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.
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.
Director, Information Technology Services
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 And for many systems, local documentation was outdated, distributed across platforms, or simply nonexistent.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”:
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!
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 staffandpublic 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!
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:
more robust Advanced Search with options to search by Publisher and Resource type (e.g., book, video, archival material)
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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:
We now present an easily copyable citation, composed from the various metadata available for each item. This includes the item’s permalink.
In cases when there’s a published version of an article available, we direct users to review and use that citation instead.
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.
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.
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.
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”:
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. The 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 …
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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
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.
Notes from the Duke University Libraries Digital Projects Team