The H. Lee Waters Film Collection we published earlier this month has generated quite a buzz. In the last few weeks, we’ve seen a tremendous uptick in visits to Duke Digital Collections and received comments, mail, and phone calls from Waters fans, film buffs, and from residents of the small towns he visited and filmed over 70 years ago. It’s clear that Waters’ “Movies of Local People” have wide appeal.
The 92 films in the collection are clearly the highlight, but as an archivist and metadata librarian I’m just as fascinated by the logbooks Waters kept as he toured across the Carolinas, Virginia, and Tennessee screening his films in small town theaters between 1936 and 1942. In the logbooks, Waters typically recorded the theater name and location where he screened each film, what movie-goers were charged, his percentage of the profits, his revenue from advertising, and sometimes the amount and type of footage shown.
As images in the digital collection, the logbooks aren’t that interesting (at least visually), but the data they contain tell a compelling story. To bring the logbooks to life, I decided to give structure to some of the data (yes, a spreadsheet) and used a new visualization tool I recently discovered called TimeMapper to plot Waters’ itinerary on a synchronized timeline and map–call it a timemap! You can interact with the embedded timemap below, or see a full-screen version here. Currently, the Waters timemap only includes data from the first 15 pages of the logbook (more to come!). Already, though, we can start to visualize Waters’ route and the frequency of film screenings. We can also interact with the digital collection in new ways:
Click on a town in the map view to see when Waters’ visited and then view the logbook entry or any available films for that town.
Slide the timeline and click through the entries to trace Waters’ route
Toggle forward or backwards through the logbook entries to travel along with Waters
For me, the Waters timemap demonstrates the potential for making use of the data in our collections, not just the digitized images or artifacts. With so many simple and freely available tools like TimeMapper and Google Fusion Tables (see my previous post), it has never been so easy to create interactive visualizations quickly and with limited technical skills.
I’d love to see someone explore the financial data in Waters’ logbooks to see what we might learn about his accounting practices or even about the economic conditions in each town. The logbook data has the potential to support any number of research questions. So start your own spreadsheet and have at it!
2015 has been a banner year for Duke Digital Collections, and its only January! We have already published a new collection, broken records and expanded our audience. Truth be told, we have been on quite a roll for the last several months, and with the holidays we haven’t had a chance to share every new digital collection with you. Today on Bitstreams, we highlight digital collection news that didn’t quite make the headlines in the past few months.
H. Lee Watersmania
Before touching on news you haven’t about, we must continue the H. Lee Waters PR Blitz. Last week, we launched the H. Lee Waters digital collection. We and the Rubenstein Library knew there was a fair amount of pent-up demand for this collection, however we have been amazed by the reaction of the public. Within a few days of launch, site visits hit what we believe (though cannot say with 100% certainty) to be an all time high of 17,000 visits and 37,000 pageviews on Jan 19. We even suspect that the intensity of the traffic has contributed to some recent server performance issues (apologies if you have had trouble viewing the films – we and campus IT are working on it).
We have also seen more than 20 new user comments left on Water’s films pages, 6 comments left on the launch blog post, and 40+ new likes on the Duke Digital Collections Facebook page since last week. The Rubenstein Library has also received a surge of inquiries about the collection. These may not be “official” stats, but we have never seen this much direct public reaction to one of our new digital collections, and we could not be more excited about it.
Early Greek Manuscripts
In November we quietly made 38 early Greek manuscripts available online, one of which is the digital copy of a manuscript since returned to the Greek government. These beautiful volumes are part of the Rubenstein Library and date from the 9th – 17th centuries. We are still digitizing volumes from this collection, and hope to publish more in the late Spring. At that time we will make some changes to the look and feel of the digital collection. Our goal will be to further expose the general public to the beauty of these volumes while also increasing discoverability to multiple scholarly communities.
Curious about bone saws, blood letting or other historic medical instruments? Look no further than the Rubenstein Libraries History of Medicine Artifact’s Collection Guide. In December we published over 300 images of historic medical artifacts embedded in the collection guide. Its an incredible and sometimes frightening treasure trove of images.
