The Coronavirus pandemic has me thinking about labor–as a concept, a social process, a political constituency, and the driving force of our economy–in a way that I haven’t in my lifetime. It’s become alarmingly clear (as if it wasn’t before) that we all need food, supplies, and services to survive past next week, and that there are real human beings out there working to produce and deliver these things. No amount of entrepreneurship, innovation, or financial sleight of hand will help us through the coming months if people are not working to provide the basic requirements for life as we know it.
This blog post draws from images in our digitized library collections to pay tribute to all of the essential workers who are keeping us afloat during these challenging times. As I browsed these photographs and mused on our current situation, a few important and oft-overlooked questions came to mind.
Who grows our food? Where does it come from and how is it processed? How does it get to us?
What kind of physical environment do we work in and how does that affect us?
How do we interact with machines and technology in our work? Can our labor be automated or performed remotely?
What equipment and clothing do we need to work safely and productively?
Are we paid fairly for our work? How do relative wages for different types of work reflect what is valued in our society?
How we think about and respond to these questions will inform how we navigate the aftermath of this ongoing crisis and whether or not we thrive into the future. As we celebrate International Workers’ Day on May 1 and beyond, I hope everyone will take some time to think about what labor means to them and to our society as a whole.
The feature image is”Triangle University Computation Center IBM System/370 Hardware Configuration,” from Network Management Survey, published in 1974.
The Cut Study and DUCC
The Fall semester of 1958 saw deep concern among the Duke student body with a pressing issue – cutting class. The Undergraduate Faculty Council Committee had taken up a study of class attendance, and planned to issue recommendations for policies on “absence limitations.” Its chair was John Jay Gergen, who had been on the faculty at Duke more than 20 years at that point, serving most of them as head of the Mathematics Department. In September, the Chronicle urged him to “make a sincere effort to show the students the seriousness of the situation and to explain their findings.” They warned him not to “announce suddenly a new policy to the students,” which would be a form of “[t]actless communication” that might “breed discontent among the students.” By all indications, Gergen ignored them.
While the “Cut Study” may have seemed enormously consequential to the students at the time, Gergen was leading a different effort that would have far more lasting impact at Duke. By at least one account, he was a large and imposing man, which could also describe his influence on campus. He channeled some of that influence into his work as the senior faculty member and administrator who oversaw the effort to bring digital computing to the university. While Gergen acted mainly in an administrative role, it was a protege of his who authored the grants that brought in the funding, and did the legwork on setting up an operational computing center.
Located amongst agricultural fields, grazing cattle and goats, the quiet town of Boğazkale watches time pass. It is a small town in the Black Sea region of Turkey, only about 1300 people live here. You are more likely to encounter a tractor than a car and you get the sense that everyone knows everyone else. If you walk about half a kilometer outside of this sleepy community, you will encounter the equally serene-looking archaeological site of Hattusa. Although now abandoned, at its peak in the 14th century BC, Hattusa was a capital and home to nearly 50,000 Hittites.
Much of what is known about the Hittites is drawn from their own writings, or from later copies of their writings. The Hittites have been described by some sources as warlike; they utilized chariots and steadily increased their kingdom. They worked iron and had a fair amount of courtly intrigue. Perhaps most importantly, the Hittites were literate, employing an Indo-European language with an Akkadian script.
Around 1177 BC, Hattusa fell as one of many victims of the Late Bronze Age Collapse. There is archaeological evidence for extensive burning at the site and the written records at Hattusa stop. It appears as though the site was gradually abandoned over time and never successfully reoccupied. That turned out to be a stroke of luck because a German archaeological dig in the early 20th century (re)discovered the so-called Bogazköy Archive, which was determined initially to be a largely intact royal archive. Thanks to more research and the decipherment of the Hittite language in 1915, it seems more likely that this assemblage of 30,000 cuneiform tablets is actually a library. This is based largely on the argument that some of the tablets have colophons that provide an order hierarchy for multi-part works and the collection includes basic descriptive inventory lists of the tablets, instituting an early type of collection management.
