Change and the Bridges’ Transition Model

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” – Seneca The Younger

We’ve all dealt with new beginnings. Take moving to a new city, for example. You’re excited about exploring the new city; getting to know it better, but you’re afraid at the same time. You miss your seeing your old friends. You were an expert of your old home town; you knew the quickest routes to work or the best hole-in-the-wall restaurant. It’s going to take time to be comfortable in your new city. You’ll have to rely on your navigation system to get you from place to place without getting lost. You’ll need to try a whole bunch of new restaurants before you find your new favorite. Eventually, you’ll be comfortable in your new place.

Perhaps your new beginning is a new child being added to your family. You’re overjoyed with the new addition, full of anticipation at what the future will bring, but perhaps you’re morning the loss of one-on-one date nights with your significant other or feel clueless on how to best care for your child. It will take you time to learn how to meet the needs of your new child and balance that with the needs of your significant other. Eventually, parenting will be come old-hat to you and you’ll be comfortable as a parent (as much as one can…).

The Bridges’ Transition Model is a diagram that shows how we move through the transition from old to new. It shows three stages of a transition; the endings, the neutral zone and the new beginnings. Let’s take a look at the above two examples in relation to the three stages

Stage 1 – Ending, Losing and Letting Go

The Endings in the examples above are leaving your friends, losing expertise in knowing how to get around your old city, feeling afraid that you won’t be successful in your new home, morning the loss of your one-on-one time with your significant other, and feeling afraid that you might do something wrong when caring for a new child. It’s important to recognize the feelings of ending, losing and letting go so that you can proceed to the Neutral Zone.

Stage 2 – The Neutral Zone

The Neutral Zone in the examples is the time where you rely on the GPS or Waze to help you get around. You may find yourself frustrated at having to try so many restaurants to find the perfect taco and margarita. You’ll try every trick in the book to find the one that works to put your child to sleep, and that may make you angry.

Stage 3 – The New Beginning

The New Beginnings are exciting. Imagine your happiness at finally finding the perfect taco. You get a diaper on the right way the first time. You get your child to use the toilet for the first time. You know “I’ve got this”, and are more than happy to celebrate.

Let’s take a look at another change and the transitions that go along with that – the new library services platform implementation – FOLIO (you knew I was going to say that, right?).

Stage 1 – Ending, Losing and Letting Go

The end is coming for all those years and work we’ve put into our current system. I don’t expect many of us will be sad, but we’ll all feel disoriented as we try to learn our new workflows.

Stage 2 – The Neutral Zone

As we become more familiar with FOLIO, we may be frustrated that a process takes longer than it used to, because we haven’t mastered the new workflow. Some of us may feel resentful as we were experts and now we’re beginners again. Morale may go down. We need to recognize that we’re all going through this transition together and respect how others are feeling. We need to give encouragement and celebrate progress.

Stage 3 – The New Beginning

In this stage, we see the end of the frustration as we become experts again. Morale goes up. We’re excited because we understand our new workflows and they’re making sense to us.

As we move through the transition to FOLIO or any other new system, we need to take time to recognize how a big change affects us. The change may affect us differently, and it’s important to honor the feelings and trust each other that we’ll work through this transition together and come out stronger by the end.

New Duke Libraries catalog to go live January 16

The wait is almost over!  After over two years of hard work by library staff at Duke, NCCU, NCSU, and UNC, we’ll be launching a new catalog for researchers to use to locate and access books, DVDs, music, archival materials, and other items held here at Duke and across the other Triangle Research Libraries member libraries (NCSU, NCCU, UNC).  The new collaboratively developed, open-source library catalog will replace the decade-old Duke Libraries catalog and Search TRLN catalog.    

What to expect from the new catalog

While the basic functionality of the catalog remains the same – researchers will be able to search across the 15 million+ items at Duke and area libraries – we think you’ll enjoy some nice enhancements and updates to the catalog:  

  • a more modern search interface
  • prominent filters to modify search results, including an option to narrow your search to items available online
  • a more intuitive button to expand search results to include items held at UNC, NCCU, and NCSU
  • updated item pages with easier access to request and export materials
  • improved access to an item’s availability status and its location  
  • more user-friendly options to email, text, or export citation information
  • improved display of multi-part items (click “View Online” to access individual episodes)
  • more robust Advanced Search with options to search by Publisher and Resource type (e.g., book, video, archival material)
Screenshot of full item page.
Item pages have been updated and include a sidebar with easy access to Request and Email/Text options.

