Category Archives: Collections

Digitization Details: Bringing Duke Living History Into Your Future

Recently, I digitized 123 videotapes from the Duke University Living History Program. Beginning in the early 1970’s, Duke University faculty members conducted interviews with prominent world leaders, politicians and activists. The first interviews were videotaped in Perkins Library at a time when video was groundbreaking technology, almost a decade before consumer-grade VCRs starting showing up in people’s living rooms. Some of the interviews begin with a visionary introduction by Jay Rutherfurd, who championed the program:

“At the W. R. Perkins library, in Duke University, we now commit this exciting experiment in electronic journalism into your future. May it illuminate well, educate wisely, and relate meaningfully, for future generations.”

Clearly, the “future” that Mr. Rutherfurd envisioned has arrived. Thanks to modern technology, we can now create digital surrogates of these videotaped interviews for long-term preservation and access. The subjects featured in this collection span a variety of generations, nationalities, occupations and political leanings. Interviewees include Les Aspin, Ellsworth Bunker, Dr. Samuel DuBois Cook, Joseph Banks Rhine, Jesse Jackson, Robert McNamara, Dean Rusk, King Mihai of Romania, Terry Sanford, Judy Woodruff, Angier Biddle Duke and many more. The collection also includes videotapes of speeches given on the Duke campus by Ronald Reagan, Abbie Hoffman, Bob Dole, Julian Bond and Elie Wiesel.

residue
Residue wiped off the head of a U-matic playback deck, the result of sticky-shed syndrome.

Many of the interviews were recorded on 3/4″ videotape, also called “U-matic.” Invented by Sony in 1969, the U-matic format was the first videotape to be housed inside a plastic cassette for portability, and would soon replace film as the primary television news-gathering format. Unfortunately, most U-matic tapes have not aged well. After decades in storage, many of the videotapes in our collection now have sticky-shed syndrome, a condition in which the oxide that holds the visual content is literally flaking off the polyester tape base, and is gummy in texture. When a videotape has sticky-shed, not only will it not play correctly, the residue can also clog up the tape heads in the U-matic playback deck, then transfer the contaminant to other tapes played afterwards in the same deck. A U-matic videotape player in good working order is now an obsolete collector’s item, and our tapes are fragile, so we came up with a solution: throw those tapes in the oven!

oven2
After baking, the cookies (I mean U-matic videotapes) are ready for digitization!

At first that may sound reckless, but baking audio and videotapes at relatively low temperatures for an extended period of time is a well-tested method for minimizing the effects of sticky-shed syndrome. The Digital Production Center recently acquired a scientific oven, and after initial testing, we baked each Duke Living History U-matic videotape at 52 celsius (125 fahrenheit) for about 10 hours. Baking the videotapes temporarily removed the moisture that had accumulated in the binder, and made them playable for digitization. About 90% of our U-matic tapes played well after baking. Many of them were unplayable beforehand.

videoracks
The Digital Production Center’s video rack and routing system.

After giving the videotapes time to cool down, we digitize each tape, in real time, as an uncompressed  file (.mov) for long-term preservation. Afterwards, we make a smaller, compressed version (.mp4) of the same recording, which is our access copy. Our U-matic decks are housed in an efficiently-designed rack system, which also includes other obsolete videotape formats like VHS, Betacam and Hi8. Centralized audio and video routers allow us to quickly switch between formats while ensuring a clean, balanced and accurate conversion from analog to digital. Combining the art of analog tape baking with modern video digitization, the Digital Production Center is able to rescue the content from the videotapes, before the magnetic tape ages and degrades any further. While the U-matic tapes are nearing the end of their life-span, the digital surrogates will potentially last for centuries to come. We are able to benefit from Mr. Rutherfurd’s exciting experiment into our future, and carry it forward… into your future. May it illuminate well, educate wisely, and relate meaningfully, for future generations.

 

Post contributed by Alex Marsh

 

Digitization Details: Sidney D. Gamble’s Lantern Slides

I have worked in the Digital Production Center since March of 2005 and I’ve seen a lot of digital collections published in my time here.  I have seen so many images that sometimes it is difficult to say which collection is my favorite but the Sidney D. Gamble Photographs have always been near the top.

The Sidney D. Gamble Photographs are an amazing collection of black and white photographs of daily life in China taken between 1908 and 1932.  These documentary style images of urban and rural life, public events, architecture, religious statuary, and the countryside really resonate with me for their unopposed moment in time feel.  Recently the Digital Collections Implementation Team was tasked with digitizing a subset of lantern slides from this collection.  What is a lantern slide you might ask?

