Category Archives: Uncategorized

Access for One, Access for All: DPC’s Approach towards Folder Level Digitization

Earlier this year and prior to the pandemic, Digital Production Center (DPC) staff piloted an alternative approach to digitize patron requests with the Rubenstein Library’s Research Services (RLRS) team. The previous approach was focused on digitizing specific items that instruction librarians and patrons requested, and these items were delivered directly to that person. The alternative strategy, the Folder Level digitization approach, involves digitizing the contents of the entire folder that the item is contained in, ingesting these materials to the Duke Digital Repository (to enable Duke Library staff to retrieve these items), and when possible, publishing these materials so that they are available to anyone with internet access. This soft launch prepared us for what is now an all-hands-on-deck-but-in-a-socially-distant-manner digitization workflow.

Giao Luong Baker assessing folders in the DPC.

Since returning to campus for onsite digitization in late June, the DPC’s primary focus has been to perfect and ramp up this new workflow. It is important to note that the term “folder” in this case is more of a concept and that its contents and their conditions vary widely. Some folders may have 2 pages, other folders have over 300 pages. Some folders consists of pamphlets, notebooks, maps, papyri, and bound items. All this to say that a “folder” is a relatively loose term.

Like many initiatives at Duke Libraries, Folder Level Digitization is not just a DPC operation, it is a collaborative effort. This effort includes RLRS working with instructors and patrons to identify and retrieve the materials. RLRS also works with Rubenstein Library Technical Services (RLTS) to create starter digitization guides, which are the building blocks for our digitization guide. Lastly, RLRS vets the materials and determines their level of access. When necessary, Duke Library’s Conservation team steps in to prepare materials for digitization. After the materials are digitized, ingest and metadata work by the Digital Collections and Curation Services as well as the RLTS teams ensure that the materials are preserved and available in our systems.

Kristin Phelps captures a color target.

Doing this work in the midst of a pandemic requires that DPC work closely with the Rubenstein Library Access Services Reproduction Team (a section of RLRS) to track our workflow using a Google Doc. We track the point where the materials are identified by RLRS, through multiple quarantine periods, scanning, post processing, file delivery, to ingest. Also, DPC staff are digitizing in a manner that is consistent with COVID-19 guidelines. Materials are quarantined before and after they arrive at the DPC, machines and workspaces are cleaned before and after use, capture is done in separate rooms, and quality control is done off site with specialized calibrated monitors.

Since we started Folder Level digitization, the DPC has received close to 200 unique Instruction and Patron requests from RLRS. As of the publication of this post, 207 individual folders (an individual request may contain several folders) have been digitized. In total, we’ve scanned and quality controlled over 26,000 images since we returned to campus!

By digitizing entire folders, we hope this will allow for increased access to the materials without risking damage through their physical handling. So far we anticipate that 80 new digital collections will be ingested to the Duke Digital Repository. This number will only grow as we receive more requests. Folder Level Digitization is an exciting approach towards digital collection development, as it is directly responsive to instruction and researcher needs. With this approach, it is access for one, access for all!

How to Videos for Using Digital Collections

With so much remote instruction and research happening due to the current global pandemic, more and more folks are dependent on Duke Libraries Digital Collections.  How can all these potentially new digital researchers learn how to use our interfaces?  Thanks to my colleagues in the Rubenstein Libraries Research Services department, there are now 4 short, how-to videos available to help users understand how to navigate digital collections.

I’ve linked to the videos below.  In just 15 minutes one will hear an introduction to Duke’s Digital Collections, learn how to search within the interface, and use and cite digital items.

If you use Duke Digital Collections regularly, what other topics would you like to see covered in future videos or documentation?

Here’s What Happened Next: The Duke Digital Production Center in the Era of the COVID-19 Pandemic

On March 20, 2020, the Duke University Libraries were closed related to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Surrounded by a great deal of uncertainty as to when the Libraries would reopen, most library staff were sent home to work for the next months from home.  During this time, the Digital Production Center’s employees followed suit and, as part of that time away from the DPC, completed post-processing of images, image quality control, participated in project planning and wrote blogs on the closing of the Libraries, labor in the time of the coronavirus, and the history of videotelephony.  Following the end of the North Carolina Stay-at-Home order on April 29, discussions began in earnest about what the new reality would be for the Libraries.  It was determined that the DPC’s unique skill set was needed on site sooner rather than later, and so on June 26, we returned to Duke’s campus as “essential workers.”