You might notice some differences in the way the new catalog works.  Learn more with this handy new vs. old catalog comparison chart.  (Note that we plan to implement some of the features that are not currently available in the new catalog this spring – stay tuned for more info, and let us know if there are aspects of the old catalog that you miss.)  And if you run into trouble or have more questions about using the new catalog, check out these library catalog search tips, or contact a librarian for assistance.   

Screenshot of Search Tips webpage
Get tips for using the new catalog.

We welcome your feedback

While the new catalog is fully functional and boasts a number of enhancements, we know there is still work to be done, and we welcome your input.  We invite you to explore the new catalog at https://find.library.duke.edu/ and report problems or provide general feedback through this online form.  We’ll continue to conduct user testing this spring and make improvements based on what we learn – look for the “Free Coffee” sign in the Perkins Library lobby, and stop by to tell us what you think.  

Want more info about this project?  Learn about the vision for developing the new catalog and the work that’s been completed to date.

Digital Collections Round Up 2018

It’s that item of year where we like to reflect on all we have done in 2018, and your favorite digital collections and curation services team is no exception.  This year, Digital Collections and Curation Services have been really focusing on getting collections and data into the Digital Repository and making it accessible to the world!

As you will see from the list below we launched 320 new digital collections, managed substantial additions to 2, and migrated 8. However, these publicly accessible digital collections are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of our work in Digital Collections and Curation Services.

A cover from the Ladyslipper, Inc Retail Catalogs digital collection.

So much more digitization happens behind the scenes than is reflected in the list of new digital collections.  Many of our larger projects are years in the making. For example, we continue to digitize Gedney photographs and we hope to make them publicly accessible next year.  There is also preservation digitization happening that we cannot make publicly accessible online.  This work is essential to our preservation mission, though we cannot share the collections widely in the short term.

We strongly believe in keeping our metadata healthy, so in addition to managing new metadata, we often revisit existing metadata across our repositories in order to ensure its overall quality and functionality.

Our team is also responsible for ingesting not just digital collections, but research data and library collections as well.  We preserved 20 datasets produced by the Duke Scholarly Community in the Research Data Repository (https://research.repository.duke.edu/)  via the Research Data Curation program https://library.duke.edu/data/data-management.

A selection from the Buffalo Bill papers, digitized as part of the Section A project.

New Digital Collections 2018

Additions to Existing Digital Collections

The men’s basketball team celebrates its 1991 championship win.

Collections Migrated into the Digital Repository

Find your haven at Oasis Perkins

(Thanks to Assessment and User Experience Intern Brenda Yang for this post and for her amazing work on Oasis Perkins!)

What if it was possible to unwind – color, do a jigsaw puzzle, meditate – without leaving the Libraries?

It is at Oasis Perkins! This high-ceilinged refuge is tucked into the fourth floor of Perkins in room 418. It’s a perfect place to escape any finals-related tension palpable in study spaces this time of year.

A floor plan showing the location of Oasis Perkins on the 4th Floor of Perkins LibraryYou’ll find:

  • Yoga mats and meditation cushions
  • A jigsaw puzzle table
  • Coloring books, logic puzzles, and sudoku pages
  • Origami paper and instruction books
  • A quiet nook
  • A white noise machine
  • Plenty of natural light (during the day)
  • And more to explore!

Unlike other fourth floor spaces in Perkins and Bostock meant for silent study, feel free to chat and connect with a friend or strangers, or simply sit and reflect quietly.

How did Oasis Perkins come to be?

A photo of different types of teas from the Tea-laxation event.

One major motivation was direct feedback from students. Comments from our 2018 Student Library Satisfaction Survey made clear that while study spaces at the Duke Libraries are a keystone of many students’ academic lives, it can be a stressful place, especially during the exam season: “I love coming to the library during most of the semester… particularly during finals, there is an overwhelming sense of stress that emanates from the other students at the library.” A few students explicitly requested “a room to relax,” a place to have have a “refreshing study break without leaving the library somehow,” or a “stress-relief room.”

