A Day in the Life of the Libraries

Text by Aaron Welborn
Photographs by Mark Zupan

It’s a gorgeous April morning at Duke, and a tour group of high school students and their parents file through Perkins Library. “If you come to Duke,” their guide tells them, “the library is going to be your second home.”

Meanwhile, in the von der Heyden Pavilion, the line for coffee is starting to stack up during a break between morning classes.

Across town on East Campus, a sophomore history major is working in Lilly Library’s Multimedia Project Studio on a website for a class project.

And in an office in Smith Warehouse, Nancy Gibbs, Head of the Acquisitions Department, is testing a batch of Amazon Kindles that were just loaded with bestselling titles for library users to check out.

In this issue of the magazine, we wanted to capture a snapshot of the people, places, and everyday moments that comprise a typical day in one of the top research library systems in the country. The Duke University Libraries employ some 250 people full-time and around 200 part-time student workers and interns. Some serve on the front lines, others behind the scenes. But they all work together to meet the teaching and research needs of the entire Duke community, day in and day out.

University Librarian’s Office: Robert Byrd, Associate University Librarian for Collections and User Services(left), meets with Deborah Jakubs, Rita DiGiallonardo Holloway University Librarian and Vice Provost for Library Affairs, to discuss a planning study for a proposed Research Commons area in Bostock Library.
University Librarian’s Office: Robert Byrd, Associate University Librarian for Collections and User Services
(left), meets with Deborah Jakubs, Rita DiGiallonardo Holloway University Librarian and Vice Provost for Library Affairs, to discuss a planning study for a proposed Research Commons area in Bostock Library.
Digital Production Center, Perkins Library: Digitization Specialist Alex Marsh (left) and Mike Adamo, Lead Digitization Production Developer, prepare to digitize an early Arabic manuscript from the Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Once complete, high-resolution scans of the historical document will be available online.
Digital Production Center, Perkins Library: Digitization Specialist Alex Marsh (left) and Mike Adamo, Lead Digitization Production Developer, prepare to digitize an early Arabic manuscript from the Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Once complete, high-resolution scans of the historical document will be available online.
Library Service Center: Daniel Walker, Library Assistant, uses a special lift to retrieve and shelve items at Duke’s high-density, off-site repository. Each of the facility’s massive shelves is three stories tall and almost a football field long. The air inside is kept at a constant 50 degrees Fahrenheit with 30 percent humidity, ideal conditions for preserving books and paper. At full capacity, the Library Service Center could accommodate nearly nine million volumes—more than all the materials in Duke’s ten libraries combined.
Library Service Center: Daniel Walker, Library Assistant, uses a special lift to retrieve and shelve items at Duke’s high-density, off-site repository. Each of the facility’s massive shelves is three stories tall and almost a football field long. The air inside is kept at a constant 50 degrees Fahrenheit with 30 percent humidity, ideal conditions for preserving books and paper. At full capacity, the Library Service Center could accommodate nearly nine million volumes—more than all the materials in Duke’s ten libraries combined.
Lilly Library: Lee Sorensen (right), Librarian for Visual Studies and Dance, consults with a student on a research project.
Lilly Library: Lee Sorensen (right), Librarian for Visual Studies and Dance, consults with a student on a research project.
Von der Heyden Pavilion: Students line up between classes to get their caffeine and sugar fix at Saladelia @ the Perk. Situated in the heart of campus, it is consistently one of the busiest and highest-grossing coffee shops in Durham. A popular study and hangout spot, it’s also known among Duke undergraduates as a place to see and be seen.
Von der Heyden Pavilion: Students line up between classes to get their caffeine and sugar fix at Saladelia @ the Perk. Situated in the heart of campus, it is consistently one of the busiest and highest-grossing coffee shops in Durham. A popular study and hangout spot, it’s also known among Duke undergraduates as a place to see and be seen.
Shipping and Receiving Department, Perkins Library: David Burroughs, Material Control Supervisor, packs up interlibrary loan materials to be shipped to other libraries around the country where patrons have requested them. Every year, the Duke University Libraries borrow 27,000 items from other academic libraries and lend 23,000 from our own collections.
