Category Archives: Collections

The Letter Compels You!

A few weeks ago at Duke Libraries, we had our 5th annual “Screamfest.” The event, which occurs on Halloween, is when the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library shows off unique holdings related to extrasensory perception, premature burial, 16th century witches, devils (not just blue ones), creepy advertisements, eerie pulp fiction, scary zines and more. Attendees sometimes show up in costumes, and there is of course, lots of candy. I always eat too much.

As I was looking through the various materials on display, there was one item in particular that seemed to draw me in. In fact, you could say I was compelled to read it, almost as if I was not in control of my actions! It’s a simple one-page letter, written in 1949 by Luther M. Schulze, a Lutheran pastor in Washington, D.C., addressed to J.B Rhine, the scientist who founded parapsychology as a branch of psychology, and started the Duke Parapsychology Laboratory, which operated at Duke University from 1930 until the 1960’s. Parapsychology is the study of phenomena such as telepathy, clairvoyance, hypnosis, psychokinesis and other paranormal mysteries.

The 1949 letter from the Rev. Luther Schulze to J.B. Rhine. (click to enlarge)

The letter begins: “We have in our congregation a family who are being disturbed by poltergeist phenomena. It first appeared about January 15, 1949. The family consists of the maternal grandmother, a fourteen (year) old boy who is an only child, and his parents. The phenomena is present only in the boy’s presence. I had him in my home on the night of February 17-18 to observe for myself. Chairs moved with him and one threw him out. His bed shook whenever he was in it.” The letter also states that his family says that “words appeared on the boy’s body” and he “has visions of the devil and goes into a trance and speaks in a strange language”

As a fan of classic horror films, this letter immediately reminded me of what is generally regarded to be the scariest movie of all time, “The Exorcist.” I was too young to see the film when it was originally released in 1973, but got the chance to see the director’s cut on the big screen in 2000. It’s definitely the scariest movie of all time, but not because of gratuitous gore like you see in today’s monotonously-sadistic slasher films. The Exorcist is the scariest movie ever because it expertly taps into one of the central fears within our Judeao-Christian collective subconscious: That evil isn’t just something we battle outside of ourselves. The most frightening evil of all is that which can take root within us.

It turns out there’s a direct link between this mysterious letter to J.B Rhine and “The Exorcist.” William Peter Blatty, who wrote the 1971 novel and adapted it for the film, based his book on a real-life 1949 exorcism performed by Jesuit priests in St. Louis. The exorcism was performed on a 14-yr-old boy under the pseudonym of “Roland Doe” and that is the same boy that Rev. Schulze is referring to in his letter to J.B. Rhine at Duke. When Rhine received the letter, Roland’s family had taken him to St. Louis for the exorcism, having given up on conventional psychiatry. Blatty changed the gender and age of the child for his novel and screenplay, but many of the occurances described in the letter are recognizable to anyone familiar with the book or movie.

The reply from J.B. Rhine to the Rev. Luther Schulze. (click to enlarge)

Unfortunately for this blog post, poltergeists or demons or psychosomatic illnesses (depending on your point of view) often vanish as unexpectedly as they show up, and that’s what happened in this case. After an initial reply to the letter from L.E. Rhine, his wife and lab partner, J.B. Rhine responded to Rev. Schulze that he was “deeply interested in this case,” and that “the most likely normal explanation is that the boy is, himself led to create the effect of being the victim of mysterious agencies or forces and might be sincerely convinced of it. Such movements as those of the chair and bed might, from your very brief account of them, have originated within himself.” Part of the reason Rhine was successful in his field is that he was an empirical skeptic. Rhine later visited Schulze in person, but by then, the exorcism had ended, and Roland’s condition had returned to normal.

