronic Library is perhaps most famous, however, for its unique and large collection of black gospel music, known as the Royce-Darden Gospel Music Collection. The collection aims to protect a vanishing cultural resource – music that was produced from 1940 through 1970 that never had the mainstream studio backing to ensure its preservation.
The Royce-Darden collection began with the passionate advocacy of Baylor professor Robert Darden, who in 2005 wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times calling attention to the impending loss of large amounts of classic gospel music. The music, largely produced by small and independent labels and church groups, was of little interest to mainstream music companies and didn’t generate much interest in reissues. The consequence, according to Darden’s op-ed, is that “irreplaceable master tapes deteriorate, get lost, or are simply tossed out.”
As a result of the article, Darden found help from Connecticut businessman Charles Royce, who funded a project to collect and digitize the rare and at-risk music. The staff of the Baylor Electronic Library have been busy ever since – collecting, digitizing, and cataloging recordings, as well as album covers and sleeves.
The Royce-Darden Gospel Music Collection, gathered from more than 20 private collectors, includes recordings off of LPs, 45s, 78s, and cassettes, and, in one case, fragile radio transcription discs. A prototype collection of about 200 items went live in the summer of 2009, and currently 900 are available online. Another several hundred recordings have been digitized and will receive descriptive metadata before being made available.
The aim is to preserve these cultural artifacts before they are lost: “Every time you play a record, you damage it,” said director Tim Logan. “You need to take a snapshot at the earliest possible moment to preserve them. The point is to capture the material the best way we can with current technology.”
The Texas Digital Library has assisted Baylor Electronic Library with these preservation efforts by providing off-site backup storage in the form of a dark archive. “Large volume storage is a real issue at Baylor and elsewhere,” said Logan, and the TDL is storing about six terabytes of data, which includes archival copies of gospel music files, as well as items from other Baylor collections.
For more information about the Royce-Darden Gospel Music Collection, visit the Baylor website at http://www.baylor.edu/lib/gospel.