Category Archives: User Experience

ArcLight Migration: A Status Update After Three Months of Work

On January 20, 2020, we kicked off our first development sprint for implementing ArcLight at Duke as our new finding aids / collection guides platform. We thought our project charter was solid: thorough, well-vetted, with a reasonable set of goals. In the plan was a roadmap identifying a July 1, 2020 launch date and a list of nineteen high-level requirements. There was nary a hint of an impending global pandemic that could upend absolutely everything.

The work wasn’t supposed to look like this, carried out by zooming virtually into each other’s living rooms every day. Code sessions and meetings now require navigating around child supervision shifts and schooling-from-home responsibilities. Our new young office-mates occasionally dance into view or within earshot during our calls. Still, we acknowledge and are grateful for the privilege afforded by this profession to continue to do our work remotely from safe distance.

So, a major shoutout is due to my colleagues in the trenches of this work overcoming the new unforeseen constraints around it, especially Noah Huffman, David Chandek-Stark, and Michael Daul. Our progress to date has only been possible through resilience, collaboration, and willingness to keep pushing ahead together.

Three months after we started the project, we remain on track for a summer 2020 launch.

As a reminder, we began with the core open-source ArcLight platform (demo available) and have been building extensions and modifications in our local application in order to accommodate Duke needs and preferences. With the caveat that there’ll be more changes coming over the next couple months before launch, I want to provide a summary of what we have been able to accomplish so far and some issues we have encountered along the way. Duke staff may access our demo app (IP-restricted) for an up-to-date look at our work in progress.

Homepage

Homepage design for Duke’s ArcLight finding aids site.
  • Duke Branding. Aimed to make an inviting front door to the finding aids consistent with other modern Duke interfaces, similar to–yet distinguished enough from–other resources like the catalog, digital collections, or Rubenstein Library website.
  • Featured Items. Built a configurable set of featured items from the collections (with captions), to be displayed randomly (actual selections still in progress).
  • Dynamic Content. Provided a live count of collections; we might add more indicators for types/counts of materials represented.

Layout

A collection homepage with a sidebar for context navigation.
  • Sidebar. Replaced the single-column tabbed layout with a sidebar + main content area.
  • Persistent Collection Info. Made collection & component views more consistent; kept collection links (Summary, Background, etc.) visible/available from component pages.
  • Width. Widened the largest breakpoint. We wanted to make full use of the screen real estate, especially to make room for potentially lengthy sidebar text.

Navigation

Component pages contextualized through a sidebar navigator and breadcrumb above the main title.
  • Hierarchical Navigation. Restyled & moved the hierarchical tree navigation into the sidebar. This worked well functionally in ArcLight core, but we felt it would be more effective as a navigational aid when presented beside rather than below the content.
  • Tooltips & Popovers. Provided some additional context on mouseovers for some navigational elements.

    Mouseover context in navigation.
  • List Child Components. Added a direct-child list in the main content for any series or other component. This makes for a clear navigable table of what’s in the current series / folder / etc. Paginating it helps with performance in cases where we might have 1,000+ sibling components to load.
  • Breadcrumb Refactor. Emphasized the collection title. Kept some indentation, but aimed for page alignment/legibility plus a balance of emphasis between current component title and collection title.

    Breadcrumb trail to show the current component’s nesting.

Search Results

Search results grouped by collection, with keyword highlighting.
  • “Group by Collection” as the default. Our stakeholders were confused by atomized components as search results outside of the context of their collections, so we tried to emphasize that context in the default search.
  • Revised search result display. Added keyword highlighting within result titles in Grouped or All view. Made Grouped results display checkboxes for bookmarking & digitized content indicators.
  • Advanced Search. Kept the global search box simple but added a modal Advanced search option that adds fielded search and some additional filters.

Digital Objects Integration

Digital objects from the Duke Digital Repository are presented inline in the finding aid component page.
  • DAO Roles. Indexed the @role attribute for <dao> elements; we used that to call templates for different kinds of digital content
  • Embedded Object Viewers. Used the Duke Digital Repository’s embed feature, which renders <iframe>s for images and AV.

Indexing

  • Whitespace compression. Added a step to the pipeline to remove extra whitespace before indexing. This seems to have slightly accelerated our time-to-index rather than slow it down.
  • More text, fewer strings. We encountered cases where note-like fields indexed as strings by ArcLight core (e.g., <scopecontent>) needed to be converted to text because we had more than 32,766 bytes of data (limit for strings) to put in them. In those cases, finding aids were failing to index.
  • Underscores. For the IDs that end up in a URL for a component, we added an underscore between the finding aid slug and the component ID. We felt these URLs would look cleaner and be better for SEO (our slugs often contain names).
  • Dates. Changed the date normalization rules (some dates were being omitted from indexing/display)
  • Bibliographic ID. We succeeded in indexing our bibliographic IDs from our EADs to power a collection-level Request button that leads a user to our homegrown requests system.

