Category Archives: Technology

Is there an app for that? The seemingly endless quest to make discovery easier for users

Contributed by Assessment & User Experience Department Practicum Students Amelia Midgett-Nicholson and Allison Cruse 

Duke University Libraries (DUL) is always searching for new ways to increase access and make discovery easier for users. One area users frequently have trouble with is accessing online articles. Too often we hear from students that they cannot find an article PDF they are looking for, or even worse, that they end up paying to get through a journal paywall. To address this problem, DUL’s Assessment and User Experience (AUX) Department explored three possible tools: LibKey Discovery, Kopernio, and Lean Library. After user testing and internal review, LibKey Discovery emerged as the best available tool for the job.  

LibKey Discovery logo

LibKey Discovery is a suite of user-friendly application programming interfaces (APIs) used to enhance the library’s existing discovery system.  The APIs enable one-click access to PDFs for subscribed and open-source content, one-click access to full journal browsing via the BrowZine application, and access to cover art for thousands of journals.  The tool integrates fully with the existing discovery interface and does not require the use of additional plug-ins.

According to their website, LibKey Discovery has the potential to save users thousands of clicks per day by providing one-click access to millions of articles.  The ability to streamline processes enabling the efficient and effective discovery and retrieval of academic journal content prompted the AUX department to investigate the tool and its capabilities further.  An internal review of the system was preceded by an introduction of the tool to Duke’s subject librarians and followed with a preliminary round of student-based user testing.

Current DUL interface
Current DUL discovery interface
LibKey interface
LibKey discovery interface

Pros

  • One-Click Article and Full Journal Access

Both the AUX staff and the subject librarians who performed an initial review of the LibKey Discovery tools were impressed with the ease of article access and full journal browsing.  Three members of the AUX department independently reviewed LibKey’s features and concluded the system does provide substantial utility in its ability to reduce the number of clicks necessary to access articles and journals.

  • Streamlined Appearance

The tool streamlines the appearance and formatting of all journals, thus removing ambiguity in how to access information from different sources within the catalog.  This is beneficial in helping to direct users to the features they want without having to search for points of access. The AUX department review team all found this helpful.

  • Seamless Integration

LibKey Discovery’s APIs integrate fully into the existing DUL discovery interface without the need for users to download an additional plug-in.  This provides users the benefit of the new system without asking them to go through extra steps or make any changes to their current search processes.  Aside from the new one-click options available within the catalog’s search results page, the LibKey interface is indistinguishable from the current DUL interface helping users to benefit from the added functionality without feeling like they need to learn a new system.  

Cons

  • Cost

LibKey Discovery carries a relatively hefty price tag, so its utility to the end-user must be weighed against its cost.  While internal review and testing has indicated LibKey Discovery has the ability to streamline and optimize the discovery process, it must be determined if those benefits are universal enough to warrant the added annual expenditure.

  • Inconsistency in Options

A potential downside to LibKey Discovery is lack of consistency in one-click options between articles.  While many articles provide the option for easy, one-click access to a PDF, the full text online, and full journal access, these options are not available for all content.  As a result, this may cause confusion around the options that are available for users and may diminish the overall utility of the tool depending on what percentage of the catalog’s content is exempt from the one-click features.

LibKey Discovery User Testing Findings

An initial round of user testing was completed with ten student volunteers in the lobby of Perkins Library in early April.  Half of the users were asked to access an article and browse a full journal in the existing DUL system; the other half were asked to perform the same tasks using the LibKey Discovery interface.

Initial testing indicated that student users had a high level of satisfaction with the LibKey interface; however, they were equally satisfied with the existing access points in the DUL catalog.  The final recommendations from the user testing report suggest the need for additional testing to be completed. Specifically, it was recommended that more targeted testing be completed with graduate-level students and faculty as a majority of the original test’s participants were undergraduate students with limited experience searching for and accessing academic journal issues and articles.  It was concluded that testing with a more experienced user group would likely produce better feedback as to the true value of LibKey Discovery.

