It’s been said that love is eternal. That saying definitely applies to two famous poets thanks to a college in Texas that is known for this year’s Heisman award and a Massachusetts college that has a collection of love letters written by the poets.
Baylor University and Wellesley College have collaborated on digitizing 573 handwritten courtship letters from Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning. The letters belong to the Margaret Clapp Library at Wellesley and have been digitized and added to the Baylor Libraries’ digital collection. They can be viewed online for free at the Browning Letters project.
The love letters were written almost daily by the two poets during their courtship from January 1845 to September 1846. The courtship letters are famous among romantics as well as fans of the the two poets.
The Browning Letters projects is also home to 842 other letters written by or to the Brownings that have been digitized from the more than 2,800 letters stored at Baylor’s Armstrong Browning Library.
This digital collection is a great example of how a National Digital Public Library could really benefit digitization projects.
Wellesley chose to partner with Baylor University because Baylor has done over 30 digitization projects and has the infrastructure in place to host this project. Of course, the fact that Baylor already had a large collection of Browning letters was also a factor in the decision. But the digitization experience and resources of Baylor played a large part in the decision to partner with them.
Baylor has become proficient at digitizing large projects and providing online access to them. They understand storage requirements, scalabilty issues, and security for digital collections. They gained this proficiency through experience and through scale.
A National Digital Public Library would have even more proficiency because it would be responsible for storing and providing access to so many more digital collections. Anyone with a historic or cultural collection that wanted to digitize that collection and store it somewhere would have access to an organization that exists solely to store digital collections.
This unified digital library would be able to benefit from massive economies of scale. Things like storage space, internet bandwidth, servers, and software would all be drastically less expensive than it would be for every single college library to purchase on their own.
The staff at a national digital library would be much more experienced in dealing with digitization projects. They would have standards in place for digitizing and storing projects. They would have a scalable search engine for accessing the digital collections. They could even lend their expertise to provide assistance in the actual digitization itself.
Baylor University Library and Margaret Clapp Library have opened up a truly romantic and historic love story to the world this Valentine’s Day. The love between two famous poets that was expressed almost daily through 573 handwritten letters is now available in digital form to anyone with a computer. It’s amazing that we have access to these courtship letters that are over 165 years old. It’s even more amazing that those love letters are now eternal.