According to subsequent research, Roland married, had children and leads a quiet, ordinary life near Washington, D.C. He refuses to talk about the events of 1949, other than saying he doesn’t remember. In the mid-1960’s, Duke and J.B. Rhine parted ways, and the Duke Parapsychology Lab closed. This was likely due in part to the fact that, despite Rhine’s extensive research and empirical testing, parapsychology was, and still is, considered a dubious pseudoscience. Duke probably realized the association wasn’t helping their reputation as a stellar academic institution. The Rhines continued their research, setting up the “Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man,” independently of Duke. But the records of the Duke Parapsychology Laboratory are available for study at Duke Libraries. I wonder what other dark secrets might be discovered,  brought to light and exorcized?

New and Recently Migrated Digital Collections

In the past 3 months, we have launched a number of exciting digital collections!  Our brand new offerings are either available now or will be very soon.  They are:

  • Duke Property Plats: https://repository.duke.edu/dc/uapropplat
  • Early Arabic Manuscripts (included in the recently migrated Early Greek Manuscripts): https://repository.duke.edu/dc/earlymss
  • International Broadsides (added to migrated Broadsides and Ephemera collection): https://repository.duke.edu/dc/broadsides
  • Orange County Tax List Ledger, 1875: https://repository.duke.edu/dc/orangecountytaxlist
  • Radio Haiti Archive, second batch of recordings: https://repository.duke.edu/dc/radiohaiti
  • William Gedney Finished Prints and Contact Sheets (newly re-digitized with new and improved metadata): https://repository.duke.edu/dc/gedney
A selection from the William Gedney Photographs digital collection

In addition to the brand new items, the digital collections team is constantly chipping away at the digital collections migration.  Here are the latest collections to move from Tripod 2 to the Duke Digital Repository (these are either available now or will be very soon):

One of the Greek items in the Early Manuscripts Collection.

Regular readers of Bitstreams are familiar with our digital collections migrations project; we first started writing about it almost 2 years ago when we announced the first collection to be launched in the new Duke Digital Repository interface.  Since then we have posted about various aspects of the migration with some regularity.

What we hoped would be a speedy transition is still a work in progress 2 years later.   This is due to a variety of factors one of which is that the work itself is very complex.  Before we can move a collection into the digital repository it has to be reviewed, all digital objects fully accounted for, and all metadata remediated and crosswalked into the DDR metadata profile.  Sometimes this process requires little effort.   However other times, especially with older collection, we have items with no metadata, or metadata with no items, or the numbers in our various systems simply do not match.  Tracking down the answers can require some major detective work on the part of my amazing colleagues.

Despite these challenges, we eagerly press on.  As each collection moves we get a little closer to having all of our digital collections under preservation control and providing access to all of them from a single platform.  Onward!

A Summer Day in the Life of Digital Collections

A recent tweet from my colleague in the Rubenstein Library (pictured above) pretty much sums up the last few weeks at work.  Although I rarely work directly with students and classes, I am still impacted by the hustle and bustle in the library when classes are in session.  Throughout the busy Spring I found myself saying, oh I’ll have time to work on that over the Summer.  Now Summer is here, so it is time to make some progress on those delayed projects while keeping others moving forward.  With that in mind here is your late Spring and early Summer round-up of Digital Collections news and updates.

Radio Haiti

A preview of the soon to be live Radio Haiti Archive digital collection.

The long anticipated launch of the Radio Haiti Archives is upon us.  After many meetings to review the metadata profile, discuss modeling relationships between recordings, and find a pragmatic approach to representing metadata in 3 languages all in the Duke Digital Repository public interface, we are now in preview mode, and it is thrilling.  Behind the scenes, Radio Haiti represents a huge step forward in the Duke Digital Repository’s ability to store and play back audio and video files.

You can already listen to many recordings via the Radio Haiti collection guide, and we will share the digital collection with the world in late June or early July.  In the meantime, check out this teaser image of the homepage.