Upon our return, we needed to make sure that our equipment was sanitized and in good working order.  Along with testing our scanner and cameras, we also recalibrated our monitors to ensure color accuracy and established our new workflow. 

It was determined that our efforts were most needed to prepare for Duke’s fall instruction materials.  With the uncertainty as to whether or not classes would be held in person or virtually, preparing digital materials to work with was prioritized.  So, we shifted from our normal project work to focus solely on digitization of these materials.  Each digitization specialist was asked to be onsite for 3 days a week to maximize use of our capture equipment.  The remaining two days of the week would be spent working from home to do quality control work on the images as well as various administrative tasks.  We had a plan; our remit was clear and we were working towards a goal.

On August 17, classes began for Duke University and our images began being used as part of instruction materials.  Duke University Library’s digitized images helped bridge the gap between the currently inaccessible library collections that Duke faculty and students normally rely on for coursework and the Fall 2020 students.

Thinking about the change in use and accessibility for collection materials leads to an interesting question:  With the lockdown which happened for most of the US, did digital collections receive more visits as people were restricted from leaving home and libraries were closed?  A quick glance at the Google Analytics for the Duke Digital Collections shows a 34% increase of unique page views from April 1-June 30 of this year as compared to the same time period in 2019.  While it is impossible to state definitively why the increase occurred, the pandemic is very likely a contributing factor.  Digital collections are arguably valuable assets for any institution which supports them.  They provide easy access to rarely seen or inaccessible materials and they have the potential to incite curiosity in the larger institutional holdings.  It is indeed interesting to consider what types of innovative scholarship and creative use of digital content may result from the pandemic’s “forced” use of digital collections over the next twelve months.

Of course, the rapid onset of the COVID-19 pandemic illuminated the need for alternative ways of operating.  At least temporarily, it has changed the way in which the Duke University Libraries are conducting business as usual these days.  And, in July of this year, Research Libraries UK published a document entitled “COVID19 and the Digital Shift in Action.”  This document reports on the effect of the pandemic on UK research libraries and suggests strategies for emphasis and support of the digital aspects of libraries as well as the need for change and flexibility within library collections.  Digital collections, e-books, e-textbooks, and digital content had their moment to shine during the pandemic and they have proven their value and importance.

And with the potential increased reliance on digitized material, many cultural heritage digitization specialists are now back on site in libraries, museums and archives, working to provide their expertise to add to existing digital collections.  Naturally, at the Duke Digital Production Center, we have been asked a number of times since our return if we are nervous about being back in our studio space.  Of course, we are, but we also recognize how our skills and contributions continue to create value for Duke University and Duke University Libraries.

Further reading:

Biswas, P., & Marchesoni, J. “Analyzing Digital Collections Entrances: What Gets Used and Why It Matters.” Information Technology and Libraries, v. 35, n. 4, p. 19-34, 30 December 2016.

Greenhall, M. “Covid-19 and the digital shift in action,” RLUK Report. 2020.  Can be accessed at:  https://www.rluk.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Covid19-and-the-digital-shift-in-action-report-FINAL.pdf

Markin, Pablo.  “Pandemic Restrictions on Library Borrowing Showcase the Importance of Digital Collections and the Advantages of Open Access.” Open Research Community.  11 August 2020.  https://openresearch.community/posts/pandemic-restrictions-on-library-borrowing-showcase-the-importance-of-digital-collections-and-the-advantages-of-open-access

 

 

 

 

Sharing data and research in a time of global pandemic, Part 2

[Header image from Fischer, E., Fischer, M., Grass, D., Henrion, I., Warren, W., Westman, E. (2020, August 07). Low-cost measurement of facemask efficacy for filtering expelled droplets during speech. Science Advances. https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/early/2020/08/07/sciadv.abd3083]

Back in March, just as things were rapidly shutting down across the United States, I wrote a post reflecting on how integral the practice of sharing and preserving research data would be to any solution to the crisis posed by COVID-19. While some of the language in that post seems a bit naive in retrospect (particularly the bit about RDAP’s annual meeting being one of the last in-person conferences of just the spring, as opposed to the entire calendar year!), the emphasis on the importance of rapid and robust data sharing has stood the test of time. In late June, the Research Data Alliance released a set of recommendations and guidelines for sharing research data under circumstances shaped by COVID-19, and a number of organizations, including the National Institutes of Health, have established portals for finding data related to the disease. Access to data has been forefront in the minds of many researchers.

