Category Archives: Projects

A Refreshing New Look for Our Library Website

If you’ve visited the Duke University Libraries website in the past month, you may have noticed that it looks a bit more polished than it used to. Over the course of the fall 2016 semester, my talented colleague Michael Daul and I co-led a project to develop and implement a new theme for the site. We flipped the switch to launch the theme on January 6, 2017, the week before spring classes began. In this post, I’ll share some background on the project and its process, and highlight some noteworthy features of the new theme we put in place.

Newly refreshed Duke University Libraries website homepage.


We kicked off the project in Aug 2016 using the title “Website Refresh” (hat-tip to our friends at NC State Libraries for coining that term). The best way to frame it was not as a “redesign,” but more like a 50,000-mile maintenance tuneup for the site.  We had four main goals:

  • Extend the Life of our current site (in Drupal 7) without a major redesign or redevelopment effort
  • Refresh the Look of the site to be modern but not drastically different
  • Better Code by streamlining HTML markup & CSS style code for easier management & flexibility
  • Enhance Accessibility via improved compliance with WCAG accessibility guidelines

Our site is fairly large and complex (1,200+ pages, for starters). So to keep the scope lean, we included no changes in content, information architecture, or platform (i.e., stayed on Drupal 7). We also worked with a lean stakeholder team to make decisions related to aesthetics.

Extending the Life of the Site

Our old website theme was aging; the project leading to its development began five years ago in Sep 2012, was announced in Jan 2013, and then eventually launched about three years ago in Jan 2014. Five years–and even three–is a long time in web years. Sites accumulate a lot of code cruft over time, the tools for managing and writing code become deprecated quickly. We wanted to invest a little time now to replace some pieces of the site’s front-end architecture with newer and better replacements, in order to buy us more time before we’d have to do an expensive full-scale overhaul from the ground up.

Refreshing the Look

Our 2014 site derived a lot its aesthetic from the main website at the time. Duke’s site has changed significantly since then, and meanwhile, web design trends have changed dramatically: flat design is in, skeuomorphism out.  Google Web Fonts are in, Times, Arial, Verdana and company are out.  Even a three year old site on the web can look quite dated.

Old site theme, dated aesthetics.
New “refreshed” theme, with flatter, more modern aesthetic

Closeup on skeuomorphic embellishments vs. flat elements.

Better Code

Beyond evolving aesthetics, the various behind-the-scenes web frameworks and code workflows are in constant, rapid flux; it can really keep a developer’s head on a swivel. Better code means easier maintenance, and to that end our code got a lot better after implementing these solutions:

  • Bootstrap Upgrade. For our site’s HTML/CSS/JS framework, we moved from Bootstrap version 2 (2.3.1) to version 3 (3.3.7). This took weeks of work: it meant thousands of pages of markup revisions, only some of which could be done with a global Search & Replace.
  •  Sass for CSS. We trashed all of our old theme’s CSS files and started over using Sass, a far more efficient way to express and maintain style rules than vanilla CSS.
  • Gulp for Automation. Our new theme uses Gulp to automate code tasks like processing Sass into CSS, auto-prefixing style declarations to work on older browsers, and crunching 30+ css files down into one.
  • Font Awesome. We ditched most of our older image-based icons in favor of Font Awesome ones, which are far easier to reference and style, and faster to load.
  • Radix.  This was an incredibly useful base theme for Drupal that encapsulates/integrates Sass, Gulp, Bootstrap, and FontAwesome. It also helped us get a Bootswatch starter theme in the mix to minimize the local styling we had to do on top of Bootstrap.

We named our new theme Dulcet and put it up on GitHub.

Sass for style management, e.g., expressing colors as reusable variables.
Gulp for task automation, e.g., auto-prefixing styles to account for older browser workarounds.


Some of the code and typography revisions we’ve made in the “refresh” improve our site’s compliance with WCAG2.0 accessibility guidelines. We’re actively working on further assessment and development in this area. Our new theme is better suited to integrate with existing tools, e.g., to automatically add ARIA attributes to interactive page elements.

Feedback or Questions?