Formatting

  • EAD -> HTML. We extended the EAD-to-HTML transformation rules for formatted elements to cover more cases (e.g., links like <extptr> & <extref> or other elements like <archref> & <indexentry>)

    Additional formatting and link render rules applied.
  • Formatting in Titles. We preserved bold or italic formatting in component titles.

ArcLight Core Contributions

  • We have been able to contribute some of our code back to the ArcLight core project to help out other adopters.

Setting the Stage

The behind-the-scenes foundational work deserves mention here — it represents some of the most complex and challenging aspects of the project.  It makes the application development driving the changes I’ve shared above possible.

  • Built separate code repositories for our Duke ArcLight application and our EAD data
  • Gathered a diverse set of 40 representative sample EADs for testing
  • Dockerized our Duke ArcLight app to simplify developer environment setup
  • Provisioned a development/demo server for sharing progress with stakeholders
  • Automated continuous integration and deployment to servers using GitLabCI
  • Performed targeted data cleanup
  • Successfully got all 4,000 of our finding aids indexed in Solr on our demo server

Our team has accomplished a lot in three months, in large part due to the solid foundation the ArcLight core software provides. We’re benefiting from some amazing work done by many, many developers who have contributed their expertise and their code to the Blacklight and ArcLight codebases over the years. It has been a real pleasure to be able to build upon an open source engine– a notable contrast to our previous practice of developing everything in-house for finding aids discovery and access.

Still, much remains to be addressed before we can launch this summer.

The Road Ahead

Here’s a list of big things we still plan to tackle by July (other minor revisions/bugfixes will continue as well)…

  • ASpace -> ArcLight. We need a smoother publication pipeline to regularly get data from ArchivesSpace indexed into ArcLight.
  • Access & Use Statements. We need to revise the existing inheritance rules and make sure these statements are presented clearly. It’s especially important when materials are indeed restricted.
  • Relevance Ranking. We know we need to improve the ranking algorithm to ensure the most relevant results for a query appear first.
  • Analytics. We’ll set up some anonymized tracking to help monitor usage patterns and guide future design decisions.
  • Sitemap/SEO. It remains important that Google and other crawlers index the finding aids so they are discoverable via the open web.
  • Accessibility Testing / Optimization. We aim to comply with WCAG2.0 AA guidelines.
  • Single-Page View. Many of our stakeholders are accustomed to a single-page view of finding aids. There’s no such functionality baked into ArcLight, as its component-by-component views prioritize performance. We might end up providing a downloadable PDF document to meet this need.
  • More Data Cleanup. ArcLight’s feature set (especially around search/browse) reveals more places where we have suboptimal or inconsistent data lurking in our EADs.
  • More Community Contributions. We plan to submit more of our enhancements and bugfixes for consideration to be merged into the core ArcLight software.

If you’re a member of the Duke community, we encourage you to explore our demo and provide feedback. To our fellow future ArcLight adopters, we would love to hear how your implementations or plans are shaping up, and identify any ways we might work together toward common goals.

Stay safe, everyone!

Duke Digital Repository Evolution and a new home page

After nearly a year of work, the libraries recently launched an updated version of the software stack that powers parts the Duke Digital Repository. This work primarily centered around migrating the underlying software in our Samvera implementation — which we use to power the DDR — from ActiveFedora to Valkyrie. Moving to Valkyrie gives us the benefits of improved stability along with the flexibility to use different storage solutions, which in turn provides us with options and some degree of future-proofing. Considerable effort was also spent on updating the public and administrative interfaces to use more recent versions of blacklight and supporting software.

ddr admin interface
Administrative interface for the DDR

We also used this opportunity to revise the repository landing page at repository.duke.edu and I was involved in building a new version of the home page. Our main goals were to make use of a header implementation that mirrored our design work in other recent library projects and that integrated our ‘unified’ navigation, while also maintaining the functionality required by the Samvera software.

Old DDR Homepage
DDR home page before the redesign

We also spent a lot of time thinking about how best to illustrate the components of the Duke Digital Repository while trying to keep the content simple and streamlined. In the end we went with a design that emphasizes the two branches of the repository; Library Collections and Duke Scholarship. Each branch in turn links to two destinations — Digitized Collections / Acquired Materials and the Research Data Repository / DukeSpace. The overall design is more compact than before and hopefully an improvement aesthetically as well.

new DDR homepage
Redesigned DDR home page

We also incorporated a feedback form that is persistent across the interface so that users can more readily report any difficulties they encounter while using the platform. And finally, we updated the content in the footer to help direct users to the content they are more than likely looking for.

Future plans include incorporating our header and footer content more consistently across the repository platforms along with bringing a more unified look and feel to interface components.

Check out the new design and let us know what you think!