 

Section A

My colleague Meghan recently wrote about our ambitions Section A digitization project, which will result in creating finding aids for and digitizing 3000+ small manuscript collections from the Rubenstein library.  This past week the 12 people involved in the project met to review our workflow.  Although we are trying to take a mass digitization and streamlined approach to this project, there are still a lot of people and steps.  For example, we spent about 20-30 minutes of our 90 minute meeting reviewing the various status codes we use on our giant Google spreadsheet and when to update them. I’ve also created a 6 page project plan that encompasses both a high and medium level view of the project. In addition to that document, each part of the process (appraisal, cataloging review, digitization, etc.) also has their own more detailed documentation.  This project is going to last at least a few years, so taking the time to document every step is essential, as is agreeing on status codes and how to use them.  It is a big process, but with every box the project gets a little easier.

Status codes for tracking our evaluation, remediation, and digitization workflow.
Section A Project Plan Summary

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diversity and Inclusion Digitization Initiative Proposals and Easy Projects

As Bitstreams readers and DUL colleagues know, this year we instituted 2 new processes for proposing digitization projects.  Our second digitization initiative deadline has just passed (it was June 15) and I will be working with the review committee to review new proposals as well as reevaluate 2 proposals from the first round in June and early July.  I’m excited to say that we have already approved one project outright (Emma Goldman papers), and plan to announce more approved projects later this Summer. 

We also codified “easy project” guidelines and have received several easy project proposals.  It is still too soon to really assess this process, but so far the process is going well.

Transcription and Closed Captioning

Speaking of A/V developments, another large project planned for this Summer is to begin codifying our captioning and transcription practices.  Duke Libraries has had a mandate to create transcriptions and closed captions for newly digitized A/V for over a year. In that time we have been working with vendors on selected projects.  Our next steps will serve two fronts; on the programmatic side we need  review the time and expense captioning efforts have incurred so far and see how we can scale our efforts to our backlog of publicly accessible A/V.  On the technology side I’ve partnered with one of our amazing developers to sketch out a multi-phase plan for storing and providing access to captions and time-coded transcriptions accessible and searchable in our user interface.  The first phase goes into development this Summer.  All of these efforts will no doubt be the subject of a future blog post.  

Testing VTT captions of Duke Chapel Recordings in JWPlayer

Summer of Documentation

My aspirational Summer project this year is to update digital collections project tracking documentation, review/consolidate/replace/trash existing digital collections documentation and work with the Digital Production Center to create a DPC manual.  Admittedly writing and reviewing documentation is not the most exciting Summer plan,  but with so many projects and collaborators in the air, this documentation is essential to our productivity, communication practices, and my personal sanity.   

Late Spring Collection launches and Migrations

Over the past few months we launched several new digital collections as well as completed the migration of a number of collections from our old platform into the Duke Digital Repository.  

New Collections:

Migrated Collections:

…And so Much More!

In addition to the projects above, we continue to make slow and steady progress on our MSI system, are exploring using the FFv1 format for preserving selected moving image collections, planning the next phase of the Digital Collections migration into the Duke Digital Repository, thinking deeply about collection level metadata and structured metadata, planning to launch newly digitized Gedney images, integrating digital objects in finding aids and more.  No doubt some of these efforts will appear in subsequent Bitstreams posts.  In the meantime, let’s all try not to let this Summer fly by too quickly!

Enjoy Summer while you can!

New Digitization Project Proposal Process and Call for Proposals

At Duke University Libraries (DUL), we are embarking on a new way to propose digitization projects.  This isn’t a spur of the moment New Year’s resolution I promise, but has been in the works for months.  Our goal in making a change to our proposal process is twofold: first, we want to focus our resources on specific types of projects, and second, we want to make our efforts as efficient as possible.

Introducing Digitization Initiatives

The new proposal workflow centers on what we are calling “digitization initiatives.” These are groups of digitization projects that relate to a specific theme or characteristic.  DUL’s Advisory Council for Digital Collections develops guidelines for an initiative, and will then issue a call for proposals to the library.  Once the call has been issued, library staff can submit proposals on or before one of two deadlines over a 6 month period.  Following submission, proposals will be vetted, and accepted proposals will move onto implementation. Our previous system did not include deadlines, and proposals were asked to demonstrate broad strategic importance only.

