Collections Highlight: John Wesley Blassingame and the African American Experience

Courtesy of Yale University

The John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture at the Special Collections Library recently acquired the papers of John Wesley Blassingame, a nationally renowned scholar of American history and the author of such influential works as The Slave Community: Plantation Life in the Antebellum South, Black New Orleans: 1860-1880, and Frederick Douglass: The Clarion Voice. Blassingame’s groundbreaking scholarship has had a profound impact on the understanding both of slavery in the United States and the African American experience. The Duke collection includes correspondence, personal manuscripts, and research files from Blassingame’s long academic career. It is particularly rich in materials drawn from his work on the Frederick Douglass Papers.

When Blassingame died in 2000, he was professor of history, African American studies, and American studies at Yale University, where he had been a member of the faculty for twenty-nine years; he chaired the African American Studies Program from 1981 to 1989. Before receiving his appointment at Yale, he had been a lecturer, educator, and historian at Howard University, Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of Maryland. Professor Blassingame’s widow chose Duke’s Franklin Research Center as the repository for his papers after conferring with John Hope Franklin and meeting several times with Franklin Research Center Director Karen Jean Hunt.

Blassingame was a prolific scholar who also served as a contributing editor to the journal Black Scholar and as a member of the editorial boards of the Journal of Negro History, the American Historical Review, and Southern Studies. In addition, he mentored a generation of African American scholars at Yale and elsewhere. Nearly three decades of correspondence with fellow scholars and collaborators, included in his papers, provides insight into Blassingame’s attitudes towards academic life and the study of African American history.

Blassingame’s 1972 book, The Slave Community: Plantation Life in the Antebellum South, may be his most famous work. It was one of the first historical studies to describe slavery from the perspective of the enslaved. At the time of The Slave Community’s publication, most of the historiography of the slavery period derived from the records and accounts of slave owners.

A letter written by Vilet Lester, a slave, is one of fewer than a dozen such letters that have been identified among the vast holdings of plantation records at Duke’s Special Collections Library.

By concentrating on the experience of slave owners, historians had presented a distorted view of plantation life that, in Blassingame’s words, “stripped the slave of any meaningful and distinctive culture, family life, religion, or manhood.” Blassingame addressed this distortion by analyzing, among other sources, fugitive slave narratives published during the nineteenth century. In so doing he overturned prevailing stereotypes about slave character and behavior and provided insight into the complexity of the cultural and social lives of African American slaves. Several boxes of materials Blassingame assembled during his preparation of The Slave Community are now in the collection at the John Hope Franklin Research Center where they can be used by students and scholars of American slavery, especially slavery during the colonial period.

Over the last twenty years of his life, Blassingame dedicated himself to editing the papers of Frederick Douglass; he had co-edited six volumes of Douglass’s manuscripts before his death. Collected in the Blassingame papers are nearly fifty boxes of notes and materials compiled by Blassingame for the Frederick Douglass project, making the John Hope Franklin Research Center a key depository for resources on one of the most influential figures in American history.

Blassingame’s dedication to the collecting and editing of Douglass’s papers evidenced his larger concern that limited and poorly-organized source material had prevented students and scholars from fully understanding the “peculiar institution” of chattel slavery in the southern United States and the subsequent experiences of African Americans in postbellum America. He corrected this deficiency with his 1977 book, Slave Testimony, which comprises over seven hundred pages of previously unpublished material, including slave letters, interviews, and speeches. Slave Testimony is one of the most important sources of documentation of the slave experience published in the twentieth century; the Blassingame papers include materials from this project, as well as additional slavery-era documents.

In addition to materials pertaining to Blassingame’s published work on slavery and antebellum America, the collection of his papers includes research and notes for a project on Blacks and Jews, another of his long-time interests.

Scholars of the African American experience, whether they specialize in antebellum, postbellum, or twentieth-century American history, will find myriad pertinent materials in the Duke collection of Blassingame’s papers.