We would love to hear from you if you have any feedback on our new site, if you spot any oddities, or if you’re considering doing a similar project and have any questions. We encourage you to explore the site, and hope you find it a refreshing experience.

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:

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!

SNCC Digital Gateway goes LIVE

sdglogoA new documentary website: SNCC Digital Gateway: Learn from the Past, Organize for the Future, Make Democracy Work ( debuted on Tuesday, December 13th. It is the product of collaboration between the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Legacy Project, Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies, and Duke Libraries. SNCC, which grew out of the student sit-in movement in 1960, was brought into being by Ella Baker, one of the 20th century’s most influential activists. Tuesday would have been her 113th birthday.

Made possible by the generous support of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the SNCC Digital Gateway tells the story of how young activists in SNCC united with local people in the Deep South to build a grassroots movement for change that empowered the Black community and transformed the nation.sdghomepage

Using documentary footage, audio recordings, photographs, and documents, the site portrays how SNCC organizers, alongside thousands of local Black residents, worked so that Black people could take control of their lives. It unveils the inner workings of SNCC as an organization, examining how it coordinated sit-ins and freedom schools, voter registration and economic cooperatives, anti-draft protests and international solidarity struggles.

In this new documentary website, you’ll find:

  • Historic materials including documents, photographs, oral history interviews, and audiovisual material hosted in digital collections at repositories across the country
  • Profiles examining individuals’ contributions to the Movement
  • Events tracing the evolution of SNCC’s organizing
  • Inside SNCC pages unveiling the inner workings of SNCC as an organization
  • Perspectives presenting aspects of SNCC’s history from the eyes of the activists themselves
  • Map connecting users to the people who worked—and the events that happened—in a specific place.

In 2013, the SNCC Legacy Project (SLP) and Duke University formed a partnership to chronicle the historic struggles for voting rights and to develop ongoing programs that contribute to a more civil and inclusive democracy in the 21st century.


SNCC veterans shaped the vision and framework of the SNCC Digital Gateway. They worked collaboratively with historians of the Movement, archivists, and students to weave together grassroots stories, digitized primary source materials, and new multi-media productions to bring this history—and its enduring legacy—to life for a new generation.

The SNCC Digital Gateway is a work in progress. We will continue to add more stories and fill out its content in the year to come.

The story of the Movement told on this website is one of unsung heroes: domestic workers and sharecroppers, young organizers and seasoned mentors, World War II veterans and high school students. The SNCC Digital Gateway is here to share their story—and to help continue their legacy of organizing for self-determination and democracy in the generations to come. We feel certain that the site not only provides an unprecedented and valuable window onto past civil rights struggles, but a valuable tool for all those interested in social change today.

Developing the Duke Digital Repository is Messy Business

Let me tell you something people: Coordinating development of the Duke Digital Repository (DDR) is a crazy logistical affair that involves much ado about… well, everything!

My last post, What is a Repository?, discussed at a high level, what exactly a digital repository is intended to be and the purpose it plays in the Libraries’ digital ecosystem.  If we take a step down from that, we can categorize the DDR as two distinct efforts, 1) a massive software development project and 2) a complex service suite.  Both require significant project management and leadership, and necessitate tools to help in coordinating the effort.

There are many, many details that require documenting and tracking through the life cycle of a software development project.  Initially we start with requirements- meaning what the tools need to do to meet the end-users needs.  Requirements must be properly documented and must essentially detail a project management plan that can result in a successful product (the software) and the project (the process, and everything that supports success of the product itself).  From this we manage a ‘backlog’ of requirements, and pull from the backlog to structure our work.  Requirements evolve into tasks that are handed off to developers.  Tasks themselves become conversations as the development team determines the best possible approach to getting the work done.  In addition to this, there are bugs to track, changes to document, and new requirements evolving all of the time… you can imagine that managing all of this in a simple ‘To Do’ list could get a bit unwieldy.


We realized that our ability to keep all of these many plates spinning necessitated a really solid project management tool.  So we embarked on a mission to find just the right one!  I’ll share our approach here, in case you and your team have a similar need and could benefit from our experiences.

