Black Gospel, Blue Lines, and History of the Green and Gold: The Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections

Eric Ames
Eric Ames

This Member Update was provided by Eric Ames, Curator, Digital Collections, Baylor University.

Baylor University is excited to be a part of the DLF. With our membership in the Digital Library Federation, we hope to learn from the knowledge and experience of others, as well as identify ways we can contribute to the overall success and longevity of digital collections.

About the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections

With items dating back to the 15th century, hailing from four continents and documenting conflict, celebration and original scholarship, the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections contain a virtual storehouse of more than 250,000 unique items drawn from the university’s special collections and partner institutions.

The collections are created and administered by the Digital Projects Group (DPG), a part of the university’s Electronic Library. Working in partnership with the special collections libraries, archives and museums on campus, the DPG utilizes the unique scanning resources of the Ray I. Riley Digitization Center. Staff members there operate specialized scanning equipment to transform archival materials – Civil War letters, photographs, video tapes, 45 rpm discs and more – into readily accessible digital objects.

A Quick Overview of the Digital Collections

The materials in the Digital Collections are derived from the holdings of the following campus institutions:

Each library works to identify materials from their collections that would make good candidates for a digital collection, and DPG staff members work with them to queue materials up for digitization, metadata creation and online access.

Items in the Digital Collections are as unique as their originating library. Highlights from the collections include:

Collections Spotlight: The Black Gospel Music Restoration Project

One of the Electronic Library’s homegrown collections that has received major attention since its launch in 2005 is the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project (BGMRP). Created with the mission to “identify, acquire, preserve, record and catalogue the most at-risk music from the black gospel music tradition,” the BGMRP is a nationally recognized project begun under the guidance of Baylor journalism professor Robert Darden. His passionate letter to the editor of the New York Times in 2005 – wherein he stated his frustration with reading about influential gospel recordings but being unable to find copies of them to listen to – sparked a lead gift from businessman Charles Royce, which led to the creation of the project.

The materials in the BGMRP are drawn from major collectors across the United States, as well as family collections, vintage vinyl stores and bargain bins across the country. Items are loaned or outright gifted to the Electronic Library for digitization, metadata creation and access via the project’s webpage. While the focus of the project is on the so-called “golden age of gospel” spanning the years 1945-1975, there are recordings that pre-date World War II and span into the heavily disco-influenced late 1970s and early 1980s. Audio of the recordings, images of their source discs and jackets and other materials are available for researchers on or off campus at the BGMRP digital collection site.

Collaborations Across the Pond: The Browning Letters Project

Another major project in the Digital Collections is the Browning Letters Project, a multi-institutional collaboration that seeks to unite the far-flung pieces of correspondence written to and by the Victorian poets Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning under a single digital umbrella.

The bulk of the materials in the collection were digitized from the holdings of the Armstrong Browning Library, Baylor’s special collection that serves as a research center for 19th century literature and Victoriana, especially the lives and works of the Brownings. Theirs is one of the largest holdings of Browning correspondence in the world, and a partnership with Wellesley College – home of the so called “love letters” written by Robert and Elizabeth during their courtship – brought together two of the most important collections in the world under a single digital archive. Additional partnerships with Oxford University, Balliol College and the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin further expanded the project, and it is on track to become the largest online central repository containing both the images and the searchable full text of the Brownings’ correspondence.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this brief overview of the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections. There are far too many stories to be found there to highlight in this blog post, but we want to thank the DLF for giving us the opportunity to expose these collections to their users and blog readers. We encourage you to take a deeper look at the collections and to drop us at line ( if we can be of any assistance.

The Baylor University Libraries have been a member of and an active participant in the Texas Digital Libraries since 2006.  With the significant growth and value in the Libraries’ digital collections in recent years, it seemed appropriate that we should also expand – to the national level – our memberships in other organizations dedicated to the promotion and preservation of digital collections. 

Eric S. Ames is Curator of Digital Collections for Baylor University. He may be emailed at or via the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections blog at

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