These are legacy images taken by the History of Medicine. While we didn’t shoot these items in the Digital Production Center, the digital collections team still took a hands on approach to normalizing the filenames and overall structure of the image set so we could publish them. This project was part of our larger efforts to make more media types embeddable in Rubenstein collection guides, a deceptively difficult process that will likely be covered more in depth in a future Bitstreams post.
Digitization to Support the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Legacy Project Partnership
This one is hot off the digital presses. Digital Collections partnered with University Archives to publish Coach K’s very first win at Duke just this week in anticipation of victory # 1000.
What’s Next for Duke Digital Collections?
The short answer is, a lot! We have very ambitious plans for 2015. We will be developing the next version of our digital collections platform, hiring an intern (thank you University Archives), restarting digitization of the Gedney collection, and of course publishing more of your favorite digital collections. Stay tuned!
This week, in conjunction with our H. Lee Waters Film Collection unveiling, we rolled out a handy new Embed feature for digital collections items. The idea is to make it as easy as possible for someone to share their discoveries from our collections, with proper attribution, on other websites or blogs.
It’s simple, really, and mimics the experience you’re likely to encounter getting embed code from other popular sites with videos, images, and the like. We modeled our approach loosely on the Internet Archive‘s video embed service (e.g., visit this video and click the Share icon, but only if you are unafraid of clowns).
Click the “Embed” link under an item from Duke Digital Collections, and copy the snippet of code that pops up. Paste it in your website, and you’re done!
I’ll paste a few examples below using different kinds of items. The embed code is short and nearly identical for all of these:
A Single Image
Document with Document Viewer
Building this feature required a little bit of math, some trial & error, and a few tricks. The steps were to:
Set up a service to return customized item pages at the path http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/embed/<itemid>/
Use CSS & JS to make the media as fluid as possible to fill whatever space it ends up in
Use a fixed height and overflow: auto on the attribution box so longer content will scroll
Use link rel=”canonical” to ensure the item’s embed page is associated with the real item page (especially to improve links / ranking signals for search engines).
Present the user a copyable HTML <iframe> element in the regular item page that has the correct height & width attributes to accommodate the item(s) to be embedded
This last point is where the math comes in. Take a single image item, for example. With a landscape-orientation image we need to give the user a different <iframe> height to copy than we would for a portrait. It gets even more complicated when we have to account for multiple tracks of audio or video, or combinations of the two.
We’ll refine this feature a bit in the coming weeks, and work out any embed-bugs we discover. We’ll also be developing a similar feature for embedding digitized content found in our archival collection guides.
The motion picture films in the H. Lee Waters Collection play out a history of North Carolina (and Virginia, and South Carolina) in the late 1930s and early 1940s unparalleled in scope and vision. But what would eventually become such a grand gift to the citizens and scholars and artists of the region did not begin with that in mind. Like fellow commercial photographer and North Carolinian Hugh Mangum, Waters might be considered an accidental documentarian, taking to the road in the depths of the Depression as a resourceful businessman, filling theatre seats with audiences who paid to see themselves in the movies. And yet, a natural behind the camera, Waters knew composition and how to frame a shot; more importantly, he knew people, loved to be around them, and could draw from his subjects positive reactions to this unexpected man with a camera, outside the mill, on main street, in front of the school, in the shop. As Waters biographer and documentarian Tom Whiteside has noted, Waters’ quick-cut aesthetic managed the immediate goal of getting as many townsfolk into the movie as possible while achieving, in the long-term, an archive of still image frames that is vast in its scope and ripe for investigation. From this perspective, the vernacular of his art puts him in the company of the prominent documentary photographers of his day.
Waters used reversal film, and the film he projected was the same film he shot in the camera, edited for length and his beloved special effects. He worked quickly, didn’t make copies, and after coming off the road in 1942 shelved the films until, later in life, he started selling them to their respective communities. Duke’s collection of H. Lee Waters films therefore owes a debt to the towns, libraries, and historical societies who over the years have sent, and continue to send, Waters’ legacy to Duke, recognizing that centralizing these resources works in favor of the region’s cultural heritage. It also means that over the years Duke has accrued film in all conditions and states of preservation. There is film in the collection that is literally turning to dust; there is also beautiful Kodachrome that could have been shot yesterday. Since 1988, too, audiovisual preservation has changed dramatically. Thankfully, and with the help of the National Film Preservation Foundation, a substantial number of the films have received full film-to-film preservation; nevertheless, earlier, heroic attempts at saving some films to videotape, some formulations of which are now severely degrading, have left us in a few cases with only a blurred shadow of what must have been on that original film. So our digital project reflects the films and their creator, but also the history of the collection at Duke.