DUL is issuing our first call for proposals now, and if this system proves successful we will develop a second digitization initiative to be announced in 2018.

I’ll say more about why we are embarking on this new system later, but first I would like to tell you about our first digitization initiative.

Call for Proposals

Duke University Libraries’ Advisory Council for Digital Collections has chosen diversity and inclusion as the theme of our first digitization initiative.  This initiative draws on areas of strategic importance both for DUL (as noted in the 2016 strategic plan) and the University.  Prospective champions are invited to think broadly about definitions of diversity and inclusion and how particular collections embody these concepts, which may include but is not limited to topics of race, religion, class, ability, socioeconomic status, gender, political beliefs, sexuality, age, and nation of origin.

Full details of the call for proposals here: https://duke.box.com/s/vvftxcqy9qmhtfcxdnrqdm5kqxh1zc6t

Proposals will be due on March 15, 2017 or June 15, 2017.

Proposing non-diversity and inclusion related proposal

We have not forgotten about all the important digitization proposals that support faculty, important campus or off campus partnerships, and special events. In our experience, these are often small projects and do not require a lot of extra conservation, technical services, or metadata support so we are creating an“easy” project pipeline.  This will be a more light-weight process that will still requires a proposal, but less strategic vetting at the outset. There will be more details coming out in late January or February on these projects so stay tuned.

Why this change?

I mentioned above that we are moving to this new system to meet two goals. First, this new system will allow us to focus proposal and vetting resources on projects that meet a specific strategic goal as articulated by an initiative’s guidelines.  Additionally, over the last few years we have received a huge variety of proposals: some are small “no brainer” type proposals while others are extremely large and complicated.  We only had one system for proposing and reviewing all proposals, and sometimes it seemed like too much process and sometimes too little.  In other words one process size does not not fit all.  By dividing our process into strategically focussed proposals on the one hand and easy projects on the other, we can spend more of our Advisory committee’s time on proposals that need it and get the smaller ones straight into the hands of the implementation team.

Another benefit of this process is that proposal deadlines will allow the implementation team to batch various aspects of our work (batching similar types of work makes it go faster).  The deadlines will also allow us to better coordinate the digitization related work performed by other departments.  I often find myself asking departments to fit digitization projects in with their already busy schedules, and it feels rushed and can create unnecessary stress.  If the implementation team has a queue of projects to address, then we can schedule it well in advance.

I’m really excited to see this new process get off the ground, and I’m looking forward to seeing all the fantastic proposals that will result from the Diversity and Inclusion initiative!

Cutting Through the Noise

Noise is an inescapable part of our sonic environment.  As I sit at my quiet library desk writing this, I can hear the undercurrent of the building’s pipes and HVAC systems, the click-clack of the Scribe overhead book scanner, footsteps from the floor above, doors opening and closing in the hallway, and the various rustlings of my own fidgeting.  In our daily lives, our brains tune out much of this extraneous noise to help us focus on the task at hand and be alert to sounds conveying immediately useful information: a colleagues’s voice, a cell-phone buzz, a fire alarm.

When sound is recorded electronically, however, this tuned-out noise is often pushed to the foreground.  This may be due to the recording conditions (e.g. a field recording done on budget equipment in someone’s home or outdoors) or inherent in the recording technology itself (electrical interference, mechanical surface noise).  Noise is always present in the audio materials we digitize and archive, many of which are interviews, oral histories, and events recorded to cassette or open reel tape by amateurs in the field.  Our first goal is to make the cleanest and most direct analog-to-digital transfer possible, and then save this as our archival master .wav file with no alterations.  Once this is accomplished, we have some leeway to work with the digital audio and try to create a more easily listenable and intelligible access copy.