David McIvor, Intern, John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture at the Special Collections Library

Read Selected Books by John Blassingame

Librarians come out from behind the desk

by Diane Harvey

Stereotypes of librarians are so prevalent that American Libraries, the professional journal of the American Library Association, collects them in a monthly column called “How the World Sees Us.” The column is a reminder of the enduring influence characters like Marian the Librarian in The Music Man and Katharine Hepburn’s Bunny Watson in Desk Set have had on the popular perception of librarians.

A librarian sitting at a reference desk is, after all, one of the most widely-shared images of the library. And for good reason. The reference desk still occupies a prominent spot in most libraries, including Duke’s Perkins Library, where librarians are on duty more than ninety hours each week. During the 2008-2009 academic year, they answered more than 21,332 questions at this desk, which is just inside the main entrance to Perkins. However, students, faculty and researchers are increasingly expecting libraries to deliver resources and services to them. In response, Duke’s librarians are not waiting for people to find them at the reference desk, but instead are leaving the library to meet information seekers on their own ground.

On a weekday afternoon, librarian Catherine Shreve is ready: “All’s quiet…questions, Pub Pol-sters?” Soon she’s working on an in-depth question that will challenge her expertise as the subject librarian for public policy and political science. There are two things to note here: Catherine is posting her query on Facebook, and she’s working from a desk at the Sanford School of Public Policy. For the past four years, Catherine has been holding office hours in the resource room at Sanford’s Rubenstein Hall, where she answers reference questions and advises on research.

Catherine is one of ten librarians who spend part of each week in academic departments and institutes. Erik Zitser, librarian for Slavic and East European studies, says that one professor expressed skepticism initially about his spending time in the department, primarily because he didn’t think that many students would come during Erik’s office hours. Erik says, “Three weeks into my trial, he came in and said that it didn’t matter whether students came in or not because it’s good to have someone there who could help the faculty themselves. Most of the students that have come to me during office hours have been referred directly by faculty members from the department.”

The willingness of Duke librarians to go where their users are has resulted in innovative services that students, faculty, and staff value. Anne Langley is a vital presence in the Department of Chemistry where she not only holds office hours, but also serves as an adjunct faculty member and delivers instruction in library research to five hundred students through a video tutorial shown in every section of General Chemistry.

Students see Anne’s photo in the tutorial, recognize her in the hallway, and feel comfortable asking her for help. Faculty and researchers, who appreciate her accessibility, also seek out her expertise. Anne understands the opportunities that proximity brings. “Chemistry is an intensively information-driven field, so it is invaluable to be in the chemistry building. Because I am such a part of the workings of the department it is that much easier to collaborate with faculty who are designing curriculum-based information assignments, to be available to students while they are working in the lab, and to immediately respond to graduate students when they need information.”

Anne and the other librarians who work in locations around campus are known as embedded librarians. A recent report by the Special Libraries Association found that “embedded library services are widespread and effective. Successful embedded librarians are excellent relationship-builders, with strong knowledge of their customers’ work, and they deliver highly sophisticated, value-added services.”

All ten embedded Duke librarians use the knowledge they gain about current departmental projects and faculty and graduate student research to build library collections and services tailored to user needs. At the same time, the librarians are able to provide on-the-spot reference and research services, saving faculty and student time and effort.

Rob Sikorski, executive director of the Duke Center for International Studies, is conducting a study of soldiers who experienced shell shock in early twentieth-century wars. His informal encounters each week at the Franklin Humanities Institute with librarian Sara Seten Berghausen have enabled him “to immediately engage a librarian with my ideas/questions about resources. We can experiment together with avenues for sources.” Interaction with Sara at the Institute gives Rob “a greater sense of collaboration when she’s here versus when there is an information desk or some such between us.”

The presence of Sara and Anne and other librarians in academic departments reflects the reality that planning services and building collections must be based on knowledge about current and future needs of library users. Acquiring this knowledge is one of the priorities set out in the Libraries’ recently completed strategic plan, Sharpening Our Vision. Lynne O’Brien, director of academic technology and instructional services and chair of the planning group, notes that in gathering data for the strategic plan she and the group discovered “how rapidly patterns of teaching, learning and research are changing. To understand those changes and the potential impact on the library, we need to spend time with our users, in all the different places where they work.”