We hope that Oasis Perkins can serve as a dedicated place for students to nurture their well-being, fitting into the ecosystem of Oasis West and Oasis East (which are managed by Duke Wellness). However, Oasis Perkins is located, of course, right inside of Perkins Library – and its doors don’t close.

You’ll also find occasional events hosted in Oasis Perkins, from Koru Meditation classes to “Tea-laxation” events. Check out the Oasis Perkins webpage to stay up to date on events, or be in touch if your organization would like to host a relevant get together in this space!

You can find a smaller space on the second floor at the Prayer and Meditation Room in Perkins 220.

Other Wellness Resources at Duke

For other tips and events to help you end the semester strong, check out the Duke Libraries End of Semester Survival Guide. There are also a number of resources right on Duke’s campus to support your mental health, which include:

Oasis Perkins has existed in its current form for only one short semester! Is there something that could change about the Oasis Perkins that would help you re-charge? Our team at the Libraries would love to make it better for you. Fill out a feedback from in the suggestion box in Oasis Perkins, or reach out to brenda.yang@duke.edu with your comments or suggestions.

Digitization Details: The Process of Digitizing a Collection

About four and a half years ago I wrote a blog post here on Bitstreams titled: “Digitization Details: Before We Push the “Scan” Button” in which I wrote about how we use color calibration, device profiling and modified viewing environments to produce “consistent results of a measurable quality” in our digital images.  About two and a half years ago, I wrote a blog post adjacent to that subject titled “The FADGI Still Image standard: It isn’t just about file specs” about the details of the FADGI standard and how its guidelines go beyond ppi and bit depth to include information about UV light, vacuum tables, translucent material, oversized material and more.  I’m surprised that I have never shared the actual process of digitizing a collection because that is what we do in the Digital Production Center.

Building digital collections is a complex endeavor that requires a cross-departmental team that analyzes project proposals, performs feasibility assessments, gathers project requirements, develops project plans, and documents workflows and guidelines in order to produce a consistent and scalable outcome in an efficient manner.  We call our cross-departmental team the Digital Collections Implementation Team (DCIT) which includes representatives from the Conservation staff, Technical Services, Digital Production, Metadata Architects and Digital Collections UI developers, among others.  By having representatives from each department participate, we are able to consider all perspectives including the sticking points, technical limitations and time constraints of each department. Over time, our understanding of each other’s workflows and sticking points has enabled us to refine our approach to efficiently hand off a project between departments.

I will not be going into the details of all the work other departments contribute to building digital collections (you can read just about any post on the blog for that). I will just dip my toe into what goes on in the Digital Production Center to digitize a collection.

Digitization

Once the specifics of a project are nailed down, the scope of the project has been finalized, the material has been organized by Technical Services, Conservation has prepared the material for digitization, the material has been transferred to the Digital Production Center and an Assessment Checklist is filled out describing the type, condition, size and number of items in a collection, we are ready to begin the digitization process.

Digitization Guide
A starter digitization guide is created using output from ArchivesSpace and the DPC adds 16-20 fields to capture technical metadata during the digitization process. The digitization guide is an itemized list representing each item in a collection and is centrally stored for ease of access. 

Setup
Cameras and monitors are calibrated with a spectrometer.  A color profile is built for each capture device along with job settings in the capture software. This will produce consistent results from each capture device and produce an accurate representation of any items captured which in turn removes subjective evaluation from the scanning process.

Training
Instructions are developed describing the scanning, quality control, and handling procedures for the project and students are trained.

Scanning
Following instructions developed for each collection, the scanner operator will use the appropriate equipment, settings and digitization guide to digitize the collection.  Benchmark tests are performed and evaluated periodically during the project. During the capture process the images are monitored for color fidelity and file naming errors. The images are saved in a structured way on the local drive and the digitization guide is updated to reflect the completion of an item.   At the end of each shift the files are moved to a production server.

Quality Control 1
The Quality Control process is different depending on the device with which an item was captured and the nature of the material.  All images are inspected for:  correct file name, skew, clipping, banding, blocking, color fidelity, uniform crop, and color profile.  The digitization guide is updated to reflect the completion of an item.