Perhaps in response to this general sentiment (or maybe because folks haven’t been able to access their labs?!), we in the Libraries have seen a notable increase in the number of submissions to our Research Data Repository for data publication. These datasets have derived from a broad range of disciplines, spanning Environmental Sciences to Dermatology. I wanted to use this blog post as an opportunity to highlight a few of our accessions from the last several months.

One of our most prolific sources of data deposits has historically been the lab of Dr. Patrick Charbonneau, associate professor of Chemistry and Physics. Dr. Charbonneau’s lab investigates glass and its physical properties and contributes to a project known as The Simons Collaboration on Cracking the Glass Problem, which addresses issues like disorder, nonlinear response and far-from-equilibrium dynamics. The most recent contribution from Dr. Charbonneau’s research group, published just last week, is fairly characteristic of the materials we receive from Dr. Charbonneau’s group. It contains the raw binary observational data and scripts that were used to create the figures which appear in the researcher’s article. Making these research products available helps other scholars to repeat or reproduce (and thereby strengthen) the findings elucidated in an associated research publication.

Fig01 / Fig02b, Data from: Finite-dimensional vestige of spinodal criticality above the dynamical glass transition

 

Another recent data deposit—a first of its kind for the RDR—is a Q-sort concourse for the Human Dimensions of Large Marine Protected Areas project, which investigates the formulation of large marine protected areas (defined by the project as “any ocean area larger than 100,000 km² that has been designated for the purpose of conservation”) as a global movement. Q-methodology is a psychology and social sciences research method used to study viewpoints. In this study, 40 interviewees were asked to evaluate statements related to large-scale marine protected areas. Q-sorts can be particularly helpful when researchers wish to describe subjective viewpoints related to an issue.

Q sort record sheet from: Q-Sort Concourse and Data for the Human Dimensions of Large MPAs project

Finally, perhaps our most timely deposit has come from a group investigating an alternate method to evaluate the efficacy of masks to reduce the transmission of respiratory droplets during regular speech. “Low-cost measurement of facemask efficacy for filtering expelled droplets during speech,” published last week in Science Advances, is a proof-of-concept study that proposes an optical measurement technique that the group asserts is both inexpensive and easy to use. Because the topic of measuring mask efficiency is still both complex and unsettled, the group hopes this work will help improve evaluation in order to guide mask selection and policy decisions.

Screenshot of Speaker1_None_05.mp4, Video data from: Low-cost measurement of facemask efficacy for filtering expelled droplets during speech

The dataset consists of a series of movie recordings, that capture an operator wearing a face mask and speaking in the direction of an expanded laser beam inside a dark enclosure. Droplets that propagate through the laser beam scatter light, which is then recorded with a cell phone camera. The group tested 12 kinds of masks (see below), and recorded 2 sets of controls with no masks. 

Figure 2 from Low-cost measurement of facemask efficacy for filtering expelled droplets during speech

We hope to keep up the momentum our data management, curation, and publication program has gained over the last few months, but we need your help! For more information on using the Duke Research Data Repository to share and preserve your data, please visit our website, or drop up a line at datamangement@duke.edu. A full list of the datasets we’ve published since moving to fully remote operations in March is available below.

