Digitizing History: Professor Attila’s Scrapbook and the Pudgy Stockton Collection

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One of the long-held dreams Jan and I have had for the Stark Center has been to share our materials—many of which have been given to us for that purpose–with the wider world of scholars and fans of physical culture and sports. For almost 30 years we’ve done that primarily by working personally with people who came to Austin to use the collection, although as time permitted we’ve also assisted people (who couldn’t make the trip) with research questions. However, now that the library side of the H.J. Lutcher Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports is operational, we’ve turned our attention to the process of making some of our holdings available as digital resources by scanning them so they can be viewed on-line and through the creation of “finding aids.” (A finding aid is a catalog and description of a collection used to assist scholars in planning a research visit.) Today, we’re launching a Research page on our website–a portal to these new digital resources. I suspect that you’ll find them just as amazing as I do. Since the general oversight of this aspect of our work at the Stark Center has been Jan’s responsibility, what follows is her explanation of how this has come about.

One of the things we’re quickly learning as we enter the digital age at the Stark Center is that these kinds of projects are not without their costs. Take the digitized Attila Scrapbook as an example. Back in 2005 I received funding from a program called Utopia, which was sponsored by the UT Library System. Utopia’s goal was to create websites and digital archives that would allow the general public to have access to some of the treasures on the UT campus. (To view some of the kinds of projects Utopia did, see Longhorn Legacy: 100 Years of Football Programs[note: no longer available], a website several of my graduate students and I did as part of that program.) In any case, Terry and I agreed that the Attila Scrapbook deserved to be our first digital project, and so we applied for funds to have the scrapbook scanned as part of the Utopia program and then to use the scanned images and create a digital book. The scanning was done on a special overhead book scanner owned by the library system. This scanner, which was also used to scan UT’s Gutenberg Bible, causes much less damage to rare and fragile materials because it does not require the item to be placed face down in order to capture the image. However, just as the technicians completed the scans of our scrapbook, the University decided to cancel the Utopia program. Unfortunately, although we were given the completed scans, I was never able to find a web designer talented enough to do the recreation of the scrapbook until a few months ago, when we hired an undergraduate who wrestles for UT, Andy Miller, our webmaster for the Stark Center. As you’ll find when you go to the scrapbook itself, the interface that Andy created for the Attila scrapbook is remarkable. See for yourself. You can grab the bottom right hand corner with your mouse and turn the page as if it was a real book. You can also move forward using the arrows at the top of the page. Researchers will be delighted to see that they can add “bookmarks,” which allow them to return to an exact place in the book. It’s also now possible to enlarge pages for ease of reading, and even to print pages to save for future study.

So what did this all cost? It isn’t cheap. Back in 2005, I paid $7000 from my Utopia grant to make the high resolution images you now see in the completed book. In addition, since Andy is a paid employee and has been working on the interface for the scrapbook off and on throughout this academic year, we also have a salary investment in the project. However, in keeping with the original spirit of the Utopia program we’re putting the entire Attila scrapbook on-line so that it’s free and accessible to everyone. However, please note that we’ve added a Donate Now button to our website. So, if you like what we’ve done with the Attila scrapbook and would like to see us do similar projects in the future, please consider making an on-line gift to help support the digitizing project and our other efforts to share what we have at the Stark Center.

You’ll also find on the Research page the Stark Center’s first “finding aid,” which was prepared by our archivist, Geoff Schmalz . Geoff, who joined the Stark Center in August of 2009, decided to make the personal papers of Pudgy and Les Stockton his first project. For nearly four months Geoff organized the Stockton Collection, put it in materials that protect and preserve it, and cross-referenced and described it in detail so that researchers can “find” things they particularly want. The level of detail in the 199-page finding aide Geoff created will be of great assistance to people who wish to write about Pudgy’s life, the scene at Muscle Beach, or many of the prominent physical culture figures of the 1940s and 1950s like Steve Reeves, John Grimek, George Eiferman, Bruce Conner, and so on. Such a finding aid is priceless to scholars who, thanks to Geoff, will now be saved many hours of research time. To produce such a wonderful tool, however, requires funding.

Finally, here’s one more cost you might find surprising. One of our most important priorities is to get our book and magazine collection properly cataloged so that we can assist our library users more readily. Cindy Slater, the Associate Director for Library Services at the Stark Center, has now virtually completed a basic inventory of our magazines and journals, and her next task is to catalog the approximately 30,000 books in our various collections. Our shared goal has been to do that cataloguing through a system known as OCLC WorldCat. WorldCat is an international union catalog providing holdings information from thousands of academic, public, and special libraries. Including our holdings in WorldCat enables anyone anywhere to see what we have in the collection, at no charge. Here at Texas, all the University libraries participate in WorldCat. By using WorldCat, a scholar can learn, for example, that Texas may not have a particular book in its library but that Harvard does. For us, it will mean that we can quickly tell someone what we have—and we will be able to put our catalog on-line. However, OCLC also charges for its cataloging service and in the next twelve months—because of the size of our collection–we’ll be spending more than $20,000 just to participate in WorldCat. The following year we’ll pay close to the same amount.

Although digitization projects are costly and time-consuming, we’re committed to making more of our collections available on-line. This semester, in fact, we have three new digitization projects underway. With help from three dedicated students from UT’s School of Information Technology working as volunteers at the Stark Center we’re currently digitizing George Hackenschmidt’s personal scrapbook, the first two volumes of Physical Culture magazine, and a series of letters spanning more than 40 years between George Jowett and Ottley Coulter. As a companion piece, archivist Geoff Schmalz is currently working on a finding aide for Jowett’s Collection, which we acquired many years ago from Phyllis Jowett, George’s daughter. And, finally, our undergraduate volunteers, under the direction of our volunteer coordinator, Stacy Metzler, are scanning the large Ottley Coulter clipping and memorabilia files into a searchable database, designed by Dr. Kim Beckwith, which will both preserve these small cuttings for posterity and also make them more useful to researchers.

Should you wish to contribute to these efforts, your financial support, through our new Donate Now button, will help make it possible for us to continue this important work and share the Stark Center’s holdings with the world.

–Jan and Terry Todd

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