Becoming attuned to how faculty, staff, and students are doing research and creating scholarship requires observation, data collection, and information gathering. The need for these activities is being discussed widely among academic librarians. One study that has created a lot of buzz is Studying Students by anthropologist Nancy Fried Foster. Foster joined the staff of the University of Rochester libraries to investigate how undergraduate students actually do research for a term paper or presentation. In a 2007 interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education, Foster observed, “If you have been making a bunch of assumptions based on out-of-date information maybe it’s time to ask some people some questions.”

Knowing what questions to ask and how to ask them is difficult for librarians who lack the investigative skills required to do user studies. The Duke Libraries are addressing this deficiency with a year-long program, the Duke Libraries User Studies Initiative, to train staff to do interviews, prepare and administer surveys, and conduct ethnographic research. Recently, anthropologist Marcia Rego, on the faculty of Duke’s Thompson Writing Program, facilitated a workshop on observational and ethnographic techniques like those used in the Rochester study. She advised librarians “to listen and remain open to what the ‘natives’ are telling them, to resist easy conclusions, and to be aware of their own cultural and professional assumptions.”

Several librarians have taken up the challenge of designing user studies as part of the User Studies Initiative. Emily Daly, coordinator of upper level library instruction, is conducting a series of interviews with students as they do research and write honors theses to qualify for graduation with distinction. Emily has discovered that there are “differences between librarians’ and faculty’s perceptions of what honors students need and what students actually say they need.” Acting on what Emily has learned from this study, the Libraries have created new services and designated a group study room and six study carrels for the exclusive use of students conducting honors research.

Knowledge about how 21st-century students are working and learning has also led librarians to employ new technologies to deliver services across campus and around the world to students as well as other researchers. In 2008-2009, Duke reference librarians responded to 7081 questions via instant messaging and engaged in 6000 online virtual reference (VR) chats. Instant messaging and virtual reference challenge librarians to interact with users in an environment where speed is prized and communication skills are tested. Librarian Michael Peper oversees VR, and although he acknowledges that working with users without the usual visual or verbal clues can cause misunderstanding, in the end, he says, “It’s still all about quality service.” As the Libraries continue to develop mobile interfaces, Michael sees texting, or SMS, as “the next big thing,” an increasingly valuable service that will give library users answers when and where they need them.

Making the best use of new technologies improves access to library services and resources, but the personal touch is still an important part of what Duke librarians offer. At the Sanford School, resource room manager Anne Fletcher was an early advocate for Catherine Shreve’s weekly on-site reference hours. Four years later, Anne is even more enthusiastic about the value of Catherine’s presence to Sanford students and faculty. Sanford’s international students, many of whom are unfamiliar with some of the databases and software applications available through the Duke Libraries are particularly appreciative of Catherine’s consultations. Creating a new way for students to “work directly one-on-one [with a librarian] has been an extraordinarily successful experiment.” Many students profit from intense instruction, and “Catherine brings a different level of expertise to this room on a weekly basis.”

From Catherine’s perspective, spending time each week at Sanford has increased her understanding of the working styles of Duke students and researchers. This knowledge enables her to make better informed purchases for the collections and provide a level of service that is more proactive than sitting at the Perkins reference desk, waiting for questions to come to her. “The serendipitous meetings in the hallways and resource room—when a student or professor sees me and remembers that they have a question, request, or bit of news—have been invaluable in informing my work. They round out the relationships formed during research consultations and library instruction in a way that would not be possible if I were not there in the heart of the School.”

Diane Harvey is Head of Instruction and Outreach at the Duke University Libraries.