Quality Control 2
Images are cropped (leaving no background) and saved as JPEGs for online display.  During the second pass of quality control each image is inspected for: image consistency from operator to operator and image to image, skew and other anomalies.

Finalize
During this phase we compare the digitization guide against the item and file counts of the archival and derivative images on our production server.   Discrepancies such as missing files, misnamed files and missing line items in the digitization guide and are resolved.

Create Checksums and dark storage
We then create a SHA1 checksum for each image file in the collection and push the collection into a staging area for ingest into the repository.

Sometimes this process is referred to simply as “scanning”.

Not only is this process in active motion for multiple projects at the same time, the Digital Production Center also participates in remediation of legacy projects for ingest into the Duke Digital Repository, multispectral imaging, audio digitization and video digitization for, preservation, patron and staff requests… it is quite a juggling act with lots of little details but we love our work!

Time to get back to it so I can get to a comfortable stopping point before the Thanksgiving break!

Highlighting Duke Scholars Alongside Their Research

2018 has featured several monumental changes in the library’s technology platforms. One of the most impactful shifts this year was revitalizing DukeSpace, our DSpace-based institutional repository (IR) software, home to over 16,000 open-access articles, theses, and dissertations from Duke scholars.

Back in March, we celebrated a successful multi-version upgrade for DSpace, and along with it, a major upgrade to the integral Symplectic Elements Research Information Management platform.  On the heels of that project, we decided to capitalize on the project team’s momentum and invest two more months of focused attention (four “sprints” in developer-speak).

The goals for that period? First, tie up the loose ends from the upgrade. Then, seize some clear opportunities to build upon our freshly-rearchitected metadata, creating innovative features in the UI to benefit scholars. By scholars, we mean — in part — the global audience of researchers openly discovering and using the articles in DukeSpace. But we especially mean the scholars at Duke who created them in the first place.

We are excited to share the results of our work with the Duke community and beyond. Here are the noteworthy additions:

Scholars@Duke Author Profiles

Item pages now display a brief embedded profile for each Duke author, featuring their preferred name, a photo, position title, and brief description of their research interests. This information comes from the scholars themselves, who manage their profiles via Scholars@Duke (powered by the open-source VIVO platform).

Scholars@Duke & DukeSpace
A brief author profile in a DukeSpace item  leads to the full profile in Scholars@Duke.

Scholars@Duke provides a handy SEO-friendly profile page (example) for each scholar. It aggregates their full list of publications, courses taught, news articles in which they’re mentioned, and much more. It also has useful APIs for building widgets to dynamically repurpose the data for display elsewhere. Departments throughout Duke (example) use these APIs to display current faculty information on their web sites without requiring anyone to manually duplicate or update it. And now, the library does, too.

Scholars@Duke profile in DukeSpace
Scholars’ own descriptions of their research interests entice a visitor to learn more about their work.

Featuring researchers in this manner adds several other benefits, including:

  • Uses a scholar’s own preferred current version of their name and title; that may not be identical to what is stored in the item’s author metadata.
  • Puts users one click away from the author’s full profile at Scholars@Duke, where one can discover the entirety of the author’s publications, open-access or not.
  • Helps search engines make stronger semantic connections between an author’s profile information and their works available online.
  • Introduces a unique value-add feature for our open-access copy of an article that’s unlikely to ever be possible to replicate for the published version on the academic journal’s website.
  • Makes the DukeSpace item pages look better, warmer, and more inviting.
Scholars@Duke multiple author profiles in DukeSpace
Profiles for multi-author articles

With this feature, we are truly pushing beyond the boundaries of what an institutional repository traditionally does. And likewise, we feel we’re raising the bar for how academic research libraries can showcase the members of their communities alongside their collected works.

Other New Features

Beyond these new author profiles, we managed to fit in a few more enhancements around citations, the homepage, and site navigation. Here’s a quick rundown:

Citations

We now present an easily copyable citation, composed from the various metadata available for each item. This includes the item’s permalink.

DukeSpace citation for a dissertation
DukeSpace citation for a dissertation

In cases when there’s a published version of an article available, we direct users to review and use that citation instead.

DukeSpace citation with DOI
DukeSpace article with a DOI for a published version.