LibKey Summary

LibKey Discovery is a promising addition to Duke’s existing discovery system.  It allows for streamlined, one-click article and full journal access without disrupting the look and feel of the current interface or requiring the use of a plug-in.  Initial reviews of the system by library staff have been glowing; however, preliminary user testing with student participants indicated the need for additional testing to determine if LibKey’s cost is sufficiently offset by its utility to the user.

Kopernio logo

Kopernio is a free browser plug-in which enables one-click access to academic journal articles. It searches the web for OA copies, institutional repository copies, and copies available through library subscriptions. The tool is designed to connect users to articles on and off campus by managing their subscription credentials and automatically finding the best version of an article no matter where a user is searching.

Given the potential of this tool to help increase access and make discovery easier for students, the AUX department initiated an internal review process. Four members of the department independently downloaded the Kopernio plug-in, thoroughly tested it in a variety of situations, and shared their general and specific notes about the tool.

Pros

  • OA Content + Library Subscription

By its design, Kopernio has an advantage over other plug-in tools that serve a similar function (i.e. Unpaywall). When users first download Kopernio they are asked to register their subscription credentials. This information is saved in the plug-in so users can automatically discover articles available from OA sources, as well as library subscriptions. This is an advantage over other plug-ins that only harvest from freely available sources.

Screenshot: Kopernio sign-in page
Kopernio sign-in page
  • Branding

Kopernio has highly visible and consistent branding. With bright green coloring, the plug-in stands out on a screen and attracts users to click on it to download articles.

  • One-Click

Kopernio is advertised as a “one-click” service, and it pays off in this respect. Using Kopernio to access articles definitely cuts down on the number of clicks required to get to an article’s PDF. The process to download articles to a computer was instantaneous, and most of the time, downloading to the Kopernio storage cloud was just as fast.

Cons

  • Creates New Pain Points

Kopernio’s most advertised strength is its ability to manage subscription credentials. Unfortunately, this strength is also a major data privacy weakness. Security concerns ultimately led to the decision to disable the feature which allowed users to access DUL subscriptions via Kopernio when off-campus. Without this feature, Kopernio only pulls from OA sources and therefore performs the same function that many other tools currently do.

Similar to data privacy concerns, Kopernio also raises copyright concerns. One of Kopernio’s features is its sharing function. You can email articles to anyone, regardless of their university affiliation or if they have downloaded Kopernio already. We tested sending DUL subscription PDFs to users without Duke email addresses and they were able to view the full-text without logging in. It is unclear if they were viewing an OA copy of the article, or if they were seeing an article only meant for DUL authenticated users.

Screenshot: Sharing articles through Kopernio
Sharing an article through Kopernio

Running the Kopernio plug-in noticeably slowed down browser speed. We tested the browser on several different computers, both on campus and off, and we all noticed slower browser speeds. This slow speed led Kopernio to be occasionally buggy (freezing, error messages etc.).

Screenshot showing a buggy screen from Kopernio
Buggy screen while using Kopernio
  • Many Features Don’t Seem Useful

When articles are saved to Kopernio’s cloud storage, users can add descriptive tags. We found this feature awkward to use. Instead of adding tags as you go along, users have to add a tag globally before they can tag an article. Overall, it seemed like more hassle than it was worth.

Kopernio automatically imports article metadata to generate citations. There were too many problems with this feature to make it useful to users. It did not import metadata for all articles that we tested, and there was no way to manually add metadata yourself. Additionally, the citations were automatically formatted in Elsevier Harvard format and we had to go to our settings to change it to a more common citation style.