Facilities and Logistics Department, Perkins Library: David Burroughs, Material Control Supervisor, packs up interlibrary loan materials to be shipped to other libraries around the country where patrons have requested them. Every year, the Duke University Libraries borrow 27,000 items from other academic libraries and lend 23,000 from our own collections.
Smith Warehouse: Lynda Baptist (left), Head of Holdings Management, and Lois Schultz, Catalog Librarian for Monographic Resources, work their way through books and periodicals originally cataloged in the Dewey Decimal system that need to be updated and reclassified in the Library of Congress system. The reclassification of the Libraries’ holdings began in 2004. Of the several million volumes that had to be reclassified, only a few thousand remain, representing the most intricate and time-consuming items to catalog.
Smith Warehouse: Lynda Baptist (left), Head of Holdings Management, and Lois Schultz, Catalog Librarian for Monographic Resources, work their way through books and periodicals originally cataloged in the Dewey Decimal system that need to be updated and reclassified in the Library of Congress system. The reclassification of the Libraries’ holdings began in 2004. Of the several million volumes that had to be reclassified, only a few thousand remain, representing the most intricate and time-consuming items to catalog.
Multimedia Project Studio, Lilly Library: Students edit a video they made in the Multimedia Project Studio, or MPS. The MPS has two locations, one in Lilly Library and the newly opened West Campus location in the lower level of Bostock Library. Both labs feature high-end hardware and software for creating and editing graphics, web pages, audio, and video. As more faculty incorporate multimedia projects into their courses, the demand for graphic and video resources has dramatically increased.
Multimedia Project Studio, Lilly Library: Students edit a video they made in the Multimedia Project Studio, or MPS. The MPS has two locations, one in Lilly Library and the newly opened West Campus location in the lower level of Bostock Library. Both labs feature high-end hardware and software for creating and editing graphics, web pages, audio, and video. As more faculty incorporate multimedia projects into their courses, the demand for graphic and video resources has dramatically increased.
Perkins Library Conference Room: Library staff line up for cake and refreshments at the Florence Blakely Awards Ceremony. The Blakely Award is the highest annual honor the Libraries confer to library staff. It is named for the late Florence Blakely, a 38-year Duke librarian who received national recognition for her outstanding service. This year’s Blakely Award recipient was Molly Bragg, Collection Move Coordinator in the Rubenstein Library. She was recognized for managing the complicated task of relocating 35,000 linear feet of rare books and archival materials to make way for the upcoming library renovation.
Perkins Library Conference Room: Library staff line up for cake and refreshments at the Florence Blakely Awards Ceremony. The Blakely Award is the highest annual honor the Libraries confer to library staff. It is named for the late Florence Blakely, a 38-year Duke librarian who received national recognition for her outstanding service. This year’s Blakely Award recipient was Molly Bragg, Collection Move Coordinator in the Rubenstein Library. She was recognized for managing the complicated task of relocating 35,000 linear feet of rare books and archival materials to make way for the upcoming library renovation.
Rubenstein Library: Will Hansen, Assistant Curator of Collections in the Rubenstein Library, tries to hunt down the answer to a reference question in the papers of Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Samuelson. Samuelson’s papers are part of the Economists’ Papers Project at Duke, the largest collection of modern economists papers in the world. The collection offers a valuable resource to researchers in the history of economic thought.
Rubenstein Library: Will Hansen, Assistant Curator of Collections in the Rubenstein Library, tries to hunt down the answer to a reference question in the papers of Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Samuelson. Samuelson’s papers are part of the Economists’ Papers Project at Duke, the largest collection of modern economists papers in the world. The collection offers a valuable resource to researchers in the history of economic thought.
International and Area Studies, Bostock Library: Jörg-Hendrik Sohst (left) and his wife Julia pose in the office of Western European Studies Librarian Heidi Madden (right). Sohst is a senior lecturer in the Duke in Berlin Program. He is also an avid book collector and frequently donates items he finds to the Duke University Libraries. Here he presents Madden with a rare and specially bound facsimile of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s doctoral dissertation (1771), written in the form the 56 theses which Goethe was required to defend in public.