 

Item pages also now display a “Citation Stats” badge in the sidebar, powered by Digital Science’s Dimensions tool.  Click it to explore other scholarly work that has cited the current item.

Homepage

Finally, we topped off this project phase by redesigning DukeSpace’s homepage. Notable among the changes: a clearer indication of the number of items (broken down by type), a dynamic list of trending items, and streamlined menu navigation in the sidebar.

 

Final Thoughts

Duke Libraries’ current strategic plan emphasizes the mission-critical importance of our open-access publishing and repository efforts, and also demands that we “highlight and promote the scholarly activities of our faculty, students, and staff.”  This two-month DukeSpace enhancements project was a great opportunity for us to think outside the box about our technology platforms, and consider how those goals relate.


Many thanks to several people whose work enabled these features to come to life, especially Maggie Dickson, Hugh Cayless, Paolo Mangiafico, and the Scholars@Duke team.

Vote!

In anticipation of next Tuesday’s midterm elections, here is a photo gallery of voting-related images from Duke Digital Collections. Click on a photo to view more images from our collections dealing with political movements, voting rights, propaganda, activism, and more!

This image is part of a series of photographs taken by James Karales on assignment for Look Magazine during the voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in March 1965.
Propaganda poster of the Italian Socialist Party. It reads: “Workers, vote for socialism means voting for women’s rights and labor.”
Image is part of “Thirteen-Month Crop: One Year in the Life of a Piedmont Virginia Tobacco Farm,” which documents the Moore family farm in Pittsylvania County, Virginia.
Poster with depiction of large PCI flag with the Italian flag behind it.
Leaflet created by the League of Women Voters of North Carolina.
Socialist Party literature, explaining their views.

If you haven’t already taken advantage of early voting, we at Bitstreams encourage you to exercise your right on November 6!

Community and Collaboration at Samvera Connect 2018

One of the pleasures of working in an academic library is the opportunity it presents for engagement with communities in our field of work. One such community that Duke University Libraries has been a member for some time now is Samvera, which is an open-source community for software development that supports digital repositories. I, along with my colleagues Jim Coble, Moira Downey, and Ayse Durmaz, recently attended the Samvera Connect conference in Salt Lake City, and this post is a report on our experience there.

It was my first time attending Samvera Connect, and so it was a chance for me to put faces with names that I had come to know from discussions on Slack and elsewhere. Moira and I participated in a panel with some of our colleagues from the University of Michigan and Indiana University, and it was great to have the opportunity to meet them in person and talk about our work on digital repositories. We spoke on the theme of using the Hyrax platform for research data; you can see our slides here. Moira and I also had a poster on the same theme.

I attended the meetup of the Samvera Interest Group for Advising the Hyrax Roadmap, or SIGAHR, as it is known. There was some introspection in the group about the suitability of the acronym, though it produced no resolution one way or another. Much of the conversation in that meeting focused on support and developer resources for the Hyrax platform. It’s one of the central questions for an open source community like Samvera, and one we’re giving some consideration at Duke after returning from the meeting.

Otherwise, there were several interesting presentations that I attended and would highlight. First, the team from the WGBH Media Library did a presentation titled “Building on Hyrax and Avalon for the American Archive of Public Broadcasting” that I enjoyed a lot. That team has great energy and has developed some interesting solutions for a complex and compelling project.

I also learned much at the workshop titled “Managing Samvera-based Projects & Services,” which was conducted by Hannah Frost, Nabeela Jaffer, and Steve Van Tuyl. Thinking in terms of an extended community requires a different mindset from they way we work locally and on our campuses.

Finally, one of the most interesting presentations came from Hannah Frost and Christina Harlow from Stanford Libraries, outlining the new architecture they have developed for the next iteration of the Stanford Digital Library. It was titled “Making TACOs for Hydras,” and the slides are not available, but much of what they covered is included in the github documentation here.

I’ll conclude there, and share the following sections were authored by two of my colleagues at Duke.

