Category Archives: Behind the Scenes

Indiana Jones and The Greek Manuscripts

One of my favorite movies as a youngster was Steven Spielberg’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” It’s non-stop action as the adventurous Indiana Jones criss-crosses the globe in an exciting yet dangerous race against the Nazis for possession of the Ark of the Covenant. According to the Book of Exodus, the Ark is a golden chest which contains the original stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments are inscribed, the moral foundation for both Judiasm and Christianity. The Ark is so powerful that it single-handedly destroys the Nazis and then turns Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford into billionaires. Countless sequels, TV shows, theme-park rides and merchandise follow.

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Greek manuscript 94, binding consists of heavily decorated repoussé silver over leather.

Fast-forward several decades, and I am asked to digitize Duke Libraries’ Kenneth Willis Clark Collection of Greek Manuscripts. Although not quite as old as the Ten Commandments, this is an amazing collection of biblical texts dating all the way back to the 9th century. These are weighty volumes, hand-written using ancient inks, often on animal-skin parchment. The bindings are characterized as Byzantine, and often covered in leathers like goatskin, sometimes with additional metal ornamentation. Although I have not had to run from giant boulders, or navigate a pit of snakes, I do feel a bit like Indiana Jones when holding one of these rare, ancient texts in my hands. I’m sure one of these books must house a secret code that can bestow fame and fortune, in addition to the obvious eternal salvation.

Before digitization, Senior Conservator Erin Hammeke evaluates the condition of each Greek manuscript, and rules out any that are deemed too fragile to digitize. Some are considered sturdy enough, but still need repairs, so Erin makes the necessary fixes. Once a manuscript is given the green light for digitization, I carefully place it in our book cradle so that it cannot be opened beyond a 90-degree angle. This helps protect our fragile bound materials from unnecessary stress on the binding. Next, the aperture, exposure, and focus are carefully adjusted on our Phase One P65+ digital camera so that the numerical values of our X-rite color calibration target, placed on top of the manuscript, match the numerical readings shown on our calibrated monitors.

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Greek manuscript 101, with X-Rite color calibration target, secured in book cradle.

As the photography begins, each page of the manuscript is carefully turned by hand, so that a new image can be made of the following page. This is a tedious process, but requires careful concentration so the pages are consistently captured throughout each volume. Right-hand (recto) pages are captured first, in succession. Then the volume is turned over, so that the left-hand (verso) pages can be captured. I can’t read Greek, but it’s fascinating to see the beauty of the calligraphy, and view the occasional illustrations that appear on some pages. Sometimes, I discover that moths, beetles or termites have bored through the pages over time. It’s interesting to speculate as to which century this invasive destruction may have occurred. Perhaps the Nazis from the Indiana Jones movies traveled back in time, and placed the insects there?

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Greek manuscript 101, showing insect damage.

Once the photography is complete, the recto and verso images are processed and then interleaved to recreate the left-right page order of the original manuscript. Next, the images go through a quality-control process in which any extraneous background area is cropped out, and each page is checked for clarity and consistent color and illumination. After that, another round of quality control insures that no pages are missing, or out of order. Finally, the images are converted to Pyramid TIFF files, which allow our web site users to zoom out and see all the pages at once, or zoom in to see maximum detail of any selected page. 38 Greek manuscripts are ready for online viewing now, and many more are coming soon. Stay tuned for the exciting sequel: “Indiana Jones and Even More Greek Manuscripts.”

When it Rains, It Pours: A Digital Collections News Round Up

2015 has been a banner year for Duke Digital Collections, and its only January! We have already published a new collection, broken records and expanded our audience. Truth be told, we have been on quite a roll for the last several months, and with the holidays we haven’t had a chance to share every new digital collection with you. Today on Bitstreams, we highlight digital collection news that didn’t quite make the headlines in the past few months.

H. Lee Watersmania

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Compare normal Digital Collections traffic to our Waters spike on Monday January 19th.

Before touching on news you haven’t about, we must continue the H. Lee Waters PR Blitz. Last week, we launched the H. Lee Waters digital collection. We and the Rubenstein Library knew there was a fair amount of pent-up demand for this collection, however we have been amazed by the reaction of the public. Within a few days of launch, site visits hit what we believe (though cannot say with 100% certainty) to be an all time high of 17,000 visits and 37,000 pageviews on Jan 19.  We even suspect that the intensity of the traffic has contributed to some recent server performance issues (apologies if you have had trouble viewing the films – we and campus IT are working on it).

We have also seen more than 20 new user comments left on Water’s films pages, 6 comments left on the launch blog post, and 40+ new likes on the Duke Digital Collections Facebook page since last week. The Rubenstein Library has also received a surge of inquiries about the collection. These may not be “official” stats, but we have never seen this much direct public reaction to one of our new digital collections, and we could not be more excited about it.

Early Greek Manuscripts

An example from the early Greek Manuscript collection.
An example from the early Greek Manuscript collection.

