Keeping up with the Joneses

A Missing Diary Discovered

By Adam H. Domby

Adam H. Domby

On the evening of June 30, 1868, a “very tired” farm mistress sat down to record the day’s accomplishments in her diary. She had spent a busy day baking, cutting patches for her husband’s pants, and walking with her house servant. Each night, no matter how much her day contained, the unnamed woman found the energy to record a short summary of the day’s events. This remarkable diary is just one of the many treasures in Duke’s Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library.

As part of my Master’s thesis at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I have been researching North Carolina’s Forsyth County during the Civil War and Reconstruction, frequently drawing on collections at UNC and Duke. As I neared the end of a morning in the RBMSCL reading room, I decided to take a quick look at an anonymous “North Carolina farm woman’s diary, 1868” listed in the online catalog. Opening the thin composition notebook, its pages yellow and worn, I was immediately struck by how familiar-sounding some of the names in it seemed. Even more striking, I felt I had seen this author’s handwriting before. I decided to spend ten minutes trying to identify the author.

In the diary, the author’s family members are always referred to by first name only. No surname is ever given. Who were Abe, Julia, Gina, Erastus, Paulina, and “the Dr.?” I performed a quick search of the 1860 and 1870 census records—which have been digitized and are available online. Searching by first names it quickly became apparent that the only family in Bethania that fit the description was the Jones family. The fact that the author mentioned several other prominent local families, but not the Joneses, confirmed my suspicions that the diary likely belonged to a member of the Jones family. But which one remained a mystery. The author was clearly a woman, but with numerous women residing in the Jones’ family household in Forsyth County, North Carolina, it was not immediately clear which woman she was.

Returning to the Southern Historical Collection in Wilson Library at my home institution of UNC, I requested the Jones Family Collection and examined the diaries of Julia Jones (1824-1913). The similarities in handwriting, style, and diction were uncanny. She referred to family members in identical ways, even referring to her husband as “the Dr.” Additionally, though the collection at UNC contained Julia’s diaries for the years 1867, 1869, and 1870, the volume for 1868 was missing. Somehow, it appears that the missing volume ended up at Duke. I was satisfied that the anonymous “North Carolina farm woman’s diary, 1868” was ready for a name change. Over 140 years after it was written, the author’s identity had been rediscovered.

But who was this Julia Jones? Born Julia Conrad, she was the daughter of Abraham Conrad, a wealthy planter and early Bethania settler. When she married Dr. Beverly Jones, Julia brought a large farm, a mill, and substantial wealth into the marriage. Dr. Jones was a leading citizen and one of the few doctors in their neighborhood. Their impressive house can still be seen in Forsyth County just north of Bethania (not open to the public). A slave-owner before the war, Dr. Jones avoided military service himself, though at least one son served in the Confederate Army and another guarded Union prisoners in the final days of the war. Although their mill was burned and their slaves were freed, the family weathered the war relatively well compared to some neighbors. The family remained economically stable thanks to both the farm and Dr. Jones’s medical practice. In fact, in 1868, the family was still employing some of their former slaves.

What was once a disconnected Reconstruction-era document can now be used—along with the Jones Family papers in the Southern History Collection at UNC—to compare the day-to-day activities (and workload) of a wealthy southern woman before, during, and after the Civil War. This is just one example of how digitization allows historians to use manuscripts in new ways. With text-searchable census records and newspapers, it is far easier now than it has ever been to contextualize manuscripts. Identifying authors takes a fraction of the time it took historians and archivists before the digital age. The Internet has truly changed the way we do research. The archives are full of such anonymous documents, and Duke has a number of them. My hope is that other historians will continue to fill in the missing pieces and rediscover the provenance of these and other important manuscripts.

Adam H. Domby is a second-year graduate student in history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Postcard from Venice: Notes from a Study-Abroad Librarian

By Catherine Shreve

Two gondolas in the water in Venice

In recent years, librarians have taken a cue from news reporters and discussed the value of “embedded librarians” to support academic departments. This summer, I had the unique opportunity to put the concept into practice.

I had the privilege of assisting Professor Ken Rogerson’s new course, “The Art of Politics and the Politics of the Arts.” The four-week program, cross-listed in Public Policy, Political Science, and Visual Studies, attracted 22 students from across the disciplines. Our laboratory for intensive interaction with visual arts, music, and their relationship to politics was a city that famously embodies all three—Venice, Italy.

Librarians don’t typically go along on study-abroad programs. According to Paul Paparella of Duke Global Education, I was the first Duke librarian to do so. But to Ken, it seemed like a natural outcome of our years of collaboration on library instruction and new technology for teaching Public Policy undergraduates. So when he suggested the idea, I naturally said yes!

Professor Ken Rogerson

My role as program assistant started months before we arrived in Venice. As Ken developed the syllabus, I helped him find reading materials and classroom presentation aids. Duke’s art librarian, Lee Sorensen, recommended the ARTSTOR database that proved to be a wonderful foundation for our art slides. With ARTSTOR we could search for works by specific painters, organize them, and download them into PowerPoint groups, such as all the Tintorettos students might see when we visited the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. Ken, a classical musician, identified the musical pieces he wanted to use and downloaded them to his iPod, which we could play on my portable speaker.