  • Zhang, Y. (2020). Data from: Contributions of World Regions to the Global Tropospheric Ozone Burden Change from 1980 to 2010. Duke Research Data Repository. https://doi.org/10.7924/r40p13p11
  • Campbell, L. M., Gray, N., & Gruby, R. (2020). Data from: Q-Sort Concourse and Data for the Human Dimensions of Large MPAs project. Duke Research Data Repository. https://doi.org/10.7924/r4j38sg3b
  • Berthier, L., Charbonneau, P., & Kundu, J. (2020). Data from: Finite-dimensional vestige of spinodal criticality above the dynamical glass transition. Duke Research Data Repository. https://doi.org/10.7924/r4jh3m094
  • Fischer, E., Fischer, M., Grass, D., Henrion, I., Warren, W., Westman, E. (2020). Video data files from: Low-cost measurement of facemask efficacy for filtering expelled droplets during speech. Duke Research Data Repository. V2 https://doi.org/10.7924/r4ww7dx6q
  • Lin, Y., Kouznetsova, T., Chang, C., Craig, S. (2020). Data from: Enhanced polymer mechanical degradation through mechanochemically unveiled lactonization. Duke Research Data Repository. V2 https://doi.org/10.7924/r4fq9x365
  • Chavez, S. P., Silva, Y., & Barros, A. P. (2020). Data from: High-elevation monsoon precipitation processes in the Central Andes of Peru. Duke Research Data Repository. V2 https://doi.org/10.7924/r41n84j94
  • Jeuland, M., Ohlendorf, N., Saparapa, R., & Steckel, J. (2020). Data from: Climate implications of electrification projects in the developing world: a systematic review. Duke Research Data Repository. https://doi.org/10.7924/r42n55g1z
  • Cardones, A. R., Hall, III, R. P., Sullivan, K., Hooten, J., Lee, S. Y., Liu, B. L., Green, C., Chao, N., Rowe Nichols, K., Bañez, L., Shah, A., Leung, N., & Palmeri, M. L. (2020). Data from: Quantifying skin stiffness in graft-versus-host disease, morphea and systemic sclerosis using acoustic radiation force impulse imaging and shear wave elastography. Duke Research Data Repository. https://doi.org/10.7924/r4h995b4q
  • Caves, E., Schweikert, L. E., Green, P. A., Zipple, M. N., Taboada, C., Peters, S., Nowicki, S., & Johnsen, S. (2020). Data and scripts from: Variation in carotenoid-containing retinal oil droplets correlates with variation in perception of carotenoid coloration. Duke Research Data Repository. https://doi.org/10.7924/r4jw8dj9h
  • DiGiacomo, A. E., Bird, C. N., Pan, V. G., Dobroski, K., Atkins-Davis, C., Johnston, D. W., Ridge, J. T. (2020). Data from: Modeling salt marsh vegetation height using Unoccupied Aircraft Systems and Structure from Motion. Duke Research Data Repository. https://doi.org/10.7924/r4w956k1q
  • Hall, III, R. P., Bhatia, S. M., Streilein, R. D. (2020). Data from: Correlation of IgG autoantibodies against acetylcholine receptors and desmogleins in patients with pemphigus treated with steroid sparing agents or rituximab. Duke Research Data Repository. https://doi.org/10.7924/r4rf5r157
  • Jin, Y., Ru, X., Su, N., Beratan, D., Zhang, P., & Yang, W. (2020). Data from: Revisiting the Hole Size in Double Helical DNA with Localized Orbital Scaling Corrections. Duke Research Data Repository. https://doi.org/10.7924/r4k072k9s
  • Kaleem, S. & Swisher, C. B. (2020). Data from: Electrographic Seizure Detection by Neuro ICU Nurses via Bedside Real-Time Quantitative EEG. Duke Research Data Repository. https://doi.org/10.7924/r4mp51700
  • Yi, G. & Grill, W. M. (2020). Data and code from: Waveforms optimized to produce closed-state Na+ inactivation eliminate onset response in nerve conduction block. Duke Research Data Repository. https://doi.org/10.7924/r4z31t79k
  • Flanagan, N., Wang, H., Winton, S., Richardson, C. (2020). Data from: Low-severity fire as a mechanism of organic matter protection in global peatlands: thermal alteration slows decomposition. Duke Research Data Repository. https://doi.org/10.7924/r4s46nm6p
  • Gunsch, C. (2020). Data from: Evaluation of the mycobiome of ballast water and implications for fungal pathogen distribution. Duke Research Data Repository. https://doi.org/10.7924/r4t72cv5v
  • Warnell, K., & Olander, L. (2020). Data from: Opportunity assessment for carbon and resilience benefits on natural and working lands in North. Carolina. Duke Research Data Repository. https://doi.org/10.7924/r4ww7cd91

Fun with sticky scrolling

For the past several weeks I’ve had the great fortune to help contribute to our new archival finding aid interface, based on the Stanford ArcLight project. My coworker Sean Aery, is a contributor to that project as well as being the lead developer for Duke University Libraries’ implementation.

