Category Archives: Just for Fun

Sometimes it takes a village, especially the first time.

I catalog manuscript and other archival materials, the majority of which are unpublished and not described. They also cover a wide variety in type of material. Among the more exotic finds I have cataloged: a salesmen’s kit with patterns for men’s suits, musical instruments used by a jazz percussionist, feminist t-shirts, John Brown commemorative medals, and envelopes of 19-century bath and other powders.

Last Spring we acquired the Lisa Unger Baskin collection, which features five centuries of women’s history. Among the items is a work of needlepoint, a flower study, completed by Charlotte Brontë around 1840. I had never cataloged a work of needlepoint.


When faced with an unfamiliar format, a cataloger begins by looking for similar materials cataloged by colleagues nationally, searching in WorldCat. I found only a few pieces of embroidery, usually samplers, and those did not include extensive description of the item. I was determined to provide more detail than a basic record.

Fortunately, our donor had included with the Brontë needlepoint a photocopy from a book on Brontë artwork. The page focused on a flower study Charlotte had completed in watercolors while she was still in school. It offered a description of the piece which provided the level of detail I was seeking, so I based my own approach on it. However, to move forward with this approach I needed to confirm what flowers were depicted in Charlotte’s needlepoint study.

There was no argument that the top flower is a white lily. I felt the bottom left flower was a peony, while others said it was a rose. I had no clue what the bottom right flower might be. Who to consult? I approached a colleague who hails from England, and she offered to forward my photograph of the needlepoint to her father, who is a master gardener. After consulting his references, he agreed that the bottom left flower is a peony, and determined that the unknown flower on the bottom right is probably a carnation.


I also had to consult with Beth Doyle, head of our Conservation Services Department, regarding whether Charlotte’s needlepoint should be removed from its frame. While answering this question (no) Beth let me know the thread Charlotte used was probably wool. Beth’s mother is a master needleworker who may be able to determine what type of stitch Charlotte used.

Using all of this information, I wrote a description that provided the level of detail I was seeking, to give someone a basic mental image of the piece they would then find in our collection. However, even after I finished my initial work, one more consultation was required. My colleague, Lauren Reno, checked my catalogue record in RDA, the new cataloging standard I am applying to manuscript materials. She made several helpful enhancements.

I am very grateful for the “village” of people I can call upon in support of my work.

You can find the catalog record for the needlework here.

Post contributed by Alice Poffinberger, Archivist/Original Cataloger in the Technical Services Dept.

Screamfest III: The Cutening

Date: Thursday, October 29, 2015
Time: 2:00-4:00 PM
Location: Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room
Contact: Amy McDonald,

Y’all, we hear you. The semester is getting more and more intense and sometimes Duke is just so . . . gothic, you know? Sometimes you just need to eat some free candy and look at cute things. And what better time to do that than in celebration of that traditionally cute holiday, Halloween?

Your cuddly Rubenstein librarians would like to invite you to visit us for Screamfest III, an open house featuring creepy ADORABLE things from our collections.

Halloween Postcard
Like this postcard of these sweet black kitty-cats, bringing you Halloween joys in their happy hot air pumpkins.

Illustration from Opera Omnia Anatomico-Medico-Chirurgica, ca. 1737.

Or this illustration of these precious babies from our History of Medicine Collection’s Opera Omnia Anatomico-Medico-Chirurgica by Frederik Ruysch. Yes, fine, they’re skeleton babies, and they’re standing on a pile of human organs, but they’re totally listening to a song by The Wiggles.

Ghost at the Library. From the 1984 Chanticleer.

You can also page through the 1984 Chanticleer to view the photos of this friendly library ghost, who just wants to bring you fuzzy slippers so you can study comfortably.

Demon Miniature from Edwin and Terry Murray Collection of Role-Playing Games.

And sure, scourge and sword-wielding demons are very scary when they’re life-sized. But swing by our open house and you’ll be able to bravely make kissy-faces at this little dude (paperclip for scale) from the Edwin and Terry Murray Collection of Role-Playing Games.

In fact, we promise that there will be so much cuteness (and candy) that, well, you might die. See you there!

Now We Are Six!

Guess what? Today, this blog turns

SIX (in paperclips)
Designed and photographed by Katrina Martin

We figure that blog years are roughly equivalent to dog years, so . . . we’ve been around a while. Around for 826 posts, to be exact.

Armfuls of thanks to our tireless and creative blog editors, our gracefully articulate and fascinating co-workers, and—most of all—our luminous and supportive readers.