Many at Duke Libraries have made the Waters collection what it is today, and those of us working on bringing the films online build on the efforts of librarians, archivists, and technical staff who were as passionate about these movies as we are. Ever in transition, the collection is marked by growth, an element that we see as integral to the website. In fact we are already adding to it. In addition to the films and (for some of them) shotlists, there are oral history interviews with the children of H. Lee Waters. Tom Waters and Mary Waters Spaulding have not only been essential in bringing their father’s films online, they have a unique perspective on a talented man whose contribution to the history of North Carolina was only beginning to be appreciated when he died in 1997. Waters’ home movies will be added to the site soon, and we anticipate presenting select work inspired by the Waters films, because, in addition to their own sublime artistry, the movies remain a magnet for artists and documentarians mining archival sources. One such work will debut March 20 for Duke Performances, as Jenny Scheinman premieres her work “Kannapolis: A Moving Portrait,” based around film from the collection.
Of course, we also hope the site might draw other Movies of Local People out of hiding, because while Duke and the State Archives hold a good number of the films, we still don’t know the whereabouts of some of them. So when you visit the site, take advantage of the embed and share functions accompanying each of the videos, use them on your blog or Facebook page, guide people to H. Lee Waters at Duke, and who knows? It may lead them to investigate further, to liberate that can of film that’s been sitting in the closet or biding its time at the local library.
Post Contributed by Craig Breaden, Audiovisual Archivist, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
Back in October, Molly detailed DigEx’s work on creating an exhibit for the Link Media Wall. We’ve finally finalized our content and hope to have the new exhibit published to the large display in the next week or two. I’d like to detail how this thing is actually put together.
I broke the content chunks into five main sections: the masthead (which holds the branding), the navigation (which highlights the current section and construction period), the map (which shows the location of the buildings), the thumbnail (which shows the completed building and adds some descriptive text), and the images (which houses a set of cross-fading historic photos illustrating the progression of construction). Working with a fixed-pixel layout feels strange in the modern world of web development, but it’s quick and satisfying to crank out. I’m using the jQuery Cycle plugin to transition the images, which is lightweight and offers lots of configurable options. I also created a transparent PNG file containing a gradient that fades to the background color which overlays the rotating images.
Another part of the puzzle I wrestled with was how to transition from one section of the exhibit to another. I thought about housing all of the content on a single page and using some JS to move from one to the next, but I was a little worried about performance so I again opted for the super simple solution. Each page has a meta refresh in the header set to the number of seconds that it takes to cycle through the corresponding set of images and with a destination of the next section of the exhibit. It’s a little clunky in execution and I would probably try something more elegant next time, but it’s solid and it works.
Here’s a preview of the exhibit cycling through all of the content. It’s been time compressed – the actual exhibit will take about ten minutes to play through.
In a lot of ways this exhibit is an experiment in both process and form, and I’m looking forward to seeing how our vision translates to the Media Wall space. Using such simple code means that if there are any problems, we can quickly make changes. I’m also looking forward to working on future exhibits and helping to highlight the amazing items in our collections.
This week, we added a display of our most recent Bitstreams blog posts to our Digital Collections homepage (example), and likewise, a view of posts relevant to a given collection on the respective collection’s homepage (example).
Our Digital Projects & Production team has been writing in Bitstreams at least weekly since February 2014. We’ve had some excellent guest contributors, too. Some posts share updates about new digital collections or additions, while others share insights, lessons learned, and behind-the-scenes looks at the projects we’re currently tackling.
Many of our posts have been featured on our library homepage and library news site. But until now, we haven’t been able to display any of them—not even the ones about new digital collections—alongside the collections themselves. So, if you visited the DukEngineer collection in the past, you likely missed out on Melanie’s excellent overview, which puts the magazine in context and highlights the best of what’s inside.