As Ken built the online course website, I created a library guide to go with it, and adapted links to Duke library resources so we could draw on them seamlessly from halfway around the world. Ken also created a Facebook page that the whole class used to share pictures and information, organize travel, and stay connected.

Students in Venice

In May, we all gathered at Venice International University, our home base on the beautiful island of San Servolo. Once there, my role evolved into an all-in-one librarian/teaching assistant/research assistant/technology support liaison. I helped set up Internet connections, troubleshot electronic access to Duke library resources, and even used my MacBook to translate Mac-written papers into a format usable on the office PC.

Each afternoon, Ken kept me busy hunting down examples that sprang from our discussion of class material. It was like a treasure hunt as I used both library and free resources to locate video and audio clips, pictures, lists, and websites for the next day’s class, showing everything from La Fenice opera house in the 1800s to the Bugs Bunny Rabbit of Seville cartoon. With these examples we built bridges from the familiar to the historical, generating group exercises and class discussion.

Although I was inexperienced at grading papers, my library background with citing sources informed my feedback to the students, and I was gratified to see them subsequently moving beyond Google for their research. I relished creating my unique role in the program, using my professional skills, life experience (and sometimes, I admit, maternal instincts) to assist this course. It was a joy to witness our students’ progress, through their papers and their increasingly informed contributions to class discussion. Informal chats with them outside of class confirmed my impressions of the program’s impact.

Back at the library this fall, I love running into “my” students, and I look forward to our reunion dinner. Some greet me with a hug and “Ciao!” Then we get to work finding sources for their next papers.

Catherine Shreve is the Librarian for Public Policy & Political Science

Catherine’s Reading List

Is a trip to Venice on your itinerary? Here are some of Catherine’s suggested leisure reading picks to get you inspired.

  • Joseph Brodsky, Watermark (1992)
  • Donna Leon, Death at La Fenice: A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery (2004)
  • Lauren Corona, The Four Seasons: A Novel of Vivaldi’s Venice (2008)
  • John Berendt, The City of Falling Angels (2005)

Find Out More

Catherine Shreve

Check out Catherine’s online library guide for “The Art of Politics and the Politics of the Arts”:

More Library Resources for Study Abroad Students:

Meg’s Picks

New and Noteworthy Books for the Business-Minded Reader

Reviewed by Meg Trauner, Director of Ford Library at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business

The Art Of Giving: Where the Soul Meets a Business Plan

By Charles Bronfman & Jeffrey Solomon (Jossey-Bass, 2010)

Cover of The Art of Giving

In the new philanthropy, donors seek to make a difference. They give purposefully, think strategically and monitor the results. Giving is a deeply personal process, but it’s also a business. This comprehensive guide to charitable giving shows nonprofits how to communicate with donors to help them make meaningful choices with their gifts. It also helps donors decide what types of gifts to give, how to structure their donations, and how to manage tax issues.

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

By Daniel H. Pink (Riverhead Books, 2009)

Cover of Drive

In his new book, Daniel Pink argues that the incentive plans used by most organizations don’t work. Even worse, there is scientific evidence that money acts as a de-motivator. The most effective reward, it turns out, is intrinsic—performance of the task itself. Pink describes successful people as hard-working and persistent. They possess an internal desire to control their lives, learn about their world, and accomplish something that endures. In the final pages is a chapter summary, a cocktail party summary, plus a Twitter summary: “Carrots & sticks are so last century.”

Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value (And How to Take Advantage of It)

By William Poundstone (Hill & Wang, 2010)

Cover of Priceless

Most people are unable to estimate fair prices accurately. More than just a number, price is dependent on context, and any given price can seem like a bargain or a rip-off, depending on how it’s framed. Poundstone delves into the psychology of pricing. He describes experiments by well-known psychology researchers (including Fuqua faculty member and behavioral economist Dan Ariely) and explains a variety of pricing tricks, some of which are centuries old. He also offers practical suggestions to use in price negotiations—such as threatening to walk away from the table rather than agreeing to an unacceptable starting point.

Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior

By Geoffrey Miller (Viking, 2009)

Cover of Spent

Why do Americans work long and hard to buy status products, when the pleasures they bring are so short-lived? Human evolution offers some answers. Evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller explains that humans evolved in small social groups in which image and status were important for attracting mates and rearing children. Modern humans still advertise their ability to survive and reproduce, unconsciously using status products to display their biological fitness to one another. Miller also discusses the engine of consumer capitalism—marketing—and how it creates psychological links between products and the possible status and sexual payoffs that may result from buying and displaying them. The book is well written and full of challenging insights and numerous examples.