International and Area Studies, Bostock Library: Jörg-Hendrik Sohst (left) and his wife Julia pose in the office of Western European Studies Librarian Heidi Madden (right). Sohst is a senior lecturer in the Duke in Berlin Program. He is also an avid book collector and frequently donates items he finds to the Duke University Libraries. Here he presents Madden with a rare and specially bound facsimile of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s doctoral dissertation (1771), written in the form the 56 theses which Goethe was required to defend in public.
The Link, Perkins Library: The Link is home to the main IT help desk for the university. Link staff field thousands of tech support requests every year covering a wide variety of computer questions and problems. Students and faculty can also check out multimedia equipment from the Link, including video cameras, iPads and iPods, webcams, and headsets.
The Link, Perkins Library: The Link is home to the main IT help desk for the university. Link staff field thousands of tech support requests every year covering a wide variety of computer questions and problems. Students and faculty can also check out multimedia equipment from the Link, including video cameras, iPads and iPods, webcams, and headsets.
Perkins Library Gallery: Meg Brown, Exhibits Librarian, installs a new exhibit in the Perkins Library Gallery. Every year, the Libraries mount over a dozen exhibits in the Perkins Gallery, the Rubenstein Library Photography Gallery, the Rare Book Room cases, the Student Wall in Perkins Library, and other locations. The exhibits program highlights library collections, showcases student and faculty work, and fosters conversation between the academic community and the general public.
Perkins Library Gallery: Meg Brown, Exhibits Librarian, installs a new exhibit in the Perkins Library Gallery. Every year, the Libraries mount over a dozen exhibits in the Perkins Gallery, the Rubenstein Library Photography Gallery, the Rare Book Room cases, the Student Wall in Perkins Library, and other locations. The exhibits program highlights library collections, showcases student and faculty work, and fosters conversation between the academic community and the general public.
Music Library: Old technology meets new. A student listens to a 1978 recording on vinyl and works on rhythm exercises on an iMac.
Music Library: Old technology meets new. A student listens to a 1978 recording on vinyl and works on rhythm exercises on an iMac.
Perkins Library, Shelving Department: Shawn Elder, Stacks Maintenance Specialist, interfiles a box of microfiche. The Stacks Maintenance staff shelve and reshelve almost 5,000 items each week and keep library materials in order so that they’re easy for library users to find.
Perkins Library, Shelving Department: Shawn Elder, Stacks Maintenance Specialist, interfiles a box of microfiche. The Stacks Maintenance staff shelve and reshelve almost 5,000 items each week and keep library materials in order so that they’re easy for library users to find.
West Campus Quad: A school group stops in front of the Rubenstein Library during a campus tour. Hundreds of tours come through the main West Campus library complex every year.
West Campus Quad: A school group stops in front of the Rubenstein Library during a campus tour. Hundreds of tours come through the main West Campus library complex every year.
Tarasoff Meeting Room, Perkins Library: Collections and User Services staff meet to review mockups for an upcoming redesign of the Duke University Libraries website. The new website will be launched in August 2013.
Tarasoff Meeting Room, Perkins Library: Collections and User Services staff meet to review mockups for an upcoming redesign of the Duke University Libraries website. The new website will be launched in August 2013.
Server Closet, Perkins Library: Brad Williams (left), Head of Core Services, and Erick Larson, Senior System Administrator, check on the servers that power the Libraries’ rapidly expanding digital infrastructure.
Server Closet, Perkins Library: Brad Williams (left), Head of Core Services, and Erick Larson, Senior System Administrator, check on the servers that power the Libraries’ rapidly expanding digital infrastructure.
Smith Warehouse, Rubenstein Library Technical Services: Paula Mangiafico, Senior Processing Archivist in Rubenstein Library Technical Services, photographs an eighteenth-century paper doll self-portrait by Hermanus van Kleef, a Dutchman who died in 1775 at the age of 104. The item was an unexpected find while Mangiafico was processing materials in the History of Medicine Collections. Such curious discoveries are one of the daily joys of being an archivist.
