Category Archives: Uncategorized

CaiaSoft: The GFA Replacement

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.

Why Is This Important?

The LSC is best described as the Libraries’ “Grand Central Station”, a topic highlighted in a 2012 article about the Center’s value to DUL.

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
  • Library ITS

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.

Prep Work

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

Expected Benefits

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.
  • Data Auditing
    CaiaSoft offers this feature, while GFA does not.
  • FOLIO Integration
    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.

Giao’s Whirlwind Experience as an ARL-LCDP Fellow

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.

2018-2019 ARL LCDP Fellows.

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!

Interior view of the Thompson Library. Image by Brad Feinknopf via Elledecor.com

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.

View of the Kairos Blanket exercise. Image from kairosblanketexercise.org

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.

Giao with her Career Coach, Eileen Theodore-Shusta, at Ohio University.

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. 

The 2018-2019 ARL LCDP cohort in Ohio University. Image from arl.org.

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.

 

 

Agile 101

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

Sometimes, when things develop as a backlash, the pendulum can swing too far the other way and we throw out some of the tried and true good bits.  On the other hand, we can slip back, as described in Steve Bank’s HBR piece, “When Waterfall Principles Sneak Back into Agile Workflows”.

Pendulums swing, but basically, when you face uncertainty, try something you think might work, get feedback, and adjust accordingly.

 

 

 

 

Managing impermanence – migration of the Libraries’ digital exhibits

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.

Screenshot of the sidebar of an exhibit, showing the link to the previous version of the exhibit in the Internet Archive
Screenshot of the sidebar of an exhibit, showing the link to the previous version of the exhibit in the Internet Archive

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:

Cover of “Anxious homes: cursory-cleaning for the imminent arrival of visitors or how to give the impression of a clean house in under 20 minutes” by Jackie Batey.
Cover of “Anxious homes: cursory-cleaning for the imminent arrival of visitors or how to give the impression of a clean house in under 20 minutes” by Jackie Batey. Available in the Rubenstein Library: N7433.4.B38 A59 2006

Book + Art: Artists’ books from the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture (and the old version of Book + Art)

John Hope Franklin: Imprint of an American Scholar (and the old version of the John Hope Franklin exhibit)

Cheap Thrills: The Highs and Lows of Paris’s Cabaret Culture (and the old version of Cheap Thrills)

Medicology, or, Home encyclopedia of health: a complete family guide... Vol. I, by Joseph Gibbons Richardson (1904).
Medicology, or, Home encyclopedia of health: a complete family guide… Vol. I, by Joseph Gibbons Richardson (1904). Available in the Rubenstein Library: RC81 .R52 1904

Animated Anatomies: The Human Body in Anatomical Texts from the 16th to 21st Centuries (and the old version of Animated Anatomies)

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!

Two Office 365 Tips to Aid Productivity

Tip One: Access Office 365 at Home for Free

Did you know you can install Microsoft Office at home for free?  As a Duke permanent employee, you have access to a limited number of downloads of the Office package at no charge. The license works for both PC and Mac.  You may also use any browser to access the download.  Start by navigating to https://outlook.office.com/mail/inbox to access your webmail.  Log in with your NetID and password and you should see your inbox. (Side note: you can also go through Duke OIT at https://oit.duke.edu/what-we-do/applications/office-365 and click on the Access Office 365 Email).

Once inside look for the Duke logo and a series of squares (some technicians like to call it the waffle).  Click the waffle and then click the “Office 365″ link in the top right.

This should navigate you to a webpage that has an “Install Office” link.

The link will then give you the option to download the Office 365 package.  Click Office 365 apps” and the .exe (.pkg file for Mac) will download.  Click on the file for installation once it completes.

You will then see a setup wizard which will then install the Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Publisher, Access, Outlook, and OneNote.  The first app opened will require a one-time activation which will again require your NetID and password.  (Side note: Once an app is activated, all apps are activated.  No need to do this for all of the apps). If everything is done correctly, you should now be able to use Microsoft Office on your home machine.  The licenses also apply to mobile devices (phones and tablets).

 

Tip Two: Create PDF files directly from Office Apps

Many people use Adobe Acrobat to convert documents to the .pdf format. The useful format can also be used directly from Office Apps.  The pictures used will involve the use of Microsoft Word but the procedure works with all Office Apps.