Valkyrie and Hyrax (contributed by Jim Coble)

A focus of attention at this year’s Samvera Connect was Valkyrie, a project which enables the use of multiple backends for storing files and metadata in Samvera applications.  Historically, Hydra/Samvera applications have had only one option for file and metadata storage; namely, a Fedora repository. Recent versions of Fedora have experienced performance problems in certain circumstances, leading the community to look for different options for storing files and metadata where performance is a key requirement.  Valkyrie allows a project to pick and choose among multiple backends depending on the needs of the project. Projects can still use a Fedora repository for storage if that is desired but also have the option of using a Postgres database or Solr for metadata storage and/or a disk filesystem for file storage. Other metadata and file storage adapters are under development to provide Valkyrie with even more options.

Discussions at the conference favored moving forward to convert Hyrax (a key Samvera project) to use Valkyrie and we’ll likely see work happening on that soon.  Our Research Data Repository is based on Hyrax, so the eventual Valkyrization of Hyrax would provide us with additional storage options for the files and metadata in that repository (which currently uses Fedora 4).  Valkyrie may also be a component in a future migration of the legacy Duke Digital Repository, enabling us to move it off the no-longer-supported Fedora 3 version.

Discoverability of Research Data (contributed by Moira Downey)

In addition to the back-end infrastructure, another growing area of interest around our Hyrax-based Research Data Repository has been increased visibility and discoverability of the content that we publish and preserve through our software applications. New services like Google’s Dataset Search are making it easier for scholars and researchers to find the data they need to support their scholarly endeavors. As institutions responsible for the publication of these data, we want to ensure that the scholarship our repositories are hosting is indexed by these services, heightening its visibility, and hopefully, its usability. Over a lunchtime breakout session, the Repository Management Interest Group compiled a list of services similar to Google Dataset Search in nature (Google Scholar, Unpaywall.org, Crossref, Datacite, and SHARE, among others) that we intend to investigate further, with a particular eye toward how our existing repositories are integrated with these services and where we might improve. The group also intends to consider what local practices we might implement to optimize the discoverability of our content, and what changes to the code base should be advocate for in order to connect our content to the web at large.

 

SMTL @ DUL

In my first six weeks at DUL (Duke University Libraries), I’m deciphering acronyms, even beyond those I absorbed at IBM, Toshiba, and LexisNexis, which is to say, a whole new lexicon.

Within the DST (Digital Strategies and Technology) organization, my ITS (Information Technology Services) team consists of three departments, located in the PBR complex (Perkins Bostock Rubenstein, not Pabst Blue Ribbon).

  • Core Services supports > 100 tools and platforms, deploys and maintains > 600 systems and workstations, and sets up all the specialized equipment you see throughout the libraries
  • Software Services develops state of the art applications such as the RDR (Research Data Repository)
  • LSIS (Library Systems & Integration Support) is preparing for the evolution to a new LSP (Library Services Platform) called FOLIO in collaboration with OLF (Open Library Foundation), Index Data, and EBSCO (Elton B. Stephens Co.)

We work in conjunction with Duke’s OIT (Office of Information Technology), and with many external organizations, such as SPARC (Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition), OLE (Open Library Environment), OCLC (Online Computer Library Center), ABCDEFG (no, I’m getting carried away…).

Unlike the commercial sector, we’re intent on collaboration rather than competition. I’m excited to be a part of TRLN (Triangle Research Library Network), and the Ivy Plus Libraries partnership of 13 leading academic libraries who sponsor the BorrowDirect initiative.

This is such a fun place to work! We have a staff yoga class given by Lindsey Crawford of Global Breath Studio, and I figured out how to use the meescan app , to check out an actual book, from which I learned from Smitten Kitchen that chaat masala is great on popcorn. Last night I was thrilled to attend the Durham Literacy Center’s event sponsored by DUL, with author Therese Anne Fowler.

Now if I could catch the PR1; bus which traverses the full mile between my office and parking….

SMTL (So Much To Learn)!

Laura Cappelletti
New Director – ITS @ DUL

“To Greenland in 105 Days, or, Why Did I Ever Leave Home”: Henry J. Oosting’s Misadventure in the Arctic (1937)

When Duke professor and botanist Henry J. Oosting agreed to take part in an expedition to Greenland in the summer of 1937 his mission was to collect botanical samples and document the region’s native flora. The expedition, organized and led by noted polar explorer Louise Arner Boyd, included several other accomplished scientists of the day and its principal achievement was the discovery and charting of a submarine ridge off of Greenland’s eastern coast.