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Herding Ducks

A lantern slide is a photographic transparency which is glass-mounted and often hand-colored for projection by a “magic lantern.”  The magic lantern was the earliest form of slide projector which, in its earliest incarnation, used candles to project painted slides onto a wall or cloth screen.   The projectionist was often hidden from the audience making it seem more magical.   By the time the 1840s rolled around photographic processes had been developed by William and Frederick Langenheim that enabled a glass plate negative to be printed onto another glass plate by a contact method creating a positive.  These positives were then painted in the same fashion that the earlier slides were painted (think Kodachrome).  The magic lantern predates the school slate and the chalkboard for use in a classroom.

After working with and enjoying the digitization of the nitrate negatives from the Sidney D. Gamble Photographs it has been icing on the cake to work with the lantern slides from the same collection so many years later.  While the original black and white images resonate with me the lantern slides have added a whole new dimension to the experience.  On one hand the black and white images lend a sense of history and times passed and on the other, the vivid colors of the lantern slides draw me into the scene as if it were the present.

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Barbers on Bund

I am in awe of the amount of work and the variety of skill sets required to create a collection such as this.   Sidney D. Gamble, an amateur photographer, to trek across China over 4 trips spanning 24 years, photographing and processing nitrate negatives in the field without a traditional darkroom, all the while taking notes and labeling the negatives.  Then to come home and create the glass plate positives and hand color over 500 of them.  For being an “amateur photographer” Gamble’s images are striking.  The type of camera he used takes skill and knowledge to create a reasonably correct exposure.  Processing the film is technically challenging in a traditional darkroom and is made much more difficult in the field.  Taking enough notes while shooting, processing and traveling so they make sense as a collection is a feat in itself.  The transfer from negative film to positive glass plates on such a scale is a tedious and technical venture.  Then to hand paint all of the slides takes additional skill and tools.  All of this makes digitization of the material look like child’s play.

An inventory of the hand-colored slides was created before digitization began.  Any hand-colored slides with existing black and white negatives were identified so they can be displayed together online.  A color-balanced light box was used to illuminate the lantern slides and a Phase One P65 Reprographic camera was used in conjunction with a precision Kaiser copy stand to capture them.   All of the equipment used in the Digital Production Center is color-calibrated and profiled so consistent results can be achieved from capture to capture.  This removes the majority of the subjective decision making from the digitization process.  Sidney D. Gamble had many variables to contend with to produce the lantern slides much like the Digital Collections Implementation Team deals with many variables when publishing a digital collection.  From conservation of the physical material, digitization, metadata, interface design to the technology used to deliver the images online and the servers and network that connect everything to make it happen, there are plenty of variables.  They are just different variables.

Nowadays we photograph and share the minutia of our lives.  When Sidney Gamble took his photographs he had to be much more deliberate.   I appreciate his deliberateness as much as I appreciate all the people involved in publishing collections.  I look forward to publication of the Sidney D. Gamble lantern slides in the near future and hope you will enjoy this collection as much as I have over the years.

Post Contributed by Mike Adamo

A Day in the Life of Digital Collections

I joined the digital collections team in early December 2013, and from day 1 I have been immersed in the details of our long list of unique projects, all with their own set of schedules, stakeholders, and resource needs.  My task has also been to evaluate and improve our overall workflow, create outreach and promotional opportunities (like this blog!), and really anything else that comes up that is related to digital projects. What does that all mean in terms of day-to-day work? It means I attend A LOT of meetings.

Haitian Declaration of Independence
Just another day in the Digital Production Center imaging the Haitian Declaration of Independence!

Luckily most of my meetings are absolutely fascinating and revolve around very exciting projects and materials.  Here are some of my favorite meetings from the last few weeks.  Truth be told, I didn’t go to all of these in one day, but they are a pretty representative sample of the types of meetings I do attend everyday.

Haitian Declaration of Independence:  Perhaps you have heard that the Rubenstein library has a copy of this historic document?  The digital collections implementation team recently met with RL curator Will Hansen to discuss digitizing and providing access to the declaration, and of course he brought it with him.  Its not that large to be honest, but very impressive.  In DPPS we are using this project as catalyst to implement an image server and a new document viewing tool to provide better access to documents like the declaration.