STEP 1: Establish your business case:  Finding the right tool will take effort, and getting buy-in from your team and organization will take even more!  Get started early with justifying to your team and your org why a PM tool is necessary to support the work.

STEP 2: Perform a needs assessment: You and your team should get around a table and brainstorm.  Ask yourselves what you need this tool to do, what features are critical, what your budget is, etc.  Create a matrix where you fully define all of these characteristics to drive your investigation.

STEP 3: Do an environmental scan: What is out there on the market?  Do your research and whittle down a list of tools that have potential.  Also build on the skills of your team- if you have existing competencies in a given tool, then fully flesh out its features to see if it fits the bill.

STEP 4:  Put them through the paces: Choose a select list of tools and see how they match up to you needs assessment.  Task a group of people to test-drive the tools, and report out on the experience.

STEP 5: Share your findings: Discuss the findings with your team.  Capture the highs and the lows and present the material in a digestible fashion.  If it’s possible to get consensus, make a recommendation.

STEP 6: Get buy-in: This is the MOST critical part!  Get buy-in from your team to implement the tool.  A PM tool can only benefit the team if it is used thoroughly, consistently, and in a team fashion.  You don’t want to deal with adverse reactions to the tool after the fact…


No matter what tool you choose, you’ll need to follow some simple guidelines to ensure successful adoption:

  • Once again… Get TEAM buy-in!
  • Define ownership, or an Admin, of the tool (ideally the Project Manager)
  • Define basic parameters for use and team expectations
  • Consider your ecosystem of tools and simplify where appropriate
  • The more robust the tool, the more support and structure will be required

Trust me when I say that this exercise will not let you down, and will likely yield a wealth of information about the tools that you use, the projects that you manage, your team’s preferences for coordinating the work, and much more!

The Return of the Filmstrip

The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee worked on the cutting edge. In the fight for Black political and economic power, SNCC employed a wide array of technology and tactics to do the work. SNCC bought its own WATS (Wide Area Telephone Service) lines, allowing staff to make long-distance phone calls for a flat rate. It developed its own research department, communications department, photography department, transportation bureau, and had network of supporters that spanned the globe. SNCC’s publishing arm printed tens of thousands of copies of The Student Voice weekly to hold mass media accountable to the facts and keep the public informed. And so, when SNCC discovered they could create an informational organizing tool at 10¢ a pop that showed how people were empowering themselves, they did just that.


SNCC activist Maria Varela was one of the first to work on this experimental project to develop filmstrips. Varela had come into SNCC’s photography department through her interest in creating adult literacy material that was accessible, making her well-positioned for this type of work. On 35mm split-frame film, Varela and other SNCC photographers pieced together positives that told a story, could be wound up into a small metal canister, stuffed into a cloth drawstring, and attached to an accompanying script. Thousands of these were mailed out all across the South, where communities could feed them into a local school’s projector and have a meeting to learn about something like the Delano Grape Strike or the West Batesville Farmers Cooperative.


Fifty years later, Varela, a SNCC Digital Gateway Visiting Documentarian, is working with us to digitize some of these filmstrips for publication on our website. Figuring out the proper way to digitize these strips took some doing. Some potential options required cutting the film so that it could be mounted. Others wouldn’t capture the slides in their entirety. We had to take into account the limitations of certain equipment, the need to preserve the original filmstrips, and the desire to make these images accessible to a larger public.

Ultimately, we partnered with Skip Elsheimer of A/V Geeks in Raleigh, who has done some exceptional work with the film. Elsheimer, a well-known name in the field, came into his line of work through his interest in collecting old 16mm film reels. As collection, equipment, and network expanded, Elsheimer turned to this work full-time, putting together and A/V archive of over 25,000 films in the back of his former residence.


We’re very excited to incorporate these filmstrips into the SNCC Digital Gateway. The slides really speak for themselves and act as a window into the organizing tools of the day. They educated communities about each other and helped knit a network of solidarity between movements working to bring power to the people.  Stay tuned to witness this on when our site debuts.