Lastly, the cloud storage which at first seemed like an asset, was actually a problem. All articles automatically download to cloud storage (called the “Kopernio Locker”) as soon as you click on the Kopernio button. This wouldn’t be a problem except for the limited storage size of the locker. With only 100MB of storage in the free version of Kopernio, we found that after downloading only 2 articles the locker was already 3% full. To make this limited storage work, we would have to go back to our locker and manually delete articles that we did not need, effectively negating the steps saved by having an automatic process.

Lean Library Logo

Lean Library is a similar tool to Kopernio. It offers users one-click access to subscription and open access content through a browser extension. In Fall 2018, DUL staff were days away from purchasing this tool when Lean Library was acquired by SAGE Publishing. DUL staff had been excited to license a tool that was independent and vendor-neutral and so were disappointed to learn about its acquisition. We have found that industry consolidation in the publishing and library information systems environment has lowered competition and resulted in negative experiences for researchers and staff. Further, we take the privacy of our users very seriously and were concerned that Lean Library’s alignment with SAGE Publishing will compromise user security. Whenever possible, DUL aims to support products and services that are offered independently from those with already dominant market positions. For these reasons, we opted not to pursue Lean Library further.

Conclusion

Of the three tools the AUX Department explored, we believe LibKey Discovery to be the most user-friendly and effective option. If purchased, it should streamline journal browsing and article PDF downloads without adversely affecting the existing functionality of DUL’s discovery interfaces.

Smart People Who Care

It’s that time of year at the university when we’re working on our PEPs (Performance Evaluation and Planning forms) and I’m thinking about how grateful I am to have such smart staff who really care about their work, their colleagues, and the people they serve, as we advance technology across the libraries. In contrast to some corporate environments, the process here really does aim to help us improve, rather than rank us as a setup for “resource actions” (firings). This excellent article, The Feedback Fallacy by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall, reminds me to emphasize the things people do well, and encourage them to build on their strengths.

Attuned to ethical practices within organizations, I’m also excited about increasing awareness of ethics in the effects of the technologies we produce. Justin Sherman, co-founder of the Ethical Tech initiative here at Duke, did a stimulating talk at the Edge Workshop this month about ethical issues that surround technology, such as search engine bias, and AI tools that judges use to determine sentencing for crimes.  Justin recommends this podcast, with Christopher Lydon on Open Source, called Real Education About Artificial Intelligence.  Library staff are participating in the Kenan Institute for Ethics book club program (KIE), where the spring selection is Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism by Safiya Umoja Noble.

And, I’m pleased to exercise my hiring mantra, “smart people who care”, which has served me well for over 30 years, as we’re recruiting candidates with I/T and team leadership experience for a new position, Computing Services Supervisor.

Happy Spring!
Laura Cappelletti
Director, Information Technology Services

Sustainability Planning for a Better Tomorrow

In March of last year I wrote about efforts of the Resource Discovery Systems and Strategies team (RDSS, previously called the Discovery Strategy Team) to map Duke University Libraries’ discovery system environment in a visual way. As part of this project we created supporting documentation for each system that appeared in a visualization, including identifying functional and technical owners as well as links to supporting documentation. Gathering this information wasn’t as straightforward as it ideally should have been, however. When attempting to identify ownership, for example, we were often asked questions like, “what IS a functional owner, anyway?”, or told “I guess I’m the owner… I don’t know who else it would be”. And for many systems, local documentation was outdated, distributed across platforms, or simply nonexistent.

As a quick glance through the Networked Discovery Systems document will evince, we work with a LOT of different systems here at DUL, supporting a great breadth of processes and workflows. And we’ve been steadily adding to the list of systems we support every year, without necessarily articulating how we will manage the ever-growing list. This has led to situations of benign neglect, confusion as to roles and responsibilities and, in a few cases, we’ve hung onto systems for too long because we hadn’t defined a plan for responsible decommission.