Read more about the 21st-Century Librarian

The Embedded Ten

Teddy Gray

Biology and Evolutionary Anthropology departments

Anne Langley

Department of Chemistry

Sara Seten Berghausen

English Department and Franklin Humanities Institute

Margaret Brill

Department of History

Carson Holloway

Department of History

Kelley Lawton

Department of History

Michael Peper

Math and Physics departments

Linda Martinez

Pratt School of Engineering and the Department of Computer Science

Erik Zitser

Department of Slavic & Eurasian Studies

Catherine Shreve

Sanford School of Public Policy

The World Wide Classroom

Cara Bonnett

This story, in a slightly different form, was published originally on Wednesday, January 20, 2010, in DukeToday.

Laurent Dubois had never blogged or even built a web page before last summer.

But when he found out that more than 50 students had signed up for his “World Cup, World Politics” class—he’d been expecting 30—he realized that a blog could provide an alternative discussion forum.

Not just for his students, as it turned out.

Dubois’ class blog—one of about a dozen developed last fall as part of a Duke Digital Initiative pilot of the flexible publishing platform WordPress—sparked conversation between his class and readers around the world. They included a graduate student in England, a native Kenyan and a Michigan State University professor.

“I didn’t expect readers outside Duke, but suddenly there was a leading soccer scholar (MSU associate professor Peter Alegi) engaging in conversation with us,” said Dubois, a professor of romance studies and history. “This makes the boundaries between the classroom and the world much more porous.”

The pilot will be expanded this spring, based on feedback from Dubois and other faculty and students, said Shawn Miller, a consultant with Duke’s Center for Instructional Technology at Perkins Library.

Flexible publishing platforms such as WordPress offer an alternative to Blackboard and other traditional course management systems. “Student work can potentially be published for the wide world—not just uploaded to a private, university space,” Miller said.

Open source blog software also gives professors more ability to customize their online classrooms. And, some instructors say, there are benefits in teaching students to create blogs using systems they might encounter in future jobs.

The Duke pilot allowed students in intermediate German classes to create enduring online portfolios of the work they produced during the semester.

“WordPress is ideally suited to this purpose. It does not require HTML programming skills, it is extremely intuitive, and its results look great. In short, it strikes the perfect balance between usability and quality of presentation,” wrote Christophe Fricker, visiting assistant professor in Germanic languages, in an e-mail encouraging other faculty members to participate in the pilot. “Students will appreciate the transferable skills they learn, as well as the opportunity to showcase and regularly (re)view their work.”

The platform offers an easy way to interconnect students’ work across courses, said Susanne Hall, a lecturing fellow in the Thompson Writing Program. Students in her Writing 20 class, “Literature of Your Lifetime,” used the blog to review recent works from an online literary journal.

“If they’re blogging in different courses, this can potentially provide a sense of authorship in a centralized place,” Hall said. “We can see the work our colleagues are doing in their classes. We can collectively author a document that would be reference for everyone. The possibilities are exciting.”

Dubois and other instructors said they appreciated the ability to share their students’ work with a broader audience and build a resource for other students and researchers.

“Knowing these sites are public puts pressure on students to do better,” said Daniel Foster, an assistant professor in theater studies whose students created Web sites as if they were dramaturgs preparing a production. “Their work is out there in the world, not just ‘for school’ but as a resource that could be useful for someone else producing a play.”

In addition to the academic uses, about a half-dozen groups and individuals—including the Multimedia Project Studio and the eLearning Roadmap Group—participated in the pilot for non-course uses.

More information about the WordPress pilot and other DDI technologies can be found at the DDI site.

Cara Bonnett is Managing Editor, News & Information, at Duke’s Office of Information Technology.

The Future of the Library is Now

By Lynne O’Brien

Imagine this—

Students competing to design selected library spaces. Library departments combined to form units that reflect user needs rather than library tradition. Catalog search tools that send researchers to the information they want with just one click. Library kiosks that direct students to open study spaces. Details about collections delivered to users’ cell phones as they walk through the library. Digitized content streamed to researchers anywhere in the world. Users creating tags of comments and descriptive information that are linked to library records and materials. Librarians embedded in Duke programs abroad.