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!

Typography (and the Web)

This summer I’ve been working, or at least thinking about working, on a couple of website design refresh projects. And along those lines, I’ve been thinking a lot about typography. I think it’s fair to say that the overwhelming majority of content that is consumed across the Web is text-based (despite the ever-increasing rise of infographics and multimedia). As such, typography should be considered one of the most important design elements that users will experience when interacting with a website.

CIT Site
An early mockup of the soon-to-be-released CIT design refresh

Early on, Web designers were restricted to using certain ‘stacks’ of web-safe fonts that would hunt through the list of those available on a user’s computer until it found something compatible. Or worst-case, the page would default to using the most basic system ‘sans’ or ‘serif.’ So type design back then wasn’t very flexible and could certainly not be relied upon to render consistently across browsers or platforms. Which essentially resulted in most website text looking more or less the same. In 2004, some very smart people released sIFR which was a flashed-based font replacement technique. It ushered in a bit of a typography renaissance and allowed designers to include almost any typeface they desired into their work with the confidence that the overwhelming majority of users would see the same thing, thanks largely to the prevalence of the (now maligned) Flash plugin.

Right before Steve Jobs fired the initial shot that would ultimately lead to the demise flash, an additional font replacement technique, named Cufon, was released to the world. This approach used Scalable Vector Graphics and Javascript (instead of flash) and was almost universally compatible across browsers. Designers and developers were now very happy as they could use non-standard type faces in their work without relying on Flash.

More or less in parallel with the release of Cufon came the widespread adoption across browsers for the @font-face rule. This allowed developers to load fonts from a web server and have them render on a page, instead of relying on the local fonts a user had installed. In mid to late 2009, services like Typekit, League of Moveable Type, and Font Squirrel began to appear. Instead of outrightly selling licenses to fonts, Typekit worked on a subscription model and made various sets of fonts available for use both locally with design programs and for web publishing, depending on your membership type. [Adobe purchased Typekit in late 2011 and includes access to the service via their Creative Cloud platform.] LoMT and Font Squirrel curate freeware fonts and makes it easy to download the appropriate files and CSS code to integrate them into your site.  Google released their font service in 2010 and it continues to get better and better. They launched an updated version a few weeks ago along with this promo video:

There are also many type foundries that make their work available for use on the web. A few of my favorite font retailers are FontShop, Emigre, and Monotype. The fonts available from these ‘premium’ shops typically involve a higher degree of sophistication, more variations of weight, and extra attention to detail — especially with regard to things like kerning, hinting, and ligatures. There are also many interesting features available in OpenType (a more modern file format for fonts) and they can be especially useful for adding diversity to the look of brush/script fonts. The premium typefaces usually incorporate them, whereas free fonts may not.

Modern web conventions are still struggling with some aspects of typography, especially when it comes to responsive design. There are many great arguments about which units we should be using (viewport, rem/em, px) and how they should be applied. There are calculators and libraries for adjusting things like size, line length, ratios, and so on. There are techniques to improve kerning. But I think we have yet to find a standard, all-in-one solution — there always seems to be something new and interesting available to explore, which pretty much underscores the state of Web development in general.

Here are some other excellent resources to check out:

I’ll conclude with one last recommendation — the Introduction to Typography class on Coursera. I took it for fun a few months ago. It seemed to me that the course is aimed at those who may not have much of a design background, so it’s easily digestible. The videos are informative, not overly complex, and concise. The projects were fun to work on and you end up getting to provide feedback on the work of your fellow classmates, which I think is always fun. If you have an hour or two available for four weeks in a row, check it out!

Communication in Practice

The SNCC Digital Gateway is a collaborative, Mellon-funded project to document the history and legacy of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee on a digital platform. One of the challenges of this undertaking is the physical distance between many of the project partners. From Washington, D.C. to St. Cloud, MN and Durham, NC to Rochester, NY, the SNCC veterans, scholars, librarians, and staff involved in the SNCC Digital Gateway Project are spread across most of the country. We’ve had collaborators call in anywhere from grocery stores in Jacksonville to the streets of Salvador da Bahia. Given these arrangements and the project’s “little d” democracy style of decision-making, communication, transparency, and easy access to project documents are key. The digital age has, thankfully, given us an edge on this, and the SNCC Digital Gateway makes use of a large selection of digital platforms to get the job done.


