All posts by Will Sexton

Squirlicorn, spirit guide of the digital repository: Four things you should know

One thing I’ve learned on my life’s journey is the importance of knowing your spirit guide.

That’s why, by far the most important point that I made in a talk at the TRLN Annual Meeting in July is that the spirit animal of the digital repository movement is the squirlicorn.

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Rethinking Repositories at CNI Spring ’17

One of the main areas of emphasis for the CNI Spring 2017 meeting was “new strategies and approaches for institutional repositories (IR).” A few of us at UNC and Duke decided to plug into the zeitgeist by proposing a panel to reflect on some of the ways that we have been rethinking – or even just thinking about – our repositories.

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A New Home Page for the Duke Digital Repository

Today is an eventful day for the Duke Digital Repository (DDR). Later today, I and several of my colleagues will present on the DDR at Day 1 of the Duke Research Computing Symposium. We’ll be introducing new staff who’ll focus on managing, curating, and preserving research data, as well as the role that the DDR will play as both a service and a platform. This event serves as a soft launch of our plans – which I wrote about last September – to support the work of researchers at Duke.

Out-of-the-box DDR home page of the past

At the same time, the DDR gets a new look, at least on its home page. For years, we’ve used a rather drab and uninformative page that was essentially the out-of-the-box rendering by Blacklight, our discovery and access layer in the repository stack. Last fall, our DDR Program Committee took up the task of revamping that page to reflect how we conceptualize the repository and its major program areas.

New DDR home page with aerial hero image and three program areas.

The page design will evolve with the DDR itself, but it went live earlier today. More information about the DDR initiative and our plans will follow in the coming months.

 

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.

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Hang in there, the migration is coming

Detail from Hugh Mangum photographs - N318
Wouldn’t you rather read a post featuring pictures of cats from our digital collections than this boring item about a migration project that isn’t even really explained? Detail from Hugh Mangum photographs – N318.

While I would really prefer to cat-blog my merry way into the holiday weekend, I feel duty-bound to follow up on my previous posts about the digital collections migration project that has dominated our 2016.

Since I last wrote, we have launched two more new collections in the Fedora/Hydra platform that comprises the Duke Digital Repository. The larger of the two, and a major accomplishment for our digital collections program, was the Duke Chapel Recordings. We also completed the Alex Harris Photographs.

Meanwhile, we are working closely with our colleagues in Digital Repository Services to facilitate a whole other migration, from Fedora 3 to 4, and onto a new storage platform. It’s the great wheel in which our own wheel is only the wheel inside the wheel. Like the wheel in the sky, it keeps on turning. We don’t know where we’ll be tomorrow, though we expect the platform migration to be completed inside of a month.

hang-in-there-baby-kitten-poster
A poster like this, with the added phrase “Friday’s coming,” used to hang in one of the classrooms in my junior high. I wish we had that poster in our digital collections.

Last time, I wrote hopefully of the needle moving on the migration of digital collections into the new platform, and while behind the scenes the needle is spasming toward the FULL side of the gauge, for the public it still looks stuck just a hair above EMPTY. We have two batches of ten previously published collections ready to re-launch when we roll over to Fedora 4, which we hope will be in June – one is a group of photography collections, and the other a group of manuscripts-based collections.

In the meantime, the work on migrating the digital collections and building a new UI for discovery and access absorbs our team. Much of what we’ve learned and accomplished during this project has related to the migration, and quite a bit has appeared in this blog.

Our Metadata Architect, Maggie Dickson, has undertaken wholesale remediation of twenty years’ worth of digital collections metadata. Dealing with date representation alone has been a critical effort, as evidenced by the series of posts by her and developer Cory Lown on their work with EDTF.

Sean Aery has posted about his work as a developer, including the integration of the OpenSeadragon image viewer into our UI. He also wrote about “View Item in Context,” four words in a hyperlink that represent many hours of analysis, collaboration, and experimentation within our team.

I expect, by the time the wheel has completed another rotation, and it’s my turn again to write for the blog, there will be more to report. Batches will have been launched, features deployed, and metadata remediated. Even more cat pictures will have been posted to the Internet. It’s all one big cycle and the migration is part of it.

 

Moving the Needle: Bring on Phase 2 of the Tripod3/Digital Collections Migration

Last time I wrote for Bitstreams, I said “Today is the New Future.” It was a day of optimism, as we published for the first time in our next-generation platform for digital collections. The debut of the W. Duke, Sons & Co. Advertising Materials, 1880-1910 was the first visible success of a major effort to migrate our digital collections into the Duke Digital Repository. “Our current plan,” I propounded, “Is to have nearly all of the content of Duke Digital Collections available in the new platform by the end of March, 2016.”

