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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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’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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.