These are just a few of the ideas generated during the Libraries’ recent Strategic Planning Idea Day when staff from all Libraries’ departments met to think creatively and offer as many suggestions as possible for implementing the priorities in the Libraries’ new strategic plan, Sharpening Our Vision. The Libraries’ strategic planning was part of campus-wide planning initiated to insure that the University will be able to maintain its forward progress in an era of diminished financial resources.

President Brodhead and Provost Lange set the stage for targeted strategic planning at Duke when they met in early April 2009 with deans and other high-level administrators to discuss the need for careful thought about how the University could advance its strategic ambitions in the face of financial challenges and constraints. Brodhead and Lange directed the deans to identify their most critical priorities and propose how to reach them while continuing to encourage innovation. The Libraries engaged in a similar process to determine how to shape services and collections in the new financial environment and how to continue the positive momentum in the Libraries’ evolution.

University Librarian Deborah Jakubs announced the Libraries’ Targeted Strategic Planning Task Group within weeks of the meeting the president and provost had with the deans. This eight-member task group represented not particular departments but broad perspectives—user services, collections, instruction, technology, materials processing—on libraries and their changing roles. Jakubs charged the group and the Libraries’ staff to craft a focused set of bold and innovative priorities that would determine the Libraries’ direction for the next two to three years.

The planning group began their work by first examining University priorities and trends in higher education and then investigating the practices of businesses and other organizations that provide information and serve as keepers of society’s cultural heritage. Then, they designed activities that would encourage broad participation in the planning process and generate ideas from the Libraries’ staff.

Throughout the summer and fall, staff heard provocative guest speakers talk about the future of libraries and received briefings from colleagues on topics ranging from trends in university and library assessment to e-research, e-science, and the implications for libraries. In departmental meetings staff participated in lively discussions about how the Duke Libraries might provide resources and services to meet the evolving needs of researchers and students.

The plan that emerged—Sharpening Our Vision—identifies five strategic directions for the Libraries over the next three years: meeting the changing needs of researchers and learners, providing digital materials and services, forming new research and teaching partnerships, supporting University initiatives, and developing library spaces.

Improving the user experience

Sharpening Our Vision renews the Libraries’ commitment to understanding library users’ research and library experiences and shaping collections, spaces, and services based on that understanding. Consider, for example, the trend among faculty and students to work on-the-go—not just when they are in their offices or dorms or at the library. The proliferation of smartphones suggests that very soon most of our constituents will have small, highly functional computers in their pockets that they will use regularly for seeking, manipulating, and sharing information. At the same time, the increasing number of interdisciplinary and international research teams will accelerate demand for library resources and services that can be delivered anytime and anywhere and can be shared with colleagues on the other side of the globe as easily as they are now shared on campus or across a regional consortium.

In addition to expecting access to resources and services when and where they want them, library users also expect almost instantaneous delivery. Every librarian has a story of a student’s preferring the resources that are easiest to find over those that may be more substantive but are more difficult to track down, or of a researcher who orders a book from Amazon rather than waiting for delivery of the title through the Libraries’ interlibrary loan service. Sharpening Our Vision states unequivocally that the Libraries must offer speedy and simple searching, access to extensive information about our holdings, and quick delivery of materials directly to the user.

Creating library acquisition, cataloging, and information delivery systems that match the sophistication of commercial online tools is another challenge to improving the user experience. Library users, conditioned by the ease of shopping online, sending text messages, or posting on Facebook, have come to expect systems that know who they are, what their preferences are, who their associates are, and what their prior behavior in the system has been. Commercial online tools remember their users, introduce them to other people and groups with common interests, offer suggestions, make it easy to perform repeated tasks, and lead users to additional resources. Online versions of The New York Times and The Washington Post now offer visualization tools that allow readers to access data mentioned in articles and display it in ways that are meaningful to them. In the future the most successful libraries will be those that offer researchers data and tools on a par with the products and services available to them from other sources.