To read more of Meg’s Picks, or to find out what’s going on the Ford Library, follow the Ford Library blog at

The Earthquakes in Chile: A Visit on Day 100 Duke’s University Librarian Reports on the Damage to Chilean Universities and Libraries

By Deborah Jakubs

Map of Chile

On February 27, 2010, a massive, 8.8-magnitude earthquake rocked Chile. It lasted a very long 90 seconds, and although it occurred off the coast of the Maule region, south of the capital Santiago, the quake was felt strongly across six regions of the country. Tremors were reported as far north as Ica in southern Peru and in several cities across the Andes in Argentina. Tsunami warnings were issued in dozens of countries, and giant waves devastated several Chilean coastal towns. It was the strongest earthquake in Chile since the 9.5-magnitude temblor that shook Valdivia in 1960, and it was estimated to be several hundred times more forceful than the 7.0 earthquake that devastated Haiti in January 2010. Over a hundred aftershocks, many of a magnitude greater than 6, struck the country in the months that followed. Damage estimates exceeded $100 billion.

Miraculously, although still tragically, the quake took only 521 lives, remarkably low for an event of such force and scope. Chile lies on a fault zone and earthquakes are not uncommon or unexpected. Indeed, Chilean building codes and construction methods were partly responsible for the low loss of life. Still, many people suffered injuries, and damage to buildings was widespread, including hospitals, museums, Santiago’s international airport, universities, and libraries.

On June 7, 100 days after the earthquake, I was in Chile with a delegation to assess the damage to universities and their libraries. Although many of Chile’s 59 universities suffered some degree of damage, estimated at $100 million, our charge was to focus on the four located nearest the epicenter: the Universidad de Concepción, the Universidad del Bío-Bío, the Universidad de Talca, and the Universidad Católica del Maule. Our delegation, which was sponsored by the U.S. State Department and the American Council on Education, consisted of nine members, representing a wide variety of higher education expertise including libraries, nursing, energy, engineering, computing infrastructure, and forestry. Our skills and experiences were very complementary and we learned a great deal from each other during our intensive four-day visit.

Santiago was our home base. On our first day, we met with the U.S. ambassador to Chile, representatives of higher education organizations and the Council of Rectors of Chilean Universities, and we were briefed on the earthquake by the director of the Chilean Seismological Service. On day two, we flew to Concepción (about 200 miles south of Santiago) and visited the Center for Oceanographic Research in Dichato. What had been a lovely seaside town with houses, restaurants, and a research facility was nearly completely razed by a series of four tsunamis in the wake of the earthquake. Eighty percent of the town was destroyed. Houses had been dragged out to sea by the force of the waves, and boats were thrown about as if they were toys, many landing incongruously high up on dry land.

books stacked on floor  Outside of library

At the Universidad de Concepción itself, the library did not suffer significant damages. But the Chemistry building was gutted by a fire when the quake caused volatile lab chemicals to ignite. Our hosts in Dichato and Concepción arranged meetings with groups of faculty and administrators, as well as tours, so we could see for ourselves the extent of the damage. At the Universidad del Bío-Bío, we witnessed the structural impact on several campus buildings. But the main effect on the library at Bío-Bío was indirect: money set aside for new furniture and shelving had to be diverted to other, more immediate uses instead.

The situation was worse at the Universidad de Talca and the Universidad Católica del Maule. The libraries at both institutions, along with other academic buildings, suffered extensive damages and remain closed for an indeterminate period. The collections have largely been put into storage or transferred to temporary quarters, leaving faculty and students with woefully inadequate access to the resources they need for their teaching and learning. Talca’s striking library building of glass and brick is now a shell with many broken windows and a view of the sky from inside. In both cases, rebuilding must await adequate funding, and the libraries will be queued up with classroom needs and other campus reconstruction.

damaged building  Damaged building

How can we help? The most immediate need at these universities is access to e-journals and e-books. Duke’s librarians—including Nancy Gibbs, the head of Acquisitions, and Holly Ackerman, librarian for Latin America and Iberia—have talked with publishers and vendors to try to convince them to provide the affected Chilean universities with free access to e-books and e-journals. I have been looking into establishing short-term library staff exchanges between members of the Triangle Research Libraries Network (Duke, UNC-Chapel Hill, NC State, and NC Central) and partner libraries in Chile, as well as possible visits from the directors of the four libraries I visited. Holly has made strong petitions for assistance to the Seminar on the Acquisition of Latin American Library Materials and the Latin American Studies Association. And we have been coordinating our efforts with those of the American Library Association.

Looking back on that post-earthquake visit to Chile, I was most impressed by the resilience and optimism of the Chileans. A huge earthquake had killed or injured many people, crumpled buildings, closed the airport, cut off highways, disrupted the work of the universities and the schooling of thousands of children. And yet the country was focused not on the tragedy, but on rebuilding. Similarly, the recent crisis of the trapped Chilean miners, a lengthy and agonizing ordeal, has demonstrated to the world that same determination and positive attitude, even in the face of devastation and uncertainty. It is one of many reasons why I will be going back.

