Getting Things Done in ArchivesSpace, or, Fun with APIs

aspace_iconMy work involves a lot of problem-solving and problem solving often requires learning new skills. It’s one of the things I like most about my job. Over the past year, I’ve spent most of my time helping Duke’s Rubenstein Library implement ArchivesSpace, an open source web application for managing information about archival collections.

As an archivist and metadata librarian by training (translation: not a programmer), I’ve been working mostly on data mapping and migration tasks, but part of my deep-dive into ArchivesSpace has been learning about the ArchivesSpace API, or, really, learning about APIs in general–how they work, and how to take advantage of them. In particular, I’ve been trying to find ways we can use the ArchivesSpace API to work smarter and not harder as the saying goes.

Why use the ArchivesSpace API?

Quite simply, the ArchivesSpace API lets you do things you can’t do in the staff interface of the application, especially batch operations.

So what is the ArchivesSpace API? In very simple terms, it is a way to interact with the ArchivesSpace backend without using the application interface. To learn more, you should check out this excellent post from the University of Michigan’s Bentley Historical Library: The ArchivesSpace API.

Screenshot of ArchivesSpace API documentation showing how to form a GET request for an archival object record using the “find_by_id” endpoint

Working with the ArchivesSpace API: Other stuff you might need to know

As with any new technology, it’s hard to learn about APIs in isolation. Figuring out how to work with the ArchivesSpace API has introduced me to a suite of other technologies–the Python programming language, data structure standards like JSON, something called cURL, and even GitHub.  These are all technologies I’ve wanted to learn at some point in time, but I’ve always found it difficult to block out time to explore them without having a concrete problem to solve.

Fortunately (I guess?), ArchivesSpace gave me some concrete problems–lots of them.  These problems usually surface when a colleague asks me to perform some kind of batch operation in ArchivesSpace (e.g. export a batch of EAD, update a bunch of URLs, or add a note to a batch of records).

Below are examples of some of the requests I’ve received and some links to scripts and other tools (on Github) that I developed for solving these problems using the ArchivesSpace API.

ArchivesSpace API examples:

“Can you re-publish these 12 finding aids again because I fixed some typos?”


I get this request all the time. To publish finding aids at Duke, we export EAD from ArchivesSpace and post it to a webserver where various stylesheets and scripts help render the XML in our public finding aid interface. Exporting EAD from the ArchivesSpace staff interface is fairly labor intensive. It involves logging into the application, finding the collection record (resource record in ASpace-speak) you want to export, opening the record, making sure the resource record and all of its components are marked “published,” clicking the export button, and then specifying the export options, filename, and file path where you want to save the XML.

In addition to this long list of steps, the ArchivesSpace EAD export service is really slow, with large finding aids often taking 5-10 minutes to export completely. If you need to post several EADs at once, this entire process could take hours–exporting the record, waiting for the export to finish, and then following the steps again.  A few weeks after we went into production with ArchivesSpace I found that I was spending WAY TOO MUCH TIME exporting and re-exporting EAD from ArchivesSpace. There had to be a better way…

Solution: – A Python script that batch exports EAD from the ArchivesSpace API based on EADID input. Run from the command line, the script prompts for a list of EADID values separated with commas and checks to see if a resource record’s finding aid status is set to ‘published’. If so, it exports the EAD to a specified location using the EADID as the filename. If it’s not set to ‘published,’ the script updates the finding aid status to ‘published’ and then publishes the resource record and all its components. Then, it exports the modified EAD. See comments in the script for more details.

Below is a screenshot of the script in action. It even prints out some useful information to the terminal (filename | collection number | ASpace record URI | last person to modify | last modified date | export confirmation)

EAD Batch Export Script
Terminal output from EAD batch export script

[Note that there are some other nice solutions for batch exporting EAD from ArchivesSpace, namely the ArchivesSpace-Export-Service plugin.]

“Can you update the URLs for all the digital objects in this collection?”


We’re migrating most of our digitized content to the new Duke Digital Repository (DDR) and in the process our digital objects are getting new (and hopefully more persistent) URIs. To avoid broken links in our finding aids to digital objects stored in the DDR, we need to update several thousand digital object URLs in ArchivesSpace that point to old locations. Changing the URLs one at a time in the ArchivesSpace staff interface would take, you guessed it, WAY TOO MUCH TIME.  While there are probably other ways to change the URLs in batch (SQL updates?), I decided the safest way was to, of course, use the ArchivesSpace API.

Digital Object Screenshot
Screenshot of a Digital Object record in ArchivesSpace. The script will batch update identifiers and file version URIs based on an input CSV
Solution: – A Python script that will batch update Digital Object identifiers and file version URIs in ArchivesSpace based on an input CSV file that contains refIDs for the the linked Archival Object records. The input is a five column CSV file (without column headers) that includes: [old file version use statement], [old file version URI], [new file version URI], [ASpace ref_id], [ark identifier in DDR (e.g. ark:/87924/r34j0b091)].

[WARNING: The script above only works for ArchivesSpace version 1.5.0 and later because it uses the new “find_by_id” endpoint. The script is also highly customized for our environment, but could easily be modified to make other batch changes to digital object records based on CSV input. I’d recommend testing this in a development environment before using in production].

“Can you add a note to these 300 records?”


We often need to add a note or some other bit of metadata to a set of resource records or component records in ArchivesSpace. As you’ve probably learned, making these kinds of batch updates isn’t really possible through the ArchivesSpace staff interface, but you can do it using the ArchivesSpace API!

Solution: –  A Python script that reads a CSV input file and batch adds ‘repository processing notes’ to archival object records in ArchivesSpace. The input is a simple two-column CSV file (without column headers) where the first column contains the archival object’s ref_ID and the second column contains the text of the note you want to add. You could easily modify this script to batch add metadata to other fields.

Terminal output of script

[WARNING: Script only works in ArchivesSpace version 1.5.0 and higher].


The ArchivesSpace API is a really powerful tool for getting stuff done in ArchivesSpace. Having an open API is one of the real benefits of an open-source tool like ArchivesSpace. The API enables the community of ArchivesSpace users to develop their own solutions to local problems without having to rely on a central developer or development team.

