Category Archives: Collections

ArcLight at the End of the Tunnel

Archival collection guides—also known as finding aids—are a critical part of the researcher experience when finding and accessing materials from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library and the Duke University Archives. At present, we have guides for nearly 4,000 collections with upwards of one million components that have some level of description. Our collection guides site is visited by researchers about 400 times per day.

example finding aid
An example collection guide.

In 2020, we’ll be making significant changes to our systems supporting archival discovery and access. The main impetus for this shift is that our current platform has grown outdated and is no longer sustainable going forward.  We intend to replace our platform with ArcLight, open source software backed by a community of peer institutions.

Finding Aids at Duke: Innovations Past

At Duke, we’re no strangers to pushing the boundaries of archival discovery through advances in technology. Way back in the mid 1990s, Duke was among pioneers rendering SGML-encoded finding aids into HTML.  For most of the 90s and aughts we used a commercial platform, but we decided to develop our own homegrown finding aids front-end in 2007 (using the Apache Cocoon framework). We then replaced it in 2012 with another in-house platform built on the Django web framework.

Since going home-grown in 2007, we have been able to find some key opportunities to innovate within our platforms. Here are a few examples:

finding aid with digitized component
Example archival component with inline embedded digital object and sticky navigation.

So, Why Migrate Now?

Our current platform was pretty good for its time, but a lot has changed in eight years. The way we build web applications today is much different than it used to be. And beyond desiring a modern toolset,  there are major concerns going forward around size, search/indexing, and support.

Size

We have some enormous finding aids. And we have added more big ones over the years. This causes problems of scale, particularly with an interface like ours that renders each collection as a single web page with all of the text of its contents written in the markup. One of our finding aids contains over 21,000 components; all told it is 9MB of raw EAD transformed into 15MB of HTML.

JWT Competitive Ads finding aid
A large finding aid — 15MB of HTML in a single page.

No amount of caching or server wizardry can change the fact that this is simply too much data to be delivered and rendered in a single webpage, especially for researchers in lower-bandwidth conditions. We need a solution that divides the data for any given finding aid into smaller payloads.

Search

Google Custom Search does a pretty nice job of relevance ranking and highlighting where in a finding aid a term matches (after all, that’s Google’s bread-and-butter). However, when used to power search in an application like this, it has some serious limitations. It only returns a maximum of one hundred results per query. Google doesn’t index 100% of the text, especially for our larger finding aids. And some finding aids are just mysteriously omitted despite our best efforts optimizing our markup for SEO and providing a sitemap.

search results powered by Google
Search Results powered by Google Custom Search

We need search functionality where we have complete control of what gets indexed, when, and how. And we need assurance that the entirety of the materials described will be discoverable.

Support

This is a familiar story. Homegrown applications used for several years by organizations with a small number of developers and a large number of projects to support become difficult to sustain over time. We have only one developer remaining who can fix our finding aids platform when it breaks, or prevent it from breaking when the systems around it change. Many of the software components powering the system are at or nearing end-of-life and they can’t be easily upgraded.

Where to Go From Here?

It has been clear for awhile that we would soon need a new platform for finding aids, but not as clear what platform we should pursue. We had been eyeing the progress of two promising open source community-built solutions emerging from our peer institutions: the ArchivesSpace Public UI (PUI), and ArcLight.

Over 2018-19, my colleague Noah Huffman and I co-led a project to install pilot instances of the ASpace PUI and ArcLight, index all of our finding aids in them, and then evaluate the platforms for their suitability to meet Duke’s needs going forward. The project involved gathering feedback from Duke archivists, curators, research services staff, and our digital collections implementation team. We looked at six criteria: 1) features; 2) ease of migration/customization; 3) integration with other systems; 4) data cleanup considerations; 5) impact on existing workflows; 6) sustainability/maintenance.

comparison of PUI and arclight
Comparison of the ASpace PUI and ArcLight, out-of-the-box UI.

There’s a lot to like about both the ASpace PUI and ArcLight. Feature-wise, they’re fairly comparable. Both are backed by a community of talented, respected peers, and either would be a suitable foundation for a usable, accessible interface to archives. In the end, we recommended that Duke pursue ArcLight, in large part due to its similarity to so much of the other software in our IT portfolio.