Sharpening Our Vision emphasizes assessment of all aspects of the Libraries’ operations as the path to greater insight into user needs and preferences. Over the next several years, more of the staff will be gathering and analyzing information in order to develop services that are truly user-centered. The Libraries have already begun to take action. A current experimental program, designed to address users’ research needs quickly, enables library users themselves to identify and directly purchase e-books for the Libraries’ collection. The Libraries have also implemented the bX™ Recommender service which points researchers to additional articles with the now-familiar phrase, “People who read this article also read….” This service employs usage patterns in the networked scholarly community to generate recommendations while still protecting users’ privacy.

It’s a digital world

A second strategic direction for the Libraries is providing scholarly resources in formats that best match user preferences. Increasingly, that format is digital. Amazon’s announcement that on Christmas Day, for the first time ever, customers purchased more Kindle book titles from them than physical books, is but one example of the public’s growing acceptance of e-readers and e-books.

In an experiment with new book formats and reader devices, the Libraries recently purchased twelve Kindle DX Wireless eReaders for the use of students, faculty, and University staff. The Kindles are loaded with more than eighty frequently requested book titles; all additional titles purchased for the Kindles will be those users recommend.

Another innovative project focusing on digital materials and services is an application which gives iPhone or iPod Touch users access to the content of twenty of the Libraries’ digital collections. The application was developed at Duke in a collaboration between the Libraries and the University’s Office of Information Technology.

The Libraries’ Center for Instructional Technology is responding to this strategic direction by teaching faculty and students how to use digital tools such as blogs, wikis, and Google Earth in their teaching and research. CIT’s work with Professor Laurent Dubois in his “World Cup, World Politics” class resulted in a class blog that fostered discussion between his students and readers around the world, including a graduate student in England, a Kenyan soccer enthusiast, and a leading soccer scholar from Michigan State University.

Yet, scholarship today extends beyond digital text—it includes a diverse array of formats such as data sets, images, audio, and video. Digital tools also support writing, collaboration, citation management, data analysis, and other scholarly activities. The Libraries are developing methods for managing a collection that has a growing proportion of digital materials in an expanding number of formats. For example, the Libraries are exploring models of licensing streaming video collections to allow students to watch assigned films from locations convenient to them. Meanwhile, the Libraries’ Trident Project Team is creating software tools for creating and managing metadata for the rapidly expanding collection of materials digitized from Duke’s unique library and archival materials. The development of digital collections and tools for managing those collections benefits both Duke researchers and the larger research community.

Partnering with teachers and researchers in new ways

The third strategic direction in Sharpening Our Vision challenges the Libraries to achieve an optimal level of support for research and teaching by developing new models for working with users and collaborating with groups outside Duke. One successful example of a new model is the Libraries’ 2009 partnership with Apple, Inc. to digitize historic television commercials from the Special Collections Library’s Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History. The collection of about 10,000 vintage commercials, plus expert interviews, is now available to researchers worldwide via iTunes U as AdViews.

The Libraries’ are part of a most ambitious and promising partnership with the Kuali Open Library Environment (Kuali OLE) project. In this venture, seventeen libraries are creating new, open source technology systems which can be modified by libraries and connected to other University business systems. For example, the creation of new courses in the course management system could automatically trigger notifications to subject librarians, prompting them to contact instructors and students regarding resources and services. The library system could route information about relevant new acquisitions directly to instructors of courses, formatted for easy addition to the course website. As instructors added reading assignments to their course websites, bibliographic information could be collected to inform library purchasing decisions. By opening pathways between the Libraries’ technology systems and other campus systems, Kuali OLE will create opportunities for embedding the Libraries directly in the key processes of scholarship generation, knowledge management, and teaching and learning.