Smith Warehouse, Rubenstein Library Technical Services: Paula Mangiafico, Senior Processing Archivist in Rubenstein Library Technical Services, photographs an eighteenth-century paper doll self-portrait by Hermanus van Kleef, a Dutchman who died in 1775 at the age of 104. The item was an unexpected find while Mangiafico was processing materials in the History of Medicine Collections. Such curious discoveries are one of the daily joys of being an archivist.
Outside Bostock Library: Graduate student workers Drew Monger (left) and Matthias Kimmel collect books from one of the bookdrops outside Perkins and Bostock Libraries. The Libraries employ around 200 student workers each year. From checking out books to scanning documents, troubleshooting computers, shelving journals, and answering patron questions, students assist in almost every aspect of the Libraries’ day-to-day operations.
Outside Bostock Library: Graduate student workers Drew Monger (left) and Matthias Kimmel collect books from one of the bookdrops outside Perkins and Bostock Libraries. The Libraries employ around 200 student workers each year. From checking out books to scanning documents, troubleshooting computers, shelving journals, and answering patron questions, students assist in almost every aspect of the Libraries’ day-to-day operations.
Rubenstein Library: Daniel Strunk, a junior political science and economics double-major, looks at comic books from the Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library. He’s working on a research paper about the Justice League of America series for Dean Gerald Wilson’s seminar, “Leadership in American History.” The Rubenstein Library is home to one of the largest archival comics collections in the world.
Rubenstein Library: Daniel Strunk, a junior political science and economics double-major, looks at comic books from the Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library. He’s working on a research paper about the Justice League of America series for Dean Gerald Wilson’s seminar, “Leadership in American History.” The Rubenstein Library is home to one of the largest archival comics collections in the world.
Electrical Closet, Perkins Library: Desktop Support Analyst Paul Wilshire works on the Ethernet circuits that provide wired and wireless internet access throughout Perkins and Bostock Libraries.
Electrical Closet, Perkins Library: Desktop Support Analyst Paul Wilshire works on the Ethernet circuits that provide wired and wireless internet access throughout Perkins and Bostock Libraries.
Rubenstein Library: Workers set up scaffolding to remove a tapestry in the tower staircase of the Rubenstein Library. The tapestry is being removed in preparation for the upcoming library renovation. It has been on loan to the Libraries since 1986 from the Nasher Museum and will return to its proper home.
Rubenstein Library: Workers set up scaffolding to remove a tapestry in the tower staircase of the Rubenstein Library. The tapestry is being removed in preparation for the upcoming library renovation. It has been on loan to the Libraries since 1986 from the Nasher Museum and will return to its proper home.
Services Desk, Perkins Library: Tzvetan Benov supervises the Perkins Library Service Desk in the evening. Library users check out more than 619,000 books and other items from the Libraries every year.
Services Desk, Perkins Library: Tzvetan Benov supervises the Perkins Library Service Desk in the evening. Library users check out more than 619,000 books and other items from the Libraries every year.
The Link: At night, Perkins and Bostock Libraries come alive. Students make use of white board walls in the Link as they work on end-of-the-semester projects and prepare for final exams.
The Link: At night, Perkins and Bostock Libraries come alive. Students make use of white board walls in the Link as they work on end-of-the-semester projects and prepare for final exams.
Rubenstein Library, Outside Rare Book Room: Robert Autry, a licensed locksmith who works in the Facilities Management Key and Lock Shop, pauses to look at an exhibit on broadsides from the Rubenstein Library. Autry is in charge of keeping doors and locks in working order all over campus, including card readers, vault locks, file cabinets, building keys, and other secure access points throughout the Libraries.
Rubenstein Library, Outside Rare Book Room: Robert Autry, a licensed locksmith who works in the Facilities Management Key and Lock Shop, pauses to look at an exhibit on broadsides from the Rubenstein Library. Autry is in charge of keeping doors and locks in working order all over campus, including card readers, vault locks, file cabinets, building keys, and other secure access points throughout the Libraries.