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I recently started experimenting with Steinberg WaveLab software to clean up digitized recordings from the Larry Rubin Papers.  This collection contains some amazing documentation of Rubin’s work as a civil rights organizer in the 1960s, but the ever-present hum & hiss often threaten to obscure the content.  I worked with two plug-ins in WaveLab to try to mitigate the noise while leaving the bulk of the audio information intact.

plugin1

Even if you don’t know it by name, anyone who has used electronic audio equipment has probably heard the dreaded 60 Cycle Hum.  This is a fixed low-frequency tone that is related to our main electric power grid operating at 120 volts AC in the United States.  Due to improper grounding and electromagnetic interference from nearby wires and appliances, this current can leak into our audio signals and appear as the ubiquitous 60 Hz hum (disclaimer–you may not be able to hear this as well on tiny laptop speakers or earbuds).  Wavelab’s De-Buzzer plug-in allowed me to isolate this troublesome frequency and reduce its volume level drastically in relation to the interview material.  Starting from a recommended preset, I adjusted the sensitivity of the noise reduction by ear to cut unwanted hum without introducing any obvious digital artifacts in the sound.

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Similarly omnipresent in analog audio is High-Frequency Hiss.  This wash of noise is native to any electrical system (see Noise Floor) and is especially problematic in tape-based media where the contact of the recording and playback heads against the tape introduces another level of “surface noise.”  I used the De-Noiser plug-in to reduce hiss while being careful not to cut into the high-frequency content too much.  Applying this effect too heavily could make the voices in the recording sound dull and muddy, which would be counterproductive to improving overall intelligibility.

Listen to the before & after audio snippets below.  While the audio is still far from perfect due to the original recording conditions, conservative application of the noise reduction tools has significantly cleaned up the sound.  It’s possible to cut the noise even further with more aggressive use of the effects, but I felt that would do more harm than good to the overall sound quality.

BEFORE:

AFTER:

 

I was fairly pleased with these results and plan to keep working with these and other software tools in the future to create digital audio files that meet the needs of archivists and researchers.  We can’t eliminate all of the noise from our media-saturated lives, but we can always keep striving to keep the signal-to-noise ratio at manageable and healthy levels.

 

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Go Faster, Do More, Integrate Everything, and Make it Good

We’re excited to have released nine digitized collections online this week in the Duke Digital Repository (see the list below ). Some are brand new, and the others have been migrated from older platforms. This brings our tally up to 27 digitized collections in the DDR, and 11,705 items. That’s still just a few drops in what’ll eventually be a triumphantly sloshing bucket, but the development and outreach we completed for this batch is noteworthy. It changes the game for our ability to put digital materials online faster going forward.

Let’s have a look at the new features, and review briefly how and why we ended up here.

Collection Portals: No Developers Needed

Mangum Photos Collection
The Hugh Mangum Photographs collection portal, configured to feature selected images.

Before this week, each digital collection in the DDR required a developer to create some configuration files in order to get a nice-looking, made-to-order portal to the collection. These configs set featured items and their layout, a collection thumbnail, custom rules for metadata fields and facets, blog feeds, and more.

 

Duke Chapel Recordings Portal
The Duke Chapel Recordings collection portal, configured with customized facets, a blog feed, and images external to the DDR.

It’s helpful to have this kind of flexibility. It can enhance the usability of collections that have distinctive characteristics and unique needs. It gives us a way to show off photos and other digitized images that’d otherwise look underwhelming. But on the other hand, it takes time and coordination that isn’t always warranted for a collection.

We now have an optimized default portal display for any digital collection we add, so we don’t need custom configuration files for everything. A collection portal is not as fancy unconfigured, but it’s similar and the essential pieces are present. The upshot is: the digital collections team can now take more items through the full workflow quickly–from start to finish–putting collections online without us developers getting in the way.

Whitener Collection Portal
A new “unconfigured” collection portal requiring no additional work by developers to launch. Emphasis on archival source collection info in lieu of a digital collection description.

Folder Items

To better accommodate our manuscript collections, we added more distinction in the interface between different kinds of image items. A digitized archival folder of loose manuscript material now includes some visual cues to reinforce that it’s a folder and not, e.g., a bound album, a single photograph, or a two-page letter.