The abandonment of Hattusa and its library makes one wonder: What would it have been like for the scribes or library keepers to make the decision to leave the collection? What would they have done to get the collection ready for their absence? What would have the last person who left the collection felt like upon leaving? Did they believe they would return?
It’s impossible to answer such questions, since we have no surviving first-person accounts from this event. However, we can consider a current analogy and while it’s not a perfect correspondence, it may provide some emotional experiential equivalence.
With the advent of the 2019-2020 coronavirus pandemic, many universities and cultural heritage institutions were faced with the difficult challenge of abiding by official orders, trying to keep their faculty and staff safe and healthy, and attempting to continue with business as usual. At Duke University Libraries, the decision-making process began publicly at the beginning of March 2020. It started with one email, a few days’ pause, and then another email and the information about how the Libraries would ultimately face the pandemic trickled in. Eventually, it became one or more emails everyday with updates. The Libraries scaled back opening times and access to staff and eventually made the onerous decision to close the Libraries on March 20, 2020.
The last week that the Libraries were open, staff were encouraged to begin setting up to work from home and to come up with ideas of what work could be done remotely. Colleagues began making the transition from being in the Library to being at home. In the Digital Production Center (DPC), our small workgroup of 4 individuals slowly began to dwindle as one-by-one co-workers began working from home.
So, what did the DPC do to get ready for the Libraries’ closure? Our primary remit as a department is to produce digital surrogates of Duke’s collection items both for online use and for library patrons. So, we worked hard to get items digitized for online class use, patrons and online collections. It was a race against time because we knew that whatever we didn’t have imaged by Friday at 5pm would have to wait. And for online courses that were counting on the material, waiting wasn’t an option. Normally, the DPC holds materials that we are working with in our vault. However, with the Library closing down, those items needed to be secured in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. We took several carts full of materials back for safe keeping, with the idea that we would retrieve them when the Libraries reopen.
As the number of staff physically onsite in the Library began to diminish, I started saying goodbye to more people than hello. With every farewell, there was uncertainty: When will we see each other again? The Library became a truly quiet place. Gone were the patrons and students, replaced by empty seats and a deafening silence. Colleagues that I would normally pass in the Library several times a week suddenly began showing up on my computer screen for Zoom meetings.
On the final day that the Libraries were open to staff, the last batch of materials was returned to the Rubenstein Library for safekeeping and the Libraries themselves had transformed into very different, very empty spaces. While the circumstances are certainly not the same as they were for the Hittites, there was a sense of uncertainty. I’d like to believe that I was more assured of my return to the Library than that last scribe or keeper.
As I left Perkins Library, I paused in the doorway and looked back over my shoulder. I didn’t know when I might be back. I turned and exited into the warm Spring day on an empty Duke campus, and just like the last scribe or keeper, I was stepping into an unfamiliar future.
Although as of March 27, 2020, Duke University Libraries are currently closed, the Libraries anticipate reopening as soon as it is safe and prudent to do so. In the meantime, you can find a list of services still available during this closure here.
Bryce, Trevor. The Kingdom of the Hittites. Rev. ed. Oxford University Press, 2005.
Casson, Lionel. Libraries of the Ancient World. Yale University, 2001.
Roaf, Michael. Cultural Atlas of Mesopotamia and the Ancient Near East. Facts on File, 1990.
Back in August I wrote a Bitstreams post about the various ways by which those of us who work with library metadata could attempt to tackle the issue of problematic descriptions and descriptive standards. One of the methods I mentioned was activism, and I highlighted the documentary ‘Change the Subject!’, which follows the story of students and librarians at Dartmouth University as they worked together to lobby the Library of Congress to stop using the term ‘illegal aliens’ to describe undocumented immigrants.
Recently, the Triangle Research Libraries’ Network offered a screening of this documentary to its constituent libraries, who were treated to a special viewing (and free popcorn!) at Durham’s iconic Carolina Theater. I attended this screening and participated in a panel discussion following the film.