There is already a healthy ecosystem of ArchivesSpace users who have shared their API tips and tricks with the community. I’d like to thank all of them for sharing their expertise, and more importantly, their example scripts and documentation.

Here are more resources for exploring the ArchivesSpace API:

Meet Information Technology Services: Enterprise Services & Portfolio Management

Information Technology Services

Duke University Libraries

Meet our staff

Enterprise Services & Portfolio Management

The Enterprise Services  team handles software development for the Duke University Libraries.  We support a variety of technology initiatives including the library website, the Digital Collections, the Duke Digital Repository, and much more.



Name:  Ginny Boyer
Position: Head of Enterprise Services and Portfolio Management
Years at Duke: 6 months

What I do at Duke:  I am a project manager and oversee software development activities for the Duke University Libraries.

If I had $5 million, I would: Buy up a ton of land to start an animal sanctuary and organic farm and then turn it into an outdoor learning opportunity for kids.

My first ever job:  I worked in a retail store called Tassels.

My dream job:  To be a stay at home mom, and to spend my time volunteering or serving the community.  I would also like to have a business of my own.  Something that would allow me to make things with my hands and not ever touch a computer or device again.

If someone wanted to start a conversation with me they should ask me about:  My kid, Ollie.  He’s the center of my universe.

The best advice I ever received:  It’s not really advice but a motto that I kind of live by: “She turned her cant’s into cans, and her dreams into plans.”

What I love about Duke:  The campus is beautiful and the people here are so very smart and dedicated.

When I’m not at work, I like to:   Play outside with my son, listen to bluegrass, and eat good food.

If I could have one superpower, it would be:  I think I would like to be able to fly.


Jim T




Name: Jim Tuttle
Position: Repository Architect
Years at Duke: 5

What I do at Duke: I work on providing the tools others need to preserve, manage, and allow access to our digital assets. That means I spend a lot of time staring at Outlook, which isn’t so bad. I mean, have you ever used Groupwise?!

If I had $5 million, I would: Feel extremely guilty, which would make my mother proud.

My first ever job: I grew up in rural West Central Illinois where opportunities are, um, limited. So, I picked strawberries, detasseled corn, and other agriculture duties as assigned. This is one of the reasons I paid so much attention in college.

My dream job: I’m not sure I dream about work.

If someone wanted to start a conversation with me they should ask me about:Well, you could ask me how awesome my kid is. (Pretty awesome, as it happens.) Or, privacy in the digital age, Middle East politics, Magnum PI, digital preservation of personal stuff (you do backup offsite, right?), Hawai’i (where I lived for several years), Central America, Illinois, single malt whisky, Karate, or work, if necessary.

The best advice I ever received: Don’t worry, be happy. Or anything from that sunscreen song.

What I love about Duke: I love that a fox runs by our suite windows now and again. I love that Duke is family friendly. I love the campus in spring when everything is just green and exploding with life. I love that I work with smart, funny, dedicated people. Honestly, I love everything but my parking lot. Anyone want to sell an Allen Lot permit?

When I’m not at work, I like to: I adore spending time with my 5 year old son. I do like to make time, however, to make silly and sometimes completely fabricated status updates on social media in hopes that the noise will disrupt the signal and, perhaps, someone might get a laugh. Laughing seems pretty important.

If I could have one superpower, it would be: Time travel. I’d love to save every day like a treasure with my son just to enjoy them again. Also, I’d prevent the abomination that was the Star Wars Prequel (Arggh!) Trilogy and forever erase Jar Jar Binks, shameless ploy at marketing toys to children. I mean, I played with rocks and sticks and snakes and I turned out alright. Mostly.

Something most people don’t know about me: I can’t prevent myself from joking. Well, most people probably already know that but others may just think I’m a little off. I guess both could be true.

A unique thing in my office: I am known locally as The Enforcer. When one enters the ITS suite in the morning I’m likely to be found standing outside my cube directly down the hall from the door looking (I’m told) imposing. At 5’6”, imposing is pretty hard to pull off so I usually have to take a short break after.

An interesting/memorable day at work for me: My days are usually interesting. I like problem solving and am fortuitously awash with problems.



Name: Cory Lown
Position: Digital Projects Developer
Years at Duke: ~ 2 years

What I do at Duke: Work on technology projects. These days that means working on the public interface to the digital repository as well as the TRLN shared catalog redevelopment project.

If I had $5 million, I would: build a workshop/barn for all my projects, adopt more rescue dogs, invest, then do something charitable

My first ever job: lawn mowing, wood chopping, weed wacking, whatnot

What I love about Duke: many things, but Duke Gardens and an awesome work environment top the list

When I’m not at work, I like to: walk my dog, jog, read, cook, fuss with my 1972 Volkswagen Beetle.

A unique thing in my office: a working Macintosh PowerBook 160 from 1993



Name: Sean Aery
Position: Digital Projects Developer
Years at Duke: 13 or so.

 What I do at Duke:  I create web interfaces to library resources. I’m part designer, part programmer, part consultant. I work a lot with digitized special collections, and many other library web projects. I think a lot about how people interact with information and technology.

If I had $5 million, I would: Probably still not retire.

My first ever job: I washed dishes at a restaurant in rural upstate NY. I am still good at it.

My dream job: I’m not positive, but I believe I already have it.

If someone wanted to start a conversation with me they should ask me about: Music or sports.

The best advice I ever received: Always place family first.

What I love about Duke:  It’s a dynamic place with a diverse range of bright, energetic people everywhere you look. It’s impossible to be bored here and I learn something interesting every single day. It’s also a gorgeous campus.

When I’m not at work, I like to: Spend time with my family. Work on art projects, play games, do puzzles, make music, and laugh until it hurts.

If I could have one superpower, it would be: To jump really, really high. Because full flight would just be too easy.

A Movie I like: Word Wars (a Scrabble documentary).

Something most people don’t know about me: I occasionally play competitive Scrabble, in tournaments.

 A unique thing in my office: A sliver of a window.

An interesting/memorable day at work for me: Early in my career, I played some music with a group of staff at the library holiday party. The experience was fun: it helped me connect with folks I otherwise wouldn’t have, and helped me appreciate the hidden talents people have beyond what they typically do at the office.







Name: David Chandek-Stark
Position: Digital Repository Developer
Years at Duke: 25

What I do at Duke: Develop and support digital repository services for the Library.

