Category Archives: Projects

Digital Tools for Civil Rights History

The One Person, One Vote Project is trying to do history a different way. Fifty years ago, young activists in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee broke open the segregationist south with the help of local leaders. Despite rerouting the trajectories of history, historical actors rarely get to have a say in how their stories are told. Duke and the SNCC Legacy Project are changing that. The documentary website we’re building (One Person, One Vote: The Legacy of SNCC and the Struggle for Voting Right) puts SNCC veterans at the center of narrating their history.

SNCC field secretary and Editorial Board member Charlie Cobb.
SNCC field secretary and Editorial Board member Charlie Cobb. Courtesy of www.crmvet.org.

So how does that make the story we tell different? First and foremost, civil rights becomes about grassroots organizing and the hundreds of local individuals who built the movement from the bottom up. Our SNCC partners want to tell a story driven by the whys and hows of history. How did their experiences organizing in southwest Mississippi shape SNCC strategies in southwest Georgia and the Mississippi Delta? Why did SNCC turn to parallel politics in organizing the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party? How did ideas drive the decisions they made and the actions they took?

For the One Person, One Vote site, we’ve been searching for tools that can help us tell this story of ideas, one focused on why SNCC turned to grassroots mobilization and how they organized. In a world where new tools for data visualization, mapping, and digital humanities appear each month, we’ve had plenty of possibilities to choose from. The tools we’ve gravitated towards have some common traits; they all let us tell multi-layered narratives and bring them to life with video clips, photographs, documents, and music. Here are a couple we’ve found:

This StoryMap traces how the idea of Manifest Destiny progressed through the years and across the geography of the United States.
This StoryMap traces how the idea of Manifest Destiny progressed through the years and across the geography of the U.S.

StoryMap: Knightlab’s StoryMap tool is great for telling stories. But better yet, StoryMap lets us illustrate how stories unfold over time and space. Each slide in a StoryMap is grounded with a date and a place. Within the slides, creators can embed videos and images and explain the significance of a particular place with text. Unlike other mapping tools, StoryMaps progress linearly; one slide follows another in a sequence, and viewers click through a particular path. In terms of SNCC, StoryMaps give us the opportunity to trace how SNCC formed out of the Greensboro sit-ins, adopted a strategy of jail-no-bail in Rock Hill, SC, picked up the Freedom Rides down to Jackson, Mississippi, and then started organizing its first voter registration campaign in McComb, Mississippi.

Timeline.JS: We wanted timelines in the One Person, One Vote site to trace significant events in SNCC’s history but also to illustrate how SNCC’s experiences on the ground transformed their thinking, organizing, and acting. Timeline.JS, another Knightlab tool, provides the flexibility to tell overlapping stories in clean, understandable manner. Markers in Timeline.JS let us embed videos, maps, and photos, cite where they come from, and explain their significance. Different tracks on the timeline  give us the option of categorizing events into geographic regions, modes of organizing, or evolving ideas.

The history of Duke University as displayed by Timeline.JS.
The history of Duke University as displayed by Timeline.JS.

DH Press: Many of the mapping tools we checked out relied on number-heavy data sets, for example those comparing how many robberies took place on the corners of different city blocks. Data sets for One Person, One Vote come mostly in the form of people, places, and stories. We needed a tool that let us bring together events and relevant multimedia material and primary sources and represent them on a map. After checking out a variety of mapping tools, we found that DH Press served many of our needs.

DH Press project representing buildings and uses in Durham's Hayti neighborhood.
DH Press project representing buildings and uses in Durham’s Hayti neighborhood.

Coming out of the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill’s Digital Innovation Lab, DH Press is a WordPress plugin designed specifically with digital humanities projects in mind. While numerous tools can plot events on a map, DH Press markers provide depth. We can embed the video of an oral history interview and have a transcript running simultaneously as it plays. A marker might include a detailed story about an event, and chronicle all of the people who were there. Additionally, we can customize the map legends to generate different spatial representations of our data.

Example of a marker in DH Press. Markers can be customized to include a range of information about a particular place or event.
Example of a marker in DH Press. Markers can be customized to include a range of information about a particular place or event.