Say hello to Trello, an easy-to-use project management system that looks like a game of solitaire. By laying cards in different categories, we can customize our to-do list and make sure we have a healthy movement between potential leads, what’s slated to be done, and items marked as complete. We always try to keep our Trello project board up-to-date, making the project’s progress accessible to anyone at anytime.

While we use Trello for as a landing board for much of our internal communication, Basecamp has come in handy for our work with Digital Projects and our communication with the website’s design contractor, Kompleks Creative. Basecamp allows us to have conversations around different pieces of project development, as we provide feedback on design iterations, clarify project requirements, and ask questions about the feasibility of potential options. Keeping this all in one place makes this back-and-forth easy to access, even weeks or months later.

Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 11.01.54 AM


Much of the project’s administrative documents fall into Box, a platform available through Duke that is similar to Dropbox but allows for greater file security. With Duke Toolkits, you can define a project and gain access to a slew of handy features, one of which is a project designation within Box (giving you unlimited space). That’s right, unlimited space. So, apart from allowing us to organize all of the many logistical and administrative documents in a collective space, Box is able to rise to the challenge of large file sharing. We use Box as a temporary landing platform through which we send archival scans, videos, audio recordings, and other primary source material to project partners.

Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 11.02.41 AM

With the student project team, we’re also producing hundreds of pages worth of written content and look to Google Drive as our go-to for organization, access, and collaborative editing. Upon the completion of a set of drafts, we hold a workshop session where other members of the project team comment, critique, and contribute their knowledge. After a round of edits, drafts then go to SNCC veteran and former journalist Charlie Cobb, who puts red pen to paper (figuratively). With one more round of fact-checking and source logging, the final drafts are ready for the website.

And who doesn’t like to see the face of who they’re talking to? We make good use of Skype and Google Hangouts for long distance calls, and Uber Conference when we need to bring a lot of people into the conversation. And finally, an ongoing volley of e-mails, texts, and phone calls between individual project partners helps keep us on the same page.

While non-exhaustive, these are some of the digital platforms that have helped us get to where we are today and maintain communication across continents in this intergenerational and interdisciplinary collaboration.

Survey Says: The Who, Why, What Answers you have been Waiting for!

Last Summer, Sean and I wrote about efforts we  were were undertaking with colleagues to assess the research and scholarly impact of Duke Digital Collections.   Sean wrote about data analysis approaches we took to detect scholarly use, and I wrote about a survey we launched in Spring 2015.  The goal of the survey was to gather information about our patrons and their motivations that were not obvious from Google Analytics and other quantitative data.   The survey was live for 7 months, and today I’m here to share the full results.

In a nutshell (my post last Summer included many details about setting up the survey), the survey asked users, “who are you,” “why are you here,” and “what are you going to do with what you find here?” The survey was accessible from every page of our Digital Collections website from April 30 – November 30, 2015.  We set up event tracking in Google Analytics, so we know that around 43% of our 208,205 visitors during that time hovered on the survey link.  A very small percentage of those clicked through (0.3% or 659 clicks), but 20% of the users that clicked through did answer the survey.   This gave us a total of 132 responses, only one of which seems to be 100% spam.    Traffic to the survey remained steady throughout the survey period. Now, onto the results!

Question 1:  Who are you?

Respondents were asked to identify as one of 2 academically oriented groups (students or educators), librarians, or as “other”.   Results are represented in the bubble graphic below.  You can see that the majority of respondents identified as “other”.   Of those 65 respondents, 30 described themselves, and these labels have been grouped in the pie chart below.  It is fascinating to note that other than the handful of self-identified musicians (I grouped vocalists, piano players, anything musical under musicians) and retirees, there is a large variety of self descriptors listed.