And HT to Beth at Preservation Underground (our delightful and beloved partner blog), who always remembers our birthday. We love blogging with you!

Meet the Staff: Megan Ó Connell


Megan Ó Connell is the Rubenstein’s Reproduction Services Manager.  Megan has been a part of the Duke library system since 2006, when she served as a University Archives intern. She joined the library full-time in 2009.

Tell us about your academic background and interests.

I have always been interested in the cultural record left by humans. I studied Anthropology, with a focus on American archaeology, and I worked in Southeastern and Gulf Coast archaeology for many years. After studying what can be learned from the unintentional record left by artifacts, I wanted to interact with the intentional/communicative record, as it was left in the past and continuing into the “futurepast,” that is, the present. Rare books and archives satisfied that wish.

What are the main projects you work on at the Rubenstein?

I manage the patron reproduction requests, including those made by both onsite and remote researchers, ensuring that the most appropriate technology is used based on the specific items and desired output; liaise with onsite and offsite services; and deliver requests as efficiently as possible while maintaining high quality and providing RL’s acclaimed customer service. Exponentially increasing numbers of library users want digital versions of our materials, and these researchers often cannot do the reproductions themselves, so I help ensure that they get what they need for their research, whether they live in Durham or Durban.


What does an average day look like for you?
On most days I log new reproduction requests; route materials to be used in requests; examine materials for reproduce-ability; discuss options and approaches with technical specialists, RL staff, and my student assistant; and communicate with staff and patrons about technical considerations and goals. I may do some reading on specific media types, technologies, or techniques; troubleshoot imaging equipment maintenance issues; train staff on processes; or communicate with vendors. I assist researchers about 12 hours a week on the Reading Room desk, and also work on general reference questions, many of which  lead to reproduction requests.

What do you like best about your job?

I love seeing (and hearing) the panoply of treasures we hold at the Rubenstein — pamphlets, photographs, beautiful bound volumes, maps, vintage sound and film recordings, broadsides, artists’ books, zines, ads, papyri… and I enjoy learning about how researchers are using this richness to ask intriguing questions and shed light on cultural phenomena. People might be surprised to know that our library is so busy that we produce around 20,000 digital reproductions per year for patron requests! I enjoy helping our diverse researchers, from students to professors to authors to genealogists, and working with people all over the globe, learning about their lives – and often connecting with them on a personal level. It is gratifying to be able to be a part of so many efforts to illuminate aspects of human existence.

Do you have a favorite piece or collection at The Rubenstein? Why?

I love the H. Lee Waters films because while Waters intended to create a record, unlike most documentaries, the intended audience was the subjects themselves. The films’ subjects were caught in their everyday activities, yet they were very aware of the camera’s presence, and many behaved as if they were amusing their friends, rather than consciously creating a historical record. It’s just fun to watch the subjects ham it up, although the quick cuts can be a bit dizzying after a while.

Where can you be found when you’re not working? 

I enjoy nature walks, photography, reading, hiking, canoeing, gardening, fishing, and playing music.

What book is on your nightstand/in your carryall right now?

The John McPhee Reader.

Interview composed and photographs taken by Katrina Martin. 

Praline Thumbprint Cookies (1989) – Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen:

Now that we’re all moved into our new building, we’re excited to bring back our test kitchen series! New here? On the fourth Friday of every month we share a recipe from our collections that one of our staff members has found, prepared, and tasted.

The Campus Club has been around since 1914, starting out as a social and educational group for the wives of faculty members. Open to all women of Duke, the Campus Club is a social and activity group that hosts a wide variety of events and interest groups. Interest groups meet regularly, allowing members to explore new foods, drink, activities, and culture. A long-lasting and highly active group within the Campus Club is the Morning Gourmet group, which selects a particular topic or theme and invites members to prepare a dish related to the topic or theme, bring the dish, and share the recipe with the group.