In November we quietly made 38 early Greek manuscripts available online, one of which is the digital copy of a manuscript since returned to the Greek government.  These beautiful volumes are part of the Rubenstein Library and date from the 9th – 17th centuries.   We are still digitizing volumes from this collection, and hope to publish more in the late Spring.  At that time we will make some changes to the look and feel of the digital collection.  Our goal will be to further expose the general public to the beauty of these volumes while also increasing discoverability to multiple scholarly communities.

 

Link Media Wall Exhibit

In early January, the libraries Digital Exhibits Working Group premiered their West Campus Construction Link media wall exhibit, affectionately nicknamed the Game of Stones.   The exhibit features content from the Construction of Duke University digital collection and the Duke University Archives’ Flickr sets.   The creation of this exhibit has been described previously on Bitstreams (here and here).  Head on down to the link and see it for yourself!campus_constr

 

History of Medicine Artifacts

Medicine bottles and glasses from the HOM artifacts collection.

Curious about bone saws, blood letting or other historic medical instruments? Look no further than the Rubenstein Libraries History of Medicine Artifact’s Collection Guide.   In December we published over 300 images of historic medical artifacts embedded in the collection guide.  Its an incredible and sometimes frightening treasure trove of images.

These are legacy images taken  by the History of Medicine.  While we didn’t shoot these items in the Digital Production Center, the digital collections team still took a hands on approach to normalizing the filenames and overall structure of the image set so we could publish them.  This project was part of our larger efforts to make more media types embeddable in Rubenstein collection guides, a deceptively difficult process that will likely be covered more in depth in a future Bitstreams post.

Digitization to Support the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Legacy Project Partnership

Transcript from an oral history in the Joseph Sinsheimer papers.
Transcript from an oral history in the Joseph Sinsheimer papers.

In the last year, Duke University Libraries has been partnering with the SNCC Legacy Project and the Center for Documentary Studies on One Person One Vote: The Legacy of SNCC and the Fight for Voting Rights.  As part of the project, the digital collections team has digitized several collections related to SNCC and made content available from each collections’ collection guide.  The collections include audio recordings, moving images and still images.  Selections from the digitized content will soon be made available on the One Person One Vote site to be launched in March 2015.  In the meantime, you can visit the collections directly:  Joseph Sinsheimer PapersFaith Holsaert Papers, and SNCC 40th Anniversary Conference.

 

Coach 1K

Coach K’s first Duke win against Stetson.

This one is hot off the digital presses.  Digital Collections partnered with University Archives to publish Coach K’s very first win at Duke just this week in anticipation of victory # 1000.

What’s Next for Duke Digital Collections?

The short answer is, a lot!  We have very ambitious plans for 2015.  We will be developing the next version of our digital collections platform, hiring an intern (thank you University Archives), restarting digitization of the Gedney collection, and of course publishing more of your favorite digital collections.   Stay tuned!

Winter Cross-Training in the DPC

The Digital Production Center engages with various departments within the Libraries and across campus to preserve endangered media and create unique digital collections. We work especially closely with The Rubenstein Rare Book, Manuscript, & Special Collections Library, as they hold many of the materials that we digitize and archive on a daily basis. This collaboration requires a shared understanding of numerous media types and their special characteristics; awareness of potential conservation and preservation issues; and a working knowledge of digitization processes, logistics, and limitations.

In order to facilitate this ongoing collaboration, we recently did a semester-long cross-training course with The Rubenstein’s Reproductions Manager, Megan O’Connell. Megan is one of our main points of contact for weekly patron requests, and we felt that this training would strengthen our ability to navigate tricky and time-sensitive digitization jobs heading into the future. The plan was for Megan to work with all three of our digitization specialists (audio, video, & still image) to get a combination of hands-on and observational learning opportunities.

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Still image comprises the bulk of our workload, so we decided to spend most of the training on these materials. “Still image” includes anything that we digitize via photographic or scanning technology, e.g. manuscripts, maps, bound periodicals, posters, photographs, slides, etc. We identified a group of uniquely challenging materials of this type and digitized one of each for hands-on training, including:

  • Bound manuscript – Most of these items cannot be opened more than 90 degrees. We stabilize them in a custom-built book cradle, capture the recto sides of the pages, then flip the book and capture the verso sides. The resulting files then have to be interleaved into the correct sequence.
  • Map, or other oversize item – These types of materials are often too large to capture in one single camera shot. Our setup allows us to take multiple shots (with the help of the camera being mounted on a sliding track) which we then stitch together into a seamless whole.
  • Item with texture or different item depths, e.g. a folded map, tipped into a book – It is often challenging to properly support these items and level the map so that it is all in focus within the camera’s depth of field.
  • ANR volume – These are large, heavy volumes that typically contain older newspapers and periodicals. The paper can be very fragile and they have to be handled and supported carefully so as not to damage or tear the material.
  • Item with a tight binding w/ text that goes into the gutter – We do our best to capture all of the text, but it will sometimes appear to curve or disappear into the gutter in the resulting digital image.