If someone wanted to start a conversation with me they should ask me about: My kids

My wife and I had twins (girl and boy) a year ago, so life is very different now. J  Being a parent is joyous, rewarding, educational – and exhausting!  When I’m not busy with Grace and Patrick, I like listening to and playing music, gardening, photography, sleeping … zzz!


Jim C





Name: Jim Coble
Position: Digital Repository Developer
Years at Duke: 31

 What I do at Duke: I develop applications that enable access to and management of the items in the library’s digital preservation repository.  I also provide technical support for the library’s DukeSpace application.

My first ever job: Bagging groceries at my home town supermarket.

If someone wanted to start a conversation with me they should ask me about: Flying

What I love about Duke: I’ve been working in library IT here at Duke for 30 years and have been able periodically re-invent my role so that I’ve always had new and interesting things to work on, as well as smart and supportive colleagues to work with.

When I’m not at work, I like to: Fly.  I’m a private pilot and enjoy boring holes in the sky around central North Carolina as well as taking trips with my wife to visit her family in Florida.

If I could have one superpower, it would be: Flying (without the need of an airplane), what else?

A Movie I like: A Million Ways to Die in the West (I’m embarrassed to admit)

Something most people don’t know about me: While in high school, I served as an in-studio announcer and roving reporter for a local educational TV program titled “Mathematics in the News.”  I remember doing a story at a local Mazda dealership about Wankel rotary engines.

 A unique thing in my office: A copy of Volume 1, Number 1, of Duke University Libraries magazine from Fall 1987 featuring a photograph of the entire staff of Library Systems (all three of us) on its cover.

An interesting/memorable day at work for me: Winning the first Florence Blakely Award in 1995.  At the time, the names of the nominees were not released in advance and I remember being stunned speechless when I was announced as the winner.



Name: Ayse Durmaz
Position: IT Analyst in Enterprise Services group
Years at Duke: 2 years in the library, six years formerly at Fuqua as Web Developer

What I do at Duke: Support and develop Duke library’s ILS systems.

If I had $5 million, I would: Travel around the world.

What I love about Duke: The beautiful campus and the people that work here.

When I’m not at work, I like to: Play flute, do origami, right now I’m learning calligraphy and guitar; volunteer at an animal shelter.


Angela B





Name: Angela Carter Bryant
Position:  ITS Project and Contract Coordinator
Years at Duke:  32

What I do at Duke:  I coordinate and facilitate a range of technology-oriented projects and contracts for Duke University Libraries.

 If I had $5 million, I would: give to my family and travel.  I would retire and volunteer at an orphanage or work with foster children

 My first ever job: I started working at the ripe age of 14, Library Page for Orange County Public Library in Hillsborough NC.

 My dream job: would be to run my own organizational business where I would organize people’s homes and businesses. Nothing like having everything in its place!

 If someone wanted to start a conversation with me they should ask me about:  My grandchildren, Alivia, Addison and Finley.  My children, Aaron, Bryson and Emily.

 The best advice I ever received: My Dad told me never to be afraid, that everyone puts their pants on the same way…I still get nervous in a crowd of people – lol.

 What I love about Duke: The place is beautiful to look at and that never gets old.  Being able to work from home is a plus and having good friends to talk to.

 When I’m not at work, I like to: spend time with my family and travel, bake, shopping and doing crafts.

 If I could have one superpower, it would be: to feed all the hungry children in the world.

 A Movie(s) I like: Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory – 1971 version with Gene Wilder, Wizard of Oz.

 Something most people don’t know about me:  I’ve made a quilt for every grandbaby before they were born.

 A unique thing in my office: Always chocolate in my office.


Meet Information Technology Services: Core Services

Information Technology Services

Duke University Libraries

Meet our staff

Core Services

Core Services manages much of the day-to-day operations for staff, student, and patron computing within Duke University Libraries. We’re responsible for workstation support and management, AV and public scanning, system and application administration, project management, and management of our Integrated Library System. Our staff also act as liaisons to OIT, TTS, and external partners to ensure that DUL systems are well-integrated and supported.


John Pormann






Name:   John Pormann
Position:   Head, Core Services
Years at Duke:   24-ish

What I do at Duke:   I manage the Desktop Support, Specialized Computing Support, Server Support, and Discover Services teams.  A lot of what I do is interfacing with other DUL units to make sure we’re providing the right technology to get the work of the Library done.

If I had $5 million, I would:  travel around the world

My first ever job: Pizza Hut, in the kitchen cooking pizzas

My dream job: definitely not Pizza Hut!

If someone wanted to start a conversation with me they should ask me about: my daughters, Libby (5) and Kate (20 mo); I’m slowly becoming an expert on the color pink, all things princess, and My Little Ponies

What I love about Duke:  The people.  It’s a great atmosphere, there’s always something new going on, the research that goes on here is amazing, I love being a part of that!

When I’m not at work, I like to:  relax with my family

A Movie I like:  any of the Iron Man movies (he was my favorite comic book character growing up, I even have a beat-up copy of issue #19)

A unique thing in my office:  small Eeyore stuffed animal; he was my favorite Pooh character growing up, though I’m not so sure what that says about me

An interesting/memorable day at work for me:  We were getting ready to install one of the first dedicated cluster computing environments at Duke – this was somewhat exciting back in 1999 – and when the equipment arrived, it had clearly been dropped off the back of the truck, the front glass panel was shatterred, the 3” thick steel frame was actually bent, and they had then picked it up with a forklift which gouged the sidepanel. This was over $100,000 worth of equipment and we had to figure out how to get it fixed!






Name: Dorothy Coletta
Position: Section Head, Desktop Support
Years at Duke: 15

What I do at Duke: translate technology into English.

If I had $5 million, I would: buy everyone in the library all the technology they want.

My first ever job: counter clerk at McDonald’s.

My dream job: I’m in it!

If someone wanted to start a conversation with me they should ask me about: yoga

The best advice I ever received: rub screws on a bar of soap before screwing them into the wall.

What I love about Duke: Cameron.

When I’m not at work, I like to: be outside.

If I could have one superpower, it would be: being able to focus despite the commotion around me.

A Movie I like: Brainstorm and Beasts of the Southern Wild.