The new site is set to launch next week (July 1st) and we are all very excited about it. You can read a teaser post about it written by the product owner, Noah Huffman.

Last week we were trying to work out a thorny issue with the overall interface. There was a feature request from the product owner team to make a section of the navigation ‘sticky’ while allowing other parts of the interface to scroll normally. We have a similar setup for viewing results in our catalog, but that was implemented in an ‘older’ way using extra markup and javascript. Support for position:sticky; across the major browsers is now at point that we could try implementing this feature in a much more simple way, so that’s what we did!

Video of scrolling behavior (with scroll bars showing)

Everything was working great with our implementation, except I really wanted to figure out a way to hide the scroll bars when they weren’t being used — but the most reliable way to do so seemed to involve some flavor of third-party javascript library and I didn’t want to go down that road. In chatting with Sean about it over Slack, he wasn’t seeing the scroll bar problems that I was. I was completely flummoxed! Our development environments are more or less identical. He’s running on a newer version of MacOS than me, but our browser versions are the same. I just couldn’t wrap my head around why I was seeing different behavior with the scroll bars.

However, some googling revealed that there was a setting in macOS for the scroll bars which I was completely unfamiliar with:

screenshot of scrollbar settings
Screenshot of the scroll bar settings options in macOS

I didn’t recall having ever changed that in the past, so I checked with Sean and his was set the same as mine. This felt like the right track, but I still couldn’t imagine what was going on.

Sean also mentioned he was using a trackpad to browse, whereas I have an external mouse attached to my machine. On a whim I tried unhooking the mouse and restarting my computer — and sure enough, that did the trick!

 

See the Pen
MWKvmbV
by Michael Daul (@mikedaul)
on CodePen.

Set the zoom level of the embedded view above to 0.5x to play with the scrolling

 

So the lesson of this story is… if you ever encounter unexpected behavior with scroll bars while doing development work on your Mac, make sure to check your settings and/or account for your use of an external mouse!

Casting a Critical Eye on the Hayti-Elizabeth Street Renewal Area Maps

In 2019, one of the digital collections we made available to the public was a small set of architectural maps and plans titled the ‘Hayti-Elizabeth Street Renewal Area’. The short description of the maps indicates they ‘depict existing and proposed structures and modifications to the Hayti neighborhood in Durham, NC.’ Sounds pretty benign, right? Perhaps even kind of hopeful, given the word ‘renewal’?

Hayti-Elizabeth Street Renewal Area, Existing Land Use Map

Nope. This anodyne description does not tell the story of the harm caused by the Durham Urban Renewal project of the 1960s and 1970s. The Durham Redevelopment Commission intended to eliminate ‘urban blight’ via this project, which ultimately resulted in the destruction of more than 4,000 households and 500 businesses in predominantly African American areas of the city. The Hayti District, once a flourishing and self-sufficient neighborhood filled with Black-owned businesses, was largely demolished, divided, and effectively severed from what is now downtown Durham by the construction of NC Highway 147. 

Bull City 150, a “public history, geography and community engagement project” based here at Duke University, hosts a suite of excellent multi-media public history exhibitions about housing inequality in Durham on its website. One of these is Dismantling Hayti, which focuses in particular on the effects of urban renewal on the neighborhood and the city.