Processing a recent accession from the Campus Club, I was distracted again and again by the many intriguing recipes this group has tried over the years. Some themes were related to national or cultural cuisines, others to parts of a meal or an ingredient. But when I stumbled across the Praline Thumbprints, I found my personal winner.

praline thumbprint


This is a very recent recipe from an archivist’s perspective, appearing in a 1989 Southern Living (I was actually alive when this recipe was published, so: recent). It seemed very simple and straightforward, with modern measurements and guidance, and seemed like no problem at all. I’ll admit here that the above image is a photocopy I made of the original item in the collection, which is itself a typed version of the recipe as it appeared in the magazine. After a bit of digging, I discovered the recipe appeared in the May 1989 issue of Southern Living, in an article titled “Moms and Daughters Bake Cookies,” and you can see a PDF copy of the original through Duke’s subscription to the electronic version of Southern Living here (libraries hooray!). This also led me to discover that the version in the Campus Club records includes comments, recommendations, and modifications by the person who typed it up, and which were very helpful.

praline thumbprint 2

I got my ingredients together and got rolling. The first thing I needed to do was grind up some pecans nice and fine. I bought some pecans in bulk at Whole Foods (this is cheaper than buying pre-ground or bagged pecans, but requires an extra step) and put them briefly through the food processor to get them finely ground.

praline thumbprint 3

Then I mixed together the cookie ingredients and got a pretty sticky dough, with lovely bits of pecan mixed in. I rolled it up into balls as instructed, but I am not so good at accurately replicating the size mentioned in recipes. I also only have one cookie sheet and a very tiny oven, so the shaping and baking part took me a while.

praline thumbprint 4

Eventually I shaped, placed, pressed, and baked the cookies until I had many scooped cookies. I ended up with probably close to the 4-5 dozen described in the recipe (I didn’t count, but it seemed like a lot). I don’t have a picture of the plain baked cookies, but it should be noted that since they do not contain any egg, they are a little powdery and can crumble very easily.

praline thumbprint 5

Due to underestimating the amount of time it would take me to actually get all the cookies finished, I didn’t get a chance to make the praline topping until two days later, at which time I had several fewer cookies to fill. I added the ingredients to a pan I usually use for candy-making (a regular, good-quality pan with a thick bottom).

praline thumbprint 6

The praline filling is essentially a candy, and candy-making can sometimes be tricky. I have a candy thermometer, but I recommend in this recipe paying a little more attention to the time passing than to the precise temperature. I was very concerned with getting to the recommended temperature, which took waaaaaay longer than the prescribed two minutes, and the candy set up before I could finish scooping it onto the cookies, leaving me with a pan like this:

praline thumbprint 7

Luckily, it’s pretty much just sugar and will dissolve in hot water. But even though it set sooner than I expected, it didn’t get really hard and I could still cram it into the cookies. And it was SO. WORTH IT. This stuff is AMAZING. All those little crumbly bits at the bottom of the pan were extra; the recipe even notes you’ll make more filling than cookies. Maybe I was supposed to make three batches of cookies and two of filling? LOL, no. That’s too much work and the extra filling was crazy good on its own. I recommend putting it on ice cream or just eating it with a spoon (no judgments).

praline thumbprint 8

I ended with some pretty nice looking and definitely delicious cookies. They were very popular when I brought them to work (safely quarantined from the materials) and had some friends take some home, which is the only thing that prevented me from eating them all myself. As mentioned above, the cookies are a bit crumbly and I accidentally made the praline a bit crumbly as well, so be warned: just put the whole thing in your mouth at once.

More recipes tried by the Morning Gourmet group and lots of other information about the Campus Club can be found in the records described in this collection guide.

Post Contributed by Tracy Jackson, Technical Services Archivist for University Archives

Accidental Collections part 2

Previously I have written about what I termed an “accidental collection” that occurred with collections of print ads cut from magazines, whereby frequently interesting and equally historical ads appear on the back side of the ad that was intentionally collected. Accidental collections remain hidden unless there is some way to document their presence. Unfortunately, there are not many mechanisms in current archival description “best practices” to document them.

Recently I’ve encountered another and quite different kind of accidental collection. I’m currently working with the Cause Marketing Forum’s Halo Awards collection recently acquired by the Hartman Center.  This award is given to projects that utilize marketing and media to promote social causes via partnerships between businesses and nonprofit organizations such as Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, Ronald McDonald House, Boys and Girls Clubs of America and the USO among many others. While “cause marketing” as a term may not be a familiar one, the campaigns form a significant part of businesses’ and nonprofits’ marketing efforts and many are probably well known to you: Race for the Cure; VH1 Save the Music; Cartoon Network’s Rescue Recess; Lee National Denim Day; and at holiday time your favorite department store has likely teamed up with the likes of Toys for Tots, the Salvation Army or a local food bank or rescue shelter. That’s cause marketing.