Syndicating tagged blog posts for display elsewhere is a pretty common use case, and we’ve used a bunch of different solutions as our platforms have evolved. Each solution has naturally been painstakingly tailored to accommodate the inner workings of both the source and the destination. Seven years ago, we were writing custom XSLT to create and then consume our own RSS feeds in Cascade Server CMS. We have since hopped over to Wordpress for managing news and blogs (whew!). An older version of our digital collections app used WordPress’ XML-RPC API to get tagged posts and parsed them with Python.
These days, our library website does blog syndication by using a combo of WordPress RSS, Drupal’s feed aggregator module, and occasionally Yahoo! Pipes for data mashing and munging. It works well in Drupal, but other platforms require other approaches.
Among Angular’s virtues is that it really simplifies the process of getting and using JSON data from an API. I found Wordpress’ JSON API plugin, which was interestingly developed by staff at MoMA so they could use WordPress as a back-end to a site with a Rails front-end. So we first had to enable that for our Bitstreams blog.
AngularJS definitely helps keep code clean, especially by abstracting the model (the blogposts & associated characteristics, as well as the page state) from the view (indicates how to display the data) from the controller (gets and refines the data into the model, updates the model upon interactions with the view). I’ve done several projects in the past using jQuery and DOM manipulation to retrieve and display data. It usually works, but in the process I create a veritable rat’s nest of spaghetti code wherein /* no amount of commenting */ can truly help disentangle what’s happening.
AngularJS has a steeper learning curve than I’d expected; I assumed I could do this mini-project in a few hours, but it took a couple days to really get a handle on the basic pieces I needed for this project.
I consider this an encouraging proof of concept. While our own blog posts can be interesting, there are many other sources of valuable data out in the world that are relevant to our collections that would add value for our researchers if we were able to easily get and display them. AngularJS won’t be the answer to all of these needs, but it’s nice to have in the toolset.
A few weeks ago, archivists, engineers, students and vendors from across the globe arrived in the historic city of Savannah, GA for AMIA 2014. The annual conference for The Association of Moving Image Archivists is a gathering of professionals who deal with the challenge of preserving motion picture film and videotape content for future generations. Since today is Halloween, I must also point out that Savannah is a really funky city that is haunted! The downtown area is filled with weeping willow trees, well-preserved 19th century architecture and creepy cemeteries dating back to the U.S. Civil and Revolutionary wars. Savannah is almost as scary as a library budget meeting.
Since many different cultural heritage institutions are digitizing their collections for preservation and online access, it’s beneficial to develop universal file standards and best practices. For example, organizations like NARA and FADGI have contributed to the universal adoption of the 8-bit uncompressed TIFF file format for (non-transmissive) still image preservation. Likewise, for audio digitization, 24-bit uncompressed WAV has been universally adopted as the preservation standard. In other words, when it comes to still image and audio digitization, everyone is driving down the same highway. However, at AMIA 2014, it was apparent there are still many different roads being taken in regards to moving image preservation, with some potential traffic jams ahead. Are you frightened yet? You should be!
Up until now, two file formats have been competing for dominance for moving image preservation: 10-bit uncompressed (.mov or .avi wrapper) vs. Motion JPEG2000 (MXF wrapper). The disadvantage of uncompressed has always been its enormous file size. Motion JPEG2000 incorporates lossless compression, which can reduce file sizes by 50%, but it’s expensive to implement, and has limited interoperability with most video software and players. At AMIA 2014, some were championing the use of a newer format, FFV1, a lossless codec that has compression ratios similar to JPEG2000, but is open source, and thus more widely adoptable. It is part of the FFmpeg software project. Adoption of FFV1 is growing, but many institutions are still heavily invested in 10-bit uncompressed or Motion JPEG2000. Which format will become the preservation standard, and which will become ghosts that haunt us forever?!?
Another emerging need is for content management systems that can store and provide public access to digitized video. The Hydra repository solution is being adopted by many institutions for managing preservation video files. In conjunction with Hydra, many are also adopting Avalon to provide public access for online viewing of video content. Like FFmpeg, both Hydra and Avalon are open source, which is part of their appeal. Others are building their own systems, catered specifically to their own needs, like The Museum of Modern Art. There are also competing metadata standards. For example, PBCore has been adopted by many public television stations, but is generally disliked by libraries. In fact, they find it really creepy!