When your final document is ready for conversion, find the File menu.  Click File and Save As.

Choose the “Save As” location but make sure to remember where you put it!  (I’ll use the Desktop folder for this demonstration.  Make sure to click the “Save as Type” box and then click PDF and then click Save.

No need to do anything else!  The document is now a .pdf file.  The .pdf cannot be directly edited in Microsoft Word.  You must use the Word document to make further edits and convert once you have made those edits.

Celebrating a New Duke Digital Collections Milestone with Section A

Duke Digital Collections recently passed 100,000 items!

 

Last week, it was brought to our attention that Duke Digital Collections recently passed 100,000 individual items found in the Duke Digital Repository! To celebrate, I want to highlight some of the most recent materials digitized and uploaded from our Section A project. In the past, Bitstreams has blogged about what Section A is and what it means, but it’s been a couple of years since that post, and a little refresher couldn’t hurt.

What is Section A?

In 2016, the staff of Rubenstein Research Services proposed a mass digitization project of Section A. This is the umbrella term for 175 boxes of different historic materials that users often request – manuscripts, correspondence, receipts, diaries, drawings, and more. These boxes contain around 3,900 small collections that all had their own workflows. Every box needs consultations from Rubenstein Research Services, review by Library Conservation Department staff, review by Technical Services, metadata updates, and more, all to make sure that the collections could be launched and hosted within the Duke Digital Repository. 

In the 2 years since that blog post, so much has happened! The first 2 Section A collections had gone live as a sort of proof-of-concept, and as a way to define what the digitization project would be and what it would look like. We’ve added over 500 more collections from Section A since then. This somehow barely even scratches the surface of the entire project! We’re digitizing the collections in alphabetical order, and even after all the collections that have gone online, we are currently still only on the letter “C”! 

Nonetheless, there is already plenty of materials to check out and enjoy. I was a student of history in college, so in this blog post, I want to particularly highlight some of the historic materials from the latter half of the 19th century.

Showing off some of Section A

Clara Barton’s description of the Grand Hotel de la Paix in Lyon, France.

In 1869, after her work as a nurse in the Civil War, Clara Barton traveled around Europe to Geneva, Switzerland and Corsica, France. Included in the Duke Digital Collections is her diary and calling cards from her time there. These pages detail where she visited and stayed throughout the year. She also wrote about her views on the different European countries, how Americans and Europeans compare, and more. Despite her storied career and her many travels that year, Miss Barton felt that “I have accomplished very little in a year”, and hoped that in 1870, she “may be accounted worthy once more to take my place among the workers of the world, either in my own country or in some other”.

Back in America, around 1900, the Rev. John Malachi Bowden began dictating and documenting his experiences as a Confederate soldier during the Civil War, one of many that a nurse like Miss Barton may have treated. Although Bowden says he was not necessarily a secessionist at the beginning of the Civil War, he joined the 2nd Georgia Regiment in August 1861 after Georgia had seceded. During his time in the regiment, he fought in the Battles of Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, Spotsylvania Court House, and more. In 1864, Union forced captured and held Bowden as a prisoner at Maryland’s Point Lookout Prison, where he describes in great detail what life was like as a POW before his eventual release. He writes that he was “so indignant at being in a Federal prison” that he refused to cut his hair. His hair eventually grew to be shoulder-length, “somewhat like Buffalo Bill’s.”

Speaking of whom, Duke Digital Collections also has some material from Buffalo Bill (William Frederick Cody), courtesy of the Section A initiative. A showman and entertainer who performed in cowboy shows throughout the latter half of the 19th century, Buffalo Bill was enormously popular wherever he went. In this collection, he writes to a Brother Miner about how he invited seventy-five of his “old Brothers” from Bedford, VA to visit him in Roanoke. There is also a brief itinerary of future shows throughout North Carolina and South Carolina. This includes a stop here in Durham, NC a few weeks after Bill wrote this letter.

Buffalo Bill’s letter to his “Brother Miner”, dated October 17, 1916.