The Halo Awards collection contains over a decade’s worth of the award’s entry forms and accompanying documentation, the latter which arrives in a wide variety of formats. One really interesting format here is an amazing variety of promotional thumb drives. Many simply feature a corporate logo or slogan, perhaps a website URL, but others feature artwork or have designs that can range from the emblematic to the whimsical. Time Warner’s “Connect a Million Minds” drive forms a bracelet, while the National Association of Realtors’ drive looks like a block of wood. A drive for New Balance imitates a running shoe where the heel pulls off to reveal the drive connection.  EMTec’s drive resembles a cartoon character whose head comes off, and a drive for Chevron is a toy car where the connection slides out from the rear.



Together these promotional drives form a collection of their own, as artifacts and ephemera representing a form of media belonging to a very particular time (in this case, the past 6 or 7 years). One day the design and promotional nature of these drives may take on an historical importance of its own apart from the significance of the contents of the drives for the collection to which they originally belong. This kind of thing frequently poses a dilemma for archivists and conservators: the relative significance and archival value of the contents of a document or medium versus the form of the media itself. How does one evaluate and/or value the vessel? Is it possible to describe collections within collections, or do the conditions of possibility of one mode of description preclude others?



Post contributed by Rick Collier; photographs by Katrina Martin

Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Rush on the quality he values “more than all things”


While processing the Benjamin Rush papers, which will soon be digitized and available online, Alice Poffinberger, Archivist/Original Cataloger, came across a letter from Thomas Jefferson to fellow Founding Father Dr. Benjamin Rush. The letter, dated January 3, 1808, requests that Rush grant Jefferson’s teenage grandson his “friendly attentions” when he moves to Philadelphia the coming autumn.  Though unnamed in the letter, the grandson in question is Thomas Jefferson Randolph, who attended the University of Pennsylvania from  1808 to 1809.

Stating that he is “without that bright fancy that captivates,” Jefferson hopes the fifteen-year-old “possesses sound judgment and much observation” in addition to the quality he values “more than all things, good humor.”  Jefferson goes on to list the qualities of the mind he appreciates as good humor, integrity, industry, and science. Following this list, he claims “The preference of the 1st to the 2nd quality may not at first be acquiesced in, but certainly we had all rather associate with a good humored light-principled man, than an ill-tempered rigorist in morality.”



Randolph would go on to serve six terms in the Virginia House of Delegates and manage his grandfather’s sizable debts as the sole executor of his estate.

Post contributed by Katrina Martin, Technical Services Assistant. 

Move Diary: Week 4

Today marks the end of week 4 of the move, which included us passing the move’s halfway point!

The Rubenstein staff and the team of movers we’ve contracted have been sorting print materials into LC order as they move to their new, permanent homes. From the tiniest 12vos to behemoth folios, thousands of books are now on the new shelves.

One of the highlights of the move is getting to see such a large swath of our collections at once. From books that carry history in their margins to those with covers that are just plain pretty, it’s stunning to see the range and depth of our print collection passed in front of us day in and day out.

Here are some highlights from team #movenstein this week:

photographic history - meghan
Photo by Meghan Lyon
chafing dish - meghan
A prize find- photo by Meghan Lyon
dragon cover - kelly
All the pretty dragons, photo by Kelly Wooten
woman man's equal - tracy
Photo by Tracy Jackson
plant history
Plant history from 1644, photo by Katrina Martin


Manuscripts from all of our collecting areas are making their way onto the shelves, too. The Aleph Dream Team has been busy sorting boxes and flipping call numbers as the boxes move.

manuscripts - katrina
Katrina and The Boxes
farrell tracy
Tracy Jackson and Matthew Farrel troubleshoot some finicky shelves

The stacks aren’t the only place that saw some updates this week. The Gothic Reading Room is now outfitted with its tables and chairs. We can’t wait for August 24th when this place is full of researchers enjoying the new space. reading room

Until next week!

Remembering Harold Feinstein

The Rubenstein Library has learned that photographer Harold Feinstein passed away on June 20th at the age of 84.   Feinstein was one of the original inhabitants of the “Jazz Loft” at 821 Sixth Avenue in New York City.  His singular photographic work, and his association with other occupants of 821 Sixth Avenue, including W. Eugene Smith, composer Hall Overton, and artist David X. Young,  led in 2004 to his being interviewed by Sam Stephenson for the Jazz Loft Project.  The Project was archived by the Rubenstein Library in 2012-2013, and includes streaming files of many of Stephenson’s interviews. We include the interview with Harold Feinstein here in its entirety.  See also the obituary in the New York Times.

Tape 1:

Tape 2:

Tape 3:

Post contributed by Craig Breaden, Audiovisual Archivist. 