Music Library: Music Librarian Laura Williams (right) and musicology Ph.D. candidate Samantha Arten examine a recently acquired facsimile of the Squarcialupi Codex (c. 1410), a lavishly illuminated manuscript of fourteenth-century Italian music.
Music Library: Music Librarian Laura Williams (right) and musicology Ph.D. candidate Samantha Arten examine a recently acquired facsimile of the Squarcialupi Codex (c. 1410), a lavishly illuminated manuscript of fourteenth-century Italian music.
Library Administration Office: Administrative Office Staff Assistant Lynell Wiggins (left) and Jameca Dupree, Financial Analyst in the Business Office, track recent travel and business expenses and keep an eye on the Libraries’ budget.
Library Administration Office: Administrative Office Staff Assistant Lynell Wiggins (left) and Jameca Dupree, Financial Analyst in the Business Office, track recent travel and business expenses and keep an eye on the Libraries’ budget.
Verne and Tanya Roberts Conservation Lab: Tedd Anderson, Conservation Technician, builds a custom enclosure for a nineteenth-century patent model for a cigarette rolling machine. It’s just one example of the many kinds of non-book materials the Libraries collect. Over the last year, the Conservation Services Department has made or fitted some 8,500 custom enclosures for materials that had to be moved for the Rubenstein Library renovation.
Verne and Tanya Roberts Conservation Lab: Tedd Anderson, Conservation Technician, builds a custom enclosure for a nineteenth-century patent model for a cigarette rolling machine. It’s just one example of the many kinds of non-book materials the Libraries collect. Over the last year, the Conservation Services Department has made or fitted some 8,500 custom enclosures for materials that had to be moved for the Rubenstein Library renovation.
Smith Warehouse: Yoriko Dixon, Order and Receipts Specialist for Japanese Language Materials, catalogs newly purchased Korean titles. Her computer is equipped with a special stylus and pad that allows her to write in Japanese or Korean script, which the computer can read.
Smith Warehouse: Yoriko Dixon, Order and Receipts Specialist for Japanese Language Materials, catalogs newly purchased Korean titles. Her computer is equipped with a special stylus and pad that allows her to write in Japanese or Korean script, which the computer can read.
Pearse Memorial Library, Duke Marine Lab, Beaufort, NC: Janil Miller, Librarian at the Duke Marine Lab, has just picked up some new books to put on reserve for a course on the biology and conservation of sea turtles. The course includes a field expedition to Puerto Rico to study the turtles in their natural habitat. The only Duke library with an ocean view, the Marine Lab Library primarily collects books, scholarly periodicals, and other resources focused on the marine environment.
Pearse Memorial Library, Duke Marine Lab, Beaufort, NC: Janil Miller, Librarian at the Duke Marine Lab, has just picked up some new books to put on reserve for a course on the biology and conservation of sea turtles. The course includes a field expedition to Puerto Rico to study the turtles in their natural habitat. The only Duke library with an ocean view, the Marine Lab Library primarily collects books, scholarly periodicals, and other resources focused on the marine environment.
Smith Warehouse: Shelia Webb, Accounting Invoice Specialist in Acquisitions, shows what $16 million in invoices looks like. That’s approximately how much the Libraries spend each year to purchase collection materials. The money comes from university-allocated funds, endowments, grants, and gifts.
Smith Warehouse: Shelia Webb, Accounting Invoice Specialist in Acquisitions, shows what $16 million in invoices looks like. That’s approximately how much the Libraries spend each year to purchase collection materials. The money comes from university-allocated funds, endowments, grants, and gifts.
The Link: The Link Media Wall features innovative multimedia projects by Duke students and faculty, like this one on gothic architecture.
The Link: The Link Media Wall features innovative multimedia projects by Duke students and faculty, like this one on gothic architecture.
Verne and Tanya Roberts Conservation Lab: Senior psychology major and work-study student Kaiti Dunlap builds custom enclosures for the Rubenstein Library’s fragile historical newspaper collection.
Verne and Tanya Roberts Conservation Lab: Senior psychology major and work-study student Kaiti Dunlap builds custom enclosures for the Rubenstein Library’s fragile historical newspaper collection.
Perkins Library: Who says print is dead? Students take advantage of free printing in the Libraries through ePrint, a popular campus-wide service.
Perkins Library: Who says print is dead? Students take advantage of free printing in the Libraries through ePrint, a popular campus-wide service.
Von der Heyden Pavilion: Saladelia staff dish up coffee and tasty treats to an average 2,000 customers a day.