ArcLight is an extension to Blacklight, which is the key software component powering our library catalog, our Digital Collections / Digital Repository, and our Hyrax-based Research Data Repository. Our developers and operations staff have accumulated considerable experience working together to build, customize, and maintain Blacklight applications.

ArcLight Community Work Cycle: Fall 2019

Duke is certainly not alone in our desire to replace an outdated, unsustainable homegrown finding aids platform, and intention to use ArcLight as a replacement.

This fall, with tremendous leadership from Stanford University Libraries, five universities collaborated on developing the ArcLight software further to address shared needs. Over a nine week work cycle from August to October, we had the good fortune of working alongside Stanford, Princeton, Michigan, and Indiana. The team addressed needs on several fronts, especially: usability, accessibility, indexing, context/navigation, and integrations.

Arclight community work cycle II
Duke joined Stanford, Princeton, Michigan, and Indiana for Arclight Community Work Cycle II in fall 2019.

Three Duke staff members participated: I was a member of the Development Team, Noah Huffman a member of the Product Owners Team, and Will Sexton on the Steering Group.

The work cycle is complete and you can try out the current state of the core  ArcLight demo application. It includes several finding aids from each of the participating partner institutions. Here are just a few highlights that have us excited about bringing ArcLight to Duke:

ArcLight UI screenshots
Search results can be grouped by collection. Faceted navigation helps pinpoint items of interest from deep within a finding aid.
Screenshots of Arclight UI
Components are individually discoverable and have their own pages. Integrations with online content viewers and request systems such as Aeon are possible.

Here’s a final demo video (37 min) that nicely summarizes the work completed in the fall 2019 work cycle.

Lighting the Way

National Forum on Archival Discovery and DeliveryWith some serious momentum from the fall ArcLight work cycle and plans taking shape to implement the software in 2020, the Duke Libraries intend to participate in the Stanford-led, IMLS grant-funded Lighting the Way project, a platform-agnostic National Forum on Archival Discovery and Delivery. Per the project website:

Lighting the Way is a year-long project led by Stanford University Libraries running from September 2019-August 2020 focused on convening a series of meetings focused on improving discovery and delivery for archives and special collections.

Coming in 2020: ArcLight Implementation at Duke

There’ll be much more share about this in the new year, but we are gearing up now for a 2020 ArcLight launch at Duke. As good as the platform is now out-of-the-box, we’ll have to do additional development to address some local needs, including:

  • Duke branding
  • An efficient preview/publication workflow
  • Digital object viewing / repository integration
  • Sitemap generation
  • Some data cleanup

Building these local customizations will be time well-spent. We’ll also look for more opportunities to collaborate with peers and contribute code back to the community. The future looks bright for Duke with ArcLight lighting the way.

Data Sciencing our Journal Subscriptions

The ongoing tensions between academic institutions and publishers have been escalating the last few months, but those tensions have existed for many years. The term “Big Deal” has been coined to describe a long-standing, industry-wide practice of journal bundling that forces libraries to subscribe to unwanted and unneeded publications rather than paying more for a limited number of individual subscriptions. This is a practice you see in other industries – for example, cable packages that provide hundreds of channels, even if you only want one or two specific channels.

What is especially problematic in higher education is that academics produce and review the content that gets published in the journals (for free), and then the universities have to pay the publishers a subscription fee to access the content. Imagine if YouTube required a subscription fee to watch any videos, including the ones you had posted. It’s a system that makes research harder to access and inhibits global scientific progress, all so publishers can earn an enormous profit margin.

Right now, academic publishing is controlled by five publishers (the “Big Five”) – a monopoly that makes it very difficult for libraries to negotiate better deals. Only very large organizations or consortia, like the University of California, have been able to start pushing back against the system. It will likely take large shake-ups like this for any large changes to take hold, but it in the meantime there may be ways to situate ourselves for making better purchasing decisions.

At Duke, we often review our usage of specific journal titles as we prepare to make purchasing decisions. Usage data comes in a variety of forms, but the most popular are counts of Duke views and downloads that come directly from the publishers and the number of times Duke authors publish in or cite a particular journal. There are many other kinds of data that might be of interest, however, including Duke participation on editorial boards, usage differences across disciplines, and even whether or not the journal is fully open access. Blending various data sources and optimizing the search decisions for a given budget cycle can be overwhelming.