Something most people don’t know about me:I’ve met both Mother Teresa and Jane Goodall, two of my top role models.

A unique thing in my office: Library party posters that make my cube as beautiful as a museum.

An interesting/memorable day at work for me:all days are interesting because technology is always changing and the people in the library are fascinating to talk to.


Alton Wills






Name: Alton Wills
Position: IT Analyst
Years at Duke: 2

What I do at Duke: I support the end users software and hardware needs.

If I had $5 million, I would: With that money I would finally be able to capitalize on some of my investment strategies as well as start my own audio engineering business.

What I love about Duke: I love the campus, the prestige, as well as the vast amounts of benefits that come with working here.

When I’m not at work, I like to: I like to watch a large amount of stand-up comedy.

If I could have one superpower, it would be: To have the ability to teleport.

A Movie I like: Inception.


Name: Chris
Position: IT Analyst
Years at Duke: 1

What I do at Duke: Drink lots of coffee! While I support the end user’s software and hardware needs, enhance automation and explore the uses of VDI for the Library.

My first ever job: McDonald’s

The best advice I ever received: just because its right doesn’t make it easy.

What I love about Duke: I love the campus, the Duke Gardens and the awesome work environment.

A Movie I like: Office Space



Name: Karen Newbery
Position: IT Analyst, Discovery Services, Interim Coordinator
Years at Duke: 20

What I do at Duke: I support the integrated library system for Duke – the system that allows library material to be bought, described and circulated for Duke’s patrons.

If I had $5 million, I would: I would have a craft store and a staff at home so I could spend time doing what I want and not keeping up with the chores at home.

My first ever job: I got my first job at a Walgreens at a mall in Omaha with some friends from high school. We had a great time working together! I’ll still help “face” a shelf or put something back where it belongs in a retail store today.

My dream job: Being a full-time crafter.

If someone wanted to start a conversation with me they should ask me about: My son or my cats. I could regale you for hours on either subject!

The best advice I ever received: “It doesn’t matter what your degree is in, as long as you have a degree.” My Father

What I love about Duke: I love all the people I’ve worked with. They both challenge me and keep me sane.

When I’m not at work, I like to: Family is really important to me, so you’ll find me spending time with mine. I also run and do lots of crafts.

If I could have one superpower, it would be: To cure cancer. Stupid cancer.

A Movie I like: One of my favorite movies is Top Secret. I also really like Shawshank Redemption and Oh Brother, Where art thou?

Something most people don’t know about me: I’m really an introvert. Really!

A unique thing in my office: My counted cross stitch puzzle. Put together by Glenda Lacoste and her crew in the copy center years ago. I love it because I love cross stitch and it’s so colorful.

An interesting/memorable day at work for me: When I manage to make it through the entire day without blowing anything or anyone up.



Name: Jeff Fleming
Position: Analyst, IT, Sr – Discovery Services
Years at Duke: 7

 What I do at Duke: ILS and whatever else needs to get done.

If someone wanted to start a conversation with me they should ask me about:  Talk to me about my twin girls.


Name: Paul Wilshire

Position: IT Analyst

Years at Duke: 10

What I do at Duke: I work with Library Desktop Support to provide internal computer support to the Duke Library staff.

If I had $5 million, I would: Buy a nice Cabin in the Mountains, retire early

My first ever job: Library Page in Public Library System

My dream job: Working with Dolphins

If someone wanted to start a conversation with me they should ask me about:Anything?

The best advice I ever received: Do what you love and the money will come.

What I love about Duke: Work environment

When I’m not at work, I like to: Interact with My Kids, read, watch movies, travel, and hike

If I could have one superpower, it would be: Teleportation

A Movie I like: Gattica

Something most people don’t know about me: I like to scuba dive

A unique thing in my office: Butterfly picture of my daughter

An interesting/memorable day at work for me:My first day at work when I saw all the computer junk that no one had surplussed.







Name: Derrek Croney
Position: IT Analyst
Years at Duke: 4

What I Do At Duke: Drink lots of coffee!

And I manage the Libraries’ application servers, manage the Libraries’ public and intranet websites, serve as the Libraries’ liason with the central Office of IT, and occasionally write PHP, Ruby and Java code.

That, and drink lots of coffee!

If I had $5 million, I would… Have a wife who now had $5 million, and I would enjoy coming to work at Duke each day.

A Unique Thing My Office: A photograph of me posing next to the “Nature Boy” Ric Flair.

The Best Advice I Ever Received: The first ‘IT Director’ I worked under once told me (in the deepest “southern drawl” known to man), “If you don’t like how something is going, wait six(6) months and things will change.”

What I love about Duke: Getting away to the Duke Gardens to decompress and unwind.

A Movie I Like: Tombstone



Name: Jack Hill
Position: IT Analyst
Years at Duke: 2

What I do at Duke: I do systems administration for the ILS and Repository projects. I try to configure the computers so that other people can do their work easier. Both of those projects are collaborations with people from around the world trying to solve the same problems.

My first ever job: I was a lab technician in a genotyping lab at UNC.

If someone wanted to start a conversation with me they should ask me about: Free Software and the Haskell programming language.

When I’m not at work, I like to: Do even more things with computers. I’m a board member of the Internet Hosting Cooperative (  I do other things as well, like make and consume food, amateur radio, and ultimate (Frisbee™).

Something most people don’t know about me: I am a Durham native.

A unique thing in my office: A real chalk board and a model-m keyboard.  Just because I’m a technologist doesn’t mean that I don’t see the value in older ways of doing things. I also have a “Notable Women in Computing” poster that was authored in part by Duke’s own Dr. Susan Rodger.

My favorite charities: Software Freedom Conservancy and Catholic Relief Services. Both empower people in different ways.



Meet Information Technology Services: Data and Visualization Services

Information Technology Services

Duke University Libraries

Meet our staff

Data and Visualization Services


Analyze, discover, manage, map, and visualize your data with Duke Libraries Data and Visualization Services.  Our team of six consultants and three interns provides a broad range of support in areas ranging from data analysis, data visualization, geographic information systems, financial data, statistical software and data storage and management.  Our lab provides 12 workstations with the latest data software and three Bloomberg Professional workstations nearly 24/7 for the Duke community.