Question 1 responses to "I am a (choose one)" (127 total)
Responses to Question 1, “I am a (choose one)” (127 total – click to enlarge)
Question 1 fill-in responses (39 total)
Question 1 fill-in responses (39 total – click to enlarge)









The results breakdown of responses to question 1 remained steady over time when you compare the overall results to those I shared last Summer.    Overall 26% of respondents identified as student (compared to 25% in July), 14% identified as educator (compared to 18% earlier), 9% identified as librarian, archivist or museum overall (exactly the same as earlier), and 51% identified as other (47% in the initial results).  We thought these results might change when the Fall academic semester started, but as you can see that was not the case.

Question 2:  Why are you here?

As I said above, our goal in all of our assessment work this time around was to look for signs of scholarly use so we were very interested in knowing if visitors come to Duke Digital Collections for academic research or for some other reason. Of the 125 total responses to question 2, personal research and casual browsing outweighed academic research ( see in the bar graph below).    Respondents were able to check multiple categories.  There were 8 instances where the same respondent selected casual browsing and personal research, 4 instances where casual browsing was paired with followed a link, 3  where academic research was tied to casual browsing, and 3 where academic research was tied to other.  Several users selected more than 2 categories, but by in large respondents selected 1 category only.  To me, this infers that our users are very clear about why they come to Duke Digital Collections.

Question 2 responses (125 total)
Question 2 responses (125 total – click to enlarge)

Respondents were prompted to enter their research topic/purpose whether it be academic, personal or other.  Every respondent that identified with other filled in a topic, 73% of personal researchers identified their topic, and 63% of academic researchers shared their topics.  Many of the topics/purposes were unique, but research around music came up across all 3 categories as did topics related the history of a local region (all different regions).  Advertising related topics also came up under academic and personal research.   Several of the respondents who chose other entered a topic that suggested that they were in the early phases of a book project or looking for materials to use in classes. To me these seemed like more academically associated activities, and I was surprised they turned up under “other”.  If I was able to ask follow up questions to these respondents, I would prompt for more information about their topic and why they defined it as academic or personal.  Similarly, if we were designing this survey again, I think we would want to include a category for academic related uses apart from official research.

The results to question 2 also remained mostly consistent since our first view of the results last Summer.    Academic research and casual browsing were tied at a 28% response rate each initially, and finished tied at a 30% response rate.  The followed a link response rate when down from 17% to an overall 11%, personal research also went down from 44% to 36% overall, and other climbed slightly from 11% to 15% overall.

Question 3:  What will you do with the images and/or resources you find on this site?

The third survey question attempts to get at the “now what” part of resource discovery.   Following trends with the first two questions, it is not surprising that a majority of the 121 respondences are oriented towards “personal” use (see bar graph below).    Like question 2, respondents were able to select multiple choices, however they tended to choose only one response.

Question 3 responses (121 total - click to enlarge)
Question 3 responses (121 total – click to enlarge)

Everyone who selected “other” did enter a statement, and of these a handful seemed like they could have fit under one of the defined categories. Several of the write-ins mentioned wanting to share items they found with family and friends assumably using methods other than social media.    Five “others” responded with potentially academic related pursuits such as “an article”, “a book”, “update a book”, and 2 class related projects.  I re-ran some numbers and combined these 5 responses with the academic publication, teaching tool, and homework respondents for a total of 55 possibly academically related answers or 45% of the total response to this question.   The new 45% “academicish” grouping, as I like to think of it, is a more substantial total than each academic topic on its own.  I propose this as an interesting way to slice and dice the data, and I’m sure there are others.


My colleagues and I have been very pleased with the results of this survey.  First, we couldn’t be more thrilled that we were successfully able to collect necessary data (any data!).    At the beginning of this assessment project, we were looking for evidence of research, scholarly and instructional use of Duke Digital Collections.  We did find some, but this survey along with other data shows that the majority of our users come to Duke Digital Collections with a more personal agenda.     We welcome the opportunity to make this kind of individual impact, and it is powerful.  If the respondents of this survey are a representative sample of our user base, then our patrons are actively performing our collections (we have a lot of music), sharing items with family, friends, and community, as well as using the collections to pursue a wide variety of interests.