Von der Heyden Pavilion: Saladelia staff dish up coffee and tasty treats to an average 2,000 customers a day.
And it alll happens in the course of another beautiful day at Duke!
Outside Perkins and Bostock Libraries: And it all happens in the course of another beautiful day at Duke!

Visualize This: The Duke Intellectual Climate Committee Report

This infographic by Amanda Peralta was one of five finalists in the Libraries' first data visualization contest. Click on the image to enlarge.
This infographic by Amanda Peralta was one of the finalists in our first data visualization contest. Click on the image to enlarge.

This infographic summarizes key findings of the 2012 Duke Intellectual Climate Committee report. The report was commissioned by Duke’s student government in the wake of several media controversies to gain an understanding of what, if anything, should be improved about the university’s intellectual climate.

In partnership with Duke Institutional Research, the Intellectual Climate Committee conducted a student body survey. Committee chair Amanda Peralta then led an effort to analyze the survey results and develop appropriate visual representations.

In addition to providing valuable insights about campus life, the infographic was one of five finalists in our first data visualization contest, organized by the Libraries’ Data and GIS Services department. A panel of five judges from across campus evaluated submissions based on aesthetics and design, technical merit, the ability of the visualization to tell a story and generate insights, and novelty.

The purpose of the contest was to highlight outstanding data visualization work at Duke, and to celebrate recent upgrades to our lab space in Perkins Library, the Brandaleone Family Center for Data and GIS Services. To see more data visualizations by Duke students, visit our data visualization contest gallery on Flickr. To see the Intellectual Climate Committee report and full set of visualizations, visit the committee’s website.

Botanical Treasures from Duke’s Hidden Library

Herbarium-Exhibit-Banner-Image

When you hear the word herbarium, you might think herb garden. Not so.

Instead, think of an herbarium as a kind of library of preserved plants. But instead of shelves upon shelves of books, an herbarium contains cabinets upon cabinets of dried and labeled plant specimens. Unlike most books in a library, which can be repurchased or duplicated, each herbarium specimen is truly unique. It is a representative of plant biodiversity at a particular place and time in the history of life on earth.

A new exhibit in Perkins Library explores the beauty and importance of herbaria in furthering our understanding of the natural world and highlights our own “hidden library” of plants right here on campus—the Duke Herbarium.

Close-up of the flowers of Physaria, commonly known as twinpod or bladderpod.
Close-up of the flowers of Physaria, commonly known as twinpod or bladderpod.

The Duke Herbarium, located in the Biological Sciences Building next to the French Family Science Center, is one of the largest herbaria in the United States and the second largest at a private U.S. university (after Harvard). With more than 800,000 specimens of vascular plants, bryophytes, algae, lichens, and fungi, the Duke Herbarium is a unique and irreplaceable resource used by local, national, and international scientific communities.

The role of herbaria in housing and protecting plant specimens is invaluable. Herbaria are where biologists turn to identify plant species, check the validity of a newly described species, track how a species has changed over time, and even analyze how entire landscapes have been altered. Herbarium specimens can yield information to help us better protect our planet. This is especially important today, when humans have a greater impact on the environment and plants are exposed to conditions they never would have encountered just a century ago.

Botanical Treasures from Duke’s Hidden Library examines the work of the Duke Herbarium, explains how plant specimens are collected, and highlights some surprising stories from the field, like how Duke biologists recently named a newly discovered genus of ferns after Lady Gaga!

The exhibit was curated by Layne Huiet, Senior Research Scientist and Vascular Plants Collections Manager, Duke Herbarium; Tiff Shao T’12 (Biology), Associate in Research, Duke Herbarium; Anne Johnson T’13 (Biology); and Kathleen Pryer, Professor of Biology and Director of the Duke Herbarium.

For more information, visit the exhibit website, or check out the website of the Duke Herbarium.

Trillium sulcatum, or Southern Red Trillium. The Duke Herbarium houses over 800,000 plant specimens.
Trillium sulcatum, or Southern Red Trillium. The Duke Herbarium houses over 800,000 plant specimens.

Mellon Grant Supports Digital Classics at Duke

Duke University Libraries will use new technologies to analyze some of the world’s oldest documents and artifacts through a new Duke Collaboratory for Classics Computing (DC3), a unit of Duke Libraries that will advance scholarship in both classical studies and the digital humanities.

Made possible by a $500,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the DC3 will be led by a faculty director, Joshua D. Sosin, associate professor of classical studies and history at Duke, who will also assume a joint appointment within the Libraries.