Name: Joel Herndon
Position:  Head, Data and Visualization Services
Years at Duke:  12

I joined Duke University Libraries in 2003. Before coming to Duke, I was the head of the Electronic Data Center at Emory University Libraries. As the head of DVS, I lead the department, coordinate programs and services and act as a liaison with other data groups both at Duke and beyond. As part of the department’s consulting services, I work with researchers on a range of questions about data management (both planning and implementation), data visualization and digital mapping projects.


John Little





Name: John Little
Position: Data Analysis and Management Analyst
Years at Duke: 1 Score

What I do at Duke:  I consult with patrons through the Data & Visualization Services Department.  My goal is to help people identify, create and leverage Duke University services which involve data.  Typically this includes data analysis, data storage, data sharing, and data cleaning.

If I had $5 million, I would:  have $5 million dollars and try to figure out how to lose it without losing my sanity.

My first ever job: My very first money job was when I was about 10.  I used to cut grass for Mrs. Hangen.  She’d bring me Cokes and we’d sit on her back deck overlooking the Fox River.  I don’t remember what we talked about.  I wonder if I ever told her about my girlfriend Tracy Holland?  Mrs. Hangen paid me $10 and it took about 40 minutes to cut the grass — not including Coke breaks.  She was a real nice lady.  Back then I used to wish grass would grow faster and that I could spend more time with Tracy.

My dream job:  idk.  Maybe cutting grass for Tracy Holland?  lol.

If someone wanted to start a conversation with me they should ask me about:  Do you recall Aimiee Mann, formerly of Til Tuesday?  She used to sing, “Hush Hush, keep it down now, voices carry?’  We could talk about that.  I think it would be a short conversation, potentially a very unpleasant conversation as well.

The best advice I ever received:  “You don’t have to catch fish to go fishin’.” –Alfred O’Brien

What I love about Duke:  The standard issue, dark blue jumpsuits and the bookmobile.

When I’m not at work, I like to:  Imagine myself sitting in a mystical office, working.

If I could have one superpower, it would be:  The Power of Perception.

A Movie I like[d]:  Have you ever seen the Bee Gees in Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band?  Peter Frampton was in it.  So was Earth, Wind & Fire.  Frampton played Billy Shears.  The Fire playedthemselves; they were dope.  Anyway, when I was a child, I watched it on HBO and I thought it was pretty catchy.  Do you think Mrs. Hangen may have slipped a mickey into my Coke?  Because, I mean, I really don’t know what came over me.

Something most people don’t know about me:  I have $5 Million.

A unique thing in my office:  My imaginary pet Iguana, Remus.

An interesting/memorable day at work for me:  There was this one day when I truthfully answered all these questions about myself….



Name: Eric Monson
Position: Data Visualization Analyst
Years at Duke: 14

What I do at Duke: I help people visualize, organize and think about their data, for their own exploration or to effectively communicate their findings to others.

If I had $5 million, I would: Stash a bunch of it away for retirement and my kids’ education. Then, I would put a new, less stinky engine in my ’88 Dodge Ram 100 pickup and get the driver’s side window fixed so it could roll down in the summer. Some of those covered gutters for my house would be nice, too.

My first ever job: My mom would pay my sister and me five cents for each mosquito we killed inside the house.

My dream job: Getting to work with smart, passionate people every day and use my strangely broad background to help them accomplish their goals – exactly what I’ve been doing for the past few years!

If someone wanted to start a conversation with me they should ask me about: Kerning

The best advice I ever received: Be yourself and don’t worry about the fact that not everyone will like you. (I have trouble following that advice.)

What I love about Duke: It’s a beautiful place to work that feels like home.

When I’m not at work, I like to: Practice photography, baking and woodworking, and watch My Little Pony with my two girls.

A Movie I like: I like many movies, but one I feel doesn’t get enough attention is Steve Martin’s 1991 film, L.A. Story. It’s a bit dated, but I love how the story mixes satirical, romantic and surreal elements.

Something most people don’t know about me: I like to practice target shooting with my friend who used to be a Marine Sniper/Scout Team Leader in Iraq.

A unique thing in my office: A folded-card polyhedron constructed during a workshop led by the mathematician/artist George W Hart during his visit to Duke a few years ago.

An interesting/memorable day at work for me: One of my most memorable was the day of my on-campus interview for this position. I was nervous about the timing of my talk, but other than that I was surprised and encouraged by the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed every event and interaction that whole day!








Name: Mark Thomas
Position: GIS and Map Librarian
Years at Duke: 19

What I do at Duke: Librarian for GIS, Economics, Geography, Maps, and Federal Government Documents; work in the Library’s Data and Visualization Services Department

If I had $5 million, I would: Relax a little

My first ever job: Bread baker at a Schlotzky’s sandwich shop

My dream job: Something related to vernacular music sound recordings

If someone wanted to start a conversation with me they should ask me about: Really old country and roots music; railroads; Volkswagens with air-cooled engines

The best advice I ever received: Don’t spend your capital.

What I love about Duke: Work around smart people

When I’m not at work, I like to: Ice skating with family.

If I could have one superpower, it would be: Make everyone happy

A Movie I like: The Searchers.

Something most people don’t know about me: Used to do a radio show on WXDU featuring “vintage” country music (fiddles and steel guitars from the 1920s to early 1970s), called “A Broken Heart and a Glass of Beer,” after the theme song

A unique thing in my office: A canister from the pneumatic tube system that was in the 1948 stacks.

An interesting/memorable day at work for me: Anytime a patron says this is just what they needed.


Angela Z






Name:  Angela Zoss
Position:  Data Visualization Coordinator
Years at Duke: 3

What I do at Duke: I help students, faculty, and staff learn about or produce data visualizations, incuding charts, graphs, and maps. I teach workshops, give presentations to classes or at conferences, develop online instructional materials, and provide one-on-one advice and technical support. I am also a member of the Visualization and Interactive Systems group ( and co-organize the Visualization Friday Forum (

My first ever job:As a junior in high school, I started working as a math tutor at a local state university branch campus. The tutors had open office hours, and while most of the questions came from later-life returning education adults needing refreshers on basic algebra, we would occasionally get to struggle through harder problems with students from pre-Calculus and Calculus courses. Around that time I also got a job as a research assistant to a local mystery writer who was a family friend. I would often head to the library and comb through microfilm and microfiche to help her contextualize a historical novel.

