Category Archives: spotlight

Digital Collections 2019

‘Tis the time of year for top 10 lists. Here at Duke Digital Collections HQ, we cannot just pick 10, because all our digital collections are tops!  What follows is a list of all the digital collections we have launched for public access this calendar year.

Our newest collections include a range of formats and subject areas from 19th Century manuscripts to African American soldiers photograph albums to Duke Mens Basketball posters to our first Multispectral Images of papyrus to be ingested into the repository.  We also added new content to 4 existing digital collections.  Lastly, our platform migration is still ongoing, but we made some incredible progress this year as you will see below.  Our goal is to finish the migration by the end of 2020.

New Digital Collections

Additions to Existing Collections

Migrated Collections into the Duke Digital Repository

 

 

 

 

Where do patrons get lost? A study of library navigation.

In the Assessment & User Experience Department, we’re always looking for ways to improve how our patrons experience the libraries’ physical and online spaces. One of our primary ways of learning about our patrons is our biennial user satisfaction survey, which we use to collect opinions from large groups of our patrons about a wide range of issues.

One topic that comes up regularly among our patrons is the navigation of our physical spaces. Like many libraries, our buildings have evolved over time, and that can make navigating our spaces a bit complicated. On Duke’s West Campus, we have three library buildings that are interconnected – Rubenstein Library, Perkins Library, and Bostock Library. Responses and comments on our biennial survey confirm what we hear anecdotally – patrons have trouble navigating these three buildings.

Deep Dive into Navigation Concerns

But how can we follow up on these reports to improve navigation in our spaces? Ideally, we would gather data from a large number of people over a long period of time to find very common and problematic navigation issues. Our biennial survey offers data from a large number of people over time, but it isn’t a great format for gathering detailed data about narrow subjects like navigation.  Conducting an observational study of our spaces would explore navigation directly, but it would only include a small number of people, and the likelihood that we would catch individuals having trouble with navigation is low. We could try conducting ad hoc surveys of patrons in our spaces, but it would be difficult to ensure we are including people who have had navigation trouble, and it may be difficult for patrons to recall their navigation trouble on the spot.

What we needed was a way of capturing common examples of patrons having trouble with navigation. We decided that, instead of asking patrons themselves, our best resource would be library staff. We know that when patrons are lost in our buildings, they may reach out to staff members they see nearby. By surveying staff instead of patrons, we take advantage of staff who know the buildings well and who are commonly in particular areas of the buildings, noticing and offering help to our struggling patrons.

We decided to send a very simple survey to all staff in these library buildings. Staff could fill it out multiple times, and the only two questions were:

  • What is a common question you have helped patrons with?
  • Where are the patrons when they have this question, typically?

We had a great response from staff (72 responses from 36 individuals), and analyzing the responses showed several sources of confusion.

Pie chart showing categories of responses to library navigation survey. 35% of responses reported patrons in the wrong building. 26% reported patrons in the right general area. The rest were split amongst "wrong campus building," "wrong floor", and "can't find books."

Focusing on questions where patrons are in library spaces and not near a help desk, two concerns account for over 60% of reported patron navigation issues:

  • Building confusion
  • Hidden rooms

Trouble Between Buildings

Our three connected library buildings, unfortunately, connect in ways that are not obvious to new visitors. Because buildings only connect on certain levels, it is easy for patrons to be looking for a location on the right floor but the wrong building. By asking staff for specific locations of both patrons and their desired destination, we could compile the most frequent problems that involve being in the wrong building. Unsurprisingly, the locations that cause the most difficulty are our large meeting rooms and classroom spaces, especially those that are not on the ground floor of the buildings.

The most common problems seem to happen when patrons leave the first floor while in the wrong building, expecting the buildings to connect on the other floors (or not realizing which building they are in). As you can see from the side-view of our buildings below, the Perkins and Bostock library building have easy connections on all floors, but the Rubenstein Library only connects to Perkins on the first floor. Our survey confirmed that this causes many issues for patrons looking for 2nd floor or Lower Level meeting rooms in Perkins and upper level meeting rooms in Rubenstein.

A diagram showing a side-view of navigation between the three library buildings. Rubenstein and Perkins connect on the first floor. Perkins and Bostock connect on all but the first floor.