Narwhal sketch
Oosting’s sketch of a Narwhal

In a diary he kept during his trip titled “To Greenland in 105 Days, or Why did I ever leave home,” Oosting focuses little on the expedition’s scientific exploits. Instead, he offers a more intimate look into the mundane and, at times, amusing aspects of early polar exploration. Supplementing the diary in the recently published Henry J. Oosting papers digital collection are a handful of digitized nitrate negatives that add visual interest to his arctic (mis)adventures.

Oosting’s journey got off to an inauspicious start when he wrote in his opening entry on June 9, 1937: “Frankly, I’m not particularly anxious to go now that the time has come–adventure of any sort has never been my line–and the thought of the rolling sea gives me no great cheer.” What follows over the next 200 pages or so, by his own account, are the “inane mental ramblings of a simple-minded botanist,” complete with dozens of equally inane marginal doodles.

Musk Ox Steak doodle
Oosting sketch of Musk Ox steak

The Veslekari, the ship chartered by Louise Boyd for the expedition, first encountered sea ice on July 12 just off the east coast of Greenland. As the ship slowed to a crawl and boredom set in among the crew the following day, Oosting wrote in his diary that “Miss Boyd’s story of the polar bear is worth recording.” He then relayed a joke Boyd told the crew: “If you keep a private school and I keep a private school then why does a polar bear sit on a cake of ice…? To keep its privates cool, of course.”  For clarification, Oosting added: “She says she has been trying for a long time to get just the right picture to illustrate the story but it’s either the wrong kind of bear or it won’t hold its position.”

Hoisting a polar bear
Crew hoisting a polar bear on board the Veslekari

When the expedition finally reached the Greenland coast at the end of July, Oosting spent several days exploring the Tyrolerfjord glacier, gathering plant specimens and drying them on racks in the ship’s engine room. On the glacier, Oosting observed an arctic hare, an ermine, and noted that “my plants are accumulating in such quantity.”

Oosting sketch of foot
Oosting sketch of foot

As the expedition wore on Oosting grew increasingly frustrated with the daily tedium and with Boyd’s unfailing enthusiasm for the enterprise. “In spite of everything…we are stopping at more or less regular intervals to see what B thinks is interesting,” Oosting wrote on August 19.  “I didn’t go ashore this A.M. for a 15 min. stop even after she suggested it–have heard about it 10 times since…I’ll be obliged to go in every time now regardless or there will be no living with this woman. I am thankful, sincerely thankful, there are only 5 more days before we sail for I am thoroughly fed-up with this whole business.”

Arctic Hare
Arctic Hare

By late August, the Veslekari and crew headed back east towards Bergen, Norway and eventually Newcastle, England, where Oosting boarded a train for London on September 12. “This sleeping car is the silliest arrangement imaginable,” Oosting wrote, “my opinion of the English has gone down–at least my opinion of their ideas of comfort.” After a brief stint sightseeing around London, Oosting boarded another ship in Southampton headed for New York and eventually home to Durham. “It will be heaven to get back to the peace and quiet of Durham,” Oosting pined on September 14, “I’m developing a soft spot for the lousy old town.”

Veslekari
Veslekari, the vessel chartered by Louise Boyd for the 1937 Greenland expedition

Oosting arrived home on September 21, where his diary ends. Despite his curmudgeonly tone throughout and his obsession with recording every inconvenience and impediment encountered along the way, it’s clear from other sources that Oosting’s work on the voyage made important contributions to our understanding of arctic plant life.

In The Coast of Northeast Greenland (1948), edited by Louise Boyd and published by the American Geographic Society, Oosting authored a chapter titled “Ecological Notes on the Flora,” in which he meticulously documented the specimens he collected in the arctic. The onset of World War II and concerns over national security delayed publication of Oosting’s findings, but when released, they provided valuable new information about plant communities in the region.  While Oosting’s diary reveals a man with little appetite for adventure, his work endures.  As the forward to Boyd’s 1948 volume attests:  “When travelers can include significant contributions to science, then adventure becomes a notable achievement.”

Oosting sketch
Oosting sketch

Notes from the Duke University Libraries Digital Projects Team