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Working through this list with Megan, I was struck by the diversity of materials that we collect and digitize. The training process also highlighted the variety of tricks, techniques, and hacks that we employ to get the best possible digital transfers, given the limitations of the available technology and the materials’ condition. I came out of the experience with a renewed appreciation of the complexity of the digitization work we do in the DPC, the significance of the rare materials in the collection, and the excellent service that we are able to provide to researchers through the Rubenstein Library.

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Check out Megan’s blog post on the Devil’s Tale for more on the other media formats I wasn’t able to cover in the scope of this post.

Here’s to more collaboration across boundaries in the New Year!

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Vagrant Up

Ruby on Rails logo

Writing software for the web has come a long way in the past decade. Tools such as Ruby on Rails, Twitter Bootstrap, and jQuery provide standard methods for solving common problems and providing common features of web applications. These tools help developers use more of their time and energy to solve problems unique to the application they are building.

One of the costs of relying on libraries and frameworks to build software is that your project not only depends on the frameworks and libraries you’ve chosen to use, but these frameworks and libraries rely on still more components. Compounding this problem, software is never really finished. There are always bugs being fixed and features being changed and added. These attributes of software, that it changes and has dependencies, complicates software projects in a few different ways:

  • You must carefully manage the versions of libraries, frameworks, and other dependencies so that you ensure all the pieces work together.
  • Developers working on multiple projects may have to use different versions of the same libraries and packages for each of their projects.
  • If you’re working with a team of developers on a project all members of the team have to make sure their computers are set up with the correct versions of the software and dependencies of the project.

Thankfully, there are still more tools available to help manage these problems. For instance, Ruby Version Manager (RVM) is a popular tools used by Ruby on Rails developers. It lets the software developer install and switch between different versions of Ruby. Other tools, such as Bundler make it possible to define exactly what version of which Ruby Gems (Ruby software packages that add functionality to your own project) you need to install for a particular project. Combined, RVM and Bundler simplify the management of complex project dependencies. There are similar tools available for other programming languages, such as Composer, which is a dependency manager for PHP.

By Fco.plj (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

While many of us already use dependency managers in our work, one tool we haven’t been using that we’re evaluating for use on a new project is Vagrant. Vagrant is a tool for creating virtual machines, self-contained systems that run within a host operating system. Virtual machines are software implementations of a computer system. For instance, using a virtual machine I could run Windows on my Mac hardware.

Vagrant does a few things that may make it even easier for developers to manage project dependencies.

  • With Vagrant you can write a script that contains a set of instructions about what operating system and other software you want to install in a virtual machine. Creating a virtual machine with all the software you need for a given project is as then as simple as typing a single command.
  • Vagrant provides a shared directory between your host operating system and the virtual machine. You can use the operating system you use everyday as you work while the software project runs in a virtual machine. This is significant because it means each developer can continue to use the operating system and tools they prefer while the software they’re building is all running in copies of the exact same system.
  • You can add the script for creating the virtual machine to the project itself making it very easy for new developers to get the project running. They don’t have to go through the sometimes painful process of installing a project’s dependencies by hand because the Vagrant script does it for them.
  • A developer working on multiple projects can have a virtual machine set up for each of their projects so they never interfere with each other and each has the correct dependencies installed.

Here’s how to use Vagrant in the most minimal way:

  1. Download and install VirtualBox
  2. Download and install Vagrant
  3. In a terminal window type:
    vagrant init hashicorp/precise32
  4. After running the following command you will have downloaded, set up, and started a fully functional virtual machine running Ubuntu:
    vagrant up
  5. You can then connect to and start using the running virtual machine by connecting to it via SSH:
    vagrant ssh

"Vagrantup" by Fco.plj - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vagrantup.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Vagrantup.jpg

In a more complex setup you’d probably add a provisioning script with instructions for downloading and installing additional software as part of the “vagrant up” process. See the Vagrant documentation for more details about provisioning options.

We’re considering using Vagrant on an upcoming project in an effort to make it easier for all the developers on the project to set up and maintain a working development environment. With Vagrant, just one developer will need to spend the time to create the script that generates the virtual machine for the project. This should save the time of other developers on the project who should only have to install VirtualBox, copy the Vagrant file and type “vagrant up.” At least, that’s the idea. Vagrant has great documentation, so if you’re interested in learning more their website is a good place to start.

Profiling Movement Activists in 7 Steps

SNCC workers prepare to go to Belzoni in the Fall of 1963 to organize for the Freedom Vote. Courtesy of www.crmvet.org.
SNCC workers prepare to go to Belzoni in the Fall of 1963 to organize for the Freedom Vote. Courtesy of www.crmvet.org.

On the surface, writing a 500-word profile about a SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) field secretary or a Mississippi-beautician-turned-grassroots-organizer doesn’t seem like a formidable task. Five hundred words hardly takes ten minutes to type. But the One Person, One Vote project is aiming for more than short biographies; it’s trying to capture why each individual was important to the movement and show that using stories. So this is how we craft a profile in 7 steps:

Step 1: Choose a person

Back in June, the Editorial Board generated a list of people that the One Person, One Vote site needed to profile in order to understand SNCC’s voting rights activism. In less than an hour, we had a list of over a hundred names that included SNCC field secretaries, local people, movement elders, and everyone in between. And those were only the first names that came to mind! We narrowed that list down to 65 people, and that’s what the project team has been working from.