I found the documentary to be both encouraging and disheartening: encouraging, as the student activists’ vision, fortitude, and perseverance is inspiring, but disheartening as ultimately, their campaign to have the term ‘illegal aliens’ removed from the Library of Congress Subject Headings failed, due to intervention from Congress.
However, the panel discussion following the screening restored some of my faith that we could still manage problematic metadata with the tools at our disposal. Some of the ideas that were mentioned included:
Identifying alternative thesauri and vocabularies that better represent diversity, equity, and inclusion, and being proactive in mapping problematic metadata to preferred terms.
Working with library vendors to communicate that this is an issue we care about, and perhaps suggesting the use of more inclusive language in their products.
Working with students and student activist groups to collaborate on identifying and remediating areas for improvement in our descriptive practices (as well as library work and spaces in general).
Continuing to use SACO funnels – formal channels for submitting subject authority records to the Library of Congress – while recognizing that this is time consuming yet important work.
And, of course, we can use the technological solution we have already developed for suppressing problematic subject headings from the shared TRLN discovery layer (eg, Duke, UNC, and NCSU’s catalog). Work has progressed on developing policies and governance to support workflows for implementing this solution, including the formation of a TRLN Discovery Metadata Team, which will focus on the shared discovery layer, and a more broadly focused TRLN Metadata Interest Group. Stay tuned!
Happy New Year from all of us at the Digital Production Center! In this pictorial posting, I figured we should start the New Year right with some images and collections that are inspiring, funny, and just stir my heart. It begins with “The Future Calls!”
I went down the “future” rabbit hole and stumbled upon Martin Luther King’s “The Look to the Future”:
And came upon this lovely image:
YES! THE FUTURE IS MY OWN MAKING!! And with that I came up with some resolutions!
Efficiency is important!
Maybe 5 minutes is a bit ambitious, but this will be good for my schedule and good for the environment. It’s good to have goals.
Exercise More! I definitely felt more inspired to hit the gym after seeing these images from the Anatomical Fugitive Sheets.
Learn about fashion, art, and architecture with Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel!
Self-care! This one-page advertisement from the Broadsides and Ephemera Collection of a Hot Springs spa sure is enticing!
This picturesque image from Reginald Sellman Negatives collection (which is predominantly of a family taking hikes, camping, and roadtripping!) made me quite envious. Why yes, I’d love to take a hike in a corseted dress!
And speaking of family activities, the Memory Project and Behind the Veil collections reminded me that I really need talk to my parents and other family members more to gather and document their stories.
Why not pick up a foreign language?
Support a cause!
Spend more time with my kids! They grow up so quickly.
Lastly, and probably most importantly, VOTE!
So…what are your resolutions? And don’t tell me 300 ppi!
This fall, Library ITS is helping the Library Service Center (LSC) plan the transition to new high density storage management software. We are engaging with CaiaSoft who provides new software that supports improved workflow processes and reporting for the LSC.
The center houses roughly 6 million books, documents and archival materials belonging to Duke and other library systems. With this in mind, it is very important to have up-to-date technology, and software services that promotes efficient workflows.
Why Are We Planning This?
GFA, the LSC’s current software tool is running on an unsupported, end-of-life operating system.
As a result, we run the risk of unwanted processing delays in the event of a failure on the current server. In turn, these delays would affect staff, researchers, and others looking for materials located at the LSC.
Who Is Planning This?
The project’s cross-division team involves staff from the following DUL departments:
Access and Delivery Services
DUL Technical Services
Rubenstein Research Services
Library Service Center
When Are We Planning This?
The transition to CaiaSoft is intended to take place on a weekend in January 2020. After this, LSC staff and supporting departments expect to use CaiaSoft to manage items located at the LSC warehouse.
The Project Team, during the planning stages, will have these goals in mind:
Overseeing data loading and accuracy
Creating and documenting workflows
Managing scripts to ensure ALEPH integration
Ensuring future seamless FOLIO integration
The project team has identified several key benefits, most noteworthy is improved workflow support. In addition, other benefits identified by the Project Team are (but not limited to):
Web Browser Access
CaiaSoft runs as a web application. In contrast, GFA only runs within a SSH session and requires the use of added software.