 

These are some of the digital tools we’ve found that let us tell civil rights history through stories and ideas. And the search continues on.

Bodies of Knowledge: Seeking Design Contractors for Innovative Anatomical Digital Collection

The History of Medicine Collections, part of the Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University, would like to create a digital collection of our ten anatomical fugitive sheets.

flap
An Anatomical Fugitive Sheet complete with flap.

Anatomical fugitive sheets are single sheets, very similar to items such as broadsides [early printed advertisements] that date from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and are incredibly rare and fragile. Eight of the ten sheets in our collections have overlays or moveable parts adding to the complexity of creating an online presence that allows a user to open or lift the flap digitally.

The primary deliverable for the design contractor of this project will be an online surrogate of the fugitive sheets and any accompanying plugins. Skills needed include JavaScript and CSS.

We’re looking for a talented design team to help us connect the past to the present. See the prospectus for candidate contractors linked below.

Bodies of Knowledge: a prospectus for design contractors to create an innovative anatomical digital collection. 

Tweets and Metadata Unite!: Meet the Twitter Card

Twitter Cards
Source: https://dev.twitter.com/cards

Everyone knows that Twitter limits each post to 140 characters. Early criticism has since cooled and most people agree it’s a helpful constraint, circumvented through clever (some might say better) writing, hyperlinks, and URL-shorteners.  But as a reader of tweets, how do you know what lies at the other end of a shortened link? What entices you to click? The tweet author can rarely spare the characters to attribute the source site or provide a snippet of content, and can’t be expected to attach a representative image or screenshot.

Our webpages are much more than just mystery destinations for shortened URLs. Twitter agrees: its developers want help understanding what the share-worthy content from a webpage actually is in order to present it in a compelling way alongside the 140 characters or less.  Enter two library hallmarks: vocabularies and metadata.

This week, we added Twitter Card metadata in the <head> of all of our digital collections pages and in our library blogs. This data instantly made all tweets and retweets linking to our pages far more interesting. Check it out!

For the blogs, tweets now display the featured image, post title, opening snippet, site attribution, and a link to the original post. Links to items from digital collections now show the image itself (along with some item info), while links to collections, categories, or search results now display a grid of four images with a description underneath. See these examples:

 

A gallery tweet, linking to the homepage for the William Gedney Photographs collection.
A gallery tweet, linking to the homepage for the William Gedney Photographs collection.
Summary Card With Large Image: tweet linking to a post in The Devil's Tale blog.
Summary Card With Large Image: Tweet linking to a post in The Devil’s Tale blog.
Summary Card With Large Image: tweet linking to a digital collections image.
Summary Card With Large Image: tweet linking to a digital collections image.

 

Why This Matters

In 2013-14, social media platforms accounted for 10.1% of traffic to our blogs (~28,000 visits in 2013-14, 11,300 via Twitter), and 4.3% of visits to our digital collections (~17,000 visits, 1,000 via Twitter). That seems low, but perhaps it’s because of the mystery link phenomenon. These new media-rich tweets have the potential to increase our traffic through these channels by being more interesting to look at and more compelling to click.  We’re looking forward to finding out whether they do.

And regardless of driving clicks, there are two other benefits of Twitter Cards that we really care about in the library: context and attribution. We love it when our collections and blog posts are shared on Twitter. These tweets now automatically give some additional information and helpfully cite the source.

How to Get Your Own Twitter Cards

The Manual Way

If you’re manually adding tags like we’ve done in our Digital Collections templates, you can “View Source” on any of our pages to see what <meta> tags make the magic happen. Moz also has some useful code snippets to copy, with links to validator tools so you can make sure you’re doing it correctly.

Gallery Page
Twitter Card metadata for a Gallery Page (Broadsides & Ephemera Collection)

WordPress

Since our blogs run on WordPress, we were able to use the excellent WordPress SEO plugin by Yoast. It’s helpful for a lot of things related to search engine optimization, and it makes this social media optimization easy, too.