Step 2: Find out everything you can about the person

The first step in profile writing is research. We have a library of twenty books for instant referencing of secondary sources. Next comes surveying available primary sources. Our profiles include documents, photographs, audio clips, news stories, and other items created during the movement to make historical actors come to life. Some of our go-to places to find these sources include: Wisconsin Historical Society’s Freedom Summer Digital Collection, the Civil Rights History Project at the Library of Congress, the Joseph Sinsheimer interviews and SNCC 40th Anniversary Conference tapes at Duke University, the Civil Rights in Mississippi Digital Archive at the University of Southern Mississippi, the University of Georgia’s Civil Rights Digital Library. There are more, of course, but that’s the start.

Step 3: Figure out why the person you’re profiling was important to the movement

The central question behind every profile the project team writes is: who was _______ to the movement? Once you start filling in the blank, the answers vary to an incredible degree. Movement elders like Ella Baker and Myles Horton contributed to the movement in different, yet equally important ways as  Mississippi-born field secretaries like Charles McLaurin, Sam Block, and Willie Peacock. Trying to figure out how and why is no small undertaking. This is where the guidance of our Visiting Activist Scholar helps focus the One Person, One Vote site on the themes that were at the heart of the movement: grassroots activism, community organizing, and individual empowerment.

Step 4: Use stories to express that in 500 words

Next, spend hours trying to express who the person you’re profiling was to the movement in only five hundred words. The profiles on the One Person, One Vote site aren’t mini academic biographies. Instead, we try to tell stories that illustrate who the people were and how their lives and work influenced SNCC’s voting rights activism in the 1960s. Finding the right story to highlight these central themes is key, and telling it well takes time and (lots of) revision.

The OPOV project does all content production in Google Drive. Here is the OPOV Profile Log to keep tract of profiles through the steps towards completion.
The OPOV project does all content production in Google Drive. Here is the OPOV Profile Log to keep tract of profiles through the steps towards completion.

Step 5: Workshop profile draft with project team

The first draft of every profile is workshopped with the One Person, One Vote project team (made up of 4 undergrads, 2 graduate students, and the project manager). As a group, we suggest how profiles can better convey their central theme, make sure that the person’s story is readable and compelling, line edit for clunky writing, and go through the primary sources.

Step 6: Send to Visiting Activist Scholar for editing

All of the revised profile drafts go the Visiting Activist Scholar for a final round of editing. Charlie Cobb, a journalist and former SNCC field secretary, is our first Visiting Activist Scholar. He helps bring the profiles to life in ways that only someone who was a part of the movement can. Charlie adds details about events, mannerisms of people, and behind-the-scene stories that never made it into history books. While the project team relies on available primary and secondary sources, the Visiting Activist Scholars adds something extra to the profiles on the One Person, One Vote site.

Step 7:  Voila!

Profiles goes through one last proofreading and polishing. Then come 2015, the will be posted on the One Person, One Vote site and the primary sources will be embedded and linked to from the Resources section of the profile pages. Voila!

 

 

What’s DAT Sound?

My recent posts have touched on endangered analog audio formats (open reel tape and compact cassette) and the challenges involved in digitizing and preserving them.  For this installment, we’ll enter the dawn of the digital and Internet age and take a look at the first widely available consumer digital audio format:  the DAT (Digital Audio Tape).

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The DAT was developed by consumer electronics juggernaut Sony and introduced to the public in 1987.  While similar in appearance to the familiar cassette and also utilizing magnetic tape, the DAT was slightly smaller and only recorded on one “side.”  It boasted lossless digital encoding at 16 bits and variable sampling rates maxing out at 48 kHz–better than the 44.1 kHz offered by Compact Discs.  During the window of time before affordable hard disk recording (roughly, the 1990s), the DAT ruled the world of digital audio.

The format was quickly adopted by the music recording industry, allowing for a fully digital signal path through the recording, mixing, and mastering stages of CD production.  Due to its portability and sound quality, DAT was also enthusiastically embraced by field recordists, oral historians & interviewers, and live music recordists (AKA “tapers”):

tapers[Conway, Michael A., “Deadheads in the Taper’s section at an outside venue,” Grateful Dead Archive Online, accessed October 10, 2014, http://www.gdao.org/items/show/834556.]

 

However, the format never caught on with the public at large, partially due to the cost of the players and the fact that few albums of commercial music were issued on DAT [bonus trivia question:  what was the first popular music recording to be released on DAT?  see below for answer].  In fact, the recording industry actively sought to suppress public availability of the format, believing that the ability to make perfect digital copies of CDs would lead to widespread piracy and bootlegging of their product.  The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) lobbied against the DAT format and attempted to impose restrictions and copyright detection technology on the players.  Once again (much like the earlier brouhaha over cassette tapes and subsequent battle over mp3’s and file sharing) “home taping” was supposedly killing music.