While we are still in the process of developing and testing possible solutions, we hope to redesign signage in a way that better signposts when patrons should proceed onward on the current floor and when they should transition up or down.

Trouble on the Same Floor

Our survey suggests, unfortunately, that it is not enough to get patrons to the correct floor. Depending on the route the patron takes, there are still common destinations that are difficult to see from stairwells, elevators, and main hallways. Again, this difficulty tends to arise when patrons are looking for meeting rooms. This makes sense, as events held in our meeting rooms can attract patrons who have not yet been to our buildings.

Staff reports for same-floor confusion focus largely on floors where room entrances are hidden in recesses or around corners and where rooms are spaced apart such that it is hard to simply follow room number signage. As a notable example, the 2nd floor of Perkins Library seems especially confusing to patrons, with many different types of destinations, few of which are visible from main entrances and hallways. In the diagram below, you can see some of the main places patrons get lost, indicating a need for better signage visible from these locations. (Pink question marks indicate the lost patrons. Red arrowheads indicate the desired destinations.)

A floor plan of Perkins 2nd floor, with curved arrows showing reports of patrons who are far away from their desired destination.

As we develop solutions to highlight locations of hidden rooms, we are considering options like large vinyl lettering or perpendicular corridor signs that alert people to rooms around corners.

Final Thoughts

This technique worked really well for this informal study – it gave us a great place to start exploring new design solutions, and we can be more proactive about testing new navigation signage before we make permanent changes. Thanks for your great information, DUL staff!

A Statement of Commitment

The featured image is from a mockup of a new repositories home page that we’re working on in the Libraries, planned for rollout in January of 2020.

Working at the Libraries, it can be dizzying to think about all of our commitments.

There’s what we owe our patrons, a body of so many distinct and overlapping communities, all seeking to learn and discover, that we could split the library along an infinite number of lines to meet them where they work and think.

There’s what we owe the future, in our efforts to preserve and share the artifacts of knowledge that we acquire on the market, that scholars create on our own campus, or that seem to form from history and find us somehow.

There’s what we owe the field, and the network of peer libraries that serve their own communities, each of them linked in a web of scholarship with our own. Within our professional network, we seek to support and complement one another, to compete sometimes in ways that move our field forward, and to share what we learn from our experiences.

The needs of information technology underlie nearly all of these activities, and to meet those needs, we have an IT staff that’s modest in size, but prodigious in its skill and its dedication to the mission of the Libraries. Within that group, the responsibility for creating new software, and maintaining what we have, falls to a small team of developers and devops engineers. We depend on them to enhance and support a wide range of platforms, including our web services, our discovery platforms, and our digital repositories.

This fall, we did some reflection on how we want to approach support for our repository platforms. The result of that reflection was a Statement of Commitment to Repositories Support and Development, a document of roughly a page that expresses what we consider to be our values in this area, and the context of priorities in which we do that work.

The committee that created the statement was our Digital Preservation and Publishing Program, or DP3 as call it in house. We summarized our values as “openness, community and peer engagement, and independence from vended platforms,” which have “guided us to build our repositories on open source software platforms.” We place that work within the context of very large, looming priorities like our transition to FOLIO as our Library Services Platform, and the project to renovate Lilly Library. There are others, not mentioned in the statement, that fill the pages of this blog.

The statement is explicit that we will not seek to find alternative platforms for our repository services in the next several years, and in particular while the FOLIO transition is underway. This decision is informed by our recognition that migration of content and services across platforms is complex and expensive. It’s also a recognition that we have invested a lot into these existing platforms, and we want to carve out as much space as we can for our talented staff to focus on maintaining and improving them, rather than locking ourselves into all-consuming cycles of content migration.

From a practical perspective, and speaking as the manager who oversees software development in the Libraries, I see this statement as part of an overall strategy to bring focus to our work. It’s a small but important symbolic measure that recognizes the drag that we create for our software team when give in to our urge to prioritize everything. 

The phrase “context switching” is one that we have borrowed from the parlance of operating systems to describe the effects on a developer of working on multiple projects at once. There are real costs to moving between development environments, code bases, and architectures on the same day, in the same week, during the same sprint, or within even an extended work cycle. We also call this problem “multi-tasking,” and the penalty it imposes of performance is well documented

Even more than performance, I think of it as a quality of life concern. People are generally happier and more invested when they’re able to do quality work. As a manager, I can work with scheduling and planning to try to mitigate those effects of multitasking on our team. But the responsibility really lies with the organization. We have our commitments, and they are vast in size and scope. We owe it to ourselves to do some introspection now and again, and ask what we can realistically do with what we have, or more accurately, who we are.