Around this time, Walter Clark, associate justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, began writing his own histories of North Carolina throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Three of Clark’s articles prepared for the University Magazine of the University of North Carolina have been digitized as part of Section A. This includes an article entitled “North Carolina in War”, where he made note of the Generals from North Carolina engaged in every war up to that point. It’s possible that John Malachi Bowden was once on the battlefield alongside some of these generals mentioned in Clark’s writings. This type of synergy in our collection is what makes Section A so exciting to dive into.

As the new Still Image Digitization Specialist at the Duke Digital Production Center, seeing projects like this take off in such a spectacular way is near and dear to my heart. Even just the four collections I’ve highlighted here have been so informative. We still have so many more Section A boxes to digitize and host online. It’s so exciting to think of what we might find and what we’ll digitize for all the world to see. Our work never stops, so remember to stay updated on Duke Digital Collections to see some of these newly digitized collections as they become available. 

Looking Ahead to MorphoSource 2.0

MorphoSource logo For the past year, developers in the Library’s Software Services department have been working to rebuild Duke’s MorphoSource repository for 3D research data. The current repository, available at www.morphosource.org, provides a place for researchers and curators to make scans of biological specimens available to other researchers and to the general public.

MorphoSource, first launched in 2013, has become the most popular website for virtual fossils in the world.  The site currently contains sixty thousand data sets representing twenty thousand specimens from seven thousand different species. In 2017, led by Doug Boyer in Duke Evolutionary Anthropology, the project received a National Science Foundation grant. Under this grant, the technical infrastructure for the repository will be moved to the Library’s management, and the user interface is being rebuilt using Hyrax, an open-source digital repository application widely implemented by libraries that manage research data.  The scope of the repository is being expanded to include data for cultural heritage objects, such as museum artifacts, architecture, and archaeological sites. Most importantly, MorphoSource is being improved with better performance, a more intuitive user experience, and expanded functionality for users to view and interact with the data within the site.

Viewing and manipulating CT scans and the derived 3D model of a platypus in the MorphoSource viewer

Management of 3D data is in itself complicated.  It becomes even more so when striving towards long-term preservation of the digital representation of a unique biological specimen. In many cases, these specimens no longer exist, and the 3D data becomes the only record of their particular morphology.  It’s necessary to collect not only the actual digital files, but extensive metadata describing both the data’s creation and the specimen that was scanned to create the data. This can make the process of contributing data daunting for researchers. To improve the user experience and assist users with entering metadata about their files, MorphoSource 2.0 will guide them through the process. Users will be asked questions about their data, what it represents, when and how it was created, and if it is a derivative of data already in MorphoSource. As they progress through making their deposit, the answers they provide will direct them through linking their deposit to records already in the repository, or help them with entering new metadata about the specimen that was scanned, the facility and equipment used to scan the specimen, and any automated processes that were run to create the files.

MorphoSource page showing an alligator skull
Screenshot of a MorphoSource media page showing an alligator skull.

The new repository will also improve the experience for users exploring metadata about contributed resources and viewing the accompanying 3D files. All of the data describing technical information, acquisition and processing information, ownership and permissions, and related files will be gathered in one page, and give users the option to expand or collapse different metadata sections as their interests dictate. A file viewer will also be embedded in the page, which also allows for full-screen viewing and provides several new tools for users analyzing the media. Besides being able to move and spin the model within the viewer, users can also adjust lighting and other factors to focus on different areas of the model, and take custom measurements of different points on the specimen. Most exciting, for CT image series, users can scroll through the images along three axes, or convert the images to a 3D model. For some data, users will also be able to share models by embedding the file viewer in a webpage.

The MorphoSource team is very excited about our planned improvements, and plans to launch MorphoSource 2.0 in 2020. Stay tuned for the launch date, and in the meantime please visit the current site: www.morphosource.org.

Features and Gaps and Bees, Oh My!

Since my last post about our integrated library system (ILS), there’s been a few changes. First, my team is now the Library Systems and Integration Support Department. We’ve also added three business analysts to our team and we have a developer coming on board this summer. We continue to work on FOLIO as a replacement for our current ILS. So what work are we doing on FOLIO?