So, to promote the healthier management of our Networked Discovery Systems, the RDSS team developed a set of best practices for sustainability planning. Originally we framed this document as best practices for maintenance planning, but in conversations with other groups in the Libraries, we realized that this didn’t quite capture our intention. While maintenance planning is often considered from a technical standpoint, we wanted to convey that the responsible management of our systems involves stakeholders beyond just those in ITS, to include the perspective and engagement of non-technical staff. So, we landed on the term sustainability, which we hope captures the full lifecycle of a system in our suite of tools, from implementation, through maintenance, to sunsetting, when necessary.

The best practices are fairly short, intended to be a high-level guide rather than overly prescriptive, recognizing that every system has unique needs. Each section of the framework is described, and key terms are defined. Functional and technical ownership are described, including the types of activities that may attend each role, and we acknowledge that ownership responsibilities may be jointly accomplished by groups or teams of stakeholders. We lay out the following suggested framework for developing a sustainability plan, which we define as “a living document that addresses the major components of a system’s life cycle”:

  • Governance:
    • Ownership
    • Stakeholders
    • Users
  • Maintenance:
    • System Updates
    • Training
    • Documentation
  • Review:
    • Assessments
    • Enhancements
    • Sunsetting

Interestingly, and perhaps tellingly, many of the conversations we had about the framework ended up focusing on the last part – sunsetting. How to responsibly decommission or sunset a system in a methodical, process-oriented way is something we haven’t really tackled yet, but we’re not alone in this, and the topic is one that is garnering some attention in project management circles.

So far, the best practices have been used to create a sustainability plan for one of our systems, Dukespace, and the feedback was positive. We hope that these guidelines will facilitate the work we do to sustain our system, and in so doing lead to better communication and understanding throughout the organization. And we didn’t forget to create a sustainability plan for the best practices themselves – the RDSS team has committed to reviewing and updating it at least annually!

Ad-Blocking … and a Mea Culpa

It’s all but impossible to use the internet and not be aware of the sheer quantity of advertising out there. Some estimates suggest Google alone serves out nearly 30 Billion ads per day; other estimates suggest 300-700 ads are shown per person per day. In trying to get more eyeballs on their images, advertisers have resorted to more and more intrusive ad displays — pop-over ads (so you can’t see content until you close the ad), pop-under ads (so even after you’ve left the site, you’ll see one more ad), animated gifs (the motion naturally causes your eye to look at it), auto-playing (and loud) videos. More recently, ads have even been implicated in malware attacks.

So it’s no surprise that ad-blocking technology is now mainstream. All major browsers have multiple ad-blocker plug-ins, and any list of “Best Add-Ons for <browser>” will likely include at least one. By blocking ads, these plugins reduce the annoyance of the ads while also helping protect your privacy by reducing sites’ ability to track you.

As an additional bonus, they can also accelerate your web browsing — by not downloading all that ad content, you’re able to see the “real” content faster. A New York Times article showed that between 33% and 50% of the time to download a page was due to advertising — and in extreme cases, advertising could be 80% or more of the time to download and view a webpage.

In IT-Core Services, we had intended to deploy an ad-blocker to all of the public computers in order to allow our patrons and users to block ads while they were doing work, collecting papers, or doing research on Library computers.  The plugin is called “uBlock Origin” and is one of the leading open-source ad-blockers around.

But … Oops.

We accidentally pushed it to all public AND staff computers several months ago.

Given the very few number of tickets we’ve seen about it, we’re guessing people either didn’t notice, or else welcomed the arrival of uBlock.  We’re now planning on keeping uBlock deployed on all staff and public computers.  We feel that the privacy, performance, and security benefits of uBlock outweigh the desire for a “ad-full” web experience — and you can easily un-block any websites you want to, if you find that the blocker is somehow interfering with that site.