By the turn of the millennium, CD burning technology had become fairly ubiquitous and hard disk recording was becoming more affordable and portable.  The DAT format slowly faded into obscurity, and in 2005, Sony discontinued production of DAT players.

In 2014, we are left with a decade’s worth of primary source audio tape (oral histories, interviews, concert and event recordings) that is quickly degrading and may soon be unsalvageable.  The playback decks (and parts for them) are no longer produced and there are few technicians with the knowledge or will to repair and maintain them.  The short-term answer to these problems is to begin stockpiling working DAT machines and doing the slow work of digitizing and archiving the tapes one by one.  For example, the Libraries’ Jazz Loft Project Records collection consisted mainly of DAT tapes, and now exists as digital files accessible through the online finding aid:  http://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/findingaids/jazzloftproject/.  A long-term approach calls for a survey of library collections to identify the number and condition of DAT tapes, and then for prioritization of these items as it may be logistically impossible to digitize them all.

And now, the answer to our trivia question:  in May 1988, post-punk icons Wire released The Ideal Copy on DAT, making it the first popular music recording to be issued on the new format.

 

Meet staff from Assessment and User Experience

Digital projects at Duke University Libraries are created and maintained by staff from throughout the Libraries. One of the many departments supporting this work is Assessment and User Experience (AUX). We currently have a staff of five.

Emily Daly

Emily Daly

Position: Head of Assessment & User Experience; Librarian for Education

Length of time at Duke: 8 years

What I do at the Library: As Librarian for Education, I help staff the Perkins Help Desk, lead library instruction sessions, teach a half-credit course for the Program in Education, and provide support for students and faculty across the university who are engaging in education-related research. As Head of AUX, I help lead and coordinate DUL staff members’ efforts to assess the effectiveness of our library collections, services and our physical and virtual spaces, and then attempt to improve our services and resources based on our researchers’ feedback. I do this in close collaboration with my talented colleagues Tom, Joyce, Ian and Jeremy. I also serve as a pre-major advisor for 6 first-year students or sophomores.

I think Assessment and User Experience matters in the life of the Duke community because DUL staff provide a range of services and resources to a large group of researchers whose needs are varied and continuously evolving. We work to understand what our users need to conduct their research as effectively and, in many cases, as efficiently as possible. We evolve our services, spaces and resources to meet their changing needs. That, and on a selfish note, it’s really fun and engaging to talk with students and faculty who care deeply about their research.

On the most unexpected trip I ever took I handed in my resume at the public library in Casper, Wyoming. Three weeks later and with virtually no work experience in libraries, I started as Natrona County Public Library’s first full-time Teen Services Librarian (or “Specialist,” since I didn’t yet have an MSLS). I thought I’d be at the library for a year and then return to teaching high school English — I was just waiting for a position to become available. It’s been 11 years since I submitted that resume, and in that time, I’ve worked as a public librarian, school librarian and academic librarian.

If I could take a month to intensively learn one new thing it would be human development with an emphasis on early childhood development, education policy, or web design/development — it’s too hard to pick just one thing to study, which is one reason I became a librarian.

Something memorable that I never expected to see at Duke was college seniors in black graduation gowns walking the quad and stopping periodically to put their hands over the heads and chant. I know now it’s linked to a secret society of some sort, but that’s the extent of my knowledge, and I’m okay with leaving it that way.

What I am currently reading for pleasure: Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Another tidbit about me (related to the pic) is that one of my guilty pleasures is ice cream, and I’m proud to say I’ve passed on my weakness for it to my sons, 5 ½ year-old Philip and 2-year-old Patrick.

Ian Sloat

Ian Sloat

Position: AUX Student Assistant

What I do at Duke and at the Library: I am a graduate student in the MALS program and at the library I have mostly been working on updating signage and usability studies.

How long have you been at Duke? Just over one year as a student and 5 months at Perkins.

I think Assessment and User Experience matters in the life of the Duke community because it provides us with evidence that we can use to better improve the library for all of the members of the Duke community.

On the most unexpected trip I ever took, I was living in Scotland as an exchange student and I decided to take a trip to the highlands. I got off the bus in Loch Ness to go to the hostel I booked before I left. I walked up to the hostel as the bus was pulling away and when I got to the door, they had a sign up saying they were closed for the season. I stood outside (in the rain of course) for 3 hours until I hitched my way 20 miles north to Inverness and found a cheap hotel for the night.

If I could take a month to intensively learn one new thing it would be a second language, I took French for 9 years growing up in Canada, but I can’t speak a lick of it, so maybe something else.

Jeremy Zhang

Position: Undergraduate Assessment and User Experience Assistant

What I do at Duke and at the Library: I am currently an undergraduate student studying Electrical and Computer Engineering and Economics. In the library I help conduct research and produce both qualitative and quantitative data on many facets of the library. I also help develop and edit the main library website.