The Duke University Libraries, working with more than 200 libraries, educational institutions, professional organizations and businesses, led the design phase that laid the groundwork for the Kuali OLE project. Both the planning phase and current work of Kuali OLE have been supported through generous grants from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The Libraries also are partnering with scholars to support their research and publishing activities, especially their explorations of alternatives to traditional publishing that enable them to share their research results in more direct and immediate ways. Kevin Smith, Duke’s scholarly communication officer, and Paolo Mangiafico, director of digital information strategy at Duke, have been working with others in the Libraries to engage faculty and administrators in a discussion of a proposed open access policy that would support open publishing models and broad access to research results. Other projects in the planning stage include the Libraries’ publication of online journals edited by Duke faculty and students and an expanded institutional repository for storing and sharing scholarly papers written by Duke authors.

Supporting university initiatives

Duke’s last strategic plan paved the way for new University initiatives related to interdisciplinary research and teaching, development of international programs and campuses, creation and use of knowledge in the service of society, and the promotion of excellence in research and teaching. The Libraries’ new plan includes a fourth strategic direction intended to align the Libraries’ services, collections and staffing with these University priorities. For example, subject librarians have worked closely with individual academic departments and their faculty for decades. When the University began establishing interdisciplinary institutes, the Libraries assigned subject liaisons to the institutes as well. The liaisons have an excellent vantage point from which to gauge how services and collections may need to change as the University changes. Instruction librarians and Center for Instructional Technology consultants are also supporting University priorities by working with students and faculty participating in DukeEngage, Focus, the Duke-Durham Neighborhood Partnership Schools, and other programs.

Enhancing library spaces

The Bostock Library, opened in 2005, and the transformed Perkins Library, reopened in 2008, are beautiful and functional buildings which are heavily used by all members of the University community. The Libraries’ fifth strategic direction points to continued development of library spaces that are in line with the evolving teaching and learning needs of the University.

Key to that space development is the complete renovation of the 1928 and 1948 portions of the Perkins Library to provide enhanced spaces for instruction, research, and exhibition and preservation of Special Collections’ materials. The enormous popularity of group study spaces, technology-equipped meeting rooms, and the Link’s flexible classrooms has prompted the Libraries to develop special work places for honors students and for courses with ongoing need for ready access to the Libraries’ resources. The Libraries are also working with faculty and students to imagine how humanities labs, multimedia development labs, and other specialized spaces in the library could support research and teaching.

Taking the next steps

Sharpening Our Vision sets out a course of action that is both people-centered and technology-sophisticated and continues the Duke Libraries’ position as a leader among academic research libraries. Just as the Libraries’ entire staff was involved in the planning process, so everyone will play a role in implementing the new plan. The feedback after the Strategic Planning Idea Day suggests that the Libraries’ staff is ready to move forward. “The group seemed very optimistic about the future, which made me very happy to see considering these hard economic times,” wrote one staff member. Another commented, “I feel very positive about the caliber of our staff at all levels and view the next few years as a period of opportunity and innovation in the library.”

Sharpening Our Vision provides clear priorities and lays the foundation for change in the Libraries that will parallel change in other parts of the University over the next three years. During that time, the Libraries will become an even more essential partner in research, teaching, and scholarly communication. The Libraries will ensure that scholars have access to world-class resources within and beyond their collections, in all formats, and at the time and point of need. The Libraries’ physical spaces may look different, but they will continue to encourage reflection, intellectual exploration, and academic interaction. As the University community assesses progress toward its strategic goals, it will note that the Libraries have played a major role in promoting excellence in teaching and scholarship, internationalization, interdisciplinarity, and knowledge in the service of society.

Read More

Information on the growing use of mobile devices and other trends

Examples of publications offering visualization tools and direct access to data


More on Duke’s key initiatives in each of these areas:

Lynne O’Brien is Director, Academic Technology and Instructional Services, for the Duke University Libraries.

Knowledge Bytes: Amusements

Internet Sites Selected for the Readers of Duke University Libraries

Museum of Yo-Yo History

Despite its long and colorful history, no toy may be as maligned as the yo-yo. The roots of the yo-yo can be traced back to antiquity: a Grecian urn in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art depicts that most well-known of yo-yo maneuvers, walking the dog.