Last fall, Duke University Libraries decided to propose a project for Duke’s Data+ summer program – a summer research experience in data science for undergraduate students. Our project, “Breaking the Bundle: Analyzing Duke’s Journal Subscriptions“, focuses on Duke’s subscriptions to journals published by Elsevier. The program is in its third week, and our team of two incredibly-sharp undergraduates has been hard at work building and blending our datasets. Our goal by the end of summer is to have a proof-of-concept dashboard that lets collection managers adjust the weights of various usage measures to generate an ideal collection of journals for a particular budget.

It is still very early in the process, but the students have been hard at work and have made great progress. We decided it would be best to develop the analysis software and dashboard using R, a statistical computing project with a rich history and many helpful development tools. In addition to publisher-provided views and downloads, the students have been able to use websites and APIs to collect data on journal open access status, editorial boards, numbers of publications, and numbers of citations. All Data+ teams present publicly on the projects twice during the summer, and we hope to schedule a third talk for a library audience before the end of the program on August 2.

Sample R code from the project
Just one of many files of R code generated for the project so far.

We look forward to seeing what the summer will bring! While this project is just one small step, automating the collection and analysis of journal usage will position us well, both for responsible purchases and for a hopefully-changing publishing landscape.

Just in time for Summer – New Digital Collections!

Looking for something to keep you company on your Summer vacation?  Why not direct your devices to a Duke Digital collections! Seriously! Here are a few of the compelling collections we debuted earlier this Spring, and we have have more coming in late June.

Hayti-Elizabeth Street renewal area

These maps and 2 volume report document Durham’s Hayti-Elizabeth st neighborhood infrastructure prior to the construction of the Durham Freeway, as well as the justifications for the redevelopment of the area.  This is an excellent resource for folks studying Durham history and/or the urban renewal initiatives of the mid-20th century. 

Map of the Hayti-Elizabeth Street renewal area
One map from “Hayti-Elizabeth Street renewal area : general neighborhood renewal plan, map 1”

African American Soldiers’ Photography albums

We launched 8 collections of photograph albums created by African American soldiers serving in the military across the world including Japan, Vietnam and Iowa.  Together these albums help “document the complexity of the African American military experience” (Bennett Carpenter from his blog post, “War in Black and White: African American Soldiers’ Photograph Albums”).  

One page from the African American soldier’s World War II photograph album of Munich, Germany

 

Sir Percy Moleworth Sykes Photograph Album

This photograph album contains pictures taken by Sir Percy Moleworth Sykes during his travels in a mountainous region of Central Asia, now the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China, with his sister, Ella Sykes.  According to the collection guide, the album’s “images are large, crisp, and rich with detail, offering views of a remote area and its culture during tensions in the decades following the Russo-Turkish War”.

A Sidenote

Both the Hayti-Elizabeth and soldiers’ albums collections were proposed in response to our 2017 call for digitization proposals related to diversity and inclusion.  Other collections in that batch include the Emma Goldman papers, Josephine Leary papers, and the ReImagining collection.  

Coming soon

Our work never stops, and we have several large projects in the works that are scheduled to launch by the end of June. They are the first batch of video recordings from the Memory Project. We are busy migrating the incredible photographs from the Sydney Gamble collection into the digital repository.  Finally there is one last batch of Radio Haiti recordings on the way.  

Advertisement for the American AirlinesKeeping in touch

We launch new digital collections just about every quarter, and have been investigating new ways to promote our collections as part of an assessment project.  We are thinking of starting a newsletter – would you subscribe? What other ways would you like to keep in touch with Duke Digital Collections? Post a comment or contact me directly

My Family Story through the Duke Digital Collections Program

Hello! This is my first blog as the new Digital Production Service Manager, and I’d like to take this opportunity to take you, the reader, through my journey of discovering the treasures that the Duke Digital Collections program offers. To personalize this task, I  explored the materials related to my family’s journey to the United States. First, I should contextualize. After migrating from south China in the mid-1800s, my family fled Vietnam in the late 1970s and we left with the bare necessities – mainly food, clothes, and essential documents. All I have now are a few family pictures from that era and vividly told stories from my parents to help me connect the dots of my family’s history.