I think Assessment and User Experience matters in the life of the Duke community because it is important to streamline processes for students and researchers conducting research or working on their daily homework.

If I could take a month to intensively learn one new thing it would be how to produce electronic music.

What I am currently reading for pleasure: Understanding Wall Street, by Jeffrey Little.

Joyce Chapman

Joyce Chapman

Position: Assessment Coordinator

Length of time at Duke: 3 ½ weeks

What I do at the Library: Still figuring it out 🙂 The plan is to collect, analyze, and document data useful for evaluating library operations and understanding user needs; support data management, analysis, and reporting needs across the Libraries; and coordinate and deliver training on evaluation, data, and reporting tools. I’m here to help you, so get in touch!

I think Assessment and User Experience matters in the life of the Duke community because they help us to continuously monitor the Libraries’ impact and effectiveness, provide an ongoing basis to improve resources and services, and support data-informed management and decision making.

On the most unexpected trip I ever took, I was living in Germany as an exchange student in April 2005. A friend and I found cheap tickets to Rome and decided to take a vacation. The day after we bought our tickets Pope John Paul II passed away. We ended up in Rome during the Pope’s funeral, along with tens of thousands of pilgrims from all over the world. It was a really unexpected and interesting experience!

If I could take a month to intensively learn one new thing it would be wilderness survival skills, just in case (zombie apocalypse, etc.).

What I am currently reading for pleasure: The Broken Eye, by Brent Weeks and Our Separate Ways: Women and the Black Freedom Movement in Durham, North Carolina, by Christina Greene.

Thomas Crichlow

Thomas Crichlow

Position: Assessment and User Experience Project Manager

Length of time at Duke: a little over ten years, depending on how you count.

What I do at the Library:

  • I plan and manage projects to create and renovate websites at Duke University Libraries.
  • I lead project teams and also work as a web developer.
  • I participate in assessments of how our community uses our websites, paying special attention to places where our patrons encounter difficulty in using our sites.
  • As a member of our Web Experience Team (WebX), I foster discussions about our vision, strategy and priorities for meeting patron needs through our online presence.

I think Assessment and User Experience matters in the life of the Duke community because we are well positioned to take a collaborative approach in identifying and eliminating pain points that hinder our research community’s ability to use the many tools and services provided through Duke Libraries.

On the most unexpected trip I ever took, I walked a dog from Germany to France, but there and back again only took 45 minutes. I was a high school exchange student in Germany, and the family I stayed with lived near the border with France, which was only two farm fields away from their house. When we got to the border, one of the men staffing the border crossing filled a bowl of water for the dog whom they already seemed to be well acquainted with.

If I could take a month to intensively learn one new thing it would be something hands-on and creative like painting or drawing.

Something memorable that I never expected to see at Duke was a little cabin high-up within the bell tower at Duke Chapel from which Sam Hammond plays the carillon, a manually operated, 50-bell instrument. I worked at the Chapel at that time and had access to parts of it that aren’t normally open to the public. I appreciated Sam’s graciousness in letting me take a peek at this rarely viewed, but oft heard part of our University. A recent Duke Chronicle article provides a further glimpse via an interview with Mr. Hammond and a photo gallery. There is also a recording of “God rest ye merry, gentlemen” played on the carillon.

What I am currently reading for pleasure: Guards! Guards! which is part of the satire-filled Discworld series by Terry Pratchett.

Digital Tools for Civil Rights History

The One Person, One Vote Project is trying to do history a different way. Fifty years ago, young activists in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee broke open the segregationist south with the help of local leaders. Despite rerouting the trajectories of history, historical actors rarely get to have a say in how their stories are told. Duke and the SNCC Legacy Project are changing that. The documentary website we’re building (One Person, One Vote: The Legacy of SNCC and the Struggle for Voting Right) puts SNCC veterans at the center of narrating their history.

SNCC field secretary and Editorial Board member Charlie Cobb.
SNCC field secretary and Editorial Board member Charlie Cobb. Courtesy of www.crmvet.org.

So how does that make the story we tell different? First and foremost, civil rights becomes about grassroots organizing and the hundreds of local individuals who built the movement from the bottom up. Our SNCC partners want to tell a story driven by the whys and hows of history. How did their experiences organizing in southwest Mississippi shape SNCC strategies in southwest Georgia and the Mississippi Delta? Why did SNCC turn to parallel politics in organizing the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party? How did ideas drive the decisions they made and the actions they took?

For the One Person, One Vote site, we’ve been searching for tools that can help us tell this story of ideas, one focused on why SNCC turned to grassroots mobilization and how they organized. In a world where new tools for data visualization, mapping, and digital humanities appear each month, we’ve had plenty of possibilities to choose from. The tools we’ve gravitated towards have some common traits; they all let us tell multi-layered narratives and bring them to life with video clips, photographs, documents, and music. Here are a couple we’ve found:

This StoryMap traces how the idea of Manifest Destiny progressed through the years and across the geography of the United States.
This StoryMap traces how the idea of Manifest Destiny progressed through the years and across the geography of the U.S.