Since then we’ve published a second collection – the Benjamin and Julia Stockton Rush Papers – in the new platform, but we’ve also done more extensive planning for the migration. We’ll divide the work into six-week phases or “supersprints” that overlay the shorter sprints of our software development cycle. The work will take longer than I suggested in October – we now project the bulk of it to be completed by the end of the fourth six-week phase, or toward the end of June of this year, with some continuing until deeper in the calendar year.

As it happens, today represents the rollover from Phase 1 to Phase 2 of our plan.  Phase 1 was relatively light in its payload. During the next phase – concluding in six weeks on March 28 – we plan to add 24 of the collections currently published in our older platform, as well as two new collections.

As team leader, I take upon myself the hugely important task of assigning mottos to each phase of the project. The motto for Phase 1 was “Plant the seeds in the bottle.” It derives from the story of David Latimer’s bottle garden, which he planted in 1960 and has not watered since Duke Law alum Richard Nixon was president.

This image from from the Friedrich Carl Peetz Photographs, along with many other items from our photography and manuscript collections, will be among those re-published in the Duke Digital Repository during Phase 2 of our migration process.

Imagine, I said to the group, we are creating self-sustaining environments for our collections, that we can stash under the staircase next to the wine rack. Maybe we tend to them once or twice, but they thrive without our constant curation and intervention. Everyone sort of looked at me as if I had suggested using a guillotine as a bagel slicer for a staff breakfast event. But they’re all good sports. We hunkered down, and expect to publish one new collection, and re-publish two of the older collections, in the new platform this week.

The motto for Phase 2 is “Move the needle.” The object here is to lean on our work in Phase 1 to complete a much larger batch of materials. We’ll extend our work on photography collections in Phase 1 to include many of the existing photography collections. We’ll also re-publish many of the “manuscript collections,” which is our way of referring to the dozen or so collections that we previously published by embedding content in collection guides.

If we are successful in this approach, by the end of Phase 2, we’ll have completed a significant portion of the digital collections migrated to the Duke Digital Repository. Each collection, presumably, will flourish, sealed in a fertile, self-regulating environment, like bottle gardens, or wine.

Here’s a page where we’ll track progress.

As we’ve written previously, we’re in the process of re-digitizing the William Gedney Photographs, so they will not be migrated to the Duke Digital Repository in Phase 2, but will wait until we’ve completed that project.

Today is the New Future: The Tripod3 Project and our Next-Gen UI for Digital Collections

Yesterday was Back to the Future day, and the Internet had a lot of fun with it. I guess now it falls to each and every one of us, to determine whether or not today begins a new future. It’s certainly true for Duke Digital Collections.

Today we roll out – softly – the first release of Tripod3, the next-generation platform for digital collections. For now, the current version supports a single, new collection, the W. Duke, Sons & Co. Advertising Materials, 1880-1910. We’re excited about both the collection – which Noah Huffman previewed in this blog almost exactly a year ago – and the platform, which represents a major milestone in a project that began nearly a year ago.

The next few months will see a great deal more work on the project. We have new collections scheduled for December and the first quarter of 2016, we’ll gradually migrate the collections from our existing site, and we’ll be developing the features and the look of the new site in an iterative process of feedback, analysis, and implementation. Our current plan is to have nearly all of the content of Duke Digital Collections available in the new platform by the end of March, 2016.

The completion of the Tripod3 project will mean the end of life for the current-generation platform, which we call, to no one’s surprise, Tripod2. However, we have not set an exact timeline for sunsetting Tripod2. During the transitional phase, we will do everything we can to make the architecture of Duke Digital Collections transparent, and our plans clear.

After the jump, I’ll spend the rest of this post going into a little more depth about the project, but want to express my pride and gratitude to an excellent team – you know who you are – who helped us achieve this milestone.

Continue reading Today is the New Future: The Tripod3 Project and our Next-Gen UI for Digital Collections

Request for Proposals – The SNCC Digital Gateway

Promotional postcard for One Person, One Vote site.
Promotional postcard for One Person, One Vote site.

Last year we at Duke University Libraries circulated a prospectus for our still-young partnership with the SNCC Legacy Project, seeking bids from web contractors to help with developing the web site that we rolled out last March as One Person, One Vote (OPOV). Now, almost 18 months later, we’re back – but wiser – hoping to do it again – but bigger.

Thanks to a grant from the Mellon Foundation, we’ll be moving to a new phase of our partnership with the SNCC Legacy Project and the Center for Documentary Studies. The SNCC Digital Gateway will build on the success of the OPOV pilot, bringing Visiting Activist Scholars to campus to work with Duke undergraduates and graduates on documenting the historic drive for voting rights, and the work of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

As before, we seek an experienced and talented contractor to join with our project team to design and build a compelling site. If you think your outfit might be right for the job, please review the RFP embedded below and get in touch.