Those with a penchant for the yo-yo will appreciate the wide range of materials that can be found on this site, particularly the appealing online exhibit of valuable yo-yos, such as the 1984 Olympics “No Jive” model. Those who want to continue their exploration of the yo-yo should visit the “Profiles & History” area of the website for player and company profiles, along with historical photographs of yo-yos in action.

Fashion Plate Collection

There are fashion plates, and then there are the exquisite fashion plates that constitute the University of Washington Libraries’ digitized collection. The plates were collected by long-time home economics professor Blanche Payne, who taught at the University from 1927 to 1966. The plates come from leading French, American, and British fashion journals of the 19th and early 20th century, and they document stylistic periods such as empire, romantic, Victorian, and Edwardian. An introductory essay about the collection of over 400 plates can be browsed alphabetically or by subject. Rounding out the site are a brief essay on fashion trends and an extended excerpt from the 1913 book Dame fashion, a commentary on the history and transformation of various fashions during the 19th century.

Central Park

As one of the world’s greatest urban green spaces, Central Park is loved by dyed-in-the-wool New Yorkers as well as visitors to the city. This reverential website presents detailed information about this fine public space and its history as well as the activities that take place within its 843 acres. Visitors to the website can peruse maps of the park, learn about its many features, and browse a selection of photographs of this urban paradise. The homepage contains much of this material, along with a “News” feature, which provides updates about goings on throughout Central Park. For those planning a visit, the “Events” and “Attractions” sections will be most useful, as they include information about such draws as the zoo, rock climbing, ice skating lessons, swimming, tennis, outdoor theatre, and restaurants.

Ballparks of Baseball

In some ways, nothing says summer in the United States like sitting outside in a ballpark and watching nine innings of America’s favorite sport. This loving tribute to the venues—past, current, and future—that have housed various professional baseball teams is a great introduction to some of the most hallowed and reviled ballparks around the country. The “Features” section includes updated news about ballparks, videos of baseball stadiums, seating charts, and attendance figures by ballpark back to 1890. Within that same section, visitors can chime in and rate their “ballpark experience” at different ballparks around the country.

From The Scout Report, Copyright Internet Scout 1994-2010.

With this roundup of Internet picks, we say thanks and farewell to Joline Ezzell, who will retire in May 2010.


Works artist Dianna Cohen has fashioned from plastic shopping bags will hang at Perkins Library April 16-30 in conjunction with the Duke LEAF Award weekend, sponsored by the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. Cohen, writing on her website, says of her art, “Having worked with the plastic bag as my primary material for the past fifteen years all of the obvious references to recycling, first world culture, class, high and low art give way to an almost formal process which reflects the unique flexibility of the medium.”

Dianna Cohen, us, 2005.
Plastic bags, handles and thread, 72″w x 96″ h; wall installation

Dianna Cohen, pie, 2005.
Plastic bags, thread on wood panel, 30″w x 30″d; framed on linen in plexi-box

15th Anniversary

Cover photo from Mirror to America by John Hope Franklin, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005

The John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture at Duke’s Special Collections Library marks its 15th anniversary this year. Founded in November 1995 with the support of its namesake, the distinguished historian John Hope Franklin, the Center collects, preserves, and promotes the use of materials bearing on the history of Africa and people of African descent.

Out of the House of Bondage

Thavolia Glymph, associate professor of African and African American studies and history at Duke, has been praised for her book, Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household, which Cambridge University Press published in 2008. Out of the House of Bondage was the 2009 co-winner of the Philip Taft Labor History Award and a 2009 finalist for both the Jefferson Davis Award and the Frederick Douglass Book Prize.

Preservation goes social

The American Library Association has featured the Duke Libraries’ Preservation Department on its Preservation Awareness Week webpage, citing the Department for its innovative use of social networking technologies to promote preservation. Duke’s was one of the first preservation departments on Facebook and is one of the few to use Twitter, post images on Flickr, or to blog about topics related to preservation.