This is the first time a tenured faculty member at Duke has an appointment in both the Libraries and an academic department. Sosin will continue to teach and serve as an active member of the faculty of Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, dividing his time between the Department of Classical Studies and the Libraries.

Joshua D. Sosin, Associate Professor of Classical Studies and History, and Director of the Duke Collaboratory for Classics Computing.
Joshua D. Sosin, Associate Professor of Classical Studies and History, and Director of the Duke Collaboratory for Classics Computing.

“There is no precedent for what we’re doing,” said Deborah Jakubs, Rita DiGiallonardo Holloway University Librarian and Vice Provost for Library Affairs. “Librarians have been ‘embedded’ in various departments on campus for years, but we’ve never had a faculty member embedded in our work like this. This hybrid appointment will be a major step forward in establishing new roles and relationships among faculty and libraries that are the foundation for advancing scholarship.”

Classics was one of the first disciplines in the humanities to embrace digitization and computational analysis, and Duke has long been one of the leading institutions in the field.

In the 1980s, the late Duke professors of Classical Studies William H. Willis and John F. Oates launched the Duke Databank of Documentary Papyri, which featured digital transcriptions of Greek and Latin texts written on ancient wooden tablets, papyri and pottery. Some of these transcriptions come from Duke’s own collection of papyri, part of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library. The databank now includes some 60,000 published Latin and Greek texts preserved at Duke and many other institutions around the world.

In 1996, Duke was among the first universities to digitize its papyri collection and make it freely available online, and the first to allow crowd-sourced editing of digitized texts by anyone in the service of scholarly knowledge. The online collection is widely used today by ancient historians, archaeologists, biblical scholars, classicists, Egyptologists and students of literature.

“The library is one of the few academic organizations with a core mandate to embrace both past and future,” said Sosin. “That’s heaven for an ancient historian, whose focus is ancient documents and the modern technologies we bring to bear on them. I’ve been collaborating with library colleagues for years, at Duke and elsewhere, and I’m thrilled now to be joining their team.”

Sosin now co-directs the Duke Databank of Documentary Papyri and serves on the executive committee of the Advanced Papyrological Information System, a consortium of papyri-holding institutions working to digitize and integrate their papyri collections online. He is also associate editor of the online open-access journal Greek, Roman & Byzantine Studies.

Sosin’s research focuses on the intersection of law, religion and the economy in ancient Greece and Rome as preserved in papyri and ancient inscriptions. But he has also been actively involved for years in the development of digital infrastructures for humanities research.

Papyri fragment from Duke’s collection. Duke was one of the first universities to digitize its papyri collection and make it freely available online.
Papyri fragment from Duke’s collection. Duke was one of the first universities to digitize its papyri collection and make it freely available online.

Sosin has led an international team of classicists, programmers and information scientists in another Mellon-sponsored project to bring four major digital resources in papyrology under a common technical framework (papyri.info) and open them up to crowd-based, peer-reviewed editing.

As faculty director of the DC3, Sosin will lead a team of two full-time programmers to enhance Duke’s existing digital papyrology projects and design new technological experiments with broad applicability within and beyond the field of classics. The DC3 will act as an incubator for innovative humanities scholarship and complement Duke’s other initiatives to re-imagine the role of the humanities in higher education, including the Franklin Humanities Institute’s humanities laboratories and the five-year Humanities Writ Large initiative in undergraduate education (also supported by the Mellon Foundation). Duke President Richard Brodhead has praised the humanities as “the fire that never goes out.” Interdisciplinary research is one of the priorities of Duke Forward, the $3.25 billion university-wide fundraising campaign launched in September.

The DC3 will officially launch in July 2013 and will be housed in Duke’s Bostock Library. Its first major initiative, according to Sosin, will likely involve Greek and Latin epigraphy, the world of public documents inscribed in stone that have survived from antiquity.

Of Pages and Pages: Dumbwaiters, Tubes, and Library Innovations 1940s-Style

By Cameron Howard

Libraries have always been early and enthusiastic adopters of technology. But it’s easy to forget how the latest innovations can quickly come to seem outdated and quaint.

As we gear up for the renovation of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, we pause to remember a time not so long ago when the state-of-the-art in library science wasn’t digitized books and mobile apps, but dumbwaiters and pneumatic tubes.