When I started delving into Duke’s Digital Collections, it was heartening to find materials of China, Vietnam, and even anti-war materials in the U.S. The following are some materials and collections that I’d like to highlight.

The Sidney D. Gamble Photographs offer over 5,000 photographs of China in the early 20th century. Images of everyday life in China and landscapes are available in this collection.The above image from the Gamble collection, is that of a junk, or houseboat, photographed in the early 1900s. When my family fled Vietnam, fifty people crammed into a similar vessel and sailed in the dead of night along the Gulf of Tonkin. My parents spoke of how they were guided by the moonlight and how fearful they were of the junk catching fire from cooking rice.

The African American Soldier’s Vietnam War photograph album collection offers these gorgeous images of Vietnam. This is the country that was home for multiple generations for my family, and up until the war, it was a good life. I am astounded and grateful that these postcards were collected by an American soldier in the middle of war. Considering that I grew up in Los Angeles, California, I have no sense of the world that my parents inhabited, and these images help me appreciate their stories even more. On the other side of the planet, there were efforts to stop the war and it was intriguing to see a variety of digital collections depicting these perspectives through art and documentary photography. The image below is that of a poster from the Italian Cultural Posters collection depicting Uncle Sam and the Viet Cong.

In addition to capturing street scenes in London, the Ronald Reis Collection, includes images of Vietnam during the war and anti-war effort in the United States. The image below is that of a demonstration in Bryant Park in New York City. I recognize that the conflict was fought on multiple fronts and am grateful for these demonstrations, as they ultimately led to the end of the war.Lastly, the James Karales Photos collection depicts Vietnam during the war. The image below, titled “Soldiers leaving on helicopter” is one that reminds me of my uncle who left with the American soldiers and started a new life in the United States. In 1980, thanks to the Family Reunification Act, the aid of the American Red Cross, and my uncle’s sponsorship, we started a new chapter in America.

Perhaps this is typical of the immigrant experience, but it still is important to put into words. Not every community has the resources and the privilege to be remembered, and where there are materials to help piece those stories together, they are absolutely valued and appreciated. Thank you, Duke University Libraries, for making these materials available.

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!

“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

New and Migrated Digital Collections Round up

We are halfway through 2018, and so it seems like a fitting time to share new and newly migrated digital collections.  

Digital Collections Launched or Migrated since January 1 2018:
These collections should be publicly accessible in late June or early July:

Looking ahead to the rest of the year, we will have more Radio Haiti recordings, 1990s issues of the Duke Chronicle, the Josephine Leary papers, more of your favorite legacy digital collections moving over to the digital repository and so much more! Stay tuned!

Woman: The World Over

An amazing collection of lantern slides depicting women from nations around the world. At first glance, the women in these portraits seem like other portraits of the time, generally nondescript portraits of people at some random moment in time.  But upon closer inspection, and with the use of an accompanying lecture booklet, a much deeper picture is painted of the lives of these women.

Women: The World Over is a commercially-produced set of slides created by the European firm Riley Brothers in Bradford, England in 1901 that boasts a catalogue of 1,500 slide sets for sale or hire with lecture-format captions. These slides include women of different classes, working in agricultural, service, and industrial settings with lecture notes that refer to problematic social conditions for women, particularly regarding marriage, and changing social norms as the 20th century begins.

These lantern slides are part of the Lisa Unger Baskin Collection, a large collection with a common thread of revealing the often hidden role of women working and being productive throughout history.  The slides  will be a part of the exhibition, 500 Years of Women’s Work: the Lisa Unger Baskin Collection on display from March 5-June 15, 2019 in the Biddle Rare Book Room, Stone Family Gallery, and History of Medicine Room.

Included with the images below are transcriptions from the lecture booklet that accompanies this set of slides and contain views of the time and the author’s opinion.