Item-level Data Management
Staff can create “data flags”, and assign them at item-level. In contrast, this feature is not available in GFA.
CaiaSoft offers this feature, while GFA does not.
CaiaSoft developers are active in supporting FOLIO.
More Feature Comparisons
A full list of feature comparisons is available on our WIKI page — look for the “Feature Comparison – CAIASOFT vs GFA” section.
Questions? We Have Answers…
I will be available at “First Wednesday” on November 6 to take questions and (hopefully) provide answers.
The Association of Research Libraries’ Leadership and Career Development Program (LCDP) just recently completed the capstone institute for the 2018-2019 cohort. As a member of that cohort, called “The Disruptors,” I wanted to showcase the program. First of all, it was a year-long program that consisted of an orientation, two institutes, a visit to my career coach’s institution, and a capstone institute.
The Disruptors included librarians who hail mostly from ARL member institutions from all over the country and Canada. The program is intended for librarians of color who are mid-career and are interested in leadership development. The ARL LCDP was an eye-opening experience – one that gave me perspectives from my cohort that I would have never gleaned otherwise, one that allowed us to learn from each other’s challenges and successes, and one that has given me a cohort that I can always rely upon as I go through my professional journey.
I’ll start from the beginning. The orientation in Washington DC was an opportunity for the 24 of us to get to know each other, to establish learning expectations for ourselves and each other, and to plot our journey as a group. We listed topics that we’d like to explore together (i.e. strategic planning, open access, fundraising etc.), and explored the idea of leadership together. Mark Puente, the Director of Diversity and Leadership Programs at ARL, and DeEtta Jones moderated this and many of our discussions (in person and online). What a fantastic duo Mark and DeEtta were – they make facilitation and instruction look easy!
The first Leadership Institute was hosted by The Ohio State University Library. Ohio in the middle of December was a truly invigorating experience. I learned a great deal about all kinds of management issues, including emotional intelligence and conflict resolution, and had opportunities to hear from library leaders such as Damon Jaggars, John Cawthorne, Jose Diaz, Deidra Herring, and Alexia Hudson-Ward. We also received a fantastic tour of their newly renovated flagship Thompson Memorial Library. This library reminded me of the Roman god, Janus, with two faces – one that looked to the past and another that looked to the future. One side of the library had a more traditional façade, consistent with the campus’s more stately frontages, and the other side had a modern look, built primarily with concrete, metal, and glass. What an amazing building that seamlessly combined their vibrant traditions with ambitious modernity. My career coach, Eileen Theodore-Shusta, from Ohio University, even drove up to meet me for dinner in Columbus, Ohio! What a treat it was to have met my career coach so early in the process! The company and the food were fantastic. It was such a hoot to have frozen custard in the middle of winter!
The second Leadership Institute was hosted by the University of Alberta, in Edmonton, Canada. What a lovely sight to see the Canadian plains in full bloom during May. Interestingly too (since I had never visited Canada at this time of year), the sun didn’t set until 10:00 pm! That was a slightly crazy insomnia-inducing experience. This Leadership Institute was facilitated by Kathryn Deiss and Melanie Hawks. As one of the founders of the Minnesota Leadership Institute, Kathryn shared her experiences and thoughts on diversity, equity, and inclusivity. We also learned a great deal from University of Alberta Libraries’ University Librarian, Dale Askey, and his professional journey. Preparation, perseverance, ambition, and risk-taking. All those words, and some more, crystallized my impression of that conversation.
The stand-out experience of this institute, I believe, was the Kairos Blanket exercise. This was an immersive exercise that the entire cohort participated in. We began with a full house and quickly saw members of our group expelled from our respective lands either by death, disease, or governmental mandates (of course this was all pretend, but it was still quite striking). The group also read out loud the past experiences of First Nation Communities. To hear these stories of resilience against systematic violence and loss uttered by voices from the cohort members, was stark and emotional. This link provides more information about the program. The Kairos Blanket exercise, along with revelations on the Canadian government’s approach towards reconciliation with First Nation communities (aka Native Americans in the US) were deeply informative.