The General Library circulation desk in the 1940s, showing double booklift doors (and indicator lights) at left.
The General Library circulation desk in the 1940s, showing double booklift doors (and indicator lights) at left.

Today, when you need a book from Perkins Library, you simply check the online catalog and head to the stacks to retrieve it. But if you were a Duke student in the 1940s and 1950s, you followed a very different procedure. First, you consulted the card catalog and wrote the call number on a slip of paper. Then you handed that to a staff member at the Circulation Desk (located at that time outside the Gothic Reading Room). The staff member put the slip of paper in a small metal canister with plastic or rubber ends, inserted the canister into a metal pneumatic tube, and pressed a button or foot pedal. Through the magic of compressed air, the canister then shot to the appropriate floor of the stacks, where a page would be waiting at the tube terminal. The page located your book and summoned an electric “booklift” or dumbwaiter. With the press of a button, the booklift would lower your book to a small door behind the Circulation Desk, where it finally found its way into your hands. Presto! What could be more modern and convenient?

Although the dumbwaiter shafts have long since been walled in and the pneumatic tube system hasn’t been used in over fifty years, some of the terminals and tubes can still be seen in the part of the library that is about to be renovated.

Pneumatic tube terminal in the 1948 library stacks.
Pneumatic tube terminal in the 1948 library stacks.

Pneumatic tubes had been in use since the nineteenth century in post offices, banks, stores, hotels, offices, and factories to transport messages, orders, money, and even small packages. Such systems could be extremely elaborate: about eighteen miles of tubes crisscrossed large department stores like Macy’s and Gimbels. The Lamson Engineering Company dominated the market. A Lamson sales pamphlet from 1930 boasts that their pneumatic tube systems are so ubiquitous in large retail stores that “no introduction to that class of service is necessary,” but that after years of experience and research, the company “can successfully adapt our service to any class of business that requires rapid and positive communication between two or more points.”

In 1948, Duke University was one such business. The main library on West Campus (then known simply as the General Library) was undergoing a major expansion that would effectively double its size. At that time, the library had closed stacks, which meant they were off-limits to most patrons. (Only faculty, graduate students, and some honors seniors were allowed to browse on their own.) Duke called on Lamson to install a tube system to help manage the flow of requests and materials between the original 1928 stacks, the newly constructed 1948 stacks, and the Circulation Desk. Some of Lamson’s tube terminals were ornately decorated with flower and vine motifs, but Duke had basic models with LAMSON stamped on the bend and a wire basket underneath the tube opening to catch the canisters.

Canister from the library’s 1940s pneumatic tube system.
Canister from the library’s 1940s pneumatic tube system.

While such a system was efficient and effective in Macy’s, it proved ill-suited to Duke. A lack of staff meant each page was assigned to at least two floors, which caused delays if a request arrived when the page was deep in the stacks or on his “other” floor (or in the bathroom, for that matter). Although Lamson manufactured “independent terminals” from which messages could be sent and received, the system in Duke’s library only went one way: from the Circulation Desk to the stacks. This meant that the pages could not communicate with the Circulation staff if they had questions, causing further delays. Eventually, it became clear that it was more efficient simply to keep the pages on duty at the Circulation Desk and send them upstairs with requests than to station them at the tube terminals. The tubes fell out of use by the late 1950s or early 1960s, though the stacks remained closed until the 1970s. Although library pneumatic tube systems were never common, and most fell out of use decades ago, Duke was not the only university to have one. The Bodleian Library at Oxford still used a pneumatic tube system up until 2010!

Some of the tubes, canisters, air compressors, and motors that powered the dumbwaiters and pneumatic tubes have been rediscovered as the library undergoes renovations. With the upcoming renovation, the pneumatic tube system will be removed as the old library stacks are completely reconfigured to provide better environmental controls and security for archival collections. But not everything will be scrapped. One of the original metal canisters is still kept in the Duke University Archives, a reminder of the not-so-distant past when knowledge moved at the speed of air.

Cameron Howard graduated from Duke in 2009 and from UW-Madison with a Masters in Film Studies in 2012. She now works as a writer in Durham and blogs at sallycooks.com.

 

Check out the Flickr slideshow below to see more photos of the pneumatic tubes, dumbwaiters, and historical technological infrastructure of the library.