Category Archives: spotlight

Enter the Vortex

When Duke students tour the Digital Production Center, I always show them our video digitization system, and point out that Duke Libraries’ collection of U-matic, VHS and Betacam analog videotapes are ancient relics from the last century. This fall’s first-year students were born in the new millennium. They have little use for physical media, except for perhaps an occasional external thumb-drive. Their concept of video is something you capture on your iPhone or stream online, not play using a crude plastic rectangular-shell. And rewinding videotape? “Like… what is that?, it’s so… weird!”

So, imagine my surprise when I recently walked into Raleigh’s brand new Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, and entered their Video Vortex, a massive library of over 75,000 video titles on VHS and DVD, that are free for customers to check out and watch at home. Video Vortex even rents out VHS players, another historical artifact. This may seem odd at a time and everyone is streaming movie content online. But, Video Vortex specializes in movies you can’t get from Netflix, Amazon and other streaming services. Many of their titles are out of print, and some of these films were never released on DVD, or in any digital format, so the only way you can see them is on VHS.

Blood Orgy of the Leather Girls (1988). Directed by Meredith Lucas

Walking through the VHS collection is like going to a run-down grindhouse movie theater in 1975, or tuning into an obscure cable-TV channel at 3 A.M. in 1987. Many of the films would be classified as “exploitation:” cheaply-made horror, cult or action titles that never had a chance at the Oscars, and are “so bad, they’re good,” like “Blood Orgy of the Leather Girls.” But there’s also critically acclaimed films like Frank Perry’s “Last Summer,” which earned an academy award nomination in 1969. Due to copyright issues or lack of funds, these two films have never made it into the digital realm, and can only be seen on VHS.

Last Summer (1969). Directed by Frank Perry

Josh Schafer is co-manager and “VHS Culture Captain” of Video Vortex. He moved here from New Jersey to work in the vortex, because he’s a longtime connoisseur and expert on the VHS format, and even publishes a VHS fanzine called “Lunchmeat.”

“The whole goal here is to not just reimagine the video store, and give people that feeling and experience again, but also give people this library, this community asset where both film-lovers and the casual movie-goer alike, can come in and explore all kinds of cinema, for free,” says Schafer. The Alamo’s lobby, where Video Vortex lives, is decorated with rare movie posters, giant VHS facsimiles, and has tables where film-nerds can congregate, order from the Alamo’s full kitchen and bar, and discuss their favorite obscure animation titles.

Video Vortex has every film by every director in the known universe.

Skip Elsheimer of AV Geeks has taken on the job of helping to maintain the Video Vortex collection, which involves cleaning off mold, splicing tape, fixing cases and repairing DVDs. “A lot of these videotapes and DVDs were boxed up for years in storage spaces that were not ideal,” says Skip. “We do TLC on these titles, many of which don’t exist in any other format.”

DVDs are actually harder to fix and reclaim than videotape. Skip says the rescue rate of VHS is about 90%, because he can swap out tape, put it in a new cassette case, splice it, etc. But once the lamination separates on a DVD, or if there’s a significant scratch, it’s toast, because the laser can no longer read the data, and there’s no way to retrieve it. So much for the idea of digital = permanent. Or as the VHS Culture Captain says, “only analog is real.”

In addition to Video Vortex, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema offers a mix of first-run, independent and vintage films on 11 screens. The comfy theater seats recline, and customers can order an eclectic mix of foods, cocktails, craft-beers and wine, right from their seat. Most everyone who works at Alamo is a movie fan, and it shows in everything from the vintage movie posters that line the walls, to the enthusiasm of the employees. The only way to dampen that enthusiasm is if you talk or text in the theater, because, after one warning, you will be asked to leave, as explained in this colorful public service announcement.

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.

DDR-RD: Previewing DUL’s new platform for research data

While we sometimes talk about “the repository” as if it were a monolith at Duke University Libraries, we have in fact developed and maintained two core platforms that function as repository applications. I’ll describe them briefly, then preview a third that is in development, as well as the rationale behind expanding in this way.