Finally, there is the thorny issue of copyright. Once file formats are chosen and delivery systems are in place, methods must be implemented to control access by only those intended, to protect copyright and hinder piracy. The Avalon Media System enables rights and access control to video content via guest passwords. The Library of Congress works around some of these these issues another way, by setting up remote viewing rooms in Washington, DC, which are connected via fiber-optic cable to their Audio-Visual Conservation Center in Culpeper, Va. Others, with more limited budgets, like Dino Everett at USC Cinematic Arts, watermark their video, upload it to sites like Vimeo, and implement temporary password protection, canceling the passwords manually after a few weeks. I mean, is there anything more frightening than a copyright lawsuit? Happy Halloween!
It was September 6, 2011 (thanks Exif metadata!) and I thought I had found one–a T206 Honus Wagner card, the “Holy Grail” of baseball cards. I was in the bowels of the Rubenstein Library stacks skimming through several boxes of a large collection of trading cards that form part of the W. Duke, Sons & Co. adverting materials collection when I noticed a small envelope labeled “Piedmont.” For some reason, I remembered that the Honus Wagner card was issued as part of a larger set of cards advertising the Piedmont brand of cigarettes in 1909. Yeah, I got pretty excited.
I carefully opened the envelope, removed a small stack of cards, and laid them out side by side, but, sadly, there was no Honus Wagner to be found. A bit deflated, I took a quick snapshot of some of the cards with my phone, put them back in the envelope, and went about my day. A few days later, I noticed the photo again in my camera roll and, after a bit of research, confirmed that these cards were indeed part of the same T206 set as the famed Honus Wagner card but not nearly as rare.
Fast forward three years and we’re now in the midst of a project to digitize, describe, and publish almost the entirety of the W. Duke, Sons & Co. collection including the handful of T206 series cards I found. The scanning is complete (thanks DPC!) and we’re now in the process of developing guidelines for describing the digitized cards. Over the last few days, I’ve learned quite a bit about the history of cigarette cards, the Duke family’s role in producing them, and the various resources available for identifying them.
Brief History of Cigarette Cards
Beginning in the 1870s, cigarette manufacturers like Allen and Ginter and Goodwin & Co. began the practice of inserting a trade card into cigarette packages as a stiffener. These cards were usually issued in sets of between 25 and 100 to encourage repeat purchases and to promote brand loyalty.
In the late 1880s, the W. Duke, Sons, & Co. (founded by Washington Duke in 1881), began inserting cards into Duke brand cigarette packages. The earliest Duke-issued cards covered a wide array of subject matter with series titled Actors and Actresses, Fishers and Fish, Jokes, Ocean and River Steamers, and even Scenes of Perilous Occupations.
In 1890, the W. Duke & Sons Co., headed by James B. Duke (founder of Duke University), merged with several other cigarette manufacturers to form the American Tobacco Company.
In 1909, the American Tobacco Company (ATC) first began inserting baseball cards into their cigarettes packages with the introduction of the now famous T206 “White Border” set, which included a Honus Wagner card that, in 2007, sold for a record $2.8 million.
Identifying Cigarette Cards
The T206 designation assigned to the ATC’s “white border” set was not assigned by the company itself, but by Jefferson R. Burdick in his 1953 publication The American Card Catalog (ACC), the first comprehensive catalog of trade cards ever published.
In the ACC, Burdick devised a numbering scheme for tobacco cards based on manufacturer and time period, with the two primary designations being the N-series (19th century tobacco cards) and the T-series (20th century tobacco cards). Burdick’s numbering scheme is still used by collectors today.
Preview of the W. Duke, Sons & Co. Digital Collection [coming soon]
When published, the W. Duke, Sons & Co. digital collection will feature approximately 2000 individual cigarette cards from the late 19th and early 20th centuries as well as two large scrapbooks that contain several hundred additional cards.
The collection will also include images of other tobacco advertising ephemera such as pins, buttons, tobacco tags, and even examples of early cigarette packs.
Researchers will be able to search and browse the digitized cards and ephemera by manufacturer, cigarette brand, and the subjects they depict.
In the meantime, researchers are welcome to visit the Rubenstein Library in person to view the originals in our reading room.