Folder items
Folder items have a small folder icon superimposed on their thumbnail image.
Folder item view
Above the image viewer is a folder icon with an image count; the item info header below changes to “Folder Info”

We completed a fair amount of folder-level digitization in recent years, especially between 2011-2014 as part of a collaborative TRLN Large-Scale Digitization IMLS grant project.  That initiative allowed us to experiment with shifting gears to get more digitized content online efficiently. We succeeded in that goal, however, those objects unfortunately never became accessible or discoverable outside of their lengthy, text-heavy archival collection guides (finding aids). They also lacked useful features such as zooming, downloading, linking, and syndication to other sites like DPLA. They were digital collections, but you couldn’t find or view them when searching and browsing digital collections.

Many of this week’s newly launched collections are composed of these digitized folders that were previously siloed off in finding aids. Now they’re finally fully integrated for preservation, discovery, and access alongside our other digital collections in the DDR. They remain viewable from within the finding aids and we link between the interfaces to provide proper context.

Keyboard Nav & Rotation

Two things are bound to increase when digitizing manuscripts en masse at the folder level: 1) the number of images present in any given “item” (folder); 2) the chance that something of interest within those pages ends up oriented sideways or upside-down. We’ve improved the UI a bit for these cases by adding full keyboard navigation and rotation options.

Rotate Image Feature
Rotation options in the image viewer. Navigate pages by keyboard (Page Up/Page Down on Windows, Fn+Up/Down on Mac).

Conclusion

Duke Libraries’ digitization objectives are ambitious. Especially given both the quality and quantity of distinctive, world-class collections in the David M. Rubenstein Library, there’s a constant push to: 1) Go Faster, 2) Do More, 3) Integrate Everything, and 4) Make Everything Good. These needs are often impossibly paradoxical. But we won’t stop trying our best. Our team’s accomplishments this week feel like a positive step in the right direction.

Newly Available DDR Collections in Sept 2016

Presto! The Magic of Instantaneous Discs

This week’s post is inspired by one of the more fun aspects of digitization work:  the unexpected, unique, and strange audio objects that find their way to my desk from time to time.  These are usually items that have been located in our catalog via Internet search by patrons, faculty, or library staff.  Once the item has been identified as having potential research value and a listening copy is requested, it comes to us for evaluation and digital transfer.  More often than not it’s just your typical cassette or VHS tape, but sometimes something special rises to the surface…

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The first thing that struck me about this disc from the James Cannon III Papers was the dreamy contrast of complementary colors.  An enigmatic azure label sits atop a translucent yellow grooved disc.  The yellow has darkened over time in places, almost resembling a finely aged wheel of cheese.  Once the initial mesmerization wore off,  I began to consider several questions.  What materials is it made out of?  How can I play it back?  What is recorded on it?

A bit of research confirmed my suspicion that this was an “instantaneous disc,” a one-of-a-kind record cut on a lathe in real time as a musical performance or speech is happening.  Instantaneous discs are a subset of what are typically known as “lacquers” or “acetates” (the former being the technically correct term used by recording engineers, and the latter referring to the earliest substance they were manufactured with).  These discs consist of a hard substrate coated with a material soft enough to cut grooves into, but durable enough to withstand being played back on a turntable.  This particular disc seems to be made of a fibre-based material with a waxy coating.  The Silvertone label was owned by Sears, who had their own line of discs and recorders.  Further research suggested that I could probably safely play the disc a couple of times on a standard record player without damaging it, providing I used light stylus pressure.

Playback revealed (in scratchy lo-fi form) an account of a visit to New York City, which was backed up by adjacent materials in the Cannon collection:

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I wasn’t able to play this second disc due to surface damage, but it’s clear from the text that it was recorded in New York and intended as a sort of audio “letter” to Cannon.  These two discs illustrate the novelty of recording media in the early 20th Century, and we can imagine the thrill of receiving one of these in the mail and hearing a friend’s voice emerge from the speaker.  The instantaneous disc would mostly be replaced by tape-based media by the 1950s and ’60s, but the concept of a “voice message” has persisted to this day.