How to Un-Block a Website:

To unblock the websitethat you’re visiting — that is, to show the ads on the page — look for the uBlock logo (a brick-red shield) at the top of the main browser window.  Clicking that logo will pop up a dialog box like this:By clicking on the power-button symbol (circle with the line at the top), you’ll tell uBlock to NOT block ads on that webpage in the future.  You should then reload the page to get the ad-full experience (by default, un-blocking a website does NOT reload or re-display the ads, you must explicitly reload the page).  Note:  if the uBlock logo is grey, or the power-button icon is grey, then the current website is already un-blocked (and the browser is showing you the ads).

How to Un-Block All/Many Websites:

To unblock a lot of websites at once, you have to go to the uBlock “Dashboard” or settings menu.  Again, click on the uBlock shield logo at the top of the browser window, then look for the 3-sliders icon (immediately below the power-button, to the right of the dialog box).  Clicking that will bring up a new virtual webpage with a variety of settings on it:

Click on the “Filter Lists” tab and you’ll see a set of “Filter” checkboxes.  Each checkbox represents a set of websites that are to be blocked (checked) or unblocked (unchecked).  To unblock all websites — to essentially deactivate uBlock Origin altogether — just uncheck all of the Filter sets.  FWIW, most of the filter-sets have Home icons where you can find more info on what that filter-set does (e.g. “Malware Domains” links to a website at malwaredomains.com, which is run and maintained by the company RiskAnalytics).

If you have any questions, please just submit a ticket and someone will get back to you.

(title image is the “Million Dollar Webpage“, I’ll link you to the Wikipedia page rather than the ad-full page!)


UPDATE – 15 Feb 2019 – uBlock and DUL Newsletters:

While a great many websites will work fine with uBlock Origin installed, it turns out the Library’s own newsletter system does NOT!  If you are experiencing problems with the newsletter, go into the uBlock settings (process described above) and go to the “Filter Lists” tab.  One of the filter-sets at the bottom is named “Peter Lowe’s Ad and tracking server list” — this is the one that seems to catch the iContact server used by our newsletter.  If you disable that (the box will be un-checked), then reload the page, you should be back in operation.  Sorry!

New Duke Libraries catalog to go live January 16

The wait is almost over!  After over two years of hard work by library staff at Duke, NCCU, NCSU, and UNC, we’ll be launching a new catalog for researchers to use to locate and access books, DVDs, music, archival materials, and other items held here at Duke and across the other Triangle Research Libraries member libraries (NCSU, NCCU, UNC).  The new collaboratively developed, open-source library catalog will replace the decade-old Duke Libraries catalog and Search TRLN catalog.    

What to expect from the new catalog

While the basic functionality of the catalog remains the same – researchers will be able to search across the 15 million+ items at Duke and area libraries – we think you’ll enjoy some nice enhancements and updates to the catalog:  

  • a more modern search interface
  • prominent filters to modify search results, including an option to narrow your search to items available online
  • a more intuitive button to expand search results to include items held at UNC, NCCU, and NCSU
  • updated item pages with easier access to request and export materials
  • improved access to an item’s availability status and its location  
  • more user-friendly options to email, text, or export citation information
  • improved display of multi-part items (click “View Online” to access individual episodes)
  • more robust Advanced Search with options to search by Publisher and Resource type (e.g., book, video, archival material)
Screenshot of full item page.
Item pages have been updated and include a sidebar with easy access to Request and Email/Text options.

You might notice some differences in the way the new catalog works.  Learn more with this handy new vs. old catalog comparison chart.  (Note that we plan to implement some of the features that are not currently available in the new catalog this spring – stay tuned for more info, and let us know if there are aspects of the old catalog that you miss.)  And if you run into trouble or have more questions about using the new catalog, check out these library catalog search tips, or contact a librarian for assistance.   

Screenshot of Search Tips webpage
Get tips for using the new catalog.

We welcome your feedback

While the new catalog is fully functional and boasts a number of enhancements, we know there is still work to be done, and we welcome your input.  We invite you to explore the new catalog at https://find.library.duke.edu/ and report problems or provide general feedback through this online form.  We’ll continue to conduct user testing this spring and make improvements based on what we learn – look for the “Free Coffee” sign in the Perkins Library lobby, and stop by to tell us what you think.  