 

“Girl Lost in Thought at Fast Food Counter” Image from the William Gedney Digital Collection

Workflows, Workflows, workflows:  Every week I attend operational meetings with both the Duke Digital Collections Implementation teams and the Digital Production Center to discuss work in progress, scheduling, new projects, and how to perfect our ever changing workflows.  I presented, along with my colleagues from Digital Projects and Production Services as part of our monthly ITS meeting, First Wednesday, on our overall process and some of the changes we have been making since I came on board.  Check out all of our slides! 

Gedney:  Duke Digital Collections patrons are no strangers to the William Gedney Photographs and Writings digital collection.  The physical collection is being re-processed and we will be digitizing more of it later in 2014.  This is a large project with a long timeline, but we are so excited to provide access to more materials in one of our most popular digital collections.

 

Early Greek MS:  the Rubenstein Library has a large collection of early Greek manuscripts.  Many items have already been digitized, and Rubenstein Technical Services is in the process of cataloging them.     Once cataloging is complete, we will be able to plan the publishing aspects of this project.  Both DPPS and our colleagues in the Collaboratory for Classics Computing are thrilled to provide access to digital versions of these items.

Stay tuned for continuing developments in these and all the other projects we have in progress!

GreekMS
A scanned image from one of the Greek Manuscripts in the Rubenstein collection.

 

Post authored by Molly Bragg

Spring Break Travel Tips from Digital Collections

Leave Winter Behind

Today marks the beginning of Spring Break 2014 for Duke students!  We recognize that Spring Break is normally a time of quiet reflection, but for those interested in getting away this week, we’d like to offer some travel tips courtesy of our historic advertising collections.  There’s still time to plan your trip!  Let’s get started.

Dude Ranch Vacations

Where to Go

Sure, the beach is always popular with spring breakers, but consider some alternatives.  Did you know that now is the time to plan Dude Ranch Vacations?

How to Get There

With so many transportation options available it’s hard to choose.  Take in the scenery at a slower pace aboard the Vista Dome cars on the California Zephyr train, “the most talked about train in the country,” or go by Greyhound Bus to “meet the real America.

If efficiency is more your thing, travel by air to get to your destination a little faster, because, as American Airlines reminds us, “air is everywhere.”  Still not convinced?  Take United Airline’s advice: “All the Important People Fly nowadays.

Compared to buses and trains, modern air travel offers such an abundance of options and amenities. For an authentic Spring Break experience, you could reserve a seat on Resort Airline’s “Flying Houseparty” to the Caribbean or maybe grab a beverage in Continental Airline’s Coach Pub in the Sky as featured in the commercial below.

If you’re looking for something a bit more refined,  be sure to book a flight on United where master chefs demonstrate their “cosmopolitan artistry in the finest meals aloft” and where your flight attendant is guaranteed to meet United’s strict qualifications for employment (gender, age, height, weight, and marital status).

What to Take

vacation hair Whether you travel by air, train, or bus, you’ll want to pack only the essentials for your Spring Break getaway.  Start with Dr. West’s Travel Kit, which includes toothpaste and a mini-toothbrush in a “handsome sanitary glass container,” all for just 50 cents.  Be sure to include a bottle of Kreml Shampoo as well so you don’t get caught with embarrassing vacation hair.

Just because you’re traveling doesn’t mean you need to leave your entertainment at home. “Lead the Vacation Fun Parade” by packing super-tiny, ultra-compact Zenith portable radios (only 5 1/2 pounds!).

Finally, if you’re overwhelmed by too many travel options and would rather stay home, avoid the crowds, and spend your money elsewhere this Spring Break, treat yourself to something special:  It’s Spring, Get a Pontiac.

Post contributed by Noah Huffman

Digitization Details: Re-Formatting Audio Cassettes

Cassette
A real live audio cassette!

The 310 oral histories that comprise the newly published additions to the Behind the Veil digital collection were originally recorded in the 1990’s to the now (nearly) obsolete compact cassette format—what were commonly called “tapes”.  The beauty of the compact cassette format was that it was small and portable (especially compared to the earlier reel-to-reel tape format), relatively durable due to its hard plastic outer shell, and most of all—could easily be recorded to at home by non-professional users.  This made it perfect for oral historians who needed to be able to record interviews in the field at low cost with minimal hassle.  

Unfortunately, the compact cassette format hasn’t aged particularly well.  Due to cheap materials, poor storage conditions, and normal mechanical wear and tear, many of these tapes are already borderline unplayable a short 40 years after their first introduction.  This introduces a number of challenges to our process of converting the audio information on the tapes into a digital file format that can easily be accessed online by patrons.  I won’t exhaustively detail our digitization process here, but only touch on a few issues and how we dealt with them.