While this survey data assures us that we are making individual impacts, it also reveals that there is more we can do to cultivate our scholarly and researcher audience.   This will be a long term process,  but we have made some short term progress.  As a result of our work in 2015, my colleagues and I put together a “teaching with digital collections” webpage to collect examples of instructional use and encourage more.  In the course of developing a new platform for digital collections, we are also exploring new tools that could serve scholarly researchers more effectively.     With a look towards the longer term, all of Duke University Libraries has been engaged in strategic planning for the past year, and Digital Collections is no exception.  As we develop our goals around scholarly use,  survey data like this is an important asset.

I’m curious to hear from others, what has your experience been with surveys?  What have you learned and how have you put that knowledge to use?  Feel free to comment or contact me directly! (molly.bragg at


Content Galore: the SNCC Digital Gateway’s Ongoing Challenge

Google Drive content log for SNCC Digital Gateway.

So much content. Gobs of content. Never-ending ideas for more content. Content–how to produce, present, and connect it–it’s a challenge the SNCC Digital Gateway Project faces on a daily basis.

The SNCC Digital Gateway deals in two types of content.

First is the content written by the student Project Team under the direction of our SNCC Visiting Activist Scholar. This includes 600 – 700 word profiles of people, stories of events, audiovisual pieces exploring different perspectives in SNCC, and close-ups of the inner workings of SNCC as an organization. When the SNCC Digital Gateway debuts in December of 2016, it will feature over 150 profiles, 50 events, 9 audiovisual pieces, and 25 organizing SNCC pages.

Arrest record for Willie Ricks Individuals active in civil disturbances, vol. 1, ADAH

The second type of content in the SNCC Digital Gateway is the primary sources embedded within the profiles, events, and organizing SNCC pages. Each piece of written content features 6 – 8 digitized primary sources. These are items like the arrest record of SNCC field secretary Willie Ricks — “Extremely radical, militant individual”–, articles from SNCC’s newsletter, The Student Voice, or SNCC activists recounting their organizing experiences in the 1988 We Shall Not Be Moved conference at Trinity College.

Multiply the amount of written content by the number of embedded sources, and that totals well over 1500 items. And that’s only for the 2016 debut…2017 is devoted to producing more content! By the time the SNCC Digital Gateway is complete, it’s aiming to feature 300 – 400 profiles, 100 plus events, 50 organizing SNCC pages, and over 20 audiovisual pieces.

Producing so much content is a challenge in and of itself, and our resources have limits. But the SNCC Digital Gateway also needs to present these vast volumes of content in a user-friendly, intuitive way. One Person, One Vote, the pilot site to SDG, taught us a good deal about what works and doesn’t work in site architecture. We wanted the SNCC Digital Gateway to be more accessible to students and teachers, movement veterans and the general public. That meant providing users ways to explore by people and place, periods, organizations, and ideas. The Editorial Board and project staff have spent months hammering out how best to do that. We ended up with something that looks like this:

Wireframe for the SNCC Digital Gateway sketched on the whiteboard wall of the project room.

In mid-January, we met with Kompleks Creative, the designers of the SNCC Digital Gateway, to see what they thought was possible. Here’s an illustrative recount of the conversation about profiles and how to navigate through them using geography:

    SDG:“We want users to be able to sort through profiles by state, region, county, or city, and we’d really like them to be able to get to counties and cities directly.
    Kompleks: “How many counties are you talking about?”
    SDG: “Probably 100 or more.”
    Kompleks: “Wow. That’s not going to work.”

Don’t worry. We came to up with a good solution. But the fact that the SNCC Digital Gateway needs to handle 500 – 600 pieces of content when finished (never mind the thousands of embedded sources) is an ongoing hurdle. The design process is only beginning, so our site architecture questions are far from sorted out. But in the end, the SNCC Digital Gateway needs to bring SNCC’s history to life in a way that both channels how movement activists understood their work and is accessible and compelling for a new generation of young people, teachers, and scholars.

Good thing we’re only half a year into a three-year project.