Want more info about this project?  Learn about the vision for developing the new catalog and the work that’s been completed to date.

Highlighting Duke Scholars Alongside Their Research

2018 has featured several monumental changes in the library’s technology platforms. One of the most impactful shifts this year was revitalizing DukeSpace, our DSpace-based institutional repository (IR) software, home to over 16,000 open-access articles, theses, and dissertations from Duke scholars.

Back in March, we celebrated a successful multi-version upgrade for DSpace, and along with it, a major upgrade to the integral Symplectic Elements Research Information Management platform.  On the heels of that project, we decided to capitalize on the project team’s momentum and invest two more months of focused attention (four “sprints” in developer-speak).

The goals for that period? First, tie up the loose ends from the upgrade. Then, seize some clear opportunities to build upon our freshly-rearchitected metadata, creating innovative features in the UI to benefit scholars. By scholars, we mean — in part — the global audience of researchers openly discovering and using the articles in DukeSpace. But we especially mean the scholars at Duke who created them in the first place.

We are excited to share the results of our work with the Duke community and beyond. Here are the noteworthy additions:

Scholars@Duke Author Profiles

Item pages now display a brief embedded profile for each Duke author, featuring their preferred name, a photo, position title, and brief description of their research interests. This information comes from the scholars themselves, who manage their profiles via Scholars@Duke (powered by the open-source VIVO platform).

Scholars@Duke & DukeSpace
A brief author profile in a DukeSpace item  leads to the full profile in Scholars@Duke.

Scholars@Duke provides a handy SEO-friendly profile page (example) for each scholar. It aggregates their full list of publications, courses taught, news articles in which they’re mentioned, and much more. It also has useful APIs for building widgets to dynamically repurpose the data for display elsewhere. Departments throughout Duke (example) use these APIs to display current faculty information on their web sites without requiring anyone to manually duplicate or update it. And now, the library does, too.

Scholars@Duke profile in DukeSpace
Scholars’ own descriptions of their research interests entice a visitor to learn more about their work.

Featuring researchers in this manner adds several other benefits, including:

  • Uses a scholar’s own preferred current version of their name and title; that may not be identical to what is stored in the item’s author metadata.
  • Puts users one click away from the author’s full profile at Scholars@Duke, where one can discover the entirety of the author’s publications, open-access or not.
  • Helps search engines make stronger semantic connections between an author’s profile information and their works available online.
  • Introduces a unique value-add feature for our open-access copy of an article that’s unlikely to ever be possible to replicate for the published version on the academic journal’s website.
  • Makes the DukeSpace item pages look better, warmer, and more inviting.
Scholars@Duke multiple author profiles in DukeSpace
Profiles for multi-author articles

With this feature, we are truly pushing beyond the boundaries of what an institutional repository traditionally does. And likewise, we feel we’re raising the bar for how academic research libraries can showcase the members of their communities alongside their collected works.

Other New Features

Beyond these new author profiles, we managed to fit in a few more enhancements around citations, the homepage, and site navigation. Here’s a quick rundown:

Citations

We now present an easily copyable citation, composed from the various metadata available for each item. This includes the item’s permalink.

DukeSpace citation for a dissertation
DukeSpace citation for a dissertation

In cases when there’s a published version of an article available, we direct users to review and use that citation instead.

DukeSpace citation with DOI
DukeSpace article with a DOI for a published version.

 

Item pages also now display a “Citation Stats” badge in the sidebar, powered by Digital Science’s Dimensions tool.  Click it to explore other scholarly work that has cited the current item.

Homepage

Finally, we topped off this project phase by redesigning DukeSpace’s homepage. Notable among the changes: a clearer indication of the number of items (broken down by type), a dynamic list of trending items, and streamlined menu navigation in the sidebar.