Meet the Staff: Craig Breaden

CB devil's tale 017

The Meet Our Staff series features Q&A interviews with Rubenstein staff members about their work and lives.

Craig Breaden joined the Rubenstein as our Audiovisual Archivist  three years ago. Prior to his time at Duke, he spent seven years at the Russell Library at the University of Georgia. He has a BA and MA in history from Texas Christian University and Utah State University, respectively, and an MLS from UNC .  He works on everything from small single-film collections to grant-funded preservation projects involving thousands of audiovisual items.  He facilitates preservation work, provides access to obsolete formats, processes (inventory and catalog) collections, and functions as the go-to oral history guy.

Tell us about your academic background and interests.

I started out interested in frontier history particularly, and how popular images of the American West inform the way Americans think about themselves, their creation myths, the rest of the world.  I’ve also had a lifelong love of music and a fascination with recorded audio and video.  Our audiovisual heritage provides a different, animated view of the past, and can carry a unique emotional weight.

What led you to working in libraries?

I’d had some experience working in a special collections library while in college, but it took a long while for me to come to the profession.  Some folks are late bloomers, I guess.  After years of working in corporate atmospheres unrelated to my academic background, I’d come to the point where I wanted to start making a difference and make a living.  It was the idea that work should mean something, make some kind of contribution to the society as a whole.  There are of course all kinds of ways to do this, but I thought I should play to my strengths.  I had a challenging and satisfying year of teaching 8th grade social studies, but knew that I could give more outside the classroom by focusing on what we might consider the raw materials of educators, those cultural heritage resources that give voice to the past.  It so happened that one of the best library schools in the country (UNC-Chapel Hill) was just down the road, and I applied and fortunately got in.  I decided to focus on my background and my interest in A/V, and while in school pursued audiovisual archiving as an emphasis of my library education.  I owe a big debt to the Southern Folklife Collection and its director, Steve Weiss, in helping me on my way, and to the great librarians at the University of Georgia for giving me a shot.

How do you describe what you do to people you meet at a party? To fellow librarians and library staff?

I usually tell people I’m an archivist in Duke Special Collections.  Sometimes that leads to further conversation, other times not.  I think in general there’s a real disconnect, a misunderstanding about what history really is.  It’s hard to say to most people that what we think of as history is what it is because of what we do in libraries and archives like the one here at Duke.  Colleagues get it, but I think usually the best introduction for them is when they get a CD or tape or film as part of a collection and wonder, at the very basic level, what to do with it.

What does an average day look like for you?

One of the great things about my job is that there aren’t many average days, but most days hold some combination of digital preservation, inventorying collections, answering reference questions via email, figuring out how to run a film or a video or audio tape so that we know what’s on it, and advising colleagues on portions of their collections that hold AV.  Then there are often questions related to policy creation and the changing landscape of digital preservation.  And let’s not forget the meetings….

What do you like best about your job?

I like figuring out problems that fall into my domain of expertise.  I do a ton of troubleshooting and tinkering to get AV to simply play back in a way that it can be accessed, and these nuts-and-bolts successes are always satisfying and really essential to what I do.  I also enjoy meeting donors and getting to know the personalities behind the stuff, just as it’s always great to help a researcher plug into something they might not have been aware of.  And of course my colleagues – every one of them brilliant in completely different ways.

CB devil's tale 013
Craig with the Rubenstein’s newest flatbed film editing suite, the Steenbeck

What might people find surprising about your job?

The amount of time spent with spreadsheets and on email.  The first is part and parcel of what we do, that is, knowing what we have, the second is all about attempting to efficiently communicate (jury’s out on that, though).  Pleasantly surprising is that amazingly smart colleagues have something interesting to show or talk about every day.  Archives can be mind-blowing.

Do you have a favorite piece or collection at The Rubenstein? Why?

The H. Lee Waters Films for their big heart, the Frank Clyde Brown field recordings for all the secrets they hold in their wax cylinder and lacquer disc grooves (and that will soon be secret no longer), the home movie collections we have that tell a story beyond what’s happening onscreen, and all the fragile and forgotten bits of film and video that share our shelves equally and continue to have a voice.

Where can you be found when you’re not working? 

With my kids, cooking, strumming a guitar (sometimes all three at once).

What book is on your nightstand/in your carryall right now?

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro; The Innkeeper’s Song by Peter S. Beagle; Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go by Laura Wagner; and Haiti: The Aftershocks of History by Laurent Dubois.

Interview conducted and edited by Katrina Martin.