If you are interested in learning more about instantaneous discs, you may want to look into the history of the Presto Recording Company.  They were one of the main producers of discs and players, and there are a number of websites out there documenting the history and including images of original advertisements and labels.

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Lessons Learned from the Duke Chapel Recordings Project

Although we launched the Duke Chapel Recordings Digital Collection in April, work on the project has not stopped.  This week I finally had time to pull together all our launch notes into a post mortem report, and several of the project contributors shared our experience at the Triangle Research Libraries Network (TRLN) Annual meeting.  So today I am going to share some of the biggest lessons learned that fueled our presentation, and provide some information and updates about the continuing project work.  

Chapel Recordings Digital Collection landing page
Chapel Recordings Digital Collection landing page

Just to remind you, the Chapel Recordings digital collection features recordings of services and sermons given in the chapel dating back to the mid 1950s.  The collection also includes a set of written versions of the sermons that were prepared prior to the service dating back to the mid 1940s.

What is Unique about the Duke Chapel Recordings Project?

All of our digital collections projects are unique, but the Chapel Recordings had some special challenges that raised the level of complexity of the project overall.   All of our usual digital collections tasks (digitization, metadata, interface development) were turned up to 11 (in the Spinal Tap sense) for all the reasons listed below.

  • More stakeholders:  Usually there is one person in the library who champions a digital collection, but in this case we also had stakeholders from both the Chapel and the Divinity School who applied for the grant to get funding to digitize.  The ultimate goal for the collection is to use the recordings of sermons as a homiletics teaching tool.  As such they continue to create metadata for the sermons, and use it as a resource for their homiletics communities both at Duke and beyond.
  • More formats and data:  we digitized close to 1000 audio items, around 480 video items and 1300 written sermons.  That is a lot of material to digitize!  At the end of the project we had created 58 TB of data!!  The data was also complex; we had some sermons with just a written version, some with written, audio, and video versions and every possible combination in between.  Following digitization we had to match all the recordings and writings together as well as clean up metadata and file identifiers.  It was a difficult, time-consuming, and confusing process.
  • More vendors:  given the scope of digitization for this project we outsourced the work to two vendors.  We also decided to contract with a  vendor for transcription and closed captioning.  Although this allowed our Digital Production Center to keep other projects and digitization pipelines moving, it was still a lot of work to ship batches of material, review files, and keep in touch throughout the process.
  • More changes in direction:  during the implementation phase of the project we made 2 key decisions which elevated the complexity of our project.  First, we decided to launch the new material in the new Digital Repository platform.  This meant we basically started from scratch in terms of A/V interfaces, and representing complex metadata.  Sean, one of our digital projects developers, talked about that in a past blog post and our TRLN presentation. Second, in Spring of 2015 colleagues in the library started thinking deeply about how we could make historic A/V like the Chapel Recordings more accessible through closed captions and transcriptions.  After many conversations both in the library and with our colleagues in the Chapel and Divinity, we decided that the Chapel Recordings would be a good test case for working with closed captioning tools and vendors.  The Divinity School graciously diverted funds from their Lilly Endowment grant to make this possible.  This work is still in the early phases, and we hope to share more information about the process in an upcoming blog post.

 

Duke Chapel Recordings project was made possible by a grant from the Lilly Endowment.
Duke Chapel Recordings project was made possible by a grant from the Lilly Endowment.

Lessons learned and re-learned

As with any big project that utilizes new methods and technology, the implementation team learned a lot.  Below are our key takeaways.