 

Final Thoughts

Duke Libraries’ current strategic plan emphasizes the mission-critical importance of our open-access publishing and repository efforts, and also demands that we “highlight and promote the scholarly activities of our faculty, students, and staff.”  This two-month DukeSpace enhancements project was a great opportunity for us to think outside the box about our technology platforms, and consider how those goals relate.


Many thanks to several people whose work enabled these features to come to life, especially Maggie Dickson, Hugh Cayless, Paolo Mangiafico, and the Scholars@Duke team.

A New(-ish) Look for Public Computing

Photo of library public computing terminals

Over the past year, you’ve probably noticed a change in the public computing environments in Duke University Libraries. Besides new patron-facing hardware, we’ve made even larger changes behind the scenes — the majority of our public computing “computers” have been converted to a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI).

The physical hardware that you sit down at looks a little different, with larger monitors and no “CPU tower”:

Close-up photo of a public terminal

What isn’t apparent is that these “computers” actually have NO computational power at all! They’re essentially just a remote keyboard and monitor that connects to a VDI-server sitting in a data-center.
Photo of the VDI serverThe end-result is really that you sit down at what looks like a regular computer, and you have an experience that “feels” like a regular computer.  The VDI-terminal and VDI-server work together to make that appear seamless.

All of the same software is installed on the new “computers” — really, virtual desktop connections back to the server — and we’ve purchased a fairly “beefy” VDI-server so that each terminal should feel very responsive and fast.  The goal has been to provide as good an experience on VDI as you would get on “real” computers.

But there are also some great benefits …

Additional Security:
When a patron sits down at a terminal, they are given a new, clean installation of a standard Windows environment. When they’re done with their work, the system will automatically delete that now-unused virtual desktop session, and then create a brand-new one for the next patron. From a security standpoint, this means there is no “leakage” of any credentials from one user to another — passwords, website cookies, access tokens, etc. are all wiped clean when the user logs out.

Reduced Staff Effort:
It also offers some back-end efficiency for the Specialized Computing team. First off, since the VDI-terminal hardware is less complex (it’s not a full computer), the devices themselves have been seen to last 7 to 10 years (vs. 4 years for a standard PC). There have also been reports that they can take quite a beating and remain operational (and while I don’t want to jinx it, there are reports of them being fully submerged in water and, once dried out, being fully functional).

Beyond that, when we need to update the operating system or software, we make the change on one “golden image” and that image is copied to each new virtual desktop session. So despite having 50 or more public computing terminals, we don’t spend 50-times as much effort in maintaining them.

It is worth noting that we can also make these updates transparent to our patrons. After logging in, that VDI session will remain as-is until the person logs out — we will not reboot the system from under them.  Once they logout, the system deletes the old, now-outdated image and replaces it with a new image. There is no downtime for the next user, they just automatically get the new image, and no one’s work gets disrupted by a reboot.

Flexibility:
We can, in fact, define multiple “golden images”, each with a different suite of software on it. And rather than having to individually update each machine or each image, the system understands common packages — if we update the OS, then all images referring to that OS automatically get updated. Again, this leads to a great reduction in staff effort needed to support these more-standardized environments.

We have deployed SAP and Envisionware images on VDI, as well as some more customized images (e.g. Divinity-specific software).  For managers who don’t otherwise have access to SAP, please contact Core Services and we can get you set up to use the VDI-image with SAP installed.

Future Expansion:
We recently upgraded the storage system that is attached to the VDI-server, and with that, we are able to add even more VDI-terminals to our public computing environment. Over the next few months, we’ll be working with stakeholders to identify where those new systems might go.

As the original hardware is nearing it’s end-of-life, we will also be looking at a server upgrade near the end of this year. Of note: the server upgrade should provide an immediate “speed up” to all public computing terminals, without us having to touch any of those 50+ devices.