Members of the United States Higher Education Delegation
to Chile

  • Eduardo Padrón, President, Miami Dade College (Head)
  • Gretchen Bataille, Former President, University of North Texas
  • James Burchfield, Interim Dean and Professor, College of Forestry and Conservation, University of Montana
  • Tully Cornick, Executive Director, Higher Education for Development
  • Jeanne-Marie Duval, Deputy Executive Director, Higher Education for Development
  • Deborah Jakubs, University Librarian and Vice Provost for Library Affairs, Duke University
  • Charles McMahon, Vice President of Information Technology, Tulane University
  • Juan Ontiveros, Executive Director of Utilities and Energy Management, University of Texas at Austin
  • Nilda Peragallo, Dean and Professor, School of Nursing and Health Studies, University of Miami

Deborah Jakubs

Deborah Jakubs is the
Rita DiGiallonardo Holloway University Librarian
& Vice Provost for Library Affairs

Map courtesy United Nations Cartographic Section
Photos by Deborah Jakubs

Keeping Time: Introducing the New Director of the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library

By Aaron Welborn

By almost any definition, Phillis Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral is an important book. Published in 1773, it is the first book authored by an African American—not to mention the first by a slave and only the third by an American woman. Duke University owns a precious first edition signed by the author herself.

Naomi Nelson

On a recent afternoon, Naomi Nelson was explaining why this particular autographed copy is not only special, but truly one-of-a-kind. Nelson is the new director of Duke’s Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library—or RBMSCL for short. Her job is to oversee a trove of rare and unique scholarly treasures, from two-thousand-year-old papyri to digital files created yesterday, the primary stuff of research. It’s a big job, but one that comes with frequent rewarding surprises, like getting to hold a fragile connection to history in your own hands.

Nelson pointed out that Wheatley wasn’t the only person who signed this copy. The first few pages bear the inscriptions and bookplates of several previous owners, conveniently preserving a record of the volume’s journey through time. According to an inscription, the poet herself gave this volume to Mary Shubrick Eveleigh, a wealthy Charlestonian who later married Edward Rutledge (the youngest signer of the Declaration of Independence, member of the first and second Continental Congresses, and Governor of South Carolina). From Rutledge’s library, the book then goes to Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, who was Rutledge’s law partner, a signer of the Constitution, and twice candidate for president. Finally, in the early twentieth century, it comes to Duke after a number of books from Pinckney’s library, including this one, were put up for sale.

The inscriptions and bookplates in Duke’s copy of Wheatley’s Poems make it clear that her work was known among some of the most prominent families of the slaveholding South. “It’s a wonderful example of how a particular copy of something can be significant,” said Nelson. “There may be several digitized versions of Phillis Wheatley’s Poems out there. But there’s only one copy like this, only one that tells this story. And only we have it.”

The story the book tells is not just a story about African American literature. It is also, in some ways, a story about the RBMSCL itself. “It’s emblematic of where we’ve been as a library, and where we’re going,” Nelson said.

For many years, Duke has attracted scholars to its strong and extensive library holdings in American literature and southern history. But over the last few decades, the RBMSCL’s collection strengths have broadened to include several new and related areas. These are embodied by the various research centers and archives within the RBMSCL, including the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture; the John Hope Franklin Research Center, dedicated to African American history and thought; and the Archive for Human Rights.

Wheatley’s book of poems could easily fall into any one of these categories, Nelson explained. It has something to say about American literature, southern history, women’s culture, African American thought, and human rights, encompassing all of these themes and more. In this way, it exemplifies the very idea of interdisciplinary inquiry—much like the RBMSCL itself.

Naomi Nelson believes that studying the past opens our eyes to new possibilities in the future. She learned that as history major here at Duke. Originally from Delaware, she migrated south for college after she was struck by the beauty and vitality of Duke’s campus. “Duke’s focus was on the future. From the laboratory to the library to the stadium, everyone was striving for excellence,” she said. “It was a place where things were happening. After my first visit, I knew this was where I wanted to be.” Faculty in the history and women’s studies departments introduced her to new ways of seeing the past and present. She remembers being particularly inspired by professors Tom Robisheaux, Jean O’Barr, Bill Chafe, Elizabeth Clark, and Sydney Nathans.

Naturally, she spent a lot of time in the library back then, too. In fact, it was because of an experience at Duke that Nelson became interested in libraries as a career. After a semester researching southern history in special collections for a class paper, she volunteered to work in the University Archives, because “I wanted to learn more about the stories carefully preserved in all those boxes.” Later, a few years out of school and working in finance for General Electric, those stimulating days in the archives came back to her.

One day she called University Archivist Bill King, for whom she had worked as a Duke student, and asked him, “How does one become an archivist?” King referred her to a colleague at Emory, who advised her to get a graduate degree in either history or library science. So Nelson got both, picking up a library degree from the University of Pittsburgh and a Ph.D. in history from Emory.

While at Emory, she went to work for the Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library. There she spent the next 19 years and held a range of positions. She was originally hired to curate the papers of U.S. Senator Sam Nunn. Later she became the Library’s first digital archivist, then curator of southern history, then head of Research Services, then associate director, and finally interim director, a position she held before coming to Duke.