There were several highlights in the program beyond the events that we attended. Each LCDP Fellow underwent a Leadership Practices Inventory, a 360 assessment of our leadership skills. This assessment involved our reporting officer, our colleagues, and our direct reports. This was an incredibly enlightening experience, as many of us had not undergone such a review of this detail before.
Also, each LCDP Fellow was paired up with a Career Coach – a librarian in a leadership role – who provided us insights into leadership and administration. As part of this program, the Career Coach would host their fellow at their institution. I had the wonderful opportunity to be paired with Eileen Theodore-Shusta of Ohio University. As the Director of Planning, Assessment, and Organizational Effectiveness at Ohio University, Eileen provided me valuable insights into library administration and management from a Human Resource perspective. What a fantastic visit to the beautiful Ohio University campus as well. I visited their Archives, Special Collections, Digital Archives, and even perused their Southeast Asia Collection.
Another integral piece to the LCDP experience was the Equity Toolkit. In between the institutes, we had webinars and lessons from the Equity Toolkit, created by DeEtta Jones and Associates. This Toolkit included modules on Cultural Competence, Bias in the Workplace, and The Inclusive Manager. Using a combination of videos, text, quizzes and reflections, the Equity Toolkit was chock full of information and revelations. Also, this portion of the program included webinars where LCDP fellows and their career coaches were invited , as well as their supervisors, and the up-line administrators. The objective was to not only “preach to the choir”, but to include allies and influential voices in the discussion.
At last, the Capstone Leadership Institute in Washington DC, was the finale as we said our goodbyes. The Capstone was also a new beginning as we adopted our moniker, The Disruptors. We attended the ARL Directors’ evening reception and sat alongside library directors in the Fall ARL Association meeting. Jennifer Garrett, Director of Talent Management at North Carolina State University, eloquently highlighted the ARL LCDP experience to these Library Directors, and Elaine Westbrooks, the University Librarian of UNC Chapel Hill’s Library, spoke about her time as a career coach and perfectly bookended the speech with her memories as a former ARL LCDP fellow. After all the celebrations, we reconvened, reminisced, and planned for the challenges and opportunities before us.
How do we continue this journey? One step at a time. With each other.
Thank you to my former dean, Catherine Quinlan at the University of Southern California, and Duke University Libraries for your support and encouragement. It is on the shoulders of giants (and forward thinking institutions) that I see the world of great challenges and opportunities before me.
Here in the DUL Information Technology Services organization, we continue to embrace Agile concepts, applied to many different types of projects, including the Integrated Library System (ILS), the development of specialized repositories, and even the exhibits hosted in the Libraries. Check out the amazing new Senses of Venice exhibit that opened last week.
I like to think of Agile as a mindset rather than a specific tool set or framework (like scrum). The four values envisioned in the 2001 Agile Manifesto were devised in deliberate contrast to the rigor and slowness of erstwhile software development practices, and these concepts are still quite relevant today:
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools Working software over comprehensive documentation Customer collaboration over contract negotiation Responding to change over following a plan
In April 2018 I attended an excellent NISO webinar entitled “Can there be neutrality in cataloging?”. Initially this struck me as a somewhat quaint title, as though there could be any answer other than ‘no’. Happily, the webinar came to pretty much the same conclusion, and I think it’s fair to say that at this point in time there is a broad understanding in the metadata and cataloging community that libraries are not neutral spaces, and therefore, neither is the description we create, manage, store, and display.
It takes intentionality and cultural humility to do descriptive work in a way that respects the diversity of our society and multitudinous perspectives of our patrons. I think we’re now in a moment where practitioners are recognizing the importance of approaching our work with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) values in mind.
But we must also reckon with the fact that there hasn’t always this kind of focus on inclusivity in regards to our descriptive practices, and so we are left with the task of deciding how best to manage existing metadata and legacy practices that don’t reflect our values as librarians and archivists. So, we have to figure out how to appropriately “decolonize” our description.
Over the past few years I’ve encountered a number of ideas and initiatives aimed at addressing this issue by both reexamining and remediating existing metadata as well as updating and improving descriptive practices.