New Project Request Process

Last week, I presented our New Project Request Process at First Wednesday.  This request process is to help the Digital Strategies & Technology (DST) Leadership Team more effectively evaluate and prioritize projects that require ITS resources.  Over the summer, we developed and tested a two-stage workflow aimed to lower the barrier for library staff to submit project ideas and streamline the prioritization of projects into our three new project management streams: Library Systems, led by Karen Newbery; Web Experience, led by Tom Crichlow, and Application Development, led by Cory Lown, or into the existing Operations stream, led by John Pormann.

You can view the presentation here.  (My presentation begins at 35:45, but you should definitely watch Karen present on the Updated Request App and her trip to DKU.)

The quick summary notes of our process is this:

  • Project Summary is a short, one page summary of your project idea that includes 4 major elements:
    • Summary
    • Project Rationale
    • Goals
    • Stakeholders
  • The DST Leadership will evaluate Project Summaries within one month of submission and accept it, decline it, or request more information.
  • Accepted Project Summaries will be assigned a Project Lead, who will guide the Project Sponsor in writing the Project Charter.
  • Project Charter is an in-depth project plan that includes these elements:
    • Project Details:
      • Requirements – list of the high-level project requirements
      • Scope Statement – narrative description of the project scope
      • Deliverables – A deliverable is a unique and verifiable product, result or capability to perform a service that must be produced to complete a process, phase or project.
      • Estimated Schedule – focus on schedule and timeline, not specific dates
      • Completion Criteria – what must occur before project is considered complete
      • Goals – specific measurable objectives the project must achieve for completion
      • Dependencies – any outside factors, including people, data, and systems
      • Collaboration and communication strategy – frequency of meetings, project management tools used, plan to provide communication to those outside the project
    • Risks to Scope, Budget, Resources, Schedule, Technologies
    • Stakeholders – people outside of ITS (List of names and contact information)
    • Project Team – roles needed for team (Specific team members will be assigned, if project is approved and scheduled)
    • Budget – especially important for grant-based projects
  • The DST Leadership will review Project Charters within one month of submission.  Accepted project charters will be prioritized based on one or more of the following:
    • Portfolio Management review of resources by the Director, ITS
    • EG input for projects involving two or more divisions, or that impact campus users, or that impact a majority of DUL staff
    • Input of corresponding AUL, if competing projects require same team members of an previously approved project in queue
    • Input from DUL department or existing committee with governance oversight of a particular area, such as WebX or Digital Preservation and Production Program

We believe this process will enable us to plan projects more effectively with project sponsors and utilize the Libraries’ resources more efficiently.  We also believe this will improve communication with stakeholders and provide EG with better information to make priority decisions for projects that have benefit or impact to our staff and users.

You can download the Project Summary and Charter template here.  You can submit your Project Summary to dst-lt@win.duke.edu.

 

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.

Bringing ‘Views of the Great War’ to life

I recently worked on an interactive kiosk for a new exhibit in the library — Views of the Great War: Highlights from the Duke University Libraries. Elizabeth Dunn, the exhibit curator, wanted to highlight a series of letters that shared the experiences of two individuals during the war. She was able to recruit the talents of Jaybird O’Berski and Ahnna Beruk who brought the writings of Frederick Trevenen Edwards and Ann Henshaw Gardiner to life.


letter excerpt
Excerpt from Edwards’ June 9, 1918 Letter

 

Elizabeth and I booked time for Jay and Ahhna in the Multimedia Production Studio where we recorded their performances. I then edited down multiple takes into more polished versions and created files I could use with the kiosk. I also used youtube’s transcript tool to get timed captions working well and to export VTT files.

Here is an example:

 

The final interface allows users to both listen to the performances and read timed transcriptions of the letters while also being able to scroll through the original typed versions.


screenshot of interface

screenshot of interface

screenshot of interface
Screenshots of the kiosk interface

 

The exhibit is housed in the Mary Duke Biddle Room and runs through February 16. Come check it out!