Now that Nelson has returned to her alma mater, she is excited to be a part of a pivotal moment in RBMSCL’s history. “Information technology has changed the way that we work and live. Students and researchers expect remote access and want to collaborate in virtual spaces. We are working to provide robust digital access to materials spanning eleven centuries of recorded history. At the same time, we are grappling with how best to document this electronic age of email, Facebook, and the cloud. We will continue to be experts in preserving the printed word, but we will also become experts in preserving bits and bytes.”

Nelson is also energized by RMBSCL’s special character. Duke’s special collections were founded by Trinity College faculty 1890s to support undergraduate research. That educational mission continues today, with over 100 classes using the collections each year. The materials challenge student assumptions, raise new questions, and provide an opportunity for students to discover something no one else had noticed.

One of Nelson’s goals is for every Duke student to leave the university with a memory of having seen or learned something extraordinary in the RBMSCL. Whether it’s a Greek manuscript from the first millennium, a variant edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, the first issue of Superman, a selection of feminist zines, records from Marshall Meyer’s work with political prisoners in Argentina, or films from the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, there is something here to inspire everyone.

“People at Duke are proud of this university for a number of reasons—its gothic architecture, its hospital, its basketball team. RBMSCL is another of Duke’s treasures,” Nelson said. “We want people to feel proud of this library, and to think about us when they think about Duke.”

In a few years, they may have even more to be proud of. The part of Perkins Library that houses the RBMSCL is slated to be completely renovated, completing a multi-year library renovation project that began with the construction of Bostock Library and the von der Heyden Pavilion five years ago. The completion of the “Cornerstone Phase” of the Perkins Project—so called because the cornerstone of the University appears on the façade of the 1928 library building—will transform the research, instruction, storage, and exhibition capabilities of the RBMSCL. The planned upgrades will be dramatic, but they are also badly needed.

“The difference between the library of 1928 and the library of today is dramatic,” said Nelson. “This building hasn’t had a major renovation in a long time. It wasn’t really designed for the kind of research students and scholars do today. Nor was it set up to properly care for the variety of media we now collect. The renovation will allow us to have an appropriately controlled environment for our collections. It will also provide more instructional space, better environments for exhibitions and programs, and more support for technology.”All of which means that Phillis Wheatley’s Poems will get a new home, one that will insure that future generations of undergraduates will be able to explore the stories that it tells.

Moving Beyond Paper

When she’s not engaged in the tangible world of traditional special collections, Naomi Nelson is working with colleagues around the world to develop strategies to preserve and share the seemingly intangible digital world.

“What fascinates me,” said Nelson, “is that born-digital files are not fixed in the way a printed page is. The file we see is the result of the interaction of the hardware, operating system, software and file type used to render it. Changing any one of those elements can change what we see.”

Such changes might be small, such as substituting one font for another, or quite dramatic, such as eliminating interactive features. “Born-digital records demand that we determine which characteristics are the most important for a given set of records so that we make sure that those essential characteristics are preserved,” Nelson said.

This is a pressing issue in the library world. According to Nelson, where once the printed page was the authoritative record, now we increasingly view the digital file as the “real thing.”

“How many of us print our vacation photos anymore?” she asked. “Or print all of the emails we think are important? It’s much easier to keep our records organized in digital format, whether in a directory structure or using a service like Snapfish. And it’s so much simpler to share our information through digital means.”

Contemporary collections of “papers” often include disks, CDs, tapes, and sometimes entire computers along with more traditional papers, letters, and physical artifacts. Increasingly, many authors don’t write anything by hand anymore. They type, save, and (alas!) delete. What’s an archivist to do?

That’s a question Nelson is trying to answer. This summer, she co-taught a class on “Born-Digital Materials: Theory and Practice” at the University of Virginia’s Rare Book School, an independent institute that offers classes on the history of books and printing. Her co-teacher was Matthew Kirschenbaum, associate professor of English at the University of Maryland and associate director of the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities.

Although libraries have long managed collections containing diverse formats, digital records add some new wrinkles. For example, how do we define “the original” for identical files that exist in multiple locations? Should archivists recover deleted files or crack passwords? And who should archive the web? “These are the questions we grapple with,” Nelson explained. “Our digital files are part of our cultural heritage, too, and we need to find a systematic way of dealing with them, just as we’ve developed systems for dealing with books, manuscripts, photographs, and other media.”

This cutting-edge research is being applied here at Duke. “A few institutions are leading the way in this area,” said Nelson. “We have the potential to be one of them.”

Follow the RBMSCL blog, The Devil’s Tale:

Aaron Welborn

Aaron Welborn is the director of communications for Duke University Libraries

Notes from the Underground: Ten Years of Preservation, and Counting


Library books don’t always age gracefully. They get dropped, their covers nicked, their spines cracked, their pages penciled and stained. Paper is perishable. Even when handled gently, it can crumble on the shelf if it’s too acidic or disintegrate if the roof springs a leak. The same goes for almost everything else libraries collect. Eventually every book, map, photo, and cherished manuscript in Duke’s hallowed stacks will succumb to age, use, or chemical processes—not to mention every film, video, audio recording, and digital file.