Adding Twitter Card metadata with the WordPress SEO plugin.
Adding Twitter Card metadata with the WordPress SEO plugin.

Once your tags are in place, you just need to validate an example from your domain using the Twitter Card Validator before Twitter will turn on the media-rich tweets. It doesn’t take long at all: ours began appearing within a couple hours. The cards apply retroactively to previous tweets, too.

Related Work

Our addition of Twitter Card data follows similar work we have done using semantic markup in our Digital Collections site using the Open Graph and Schema.org vocabularies. Open Graph is a standard developed by Facebook. Similar to Twitter Card metadata, OG tags inform Facebook what content to highlight from a linked webpage. Schema.org is a vocabulary for describing the contents of web pages in a way that is helpful for retrieval and representation in Google and other search engines.

All of these tools use RDFa syntax, a key cornerstone of Linked Data on the web that supports the description of resources using whichever vocabularies you choose. Google, Twitter, Facebook, and other major players in our information ecosystem are now actively using this data, providing clear incentive for web authors to provide it. We should keep striving to play along.

Focus: it’s about vision and teamwork

image of crossed eyes from an old advertisementSo much work to do, so little time. But what keeps us focused as we work to make a wealth of resources available via the web? It often comes down to a willingness to collaborate and a commitment to a common vision.

Staying focused through vision and values

When Duke University Libraries embarked on our 2012-2013 website redesign, we created a vision and values statement that became a guidepost during our decision making. It worked so well for that single project, that we later decided to apply it to current and future web projects. You can read the full statement on our website, but here are just a few of the key ideas:

  • Put users first.
  • Verify data and information, perpetually remove outdated or inaccurate data and content, & present relevant content at the point of need.
  • Strengthen our role as essential partners in research, teaching, and scholarly communication: be a center of intellectual life at Duke.
  • Maintain flexibility in the site to foster experimentation, risk-taking, and future innovation.

As we decide which projects to undertake, what our priorities should be, and how we should implement these projects, we often consider what aligns well with our vision and values. And when something doesn’t fit well, it’s often time to reconsider.

Team work, supporting and balancing one another

Vision counts, but having people who collaborate well is what really enables us to maintain focus and to take a coherent approach to our work.

A number of cross-departmental teams within Duke University Libraries consider which web-based projects we should undertake, who should implement them, when, and how. By ensuring that multiple voices are at the table, each bringing different expertise, we make use of the collective wisdom from within our staff.

WebX

The Web Experience Team (WebX) is responsible for the overall visual consistency and functional integrity of our web interfaces. It not only provides vision for our website, but actively leads or contributes to the implementation of numerous projects. Sample projects include:

  • The introduction of a new eBook service called Overdrive
  • The development of a new, Bento-style, version of our search portal to be released in August
  • Testing the usability of our web interfaces with patrons leading to changes such as the introduction of a selectable default search tab

Members of WebX are Aaron Welborn, Emily Daly, Heidi Madden, Jacquie Samples, Kate Collins, Michael Peper, Sean Aery, and Thomas Crichlow.

ACDC

While we love to see the research community using our collections within our reading rooms, we understand the value in making these collections available online. The Advisory Committee for Digital Collections (ACDC) decides which collections of rare material will be published online. Members of ACDC are Andy Armacost, David Pavelich, Jeff Kosokoff, Kat Stefko, Liz Milewicz, Molly Bragg, Naomi Nelson, Valerie Gillispie, and Will Sexton.

DCIT

The Digital Collections Implementation Team (DCIT) both guides and undertakes much of the work needed to digitize and publish our unique online collections. Popular collections DCIT has published include:
Man and woman standing next to each other as they each encircle one eye with their thumb and forefinger

Members of DCIT are Erin Hammeke, Mike Adamo, Molly Bragg, Noah Huffman, Sean Aery, and Will Sexton.

These groups have their individual responsibilities, but they also work well together. The teamwork extends beyond these groups as each relies on individuals and departments throughout Duke Libraries and beyond to ensure the success of our projects.

Most importantly, it helps that we like to work together, we value each other’s viewpoints, and we remain connected to a common vision.