  • More formal RFP / MOU:  we had invoices, simple agreements, and were in constant communication with the digitization vendors, but we could have used a more detailed MOU defining vendor practices at a more detailed level.  Not every project requires this kind of documentation, but a project of this scale with so many batches of materials going back and forth would have benefitted from a more detailed agreement.
  • Interns are the best:  University Archives was able to redirect intern funding to digital collections, and we would not have finished this project (or the Chronicle) with any sanity left if not for our intern.  We have had field experience students, and student workers, but it was much more effective to have someone dedicated to the project throughout the entire digitization and launch process. From now on, we will include interns in any similar grant funded project.
  • Review first – digitize 2nd:  this is definitely a lesson we re-learned for this project.  Prior to digitization, the collection was itemized and processed and we thought we were ready to roll.  However there were errors that would have been easier to resolve had we found them prior to digitization.  We also could have gotten a head start on normalizing data, and curating the collection had we spent more time with the inventory prior to digitization.
  • Modeling and prototypes:  For the last few years we have been able to roll out new digital collections through an interface that was well known, and very flexible.  However we developed Chapel Recordings in our new interface, and it was a difficult and at times confusing process. Next time around, we plan to be more proactive with our modeling and prototyping the interface before we implement it.  This would have saved both the team and our project stakeholders time, and would have made for less surprises at the end of the launch process.

Post Launch work

The Pop Up Archive editing interface.
The Pop Up Archive editing interface.

As I mentioned at the top of this blog post, Chapel Recordings work continues.  We are working with Pop Up Archive to transcribe the Chapel Recordings, and there is a small group of people at the Divinity School who are currently in the process of cleaning up transcripts specifically for the sermons themselves.  Eventually these transcriptions will be made available in the Chapel Recordings collection as closed captions or time synced transcripts or in some other way.  We have until December 2019 to plan and implement these features.

The Divinity School is also creating specialized metadata that will help make the the collection a more effective homiletics teaching tool.  They are capturing specific information from the sermons (liturgical season, bible chapter and verse quoted), but also applying subject terms from a controlled list they are creating with the help of their stakeholders and our metadata architect.  These terms are incredibly diverse and range from LCSH terms, to very specific theological terms (ex, God’s Love), to current events (ex, Black Lives Matter), to demographic-related terms (ex, LGBTQ) and more.  Both the transcription and enhanced metadata work is still in the early phases, and both will be integrated into the collection sometime before December 2019.  

The team here at Duke has been both challenged and amazed by working with the Duke Chapel Recordings.  Working with the Divinity School and the Chapel has been a fantastic partnership, and we look forward to bringing the transcriptions and metadata into the collection.  Stay tuned to find out what we learn next!

The Chronicle Digital Collection (1905-1989) Is Complete!

The 1905 to 1939 Chronicle issues are now live online at the Duke Chronicle Digital Collection. This marks the completion of a multi-year project to digitize Duke’s student newspaper. Not only will digitization provide easier online access to this gem of a collection, but it will also help preserve the originals held in the University Archives. With over 5,600 issues digitized and over 63,000 pages scanned, this massive collection is sure to have something for everyone.

The ever issue of the Trinity Chronicle from December 1905!

The first two decades of the Chronicle saw its inception and growth as the student newspaper under the title The Trinity Chronicle. In the mid-1920s after the name change to Duke University, the Chronicle followed suit. In Fall of 1925, it officially became The Duke Chronicle.

The Nineteen-teens saw the growth of the university, with new buildings popping up, while others burned down – a tragic fire decimated the Washington Duke Building.

The 1920s was even more abuzz with construction of West Campus as Trinity College became Duke University. This decade also saw the death of two Duke family members most dedicated to Duke University, James B. Duke and his brother Benjamin N. Duke.

Back in 1931, our Carolina rivalry focussed on football not basketball

In the shadow of the Great Depression, the 1930s at Duke was a time to unite around a common cause – sports! Headlines during this time, like decades to follow, abounded with games, rivalries, and team pride.

Take the time to explore this great resource, and see how Duke and the world has changed. View it through the eyes of student journalists, through advertisements and images. So much occurred from 1905 to 1989, and the Duke Chronicle was there to capture it.

Post contributed by Jessica Serrao, former King Intern for Digital Collections.