Not to be all gloom and doom. In the library world, as in the real one, the best view is usually the long view. When your mission is to collect, organize, and preserve the world’s knowledge and pass it on the next generation, the long view isn’t simply a matter of perspective. It’s what guides almost everything librarians do.

Nowhere is that sense of perspective more evident than in the Libraries’ Preservation Department. You could think of Preservation as the Libraries’ longevity department. It’s where torn pages are mended, outdated formats are reformatted, and long-range policies are crafted before library materials ever reach the hands of the people who use them, so that they can keep being used for a long, long time. The work of the Preservation staff encompasses a broad range of activities, from maintaining the Libraries’ general collection to book and materials repair, user education, environmental monitoring, disaster preparedness and recovery, and even working with national organizations to figure out long-term solutions for storing and preserving the nation’s common cultural resources.

items stacked in preservation

Consider the Verne and Tanya Roberts Conservation Lab. The vast majority of people who walk into Perkins Library don’t even know it’s there, but the entire university benefits from what goes on inside. Tucked away in a secure nook below ground, the room is something of a cross between a chemistry lab and an artist’s studio. Workbenches line the wall, where a team of conservators wield an array of special tools, from scalpels and bone folders to cast-iron presses and board shears. Worn and damaged volumes lay before them like hospital patients, their guts in various stages of delicate surgery. The conservators perform a range of technical tasks, from the simple mending of torn pages to more complicated treatments like rebinding seventeenth-century atlases and halting the devastation of mold. It’s intricate, time-consuming work, equal parts scientific know-how and time-honored craft.

In other parts of the library, similar activities are going on—only instead of surgery, think cryogenics. (But without the creepy factor.) The preservation of digital library resources is a massive undertaking which only promises to get bigger. With help from Preservation staff, some of the Libraries’ most important documents are being digitally frozen in time, preserved in new formats that will, with luck, outlast the originals. Immense flatbed and overhead scanners, high-definition cameras, video decks and audio remastering equipment give new life (and new uses) to old and fragile materials. Some of the more hard-working scanners in Duke’s Libraries can digitize hundreds of book pages an hour. The computer files they crank out devour megabytes and gigabytes, piling up a truly massive amount of data. Accommodating such enormous files isn’t just about putting the Libraries’ computer systems to the test. It’s another form of librarianship.

Welcome to the modern world of library preservation. In today’s academic libraries, the work of preserving library materials is a highly specialized business. It combines art and science, old-fashioned tools and high-tech computers, tangible artifacts and intangible bits and bytes. Without it, some of our most valuable scholarly resources would be in a lot shabbier shape.

This year, the Duke University Libraries Preservation Department officially turned ten. The staff celebrated the occasion with an exhibit, a new blog, and a series of videos. In this issue of the magazine, we wanted to continue the celebration by highlighting the important work they do, and the dedicated people who do it. Their accomplishments, we think you’ll agree, are as fascinating as they are vital to preserving our intellectual heritage.

Preservation on the Web:
Go there and you can also find links to the Preservation’s Facebook, Flickr, and Twitter pages.

Meet the Staff


Winston Atkins

Winston Atkins, Preservation Officer

Winston came to Duke ten years ago to start the Preservation Department. He oversees the Conservation Program as well as general preservation activities in the library. In addition to his role in planning and managing the Department, he has a strong interest in cooperative preservation projects and in the Libraries’ initiatives to provide access to the digital resources it creates or receives for our future users. He is now working on a committee that is charged with developing a campus repository for digital materials.

Beth Doyle

Beth Doyle, Head of Conservation Services

Beth has been at Duke Libraries for eight years. She ensures that the staff in the Verne and Tanya Roberts Conservation Lab has enough work and the supplies they need to work on the collections. She also spends time planning the future of Conservation Services in order to make sure the collection is well cared for. Beth works closely with staff in the Digital Production Center and with the Exhibits Coordinator to ensure the safe reformatting and display of our collections. Her bench work tends to focus on creating custom enclosures for odd things found in the stacks, such as pink felt dragons or model airplanes. “There is nothing I can’t make a box for, no matter its size or shape,” Beth says. She also likes to work on flat paper materials such as maps and manuscript materials.

Mary Yordy

Mary Yordy, Senior Conservation Technician

Mary has worked in conservation for 10 years. Last fiscal year, Mary repaired 925 books and manuscripts from the collections and created over 2,000 protective enclosures. She is an avid bookmaker who has taught classes in bookmaking both in the library and the community.


Erin Hammeke

Erin Hammeke, Conservator for Special Collections

Erin has worked in Conservation for three years. She has completed a large number of treatments in the Harold Jantz Collection of German Baroque Literature and German Americana, thanks in large part to a generous grant from Dr. Eleanore Jantz. “I love working with this collection because it seems to have everything—both in terms of content (there are materials that pertain to history, travel, the occult, women’s writings, and more) and in terms of different binding styles and material,” says Erin.

