Baylor Libraries preserves historical records in special collections

A student looks through the book selection at Jones Library. Kenneth Prabhakar | Photo Editor

By Piper Rutherford | Staff Writer

With the help of its six special collections libraries, Baylor continues to preserve historical materials.

One such library is the Texas Collection, which is located in Carroll Library. Jeff Pirtle, director of the Texas Collection, said its main focus is to preserve Texas history by collecting manuscripts featuring historical figures and community activists.

Pirtle said the commitment to preserve historical materials includes archives and documents that deal with sensitive issues, such as racism and discrimination.

“We finished processing one by Horace Sherman Miller, who was a Waco-based Ku Klux Klan member who also started his own white supremacist movement in the state that eventually expanded to South America,” Pirtle said. “All of that material is primary sources, like handwritten letters and newsletters. That is why on these materials, we have a purple content message that lets researchers know that if you look into this collection, there is harmful content and insensitive language.”

In addition, Pirtle said the No. 1 priority is to serve faculty and students at Baylor by aiding them in their research endeavors.

“We love partnering with classes, like Texas history classes, that use our primary sources frequently to then incorporate them into students’ research papers,” Pirtle said. “Also, the journalism department, with Clark Baker, uses our photography collection to study the history of photography, dating back to the 1840s and 50s. Some might find it surprising that we also have Spanish classes that are studying historic texts in Spanish. … So, in essence, we exist to share what we do and our resources with the entire Baylor community.”

Some of these rare collections that are available date back to the 15th century in their original hard copy forms, which is a rare find in today’s digital world, Pirtle said.

“One of our extensive map collections shows the history of Texas, including Waco, in the early 1900s, showing how the state and city have evolved over time,” Pirtle said. “However, despite digitizing materials, it is still a cardinal rule of the archives profession that you never discard the original format in which the material was created. … That is why it is so cold in the Texas Collection, where we keep it at 65 degrees and use acid-free to preserve our archives — so that we can continue to preserve the original formats.”

Jeffry Archer, dean of Baylor’s Libraries, said his team promotes intellectual freedom by granting faculty agency in determining their areas of research and how they use the materials to teach their classes.

“If we only collected things in line with the Republican Party, where would that lead someone doing research on another political party, such as the Democratic Party?” Archer said. “Our goal is to cover all sides of history, which means we might have some items in our collections that some will find offensive, including ourselves, but that does not mean that we should withhold it from the public.”

Archer said one such item is a book from Baylor’s historical digital collection in which a reverend from the 1830s uses a theological argument to support the existence of slavery. However, Archer said it is important that this title be preserved so that Baylor Libraries can continue their mission of taking history into account and educating the minds of students.

“Now, with our backward-looking lens, we may say, ‘How could there be a theological argument supporting slavery?’ from our perspective today,” Archer said. “However, collections like these allow us to learn about what some individuals were thinking at different times during history, and that is what students are at college to do, which is to learn.”