The best advice I ever received: “You must learn to love to learn.” My French teacher in high school, too soon lost to cancer, was an extremely passionate woman who wanted to share her energy with her students. She understood all too well that learning was not a means to an end but a lifelong journey that should be cultivated and cherished.

What I love about Duke: I love how ready people at Duke seem to be to get their hands dirty learning a new skill or technique. Both inside and outside the library, I’ve been very impressed by the mentality that it’s okay to learn by doing, even if it’s a small project at first.

When I’m not at work, I like to: play music. I’m a member of the Duke Medicine Orchestra, for which I also serve as the Communications Chair. I play French Horn in the orchestra, but I’ve played many instruments in many different kinds of ensembles. I also enjoy singing.



Name:  Jena Happ
Position:  “Library Specialist” – GIS focused
Years at Duke: 1.5

What I do at Duke:  I am a consultant in the Data and Visualization Services department and I specialize in GIS.

If I had $5 million, I would: travel around the world.

My first ever job: was working on my family’s farm.

If someone wanted to start a conversation with me they should ask me about:  my dog, anything about Wisconsin or Minnesota, or the Green Bay Packers (or the NFL/sports in general)

The best advice I ever received: “Find a job that makes you happy and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”

When I’m not at work, I like to: hike around lakes with my dog, bake, and attend any kind of sporting event

A Movie I like:  Die Hard.  I’ve watched it too many times and I’m fairly certain I know all of the lines in the script.

A unique thing in my office: A signed picture from Alan Rickman to me.



Name: Mara Sedlins
Position: CLIR/DLF Postdoctoral Fellow in Data Curation for the Social Sciences
Years at Duke: < 1

What I do at Duke: I am working with Duke Libraries and the Social Science Research Institute to develop and promote best practices for managing a variety of research data in the social sciences.

My first ever job: As a summer job I worked as a teller at a small local bank in Minnesota (where the air conditioning made it feel almost as cold as Minnesota winters!)

My dream job: I think this is it!

If someone wanted to start a conversation with me they should ask me about: traveling in San Miguel de Allende and Oaxaca, Mexico

What I love about Duke: the friendly and talented people, the beautiful wooded trails

When I’m not at work, I like to: run, do yoga, explore Durham’s restaurants and breweries, go to the Old Time Learning Jam at High Strung Violins & Guitars and play fiddle tunes

A Movie I like: Tarkovsky’s Stalker

Something most people don’t know about me: For a while I had a second career as a rock violist.


Meet Information Technology Services: Digital Production Initiatives

Information Technology Services

Duke University Libraries

Meet our staff

Digital Production Initiatives

   DPC copy

DPI provides metadata support, R&D, and program management for the Duke Digital Repository, as well as web and content development for digital exhibits.  We also provide oversight, digitization services, and program management for the library’s digital collections program.



Name: Will Sexton
Position: Head of Digital Production Initiatives
Years at Duke: 13

What I do at Duke: I lead a team that includes web developers and the Digital Production Center. We work with others, including the WebX group, to develop and maintain web services for the library. We also provide oversight, digitization services, and development for the library’s digital collections program.

If I had $5 million, I would: I’d probably start by building a house.

My first ever job: Lot boy at a used car & mobile home dealer on Bragg Boulevard in Fayetteville, NC.

My dream job: Something similar to what I do now, but with the national defense budget.

If someone wanted to start a conversation with me they should ask me about: Cooking usually works.

The best advice I ever received: Time your swing to meet the ball before it crosses the plate. Changed everything.

What I love about Duke: Nothing’s easy but most of it’s fun.

When I’m not at work, I like to: Cook, write, play video games, get silly with my family.

If I could have one superpower, it would be: Wave my hands and poof! Money is gone from politics.

A Movie I like: I rather enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy.

Something most people don’t know about me: I lived in Tokyo, 1990-1993.

A unique thing in my office: Folders and binders full of notes and research I did for the book I never finished writing while library fellow for the Franklin Humanities seminar in 2004-5.

An interesting/memorable day at work for me: The day we moved into Bostock.



Name:  Molly Bragg
Position:  Digital Collections Program Manager
Years at Duke:  5 (includes an internship in University Archives and my time as move coordinator for the Rubenstein Library)

What I do at Duke: Spin Plates! I manage the Digital Collections Program which includes the Digital Production Center and all the digital collections projects that come through our door from idea to implementation. 

 My first ever job:

Part time:  in high school I worked at The Imaginarium, a fancy toystore at the local mall.

Full time:  I worked at a Hostelling International Youth Hostel in downtown San Francisco while “taking a break” from college.

If someone wanted to start a conversation with me they should ask me about: Big Poodle

 What I love about Duke:   The people and the projects – I feel so lucky to work with such an exciting range of people and projects throughout the library.  The variety is never boring!

When I’m not at work, I like to:   I enjoy live music, running, putzing around my new home, visiting with friends and yoga.  I wish I had more time for reading, cycling and gardening (I have no idea what I’m doing when it comes to gardening).

Something most people don’t know about me:    I was almost in a Kip Winger video in the  mid/late 90s when I was in college in New Mexico.  He was still going strong even in the 90s!

 A unique thing in my office:   My ceramic lucky cat is an admittedly cheap trinket. Soon after I started working at Internet Archive (2003) a new colleague (who later became a good friend) gave it to me for my birthday.  Lucky cat has been on my work desk (whereever that may be) ever since.








Name: Mike Adamo
Position: Digital Production Specialist – Still Image
Years at Duke: 10

What I do at Duke: Assess Library collections for digitization. Create high-end digital content for the preservation and access using specialized capture equipment.

My first ever job: My Dad owned a construction company so I was shoveling gravel and cleaning up job sites by the time I was 7. After that I moved up to being a cook at Long John Silvers and the rest, they say, is history.

My dream job: Helicopter pilot. Theoretical Physicist.

Favorite quote from my Grandfather: My grandfather was always cold. Sometimes he would even start a fire in the summertime. I always thought it was funny that he would walk into the living room with the fire blazing in the middle of the summer and ask “is it hot in here?.   Everyone would say it feels fine… then slowly migrate to the backyard where it was much cooler.