Currently Erin is working on other books from the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library, including a volume of DeBry’s account of the New World and six large Dutch atlases printed in the 1600s by Willem Janszoon Blaeu.

Meg Brown

Meg Brown, Conservator for Special Collections

Meg has been a special collections conservator for Duke University Libraries for over five years. She is also the Libraries’ Exhibits Coordinator and responsible for student exhibits and displays in Perkins Gallery. What she enjoys most about conservation is “saving materials that are so fragile that patrons can’t use them unless Conservation treats them.”

Most of the materials Meg works on come from Research Services because they are difficult or impossible to handle safely. Our mission as a library is to put materials in the hands of users. “It’s a great feeling to know that I have helped researchers by conserving library materials,” says Meg.

Lab Notes

An Up-Close Look at Some Treatments from the Verne and Tanya Roberts Conservation Lab

Spinal Exercises

This set of eighteenth-century French legal journals was in fairly good condition except that each volume had a broken or missing spine. Mary Yordy, Senior Conservation Technician, used this set to demonstrate the five steps taken to repair the volumes.

Books spines

Left to right: First the old spine is carefully removed and, if possible, will be put back on the new binding. The old glue and spine liners are cleaned off, exposing the text block paper and sewing. New spine liners of Japanese tissue, cotton cloth and paper are attached. The old spine is re-adhered and any losses are filled with paper so that the new spine is smooth. Finally, Mary places a toned Japanese tissue over the new fills to make them less noticeable and to reinforce the outer joints.

Once complete, this set will go back to the Perkins stacks ready for the next patron to use.

Theatrum Orbis Terrarum

Theatrum Orbis Terrarum

This six-volume world atlas was created and published between 1648 and 1655 by Willem Janszoon Blaeu and his son, Joan Blaeu, two of the finest mapmakers of the seventeenth century. These folio volumes are full of engraved maps and vignettes that were hand-colored with a strikingly vibrant palette. They are bound in gold-tooled stiff-board vellum bindings.

Erin Hammeke, Special Collections Conservator, noted that the atlases are in fairly good condition considering their age but would still need several hours of work. Each atlas requires surface cleaning to remove dirt and debris from the covers and individual pages. To do that, she uses soft brushes, special erasers, and a museum vacuum specifically made for gently cleaning fragile objects. Erin then mends the tears with wheat starch paste and Japanese and Korean tissues. Finally, each volume will receive a custom-made enclosure to protect the book from wear and tear.

Boxing the Blue Devil

This doll was donated to the Duke University Archives in honor of the retirement of Tom Harkins, who retired from the Archives this spring. It was purchased on campus in 1938. It is very fragile and the Archives asked us to create a custom box to protect it.

Blue Devil Doll

Beth Doyle, Head of Conservation Services, started by making an inner box to cushion the doll. The inner box is made with buffered corrugated board lined with polyester quilt batting and cotton fabric. Bolsters were made with lightweight plastic “air pillows” similar to those used in shipping books. These would keep the doll from rolling around in the box and sustaining more damage. A custom-fit drop-spine box was then created to house the inner box and doll.

Visit the Conservation Lab’s “Boxing the Devil” set on Flickr to see more images from this project.

Ten Tips for Ten Years

Helpful Advice for Preserving Your Own Precious Collections from the Duke University Libraries Preservation Staff

Concerned about that fading quilt you inherited? Thinking about digitizing some old black-and-white photos? Here are tips from the Libraries’ Preservation staff to help ensure that your family heirlooms and works of art are available for future generations to enjoy.

Tip 1: Provide a Good Environment

Keep your materials in a stable environment. Avoid high temperature and humidity, water damage, mold, and mice and insect feasts. If you discover a problem, contact a professional conservator for advice immediately.

Tip 2: Provide Proper Enclosures

Enclosures provide protection from light, dust and handling. Use an appropriate size—enclosures that are too small or too large may cause damage. Enclosures made of paper should have a pH between 7.0 and 8.5 and be lignin free, or they will become brittle. Plastic enclosures such as slide or page protectors should be made of polyester (trade names Mylar and Melinex), polypropylene, or polyethylene. If you can’t determine what type of plastic it is, don’t buy it. Avoid vinyl because it can accelerate deterioration of paper and photographs.

Tip 3: Handle With Care

Do not eat or drink around collections. Wash and dry your hands, especially before handling photographs and textiles, which are very sensitive to body oils and dirt. Make sure you have a place to put it before taking it out. Don’t pull books off shelves by their head caps, get fingerprints on your photos, and avoid paperclips and sticky notes. Handle with care. Handle with care. Handle with care.

Tip 4: Display responsibly

Keep photographs and artwork away from light to avoid fading. Choose good framing materials. Choose a mat board with 7.0-8.5 pH, glass or Plexiglas glazing, and non-adhesive backing.