StoryMap: Knightlab’s StoryMap tool is great for telling stories. But better yet, StoryMap lets us illustrate how stories unfold over time and space. Each slide in a StoryMap is grounded with a date and a place. Within the slides, creators can embed videos and images and explain the significance of a particular place with text. Unlike other mapping tools, StoryMaps progress linearly; one slide follows another in a sequence, and viewers click through a particular path. In terms of SNCC, StoryMaps give us the opportunity to trace how SNCC formed out of the Greensboro sit-ins, adopted a strategy of jail-no-bail in Rock Hill, SC, picked up the Freedom Rides down to Jackson, Mississippi, and then started organizing its first voter registration campaign in McComb, Mississippi.

Timeline.JS: We wanted timelines in the One Person, One Vote site to trace significant events in SNCC’s history but also to illustrate how SNCC’s experiences on the ground transformed their thinking, organizing, and acting. Timeline.JS, another Knightlab tool, provides the flexibility to tell overlapping stories in clean, understandable manner. Markers in Timeline.JS let us embed videos, maps, and photos, cite where they come from, and explain their significance. Different tracks on the timeline  give us the option of categorizing events into geographic regions, modes of organizing, or evolving ideas.

The history of Duke University as displayed by Timeline.JS.
The history of Duke University as displayed by Timeline.JS.

DH Press: Many of the mapping tools we checked out relied on number-heavy data sets, for example those comparing how many robberies took place on the corners of different city blocks. Data sets for One Person, One Vote come mostly in the form of people, places, and stories. We needed a tool that let us bring together events and relevant multimedia material and primary sources and represent them on a map. After checking out a variety of mapping tools, we found that DH Press served many of our needs.

DH Press project representing buildings and uses in Durham's Hayti neighborhood.
DH Press project representing buildings and uses in Durham’s Hayti neighborhood.

Coming out of the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill’s Digital Innovation Lab, DH Press is a WordPress plugin designed specifically with digital humanities projects in mind. While numerous tools can plot events on a map, DH Press markers provide depth. We can embed the video of an oral history interview and have a transcript running simultaneously as it plays. A marker might include a detailed story about an event, and chronicle all of the people who were there. Additionally, we can customize the map legends to generate different spatial representations of our data.

Example of a marker in DH Press. Markers can be customized to include a range of information about a particular place or event.
Example of a marker in DH Press. Markers can be customized to include a range of information about a particular place or event.

 

These are some of the digital tools we’ve found that let us tell civil rights history through stories and ideas. And the search continues on.

Analog to Digital to Analog: Impact of digital collections on permission-to-publish requests

We’ve written many posts on this blog that describe (in detail) how we build our digital collections at Duke, how we describe them, and how we make them accessible to researchers.

At a Rubenstein Library staff meeting this morning one of my colleagues–Sarah Carrier–gave an interesting report on how some of our researchers are actually using our digital collections. Sarah’s report focused specifically on permission-to-publish requests, that is, cases where researchers requested permission from the library to publish reproductions of materials in our collection in scholarly monographs, journal articles, exhibits, websites, documentaries, and any number of other creative works. To be clear, Sarah examined all of these requests, not just those involving digital collections. Below is a chart showing the distribution of the types of publication uses.

Types of permission-to-publish requests, FY2013-2014
Types of permission-to-publish requests, FY2013-2014

What I found especially interesting about Sarah’s report, though, is that nearly 76% of permission-to-publish requests did involve materials from the Rubenstein that have been digitized and are available in Duke Digital Collections. The chart below shows the Rubenstein collections that generate the highest percentage of requests. Notice that three of these in Duke Digital Collections were responsible for 40% of all permission-to-publish requests:

Collections generating the most permission-to-publish requests, FY2013-2014
Collections generating the most permission-to-publish requests, FY2013-2014

So, even though we’ve only digitized a small fraction of the Rubenstein’s holdings (probably less than 1%), it is this 1% that generates the overwhelming majority of permission-to-publish requests.

I find this stat both encouraging and discouraging at the same time. On one hand, it’s great to see that folks are finding our digital collections and using them in their publications or other creative output. On the other hand, it’s frightening to think that the remainder of our amazing but yet-to-be digitized collections are rarely if ever used in publications, exhibits, and websites.

I’m not suggesting that researchers aren’t using un-digitized materials. They certainly are, in record numbers. More patrons are visiting our reading room than ever before. So how do we explain these numbers? Perhaps research and publication are really two separate processes. Imagine you’ve just written a 400 page monograph on the evolution of popular song in America, you probably just want to sit down at your computer, fire up your web browser, and do a Google Image Search for “historic sheet music” to find some cool images to illustrate your book. Maybe I’m wrong, but if I’m not, we’ve got you covered. After it’s published, send us a hard copy. We’ll add it to the collection and maybe we’ll even digitize it someday.

[Data analysis and charts provided by Sarah Carrier – thanks Sarah!]