Something most people don’t know about me: I have 2 brothers and 3 sisters who were all born in a 7 year span. My older sister and I were born in the same year. I also have 2 foster brothers and a foster sister. I grew up living on the same street as my Grandparents and an Aunt and Uncle who had 5 kids of their own. Needless to say there was always lots of family around.








Name: Alex Marsh
Position: Digital Production Specialist – Video
Years at Duke: 6

What I do at Duke: I digitize obsolete audio & video formats, and do high-resolution photography of still image materials for long-term preservation and online access.

My first ever job: Delivering Ad-Pak newspapers door-to-door when I was 14-yrs-old.

The best advice I ever received: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”

What I love about Duke: It’s such a beautiful campus: the gothic architecture, giant oak trees, expansive gardens and the big chapel. It sure beats working in a corporate office park.

Something most people don’t know about me: My grandfather played basketball for Duke in 1921, back when it was called Trinity College. No one camped out for tickets.

A unique thing in my office: Two giant racks housing obsolete videotape playback decks, such as U-matic, Betacam, Hi-8 and VHS. These are worthless relics to most people, but crucial to the library’s goals for moving image preservation and access.

An interesting/memorable day at work for me: One morning, I was asked to digitize a box of materials from our Rubenstein Library. I opened a plain white box to find original printings of some of the most sought-after comic books in the history of the genre: Batman #1 (1940), Amazing Fantasy #15 (Spider-Man’s debut),  Avengers #4 (Captain America’s return), X-Men #1, and many more. These historic titles are part of Duke’s Edwin and Terry Murray Comic Book Collection.


Name: Zeke Graves
Position: Digital Production Specialist – Audio
Years at Duke: 7

What I do at Duke: Create high-quality digital versions of analog media for preservation and access

If I had $5 million, I would: Build and maintain an arts commune/retreat, support organizations that help North Carolinians in need, travel the globe and beyond

My first ever job: breakdancing for tips at a kiln opening

My dream job: banjo builder / basketball coach

If someone wanted to start a conversation with me they should ask me about: what I’m reading, what I’m listening to

Something most people don’t know about me: I grew up in a wood-heated geodesic dome

A unique thing in my office: Otari MX-5050 Reel-to-Reel



Name: Maggie Dickson
Position: Metadata Architect
Years at Duke: 1

What I do at Duke: I manage the creation and maintenance of metadata for materials deposited into the Duke Digital Repository. I wrangle spreadsheets and love normalizing data.

If I had $5 million, I would: What do you mean, ‘if’? (Just kidding! I would pay off my debts, set up college funds for my kids, and give the rest to Doctors Without Borders.)

My first ever job: My first job out of college was working at the animal shelter. I made everyone I know adopt a cat or dog (or a couple of both), and learned a lot about humanity.

A Movie I like: Overboard



Name: Michael Daul
Position: Digital Projects Developer
Years at Duke: 4

 What I do at Duke: In general I don’t do well working on the same thing day after day, so I’m fortunate in that I’m able work on a wide variety of projects in the library. As a member of Digital Projects and Production Services, most of my time involves working on interfaces that enable access to resources at the library. Primarily I work on building, enhancing, and maintaining the web properties that the Library owns. Most recently I’ve been working on developing a drupal module to display ‘bento’ search results across several different search silos. I also get to work on digital exhibits, both online and physical kiosks. I particularly enjoy working on exhibits.

A quarter of my time is dedicated to working with Duke CIT (center for instructional technology). I mostly do similar things there, working on their web properties and the like. CIT also tends to do the occasional print or multimedia project, so I get to exercise my design and multimedia production muscles from time to time.

If I had $5 million, I would:  Pay off debt, invest/save a good chunk, help out family and friends, start some sort of foundation that could help people.

If someone wanted to start a conversation with me they should ask me about: I love music – I play a bunch of different instruments and have a well-stocked home studio. I love art (I was a fine art / philosphy doulb emajor in undergrad). I love animals – I have four cats at home. I also enjoy cars, comic books, basketball, movies, and all sorts of other things J

 A Movie I like:  I used to dedicate much more time to watching movies, especially in the theater, but for the past few years I’ve mostly reduced my consumption to what I can get for ‘free’ on netflix or amazon prime. That being said, I love movies. It’s hard to pick a single favorite, and this list would most likely be different next week, bu I’ll throw out five off the top of my head:

  • Old Boy (the Chan Wook Park version, not the terrible 2013 remake)
  • Godfather Part II
  • Akira
  • Rushmore
  • The station agent


Meet Information Technology Services: Tim McGeary


Name:  Tim McGeary

Position: AUL for IT Services

Years at Duke: 2 years


What I do at Duke: I lead the ITS organization and participate in the Executive Group for the Libraries. In any given day, I spend my time keeping up with the business of ITS to manage priorities and resources, take time to learn about, research, and analyze trends in IT that can benefit or impact the Libraries and ITS. I also plan build partnerships around campus and beyond that will strategically benefit the Libraries.

If I had $5 million, I would: payoff any debts and use the rest of the money to travel with my family so we could travel regularly and to wherever we wanted.

My first ever job: I cleaned automated bowling pin setting machines by hand with machine cleaner or crawling under the machines to vacuum.

My dream job: Being a professional golfer.

If someone wanted to start a conversation with me they should ask me about: My kids or anything Pittsburgh.

The best advice I ever received: No one is perfect, so don’t try to be and You learn best by learning from failure, so make little bets, fail fast (if it fails) and adapt.

What I love about Duke: Everyone has been so welcoming and I love the campus architecture and grounds.

When I’m not at work, I like to: Be the best dad I can be and occasionally run, bike, or on rare occasions play golf.

If I could have one superpower, it would be: To heal people – my grandfather was a pediatrician. I got to see and hear firsthand the positive outcomes of the thousands of people he helped get well.

A Movie I like: Stranger than Fiction

Something most people don’t know about me: I’ve written a half dozen or so musical compositions that have been publicly performed by others.

A unique thing in my office: a panoramic composite of the City of Pittsburgh from the top of Mt. Washington taken by my wife Andrea. It’s about 3 ½ feet long.