Tip 5: Consider Using Copies or Facsimiles

Consider displaying a high-quality reproduction and safeguarding the original.

Tip 6: Be Prepared For Disasters

Have a disaster plan for yourself and your most treasured stuff.

Tip 7: Preserving Non-paper Collections

Textiles: Textiles are very sensitive to environmental and alkaline conditions, especially light and pollutants. Choose enclosures and wrapping materials that are pH neutral (pH of 7.0-7.5).

Cleaning should be undertaken very carefully and follow established conservation guidelines (read: consult a professional).

Photographs and Home Movies: Photos and film are very sensitive to the environment around them. If you have a choice, use pH neutral enclosures. Consider creating high-quality facsimiles and digitizing the originals.

Digital objects: Create backups often and in the most current formats. Multiple copies reduce the risk of total loss. Store your originals safely. Don’t discard them!

Tip 8: Access and Preservation Go Together

Provide who/what/where/when for photos and documents. Use a pencil to write on the back of photographs. Someday you’ll be glad you took the time. Or digitize the image and add the information to the digital file.

Inspect items regularly for mold and insect damage.

Organize and identify items. Document your documents. Describe valuables and take pictures of them, perhaps part of a home inventory or for insurance purposes.

Tip 9: Be an Informed Consumer

There is a lot of misinformation out there when it comes to preservation and conservation instructions. Be an informed consumer when searching the web or watching television. There are some excellent online resources out there that offer solid advice, including:

  • Library of Congress Preservation Directorate:
  • Northeast Document Conservation Center:
  • National Archives and Records Administration:
  • Lyrasis:
  • American Institute for Conservation:

Tip 10: Leave the Repairs to the Professionals

Sure, you can tape book pages together or attempt a DIY book repair, but if your collection is valuable to you sentimentally or monetarily, it is best to consult a professional conservator. A good conservator will give you a range of options from an enclosure to full treatment and should be able to discuss with you, in plain English, what your choices are and how they will affect your material. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!

Libraries Acquire Papers of Direct Marketing Pioneer and His Agency

Lester Wunderman
Photo Credit: Wunderman

The John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History has acquired the papers of direct marketing pioneer Lester Wunderman and will become the corporate archive of the global marketing firm he founded half a century ago. Lester Wunderman is the chairman emeritus and founder of Wunderman, one of the largest advertising, marketing, and consulting companies in the world. He is credited with pioneering a number of direct marketing concepts that are now firmly established practices of modern-day advertising—such as the toll-free 1-800 number, the credit card customer rewards program, and the tipped-in magazine subscription card. Even the term “direct marketing” is widely attributed to him. He was inducted in the Direct Marketing Hall of Fame in 1983. Now the papers of Lester Wunderman, along with those of the agency he founded in 1958, will be housed at the Hartman Center. It is the first significant collection documenting direct marketing to be given to the Hartman Center.

We’re Number 2!

Cover of Princeton Review

According to the Princeton Review, Duke University is home to one of the very best college libraries in the country (second only to Harvard). The Princeton Review, a college-preparatory company, asked students at 373 top colleges to rate their schools on dozens of topics (from professor quality to athletic facilities) and report on their campus experiences. The rankings are based on surveys of 122,000 undergraduates (an average of 325 per campus) during the 2009-10 academic year. The results are published in The Best 373 Colleges: 2011 Edition (Random House/Princeton Review).

Longley Kicks Off Visiting Filmmaker Series

James Longley, documentary filmmaker and 2009 MacArthur Fellow, visited campus on October 29 to inaugurate the Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel Visiting Filmmaker Series. Longley joined Diamonstein-Spielvogel, the series’ namesake, on stage at the Nasher Museum of Art for a public conversation about his films and current projects. He is the director of several award-winning documentaries, including Iraq in Fragments, Sari’s Mother, and Gaza Strip. The Diamonstein-Spielvogel Visiting Filmmaker Series features artists whose work addresses significant contemporary topics of social, political, economic, and cultural urgency. Filmmakers chosen to participate will have a recognized body of work and show promise of future contributions to documentary filmmaking.

James Longley
Photo credit: John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Duke Joins Compact for Open Access to Scholarly Journals

Duke University has joined a group of leading research institutions in signing a Compact for Open-Access Publishing Equity (COPE). The goal of the compact is to make it easier for researchers to publish their work in open-access scholarly journals, where it would be freely available online.

Open Access Logo

As part of its commitment to COPE, Duke has created a special fund to help pay for article processing fees associated with open-access publishing. COPE aims to encourage open access by supporting Duke authors who find such fees an obstacle to publication. The fund, which will be administered by the Libraries’ Office of Scholarly Communications, is supported by the Duke University Libraries and the Office of the Provost.

According to Provost Peter Lange, the aims of COPE are in keeping with Duke’s continued emphasis on knowledge in the service of society. “By establishing this fund, we hope to support the university’s commitment to promoting openness as an important value in scholarship,” Lange said. “Increased open access means more opportunities for the research of our faculty and researchers to reach a wide audience and have a meaningful impact on the world.”