Continue reading DDR-RD: Previewing DUL’s new platform for research data

Open, Flip, Scan, Close: Observations from The Duke Chronicle Collection Project

Beginning Launch in….

Exciting news from Digital Collections! The 1990’s decade of The Duke Chronicle is being prepped for completion. It has been nine months since I started scanning The Chronicle, and I have come across some interesting stories and images. Despite the fact that I can’t digest the 1990’s being twenty years ago, flipping through the pages brought back some good memories of those days. They also brought some perspective of events I was too young, and too focused on the new trendiest toy, to recall.

It all falls down

As I’m sure some of you remember, in the 1990’s, the world saw the slow destruction of the massive empire that was the Soviet Union. I was much too young to remember the monumental days of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the gradual independence of the Eastern European nations, but the students at Duke were old enough to witness and digest it. Apparently, there was such an interest in the topic that course enrollments skyrocketed in some areas. Since the situation was so new at the time, professors did not have any readings to assign, and previous course materials were made obsolete! I could see myself being one of the many students signing up for these courses.

     

Barbecue or peace of mind

Another random yet interesting article I found involved hog farms in North Carolina. Allegedly, the smell was so bad and spread so wide that neighbors were experiencing mood changes. A medical psychology professor completed an odor study, and found people were more depressed, angry and tired compared to people who didn’t live near hog farms. It became enough of an issue for local residents to file a lawsuit against the nearby hog farms. Although I have never lived near a hog farm, if I had to smell feces, urine and hog feed every time I came home, I don’t think I would be a happy camper either.

    

We have come so far

This particular article hit close to home. The University Archives were worried about navigating the preservation of important emails and other electronic documents. They discussed printing emails back in 1999, but we have now moved on to preserving electronic records in their original form. There are even courses dedicated to the subject in the archival field. It’s funny reading this article after scanning it for the very same purpose. Preservation.

    

Back in the day

Some more goodies I noticed while scanning this project.

Did anyone have any of these state of the art electronics?

Ohh, so this is how you found out what classes were available.

In the meantime 

I know the students, faculty and staff of the ’90s will probably get a kick out of viewing these old newspaper issues, but I’m sure everyone else will enjoy reading through The Chronicle too. While you wait for the 1990’s to be made available publicly, take a look  at the current digitized Chronicle collection.

 

 

 

Announcing Multispectral Imaging Service, version 1

As regular Bitstreams readers know, a cross departmental team within Duke University Libraries has been exploring Multispectral Imaging and its potential to make Duke collections more accessible to researchers in the Duke scholarly community and beyond since 2015. After spending 2017 developing MSI workflows, building expertise, writing documentation, and responding to experimental imaging requests, we are now ready to unveil the first version of Duke University Libraries MSI service for researchers!

Our first service model version accommodates small requests that are not urgent. The MSI team wants to partner with researchers to facilitate their requests as well as hear feedback about our current service and any other needs for MSI. We are offering MSI services for free for the next few months, but will institute a fee structure this Summer.

The service breaks down into 4 general steps:

  • First, researchers submit a request for MSI services using a webform. The form prompts requesters to share their research question and details about what they want imaged. We also want to know where researchers are from, as we are expecting both Duke and non-Duke affiliated patrons.
  • Second, the MSI team will review all requests, as MSI is not the ideal imaging solution for all materials and research questions. Requests that will not benefit from MSI will not be approved.
  • Third, we schedule approved requests for imaging and processing. We plan to conduct 1 imaging and processing day per month, so it may take several weeks to a month for approved requests to make it though our full process.
  • Fourth, we deliver the processed files to our patrons along with a report that details the imaging and processing procedures and outcomes.

Please note the following:
We are currently only imaging Duke University Library holdings.
We are limiting requests to 1-3 individual items or 1-3 pages within a bound item (which is the number of items we can generally image and process in 1 day).
Allow 2-4 weeks for vetting and up to a month for imaging.

If you are interested in requesting MSI services, but your needs do not fit the service described here, we still want to hear from you! Please do not hesitate to fill out our researcher request form to get the process started, or contact Susan Ivey directly.

If you want to learn more about MSI, check out the recent talk we gave at the Friday Visualization Forum on February 23.