“Arab women. Here we have some city Arab women coming from the well. These women are always veiled in public, the long black veil extending from their eyes down to their waist, and sometimes to their feet. Between their eyes, and stretching upwards to their foreheads, is a curious brass ornament resembling three stout thimbles, one on top of another. This serves a double purpose­ to act as an ornament, and to still further conceal the features. The rest of the figure is enveloped in a long gown with very wide sleeves. No one can fail to be struck with the upright walk of the women in Egypt, and some say it is due to their habit of carrying heavy weights on their heads, which renders it necessary to walk very erect and firmly.”
“Market Women, Madeira. We are now in sunny Madeira, where a group of market women await our notice. The streets of Funchal are always bright and busy. Sledges laden with sugar cane, barrels of wine or luggage, and drawn by oxen, dispute the road with hammock bearers and porters of all descriptions. But the gaily dressed women and girls who hasten about with heavy loads upon their backs, and with bright coloured handkerchiefs upon their heads, are the most interesting sight. Baskets of fruit and vegetables are their commonest burdens, and very picturesque the groups look, whether they are standing at the street corner discussing the rise and fall in prices, or seated upon the ground as in the present instance, or walking slowly homewards in the cool of the day. They are a pleasant folk, and live a life of comparative freedom and pleasure.”
“Hulling Rice in the Philippines. Here we have come across some Philippine women engaged in hulling rice. There are immense rice fields in all parts of the island which give employment to thousands of people. Rice is their staple food and the home product is not yet sufficient for the home consumption. A family of five persons will consume about 250 lbs. of rice per month. No rice husking or winnowing machines are in use, save small ones for domestic purposes The grain is usually husked in a large hard-wood mortar, where it is beaten with a pestle, several women, and sometimes men working over one mortar.”
“Haymaking in Russian. Then we all know that woman from the earliest recorded times has been employed in harvest operations, and has been at home in the field of peace. This seems fitting work for women, and work which she seems always willing to undertake.
The picture introduces us to a Russian haymaker, whose garment is of the most striking colours, and whose frame is built for hard work. The Russian peasantry of her class are a cheerful and contented folk, courteous to strangers, but not too friendly to soap the water.”

All 48 slides and the accompanying booklet will be published on the Digital Collections website later this year, included in the exhibit mentioned above and will also be traveling to the Grolier Club in New York city in December of 2019.  Keep an eye out for them!

 

Catalog Record: https://search.library.duke.edu/search?id=DUKE008113723

Finding Aid: https://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/findingaids/womantheworldover/

Charm City Sounds

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the 52nd Association for Recorded Sound Collections Annual Conference in Baltimore, MD.  From the ARSC website:

Founded in 1966, the Association for Recorded Sound Collections, Inc. is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and study of sound recordings—in all genres of music and speech, in all formats, and from all periods.

ARSC is unique in bringing together private individuals and institutional professionals. Archivists, librarians, and curators representing many of the world’s leading audiovisual repositories participate in ARSC alongside record collectors, record dealers, researchers, historians, discographers, musicians, engineers, producers, reviewers, and broadcasters.

ARSC’s vitality springs from more than 1000 knowledgeable, passionate, helpful members who really care about sound recordings.

ARSC Annual Conferences encourage open sharing of knowledge through informative presentations, workshops, and panel discussions. Tours, receptions, and special local events heighten the camaraderie that makes ARSC conferences lively and enjoyable.

This quote highlights several of the things that have made ARSC resources valuable and educational to me as the Audio Production Specialist at Duke Libraries:

  • The group’s membership includes both professionals and enthusiasts from a variety of backgrounds and types of institutions.
  • Members’ interests and specialties span a broad array of musical genres, media types, and time periods.
  • The organization serves as a repository of knowledge on obscure and obsolete sound recording media and technology.

This year’s conference offered a number of presentations that were directly relevant to our work here in Digital Collections and Curation Services, highlighting audio collections that have been digitized and the challenges encountered along the way.  Here’s a quick recap of some that stood out to me:

  • “Uncovering the Indian Neck Folk Festival Collection” by Maya Lerman (Folklife Center, Library of Congress).  This presentation showcased a collection of recordings and related documentation from a small invitation-only folk festival that ran from 1961-2014 and included early performances from Reverend Gary Davis, Dave Van Ronk, and Bob Dylan.  It touched on some of the difficulties in archiving optical and born-digital media (lack of metadata, deterioration of CD-Rs) as well as the benefits of educating prospective donors on best practices for media and documentation.
  • “A Garage in South Philly: The Vernacular Music Research Archive of Thornton Hagert” by David Sager and Anne Stanfield-Hagert.  This presentation paid tribute to the massive jazz archive of the late Mr. Hagert, comprising over 125,000 items of printed music, 75,000 recordings, 5,500 books, and 2,000 periodicals.  It spoke to the difficulties of selling or donating a private collection of this magnitude without splitting it up and undoing the careful, but idiosyncratic organizational structure as envisioned by the collector.
  • “Freedom is a Constant Struggle: The Golden State Mutual Sound Recordings” by Kelly Besser, Yasmin Dessem and Shanni Miller (UCLA Library).  This presentation covered the audio material from the archive of an African American-owned insurance company founded in 1925 in the Bay Area.  While audio was only a small part of this larger collection, the speakers demonstrated how it added additional context and depth to photographs, video, and written documents.  They also showed how this kind of archival audio can be an important tool in telling the stories of previously suppressed or unheard voices.
  • “Sounds, Sights and Sites of Activism in ’68” by Guha Shankar (Library of Congress).  This presentation examined a collection of recordings from “Resurrection City” in Washington, DC.  This was an encampment that was part of the Poor People’s Campaign, a demonstration for human rights organized by Martin Luther King, Jr. prior to his assassination in 1968.  The talk showed how these archival documents are being accessed and used to inform new forms of social and political activism and wider circulation via podcasts, websites, public lecture and exhibitions.

The ARSC Conference also touched on my personal interests in American traditional and vernacular music, especially folk and blues from the early 20th Century.  Presentations on the bluegrass scene in Baltimore, blues guitarist Johnny Shines, education outreach by the creators of PBS’s “American Epic” documentaries, and Hickory, NC’s own Blue Sky Boys provided a welcome break from favorite archivist topics such as metadata, workflows, and quality control.  Other fun parts of the conference included an impromptu jam session, a silent auction of books & records, and posters documenting the musical history of Baltimore.  True to the city’s nickname, I was charmed by my time in Baltimore and inspired by the amazingly diverse and dedicated work towards collecting and preserving our audio heritage by the ARSC community.

 

 

Hugh Mangum, Family and 100 years

What could me growing up in South West Virginia have to do with an itinerant photographer from Durham who was born in 1877?  His name was Hugh Mangum and he had a knack for bringing out the personalities of his subjects when, at the time, most photographs depict stiff and stoic people similar to the photograph below.

Hugh Mangum N475

We all have that family photo, taken with siblings, cousins or friends, that captures a specific time in our life or a specific feeling where you think to yourself “look at us” and just shake your head in amazement.  These photographs trigger memories that trigger other memories.  The photo below is that for me.  These are my siblings and cousins at my grandparents’ house in the early 90’s.  My siblings and I grew up on the same street as my grandparents and my cousins in the town of Blacksburg Virginia.  It seemed like we were always together but oddly there are very few pictures of all of us in one shot.

Adamo siblings and cousins circa 1990.

Even though this photograph was taken only a few decades ago a lot has changed in the lives of everyone in this photograph and also in the world of photography.  This picture was taken using ‘traditional’ film where, after taking the picture, you had to rewind the film, drop it off at the Fotomat to get your film processed and prints made before you could even see the images! We never knew if we had a “good” shot until days, sometimes weeks after an event.

Here is where my path intersects with Hugh Mangum.  We recently digitized some additional glass plate negatives from the Hugh Mangum collection.  Hugh was an itinerant photographer that traveled throughout North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.  In Virginia he traveled to Christiansburg, Radford and Roanoke.  These cities surround my hometown on three sides (respectively 8, 15 and 38 miles away).  These images were taken from 1890 to 1922.  This would put him in the area about 100 years before the family photo above.  I wonder if he passed through Blacksburg?

Hugh Mangum negatives N574, N576, N650.

Fast forward to 2018.  We carry computers in our pockets that have cameras that can capture every aspect of our lives.  We have social media sites where we post, share, tag, comment and record our lives.  I bet that even though we can now take thousands of photographs a year there are still the keepers.  The ones that rise to the top.  The ones that capture a moment in such a way that the younger generations might just say to themselves one day “look at us” and shaking their heads.