Dismantling Hayti, Bull City 150

But this story of so-called urban renewal is not just about Durham – it’s about the United States as a whole. From the 1950s to the 1980s, municipalities across the country demolished roughly 7.5 million dwelling units, with a vastly disproportionate impact on Black and low-income neighborhoods, in the name of revitalization. Bulldozing for highway corridors was frequently a part of urban renewal projects, happening in San Francisco, Memphis, Boston, Atlanta, Syracuse, Baltimore, everywhere in the country – the list goes on and on. And it includes Saint Paul, Minnesota, the city where, mourning and protesting the killing of yet another Black person at the hands of a white police officer, thousands of people occupied Interstate 94 in recent weeks, marching from the state capitol to Minneapolis, over a highway that was once the African American neighborhood of Rondo.  

Urban renewal projects led to what social psychiatrist Dr. Mindy Fulilove refers to as root shock – “a traumatic stress reaction related to the destruction of one’s emotional ecosystem”. This is but one thread in the fabric of white supremacy out of which our country was woven, among other twentieth century practices of redlining, discriminatory mortgage lending practices, denial of access to unemployment benefits, and rampant Jim Crow laws, which are still causing harm today. This is why it is important to interrogate the historical context of resources like the Hayti-Elizabeth Street Renewal Area maps – we should all accept the invitation extended on the Bull City 150 website to Durhamites to “reckon with the racial and economic injustices of the past 150 years and commit to building a more equitable future”.

Labor in the Time of Coronavirus

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?

Bell pepper pickers, 1984 June. Paul Kwilecki Photographs.
Prisoners at the county farm killing hogs, 1983 Mar. Paul Kwilecki Photographs.
Worker atop rail car loading corn from storage tanks, 1991 Sept. Paul Kwilecki Photographs.
Manuel Molina, mushroom farm worker, Kennett Square, PA 1981. Frank Espada Photographs.

What kind of physical environment do we work in and how does that affect us?

Maids in a room of the Stephen Decatur Hotel shortly before it was torn down, 1970. Paul Kwilecki Photographs
Worker in pit preparing to weld. Southeastern Minerals Co. Bainbridge, 1991 Aug. Paul Kwilecki Photographs
Loggers in the woods near Attapulgus, 1978 Feb. Paul Kwilecki Photographs.

How do we interact with machines and technology in our work? Can our labor be automated or performed remotely?

Worker signaling for more logs. Elberta Crate and Box. Co. Bainbridge, 1991 Sept. Paul Kwilecki Photographs.
Worker, Williamson-Dickie plant. Bainbridge, 1991 Sept. Paul Kwilecki Photographs.
Machine operator watching computer controlled lathe, 1991 July. Paul Kwilecki Photographs.
Worker at her machine. Elberta Crate and Box Co. Bainbridge, 1981 Nov. Paul Kwilecki Photographs.

What equipment and clothing do we need to work safely and productively?

Cotton gin worker wearing safety glass and ear plugs for noise protection. Decatur Gin Co., 1991 Sept. Paul Kwilecki Photographs.
Worker operating bagging machine. Flint River Mills. Bainbridge, 1991 July. Paul Kwilecki Photographs.
Worker at State Dock, 1992 July. Paul Kwilecki Photographs.

Are we paid fairly for our work? How do relative wages for different types of work reflect what is valued in our society?

No known title. William Gedney Photographs.

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.

DUCC, TUCC, and the origins of digital computing in North Carolina

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.

Continue reading DUCC, TUCC, and the origins of digital computing in North Carolina

Library Crisis: The Late Bronze Age Collapse of 1177 BC and the Coronavirus of 2020 AD

View of Hattusa

 

Late 13th century BC rock relief carving at the Yazılıkaya sanctuary

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.

 

Cuneiform tablet

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.

One of the last items digitized by the DPC prior to its March 20 closure

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.

Perkins Library on March 20, 2020
Last day at the DPC

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.

Spring blossoms on a eerily empty Duke University campus

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.

Epilogue

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.

Sources

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.

van den Hout, Theo P.J.  “Miles of Clay: Information Management in the Ancient Near Eastern Hittite Empire.”  Fathom Archive, The University of Chicago, 26 October 2002, http://fathom.lib.uchicago.edu/1/777777190247/.

Further Reading

Cline, Eric H.  1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed.  Princeton University Press, 2014.  An overview of the Late Bronze Age Collapse, with thanks to the author for his suggestion.