Institutional work & messaging
We can leverage our institutional structures.
The University of Alberta formed a ‘Decolonizing Description Working Group’ to investigate, document, and propose a plan for more accurately and respectfully representing Indigenous peoples and contexts through descriptive practices.
We can participate in activism to make broad changes.
Students and librarians at Dartmouth University worked together to lobby the Library of Congress to stop using the term ‘illegal aliens’ to describe undocumented immigrants. The documentary ‘Change the Subject!’ describes their campaign.
We can develop tools and techniques for analyzing our existing metadata.
Noah Geraci, a librarian at the University of California Riverside, presented at Code4Lib 2019 on their project to identify problematic metadata and remediate it programmatically.
Implement Inclusive Vocabulary and Thesauri
We can identify and implement inclusive alternative vocabulary and thesauri in our systems.
As part of the Hyrax project, developers and stakeholders have identified vocabularies and thesauri that are more inclusive and representative, listed here in a spreadsheet managed by Julie Hardesty.
Develop technical solutions
We can develop technical solutions for managing the presence of problematic metadata in our systems.
And here’s something we’re working on locally! As part of TRLN Discovery (a recent and successful project to develop a shared Blacklight discovery interface for the Triangle Research Libraries Network consortium) developers incorporated code for re-mapping problematic subject headings to preferred terms. Problematic terms may still be searched, but only the preferred term will display in the record. We’re still working out how to implement this tool however, from a policy standpoint, e.g., who decides what is ‘problematic’, and how should those decisions be communicated across our organizations.
This is but a smattering out of many projects and ideas metadata practitioners are engaged in. Eradicating inaccurate, insensitive, and potentially harmful description from our library systems is a heavy and entrenched problem to tackle, but lots of smart folks are on it. Together we can address and remediate our existing metadata, reexamine and improve current descriptive practices, and work toward creating an environment that is more inclusive and representative of our communities.
Post contributed by Claire Cahoon, student in the master’s program at the School of Information and Library Science, UNC-Chapel Hill.
This summer I worked as a field experience student in the Software Services department migrating digital exhibits into Omeka 2, Duke’s most current platform. The ultimate goal was to start and document the process of moving exhibits from legacy platforms into Omeka 2.
The reasoning behind the project became clear as we started creating an index of all of the digital exhibits on display in the exhibits website. Out of 97 total exhibits, there were varying degrees of functionality, from the most recent and up-to-date exhibits, to sites with broken links and pages where only text would display, leaving out crucial images. Centralizing these into a single platform should make it easier to create, support, and maintain all of these exhibits.
I found exhibits in Omeka 1, Cascade, Scriptorium, JAlbum, and even found a few mystery platforms that we never identified. Since it was the largest, we decided to work on the Omeka 1 group over the summer, and this week I finished migrating all 34 exhibits – that means that after a few adjustments to make the new exhibits available, Omeka 1 can be shut off!
We worked with Meg Brown, Exhibits Coordinator for the Libraries, and the exhibits department to figure out how each exhibit needed to be represented. Since we were managing expectations from lots of different stakeholders, we landed on the idea to include a link to the archived version of each exhibit in the WayBack machine, in case the look and feel of the new exhibits is limiting for anyone used to Omeka 1.
Working with the internet archive links and sorting through broken pieces of these exhibits really put into perspective how impermanent the internet is, even for seemingly static information. Without much maintenance, these exhibits lost some of the core content when video links changed, references were lost, and even the most well-written custom code stopped working. I hope that my work this summer will help keep these exhibit materials in working order while also eliminating the need to continue supporting for Omeka 1.
While migrating, I came across a few favorite exhibits and items that combined interesting content and some updated features in Omeka 2:
Omeka still has some quirks to work out, and the accessibility of the pages and the metadata display are still in the works. However, migrating these exhibits into Omeka 2 will make them much easier to support and change for improvements. Thanks to the team that worked with me and taught me so much this summer: Will Sexton, Michael Daul, and Meg Brown!
Notes from the Duke University Libraries Digital Projects Team