descriptive image

Behind the Scenes of Documenting the Patron Request Workflow

This post was authored by  Behind the Veil/Digital Collections intern Kristina Zapfe.

From the outside, viewing digitized items or requesting one yourself is a straightforward activity. Browsing images in the Duke Digital Repository produces instantaneous access to images from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library’s collections, and requesting an item for digitization means that they appear in your email in as little as a few weeks. But what happens between placing that request and receiving your digital copies is a well-mechanized feat, a testament to the hard work and dedication put forth by the many staff members who have a hand in digitizing special collections.

I began at Duke Libraries in July 2022 as the Digital Collections Intern, learning about the workflows and pivots that were made in order to prioritize public access to Rubenstein’s collections during pandemic-era uncertainty. While learning to apply metadata and scan special collection materials, I sketched out an understanding of how digital library systems function together, crafted by the knowledge and skills of library staff who maintain and improve them. This established an appreciation of the collaborative and adaptive nature of the many departments and systems that account for every detail of digitizing items, providing patrons access to Rubenstein’s special collections from afar.

I have filmed short videos before, but none that required the amount of coordination and planning that this one did. Once the concept was formed, I began researching Duke University Libraries’ digital platforms and how they work together in order to overlay where the patron request process dipped into these platforms and when. After some email coordination, virtual meetings, and hundreds of questions, a storyboard was born and filming could begin. I tried out some camera equipment and determined that shooting on my iPhone 13 Pro with a gimbal attachment was a sufficient balance of quality and dexterity. Multiple trips to Rubenstein, Bostock, and Perkins libraries and Smith Warehouse resulted in about 500 video clips, about 35 of which appear in the final video.

Throughout this process, I learned that not everything goes as the storyboard plans, and I enjoyed leaving space for my own creativity as well as input from staff members whose insights about their daily work made for compelling shots and storytelling opportunities. The intent of this video is to tell the story of this process to everyone who uses and appreciates Duke Libraries’ resources and say “thank you” to the library staff who work together to make digital collections available.

Special thanks to all staff who appeared in this video and enthusiastically volunteered their time and Maggie Dickson, who supervised and helped coordinate this project.