Just under a year ago Duke University Libraries formed the Digital Exhibits Working Group (DigEx) to provide vision, consulting expertise, and hands-on support to the wide array of projects and initiatives related to gallery exhibits, web exhibits, data visualizations, digital collections, and digital signage. Membership in the group is as cross-departmental as the projects they support. With representatives from Data and Visualization, Digital Projects and Production Services, Digital Scholarship Services, Communications, Exhibits, Core Services and the Rubenstein Library, every meeting is a vibrant mix of people, ideas and agenda items.
The group has taken on a number of ambitious projects; one of which is to identify and understand digital exhibits publishing platforms in the library (we are talking about screens here). Since April, a sub-committee – or “super committee” as we like to call ourselves – of DigEx members have been meeting to curate a digital exhibit for the Link Media Wall. DigEx members have anecdotal evidence that our colleagues want to program content for the wall, but have not been able to successfully do so in the past. DigEx super committee to the rescue!
The Link super committee started meeting in April, and at first we thought our goals were simple and clear. In curating an exhibit for the link wall we wanted to create a process and template for other colleagues to follow. We quickly chose an exhibit topic: the construction of West Campus in 1927-1932 told through the University Archive’s construction photography digital collection and Flickr feed. The topic is both relevant given all the West campus construction happening currently, and would allow us to tell a visually compelling story with both digitized historic photographs and opportunities for visualizations (maps, timelines, etc).
Our first challenge arose with the idea of templating. Talking through ideas and our own experiences, we realized that creating a design template would hinder creative efforts and could potentially lead to an unattractive visual experience for our patrons. Think Microsoft PowerPoint templates; do you really want to see something like that spread across 18 digital panels? So even though we had hoped that our exhibit could scale to other curators, we let go of the idea of a template.
We had logistical challenges too. How do we design for such a large display like the media wall? How do you create an exhibit that is eye catching enough to catch attention, simple enough for someone to understand as they are walking by yet moves through content slowly enough that someone could stop and really study the images? How do we account for the lines between each separate display and avoid breaking up text or images? How do we effectively layout our content on our 13-15” laptops when the final project is going to be 9 FEET long?!! You can imagine that our process became de-railed at times.
But we didn’t earn the name super committee for nothing. The Link media wall coordinator met with us early on to help solve some of our challenges. Meeting with him and bringing in our DigEx developer representative really jumpstarted the content creation process. Using a scaled down grid version of the media wall, we started creating simple story boards in Powerpoint. We worked together to pick a consistent layout each team member would follow, and then we divided the work of finding images, and creating visualizations. Our layout includes the exhibit title, a map and a caption on every screen to ground the viewer in what they are seeing no matter where they come into the slideshow. We also came up with guidelines as to how quickly the images would change.
At this point, we have handed our storyboards to our digital projects developer and he is creating the final exhibit using HTML and web socket technology to make it interactive (see design mockup above). We are also finishing up an intro slide for the exhibit. Once the exhibit is finished, we will review our process and put together guidelines for other colleagues in DUL to follow. In this way we hope to meet our goal of making visual technology in the library more available to our innovative staff and exhibits program. We hope to premiere the digital exhibit on the Link Wall before the end of the calendar year. Stay Tuned!!
Special shout out to the Link Media Wall Exhibit Super Committee within the Digital Experiences Working Group (DigEx): Angela Zoss, Data Visualization Coordinator, Meg Brown, The E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation Exhibits Coordinator, Michael Daul, Digital Projects Developer, Molly Bragg, Digital Collections Program Manager and Valerie Gillispie, University Archivist.
[T]he Internet has changed significantly. Search engines have dramatically improved; users have come to expect that the most relevant content to their search query will be found regardless of its location on the web. Users no longer rely on browsing through aggregated directories of content but instead find discrete pages via searching and following related links. In the environment dominated by search engines, duplication can detract from an item’s findability, rather than enhance it.
While we’ll miss the juicy web stats that we got from American Memory referrals, it’s hard to argue with the message’s logic, its summary of user expectations, and the desire of the LoC to simplify its architecture and remove dependencies on the bit-rotting sites of the original Ameritech grant recipients. Still, the end of a long-term relationship tends to make one reflective. It got me thinking about the history of digital collections in libraries, and how we in the field have passed through two distinct ages, roughly a decade each, and now enter a third which, to some extent, is ours to make.