Research at Duke and the future of the DDR

The Duke Digital Repository (DDR) is a growing service, and the Libraries are growing to support it. As I post this entry, our jobs page shows three new positions comprising five separate openings that will support the DDR. One is a DevOps position which we have re-envisioned from a salary line that opened with a staff member’s departure. The other four consist of two new positions, with two openings for each, created to meet specific, emerging needs for supporting research data at Duke.

Last fall at Duke, the Vice Provosts for Research and the Vice President for Information Technology convened a Digital Research Faculty Working Group. It included a number of faculty members from around campus, as well as several IT administrators, the latter of whom served in an ex-officio capacity. The Libraries were represented by our Associate University Librarian for Information Technology, Tim McGeary (who happens to be my supervisor).

Membership of the Digital Research Faculty Group. This image and others in the post are slides taken from a presentation I gave to the Libraries’ all-staff meeting in August.

Continue reading Research at Duke and the future of the DDR

Developing the Duke Digital Repository is Messy Business

Let me tell you something people: Coordinating development of the Duke Digital Repository (DDR) is a crazy logistical affair that involves much ado about… well, everything!

My last post, What is a Repository?, discussed at a high level, what exactly a digital repository is intended to be and the purpose it plays in the Libraries’ digital ecosystem.  If we take a step down from that, we can categorize the DDR as two distinct efforts, 1) a massive software development project and 2) a complex service suite.  Both require significant project management and leadership, and necessitate tools to help in coordinating the effort.

There are many, many details that require documenting and tracking through the life cycle of a software development project.  Initially we start with requirements- meaning what the tools need to do to meet the end-users needs.  Requirements must be properly documented and must essentially detail a project management plan that can result in a successful product (the software) and the project (the process, and everything that supports success of the product itself).  From this we manage a ‘backlog’ of requirements, and pull from the backlog to structure our work.  Requirements evolve into tasks that are handed off to developers.  Tasks themselves become conversations as the development team determines the best possible approach to getting the work done.  In addition to this, there are bugs to track, changes to document, and new requirements evolving all of the time… you can imagine that managing all of this in a simple ‘To Do’ list could get a bit unwieldy.


We realized that our ability to keep all of these many plates spinning necessitated a really solid project management tool.  So we embarked on a mission to find just the right one!  I’ll share our approach here, in case you and your team have a similar need and could benefit from our experiences.

STEP 1: Establish your business case:  Finding the right tool will take effort, and getting buy-in from your team and organization will take even more!  Get started early with justifying to your team and your org why a PM tool is necessary to support the work.

STEP 2: Perform a needs assessment: You and your team should get around a table and brainstorm.  Ask yourselves what you need this tool to do, what features are critical, what your budget is, etc.  Create a matrix where you fully define all of these characteristics to drive your investigation.

STEP 3: Do an environmental scan: What is out there on the market?  Do your research and whittle down a list of tools that have potential.  Also build on the skills of your team- if you have existing competencies in a given tool, then fully flesh out its features to see if it fits the bill.

STEP 4:  Put them through the paces: Choose a select list of tools and see how they match up to you needs assessment.  Task a group of people to test-drive the tools, and report out on the experience.

STEP 5: Share your findings: Discuss the findings with your team.  Capture the highs and the lows and present the material in a digestible fashion.  If it’s possible to get consensus, make a recommendation.

STEP 6: Get buy-in: This is the MOST critical part!  Get buy-in from your team to implement the tool.  A PM tool can only benefit the team if it is used thoroughly, consistently, and in a team fashion.  You don’t want to deal with adverse reactions to the tool after the fact…


No matter what tool you choose, you’ll need to follow some simple guidelines to ensure successful adoption:

  • Once again… Get TEAM buy-in!
  • Define ownership, or an Admin, of the tool (ideally the Project Manager)
  • Define basic parameters for use and team expectations
  • Consider your ecosystem of tools and simplify where appropriate
  • The more robust the tool, the more support and structure will be required

Trust me when I say that this exercise will not let you down, and will likely yield a wealth of information about the tools that you use, the projects that you manage, your team’s preferences for coordinating the work, and much more!

The Return of the Filmstrip

The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee worked on the cutting edge. In the fight for Black political and economic power, SNCC employed a wide array of technology and tactics to do the work. SNCC bought its own WATS (Wide Area Telephone Service) lines, allowing staff to make long-distance phone calls for a flat rate. It developed its own research department, communications department, photography department, transportation bureau, and had network of supporters that spanned the globe. SNCC’s publishing arm printed tens of thousands of copies of The Student Voice weekly to hold mass media accountable to the facts and keep the public informed. And so, when SNCC discovered they could create an informational organizing tool at 10¢ a pop that showed how people were empowering themselves, they did just that.


SNCC activist Maria Varela was one of the first to work on this experimental project to develop filmstrips. Varela had come into SNCC’s photography department through her interest in creating adult literacy material that was accessible, making her well-positioned for this type of work. On 35mm split-frame film, Varela and other SNCC photographers pieced together positives that told a story, could be wound up into a small metal canister, stuffed into a cloth drawstring, and attached to an accompanying script. Thousands of these were mailed out all across the South, where communities could feed them into a local school’s projector and have a meeting to learn about something like the Delano Grape Strike or the West Batesville Farmers Cooperative.


Fifty years later, Varela, a SNCC Digital Gateway Visiting Documentarian, is working with us to digitize some of these filmstrips for publication on our website. Figuring out the proper way to digitize these strips took some doing. Some potential options required cutting the film so that it could be mounted. Others wouldn’t capture the slides in their entirety. We had to take into account the limitations of certain equipment, the need to preserve the original filmstrips, and the desire to make these images accessible to a larger public.

Ultimately, we partnered with Skip Elsheimer of A/V Geeks in Raleigh, who has done some exceptional work with the film. Elsheimer, a well-known name in the field, came into his line of work through his interest in collecting old 16mm film reels. As collection, equipment, and network expanded, Elsheimer turned to this work full-time, putting together and A/V archive of over 25,000 films in the back of his former residence.


We’re very excited to incorporate these filmstrips into the SNCC Digital Gateway. The slides really speak for themselves and act as a window into the organizing tools of the day. They educated communities about each other and helped knit a network of solidarity between movements working to bring power to the people.  Stay tuned to witness this on when our site debuts.

Notes from the Duke University Libraries Digital Projects Team