 

 

FY15: A Year in Digital Projects

We experience a number of different cycles in the Digital Projects and Production Services Department (DPPS). There is of course the project lifecycle, that mysterious abstraction by which we try to find commonalities in work processes that can seem unique for every case. We follow the academic calendar, learn our fate through the annual budget cycle, and attend weekly, monthly, and quarterly meetings.

The annual reporting cycle at Duke University Libraries usually falls to departments in August, with those reports informing a master library report completed later. Because of the activities and commitments around the opening of the Rubenstein Library, the departments were let off the hook for their individual reports this year. Nevertheless, I thought I would use my turn in the Bitstreams rotation to review some highlights from our 2014-15 cycle.

Loads of accomplishments after the jump …

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Mini-memes, many meanings: Smoking dirt boy and the congee line bros

Children are smoking in two of my favorite images from our digital collections.

One of them comes from the eleven days in 1964 that William Gedney spent with the Cornett family in Eastern Kentucky. A boy, crusted in dirt, clutching a bent-up Prince Albert can, draws on a cigarette. It’s a miniature of mawkish masculinity that echoes and lightly mocks the numerous shots Gedney took of the Cornett men, often shirtless and sitting on or standing around cars, smoking.

At some point in the now-distant past, while developing and testing our digital collections platform, I stumbled on “smoking dirt boy” as a phrase to use in testing for cases when a search returns only a single result. We kind of adopted him as an unofficial mascot of the digital collections program. He was a mini-meme, one we used within our team to draw chuckles, and added into conference presentations to get some laughs. Everyone loves smoking dirt boy.

It was probably 3-4 years ago that I stopped using the image to elicit guffaws, and started to interrogate my own attitude toward it. It’s not one of Gedney’s most powerful photographs, but it provokes a response, and I had become wary of that response. There’s a very complicated history of photography and American poverty that informs it.

Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 11.23.58 AM
Screen shot from a genealogy site discussion forum, regarding the Cornett family and William Gedney’s involvement with them.

While preparing this post, I did some research into the Cornett family, and came across the item from a discussion thread on a genealogy site, shown here in a screen cap. “My Mother would not let anyone photograph our family,” it reads. “We were all poor, most of us were clean, the Cornetts were another story.”  It captures the attitudes that intertwine in that complicated history. The resentment toward the camera’s cold eye on Appalachia is apparent, as is the disdain for the family that implicitly wasn’t “clean,” and let the photographer shoot. These attitudes came to bear in an incident just this last spring, in which a group in West Virginia confronted traveling photographers whom they claimed photographed children without permission.

The photographer Roger May has undertaken an effort to change “this visual definition of Appalachia.” His “Looking at Appalachia” project began with a series of three blog posts on William Gedney’s Kentucky photographs (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). The New York Times’ Lens blog wrote about the project last month. His perspective is one that brings insight and renewal to Gedney’s work

Gedney’s photographs have taken on a life as a digital collection since they were published on the Duke University Libraries’ web site in 1999. It has become a high-use collection for the Rubenstein Library; that use has driven a recent project we have undertaken in the library to re-process the collection and digitize the entire corpus of finished prints, proof prints, and contact sheets. We expect the work to take more than a year and produce more than 20,000 images (compared to the roughly 5000 available now), but when it’s complete, it should add whole new dimensions to the understanding of Gedney’s work.

Another collection given life by its digitization is the Sidney Gamble Photographs. The nitrate negatives are so flammable that the library must store them off site, making access impossible without some form of reproduction. Digitization has made it possible for anyone in the world to experience Gamble’s remarkable documentation of China in the early 20th Century. Since its digitization, this collection has been the subject of a traveling exhibit, and will be featured in the Photography Gallery of the Rubenstein Library’s new space when it opens in August.

The photograph of the two boys in the congee distribution line is another favorite of mine. Again, a child is seen smoking in a context that speaks of poverty. There’s plenty to read in the picture, including the expressions on the faces of the different boys, and the way they press their bowls to their chests. But there are two details that make this image rich with implicit narrative – the cigarette in the taller boy’s mouth, and the protective way he drapes his arm over the shorter one. They have similar, close-cropped haircuts, which are also different from the other boys, suggesting they came from the same place. It’s an immediate assumption that the boys are brothers, and the older one has taken on the care and protection of the younger.

Still, I don’t know the full story, and exploring my assumptions about the congee line boys might lead me to ask probing questions about my own attitudes and “visual definition” of the world. This process is one of the aspects of working with images that makes my work rewarding. Smoking dirt boy and the congee line boys are always there to teach me more.