Large-Scale Digitization and Lessons from the CCC Project

Back in February 2014, we wrapped up the CCC project, a collaborative three year IMLS-funded digitization initiative with our partners in the Triangle Research Libraries Network (TRLN). The full title of the project is a mouthful, but it captures its essence: “Content, Context, and Capacity: A Collaborative Large-Scale Digitization Project on the Long Civil Rights Movement in North Carolina.”

Together, the four university libraries (Duke, NC State, UNC-Chapel Hill, NC Central) digitized over 360,000 documents from thirty-eight collections of manuscripts relevant to the project theme. About 66,000 were from our David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library collections.

Large-Scale

So how large is “large-scale”? By comparison, when the project kicked off in summer 2011, we had a grand total of 57,000 digitized objects available online (“published”), collectively accumulated through sixteen years of digitization projects. That number was 69,000 by the time we began publishing CCC manuscripts in June 2012. Putting just as many documents online in three years as we’d been able to do in the previous sixteen naturally requires a much different approach to creating digital collections.

Traditional Digitization Large-Scale Digitization
Individual items identified during scanning No item-level identification: entire folders scanned
Descriptive metadata applied to each item Archival description only (e.g., at the folder level)
Robust portals for search & browse Finding aid / collection guide as access point

There are some considerable tradeoffs between document availability vs. discovery and access features, but going at this scale speeds publication considerably. Large-scale digitization was new for all four partners, so we benefited by working together.

Digitized documents accessed through an archival finding aid / collection guide with folder-level description.

Project Evaluation

CCC staff completed qualitative and quantitative evaluations of this large-scale digitization approach during the course of the project, ranging from conducting user focus groups and surveys to analyzing the impact on materials prep time and image quality control. Researcher assessments targeted three distinct user groups: 1) Faculty & History Scholars; 2) Undergraduate Students (in research courses at UNC & NC State); 3) NC Secondary Educators.

Here are some of the more interesting findings (consult the full reports for details):

  • Ease of Use. Faculty and scholars, for the most part, found it easy to use digitized content presented this way. Undergraduates were more ambivalent, and secondary educators had the most difficulty.
  • To Embed or Not to Embed. In 2012, Duke was the only library presenting the image thumbnails embedded directly within finding aids and a lightbox-style image navigator. Undergrads who used Duke’s interface found it easier to use than UNC or NC Central’s, and Duke’s collections had a higher rate of images viewed per folder than the other partners. UNC & NC Central’s interfaces now use a similar convention.
  • Potential for Use. Most users surveyed said they could indeed imagine themselves using digitized collections presented in this way in the course of their research. However, the approach falls short in meeting key needs for secondary educators’ use of primary sources in their classes.
  • Desired Enhancements. The top two most desired features by faculty/scholars and undergrads alike were 1) the ability to search the text of the documents (OCR), and 2) the ability to explore by topic, date, document type (i.e., things enabled by item-level metadata). PDF download was also a popular pick.

 

Impact on Duke Digitization Projects

Since the moment we began putting our CCC manuscripts online (June 2012), we’ve completed the eight CCC collections using this large-scale strategy, and an additional eight manuscript collections outside of CCC using the same approach. We have now cumulatively put more digital objects online using the large-scale method (96,000) than we have via traditional means (75,000). But in that time, we have also completed eleven digitization projects with traditional item-level identification and description.

We see the large-scale model for digitization as complementary to our existing practices: a technique we can use to meet the publication needs of some projects.

Usage

Do people actually use the collections when presented in this way? Some interesting figures:

  • Views / item in 2013-14 (traditional digital object; item-level description): 13.2
  • Views / item in 2013-14 (digitized image within finding aid; folder-level description): 1.0
  • Views / folder in 2013-14 (digitized folder view in finding aid): 8.5

It’s hard to attribute the usage disparity entirely to the publication method (they’re different collections, for one). But it’s reasonable to deduce (and unsurprising) that bypassing item-level description generally results in less traffic per item.

On the other hand, one of our CCC collections (The Allen Building Takeover Collection) has indeed seen heavy use–so much, in fact, that nearly 90% of TRLN’s CCC items viewed in the final six months of the project were from Duke. Its images averaged over 78 views apiece in the past year; its eighteen folders opened 363 times apiece. Why? The publication of this collection coincided with an on-campus exhibit. And it was incorporated into multiple courses at Duke for assignments to write using primary sources.

The takeaway is, sometimes having interesting, important, and timely content available for use online is more important than the features enabled or the process by which it all gets there.

Looking Ahead

We’ll keep pushing ahead with evolving our practices for putting digitized materials online. We’ve introduced many recent enhancements, like fulltext searching, a document viewer, and embedded HTML5 video. Inspired by the CCC project, we’ll continue to enhance our finding aids to provide access to digitized objects inline for context (e.g., The Jazz Loft Project Records). Our TRLN partners have also made excellent upgrades to the interfaces to their CCC collections (e.g., at UNC, at NC State) and we plan, as usual, to learn from them as we go.