A collaborative approach to developing a new Duke Libraries catalog

Post contributed by: Emily Daly, Thomas Crichlow, and Cory Lown

If you’re a frequent or even casual user of the Duke Libraries catalog, you’ve probably noticed that it’s remained remarkably consistent over the last decade. Consistency can be a good thing, but there is certainly room for improvement in the Duke Libraries catalog, and staff from the libraries at Duke, UNC, and NCSU are excited to replace the current catalog’s aging infrastructure and outdated user interface with an entirely new collaboratively developed open-source discovery layer. While many things are changing, one key feature will remain the same: The catalog will continue to allow users to locate and access materials not only here at Duke but also across the other Triangle Research Libraries member libraries (NCSU, NCCU, UNC).

Users will be able to search for items in the Duke Libraries catalog and then expand to see books and items from NCSU, NCCU, and UNC if they wish.

Commitment to collaboration

In addition to an entirely new central index that supports institutional and consortial searching, the new catalog benefits from a shared, centrally developed codebase as well as locally hosted, customizable catalog interfaces. Perhaps most notably, the new catalog has been built with the needs of library and complex bibliographic data in mind. While the software used for the current library catalog has evolved and grown in complexity to support e-commerce and business needs (not higher ed or library needs), the library software development community has been hard at work building specialized discovery layers using the open-source Blacklight framework. Peer institutions including Stanford, Cornell, and Princeton are already using Blacklight for their library catalogs, and there is an active Blacklight development community that Duke is excited to be a part of. Being part of this community enables us to build on the good work already in place in other library catalogs, including more intuitive facets, adaptive linking for subjects and other fields, a more responsive user interface for access via tablets and phones, and the ability to preserve the order of MARC fields when it’s useful to researchers (MARC is an international standard for representing bibliographic and related data).

We’re upping our collaboration game locally, too: This project has given us the opportunity to develop a new model for collaborative software development. Rather than reinvent the wheel at each Triangle Research Library, we’re combining effort and expertise to develop a feature-rich yet highly customizable discovery layer that will serve the needs of researchers across the triangle. To do this, we have adopted an agile project management process with talented developers and dedicated product owners from NCSU, UNC, and Duke. The agile approach has helped us be more productive and efficient during the development phase and increased collaboration across the four Triangle Research Libraries, positioning us well for maintaining and governing the catalog after we go live.

This image depicts the structure of the development team that was formed in May 2017 to collaboratively build the new library catalog.

What’s next?

The development team has already conducted multiple rounds of user testing and made changes to the user interface based on findings. We’re now ready to hear feedback from library staff. To facilitate this, we’ll be launching the Duke instance of the catalog to all library staff next Wednesday, August 1. We encourage staff to explore catalog features and records and then report feedback, providing screenshots, URLs, and other details as needed. We’ll continue user testing this fall and solicit extensive feedback from faculty, students, staff, and general researchers.

Our plan (fingers crossed!) is to officially launch the new Duke Libraries catalog to all users in early 2019, perhaps as soon as the start of the spring semester. A local implementation team is already at work to be sure we’re ready to replace Duke’s old catalog with the new and improved version early next year. Meanwhile, development and interface enhancement of the catalog will continue this fall. While we are pleased with what we’ve accomplished over the last 18 months, there is still significant work to be done before we’ll be ready to go live. Here are a few items on the lengthy TO DO list:

  • finish loading the 16 million records from all four Triangle Research libraries
  • integrate Duke’s request workflows so users can request items they discover in the new catalog
  • develop a robust Advanced Search interface in response to user demand
  • tune relevance ranking
  • ensure that non-Roman scripts are searchable and display correctly
  • map non-MARC metadata so items such as digital collections records are discoverable
Effective search and display of non-Roman scripts is just one of the many items left on our list before we launch the library catalog to the public.

There is a lot of work ahead to be sure, but what we will launch to staff next week is a functional catalog with nearly 10 million records, and that number is increasing by the day. We invite you to take the new catalog for a spin and tell us what you think so we can make improvements and be ready for all researchers in just a few short months.