FOLIO is a community-sourced product. There are currently more than 30 institutions, over a dozen developer organizations, and vendors such as EBSCO and IndexData involved. The members of the community come together in Special Interest Groups (SIGs). The SIGs discuss what functionality and data is needed, write the user stories, and develop workflows so the library staff will be able to do their tasks. There are ten main SIGs, an Implementation Group, and Product and Technical Councils. Here at Duke, we have staff from all over the libraries involved in the SIGs. They speak up to be sure the product will work for Duke Libraries.

Features

The institutions planning to implement FOLIO in Summer 2020 spent April ranking 468 open features. They needed to choose  whether the feature was needed at the time the institution planned to go live, or if they could wait for the feature to be added (one quarter later or one year later). Duke voted for 62% of the features be available at the time we go live with FOLIO. These features include things like  default reports, user experience enhancements, and more detailed permission settings, to name a few.

Gaps

After the feature prioritization was complete, we conducted a gap analysis. The gap analysis required our business analysts to take what they’ve learned from conducting interviews with library staff across the University and compare it to what FOLIO can currently do and what is planned. The Duke Libraries’ staff who have been active on the SIGs were extremely helpful in identifying gaps. Some feature requests that came out of the gap analysis included making sure a user has an expiration date associated with it. Another was being able to re-print notices to patrons. Others had to do with workflow, for example, making sure that when a holdings record is “empty” (no items attached), that an alert is sent so a staff person can decide to delete the empty record or not.

Bees?

So where to the bees come into all of this? Well, the logo for FOLIO includes a bee!folio: future of libraries is open. Bee icon

The release names and logos are flowers. And we’re working together in a community toward a single goal – a new Library Services Platform that is community-sourced and works for the future of libraries.

Learn more about FOLIO@Duke by visiting our site: https://sites.duke.edu/folioatduke/. We’ve posted newsletters, presentations, and videos from the FOLIO project team.

hexagon badge, image of aster flower, words folio aster release Jan 2019

hexagon badge, image of bellis flower, words folio bellis release Apr  2019

hexagon badge, image of clove flower, words folio clover release May 2019

hexagon badge, image of daisy flower, words folio daisy release Oct 2019

Mythical Beasts of Audio

Gear. Kit. Hardware. Rig. Equipment.

In the audio world, we take our tools seriously, sometimes to an unhealthy and obsessive degree. We give them pet names, endow them with human qualities, and imbue them with magical powers. In this context, it’s not really strange that a manufacturer of professional audio interfaces would call themselves “Mark of the Unicorn.”

Here at the Digital Production Center, we recently upgraded our audio interface to a MOTU 896 mk3 from an ancient (in tech years) Edirol UA-101. The audio interface, which converts analog signals to digital and vice-versa, is the heart of any computer-based audio system. It controls all of the routing from the analog sources (mostly cassette and open reel tape decks in our case) to the computer workstation and the audio recording/editing software. If the audio interface isn’t seamlessly performing analog to digital conversion at archival standards, we have no hope of fulfilling our mission of creating high-quality digital surrogates of library A/V materials.

Edirol UA-101
The Edirol enjoying its retirement with some other pieces of kit

While the Edirol served us well from the very beginning of the Library’s forays into audio digitization, it had recently begun to cause issues resulting in crashes, restarts, and lost work. Given that the Edirol is over 10 years old and has been discontinued, it is expected that it would eventually fail to keep up with continued OS and software updates. After re-assessing our needs and doing a bit of research, we settled on the MOTU 896 mk3 as its replacement. The 896 had the input, output, and sync options we needed along with plenty of other bells and whistles.

I’ve been using the MOTU for several weeks now, and here are some things that I’m liking about it:

  • Easy installation of drivers
  • Designed to fit into standard audio rack
  • Choice of USB or Firewire connection to PC workstation
  • Good visual feedback on audio levels, sample rate, etc. via LED meters on front panel
  • Clarity and definition of sound
MOTU 896mk3
The MOTU sitting atop the audio tower

I haven’t had a chance to explore all of the additional features of the MOTU yet, but so far it has lived up to expectations and improved our digitization workflow. However, in a production environment such as ours, each piece of equipment needs to be a workhorse that can perform its function day in and day out as we work our way through the vaults. Only time can tell if the Mark of the Unicorn will be elevated to the pantheon of gear that its whimsical name suggests!