Inspecting a tape
Our fearless audio digitization expert carefully inspects a tapes.

Physical degradation and damage to tapes: We visually inspected each tape prior to digitization.  Any that were visibly broken or had twisted or jammed tape were rehoused in new outer shells.  At least with this collection, rehousing allowed us to successfully play back all of the tapes.

Poor quality of original recordings: We also did a brief audio inspection of each tape before digitization.  This allowed us to identify issues with audio quality.  We found that the interviews were done in a wide variety of locations, often with background traffic, television, appliance and conversation noise bleeding into the recording.  There was no easy fix for this, as these issues are inherent in the recording.  Our solution was to provide the best possible playback on a high-quality cassette deck, a direct and balanced signal path, and high quality analog-to-digital conversion at the preservation standard of 24 bits, 96.1 kHz.  This ensured that the digital copy faithfully reproduced the audio material on the cassette, warts and all.

Other errors in original recordings: There were some issues in the original recordings that we opted to fix via digital editing or processing in our files for patron use (while retaining the unaltered preservation files).

  • In cases where there was a significant gap of silence in the middle of a tape, we edited out the silence for continuity’s sake.
  • In cases where there were loud and abrasive clicks, pops, or microphone noise at the beginning or end of a tape side, we edited out these noises.
  • Several tapes were apparently recorded at the wrong speed, resulting in a “chipmunk voice” effect.  I used a Speed/Pitch function in our audio capture software to electronically slow these files down so that they play back intelligibly and as intended.
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Audio digitization deck

Another challenge, common to all time-based analog media, is the cassette tape’s “real-time” nature.  Unlike a digital file that can be copied nearly instantaneously, a 90-minute cassette tape actually takes 90 minutes to make a digital copy.  Currently we run two cassette decks simultaneously, allowing us to double our throughput.

As you can see, audio cassette digitization is more than just a matter of pressing “play”!

–post written by Zeke Graves

Still want to learn more about the Behind the Veil collection of oral histories?  Check out coverage of the collection over at Rubenstein Library blog, The Devil’s Tale.

 

On This Valentine’s Day, Cook up Something Special

Your Duke Digital Collections team, as well as most of the rest of the university have been locked down at home for the past two days due to snow, ice and the dreaded “wintry mix”.  If you, like us are looking for ways to entertain yourself and celebrate Valentine’s Day, you are in luck!

Among the treasures in the Emergence of Advertising digital collection, we have a cookbook specially designed to help you plan and execute meals for all holiday occasions from children’s parties to, you guessed it, Valentines Day!  Check out some of the recipes below.

http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/eaa_CK0045/
Valentine’s Day inspired goodies from “Selected Recipes and Menus for Parties, Holidays, and Special Occasions”

Nothing says, be my valentine like Chicken a la King and Drip Coffee!!

Announcing 310 Newly Digitized Behind the Veil Interviews and a New Blog!

Duke Digital Collections is pleased to announce that we have published 310 newly digitized interviews in the Behind the Veil: Documenting African-American Life in the Jim Crow South digital collection!  The new interviews are specifically focussed on North Carolina residents.  Although several regions are represented, many interviews focus on the Charlotte, Durham and Enfield regions of the state.

Visit the Behind the Veil Digital Collection

The North Carolina recordings were all digitized as part of the Triangle Research Libraries Network’s project “Content, Context and Capacity: A Collaborative Large-Scale Digitization Project on the Long Civil Rights Movement in North Carolina.”  Publishing these recordings concludes this multi-year endeavor, which digitized collections from UNC Chapel Hill, NC Central University and NC State’s special collections holdings as well as Duke.

Prior to publishing the new NC recordings the Behind the Veil digital collection, contained 100 recordings.  Although we were able to build on the existing collection without developing new technology we essentially QUADRUPLED the number of interviews available online!!    The digital collection was created by digitizing the original audio cassettes and scanning any existing transcripts.   The entire collection (over 1,200 interviews on audio cassettes) is available for research at the John Hope Franklin Center for African and African American History and Culture in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.  Visit the Devil’s Tale (the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library blog) for more details.

Speaking of blogs, you are looking at the brand new blog of Duke’s Digital Projects and Production Services Department.  Visit Bitstreams to learn more about all the exciting and innovative digital projects at Duke University Libraries!