ArcLight at the End of the Tunnel

Archival collection guides—also known as finding aids—are a critical part of the researcher experience when finding and accessing materials from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library and the Duke University Archives. At present, we have guides for nearly 4,000 collections with upwards of one million components that have some level of description. Our collection guides site is visited by researchers about 400 times per day.

example finding aid
An example collection guide.

In 2020, we’ll be making significant changes to our systems supporting archival discovery and access. The main impetus for this shift is that our current platform has grown outdated and is no longer sustainable going forward.  We intend to replace our platform with ArcLight, open source software backed by a community of peer institutions.

Finding Aids at Duke: Innovations Past

At Duke, we’re no strangers to pushing the boundaries of archival discovery through advances in technology. Way back in the mid 1990s, Duke was among pioneers rendering SGML-encoded finding aids into HTML.  For most of the 90s and aughts we used a commercial platform, but we decided to develop our own homegrown finding aids front-end in 2007 (using the Apache Cocoon framework). We then replaced it in 2012 with another in-house platform built on the Django web framework.

Since going home-grown in 2007, we have been able to find some key opportunities to innovate within our platforms. Here are a few examples:

finding aid with digitized component
Example archival component with inline embedded digital object and sticky navigation.

So, Why Migrate Now?

Our current platform was pretty good for its time, but a lot has changed in eight years. The way we build web applications today is much different than it used to be. And beyond desiring a modern toolset,  there are major concerns going forward around size, search/indexing, and support.

Size

We have some enormous finding aids. And we have added more big ones over the years. This causes problems of scale, particularly with an interface like ours that renders each collection as a single web page with all of the text of its contents written in the markup. One of our finding aids contains over 21,000 components; all told it is 9MB of raw EAD transformed into 15MB of HTML.

JWT Competitive Ads finding aid
A large finding aid — 15MB of HTML in a single page.

No amount of caching or server wizardry can change the fact that this is simply too much data to be delivered and rendered in a single webpage, especially for researchers in lower-bandwidth conditions. We need a solution that divides the data for any given finding aid into smaller payloads.

Search

Google Custom Search does a pretty nice job of relevance ranking and highlighting where in a finding aid a term matches (after all, that’s Google’s bread-and-butter). However, when used to power search in an application like this, it has some serious limitations. It only returns a maximum of one hundred results per query. Google doesn’t index 100% of the text, especially for our larger finding aids. And some finding aids are just mysteriously omitted despite our best efforts optimizing our markup for SEO and providing a sitemap.

search results powered by Google
Search Results powered by Google Custom Search

We need search functionality where we have complete control of what gets indexed, when, and how. And we need assurance that the entirety of the materials described will be discoverable.

Support

This is a familiar story. Homegrown applications used for several years by organizations with a small number of developers and a large number of projects to support become difficult to sustain over time. We have only one developer remaining who can fix our finding aids platform when it breaks, or prevent it from breaking when the systems around it change. Many of the software components powering the system are at or nearing end-of-life and they can’t be easily upgraded.

Where to Go From Here?

It has been clear for awhile that we would soon need a new platform for finding aids, but not as clear what platform we should pursue. We had been eyeing the progress of two promising open source community-built solutions emerging from our peer institutions: the ArchivesSpace Public UI (PUI), and ArcLight.

Over 2018-19, my colleague Noah Huffman and I co-led a project to install pilot instances of the ASpace PUI and ArcLight, index all of our finding aids in them, and then evaluate the platforms for their suitability to meet Duke’s needs going forward. The project involved gathering feedback from Duke archivists, curators, research services staff, and our digital collections implementation team. We looked at six criteria: 1) features; 2) ease of migration/customization; 3) integration with other systems; 4) data cleanup considerations; 5) impact on existing workflows; 6) sustainability/maintenance.

comparison of PUI and arclight
Comparison of the ASpace PUI and ArcLight, out-of-the-box UI.

There’s a lot to like about both the ASpace PUI and ArcLight. Feature-wise, they’re fairly comparable. Both are backed by a community of talented, respected peers, and either would be a suitable foundation for a usable, accessible interface to archives. In the end, we recommended that Duke pursue ArcLight, in large part due to its similarity to so much of the other software in our IT portfolio.

ArcLight is an extension to Blacklight, which is the key software component powering our library catalog, our Digital Collections / Digital Repository, and our Hyrax-based Research Data Repository. Our developers and operations staff have accumulated considerable experience working together to build, customize, and maintain Blacklight applications.

ArcLight Community Work Cycle: Fall 2019

Duke is certainly not alone in our desire to replace an outdated, unsustainable homegrown finding aids platform, and intention to use ArcLight as a replacement.

This fall, with tremendous leadership from Stanford University Libraries, five universities collaborated on developing the ArcLight software further to address shared needs. Over a nine week work cycle from August to October, we had the good fortune of working alongside Stanford, Princeton, Michigan, and Indiana. The team addressed needs on several fronts, especially: usability, accessibility, indexing, context/navigation, and integrations.

Arclight community work cycle II
Duke joined Stanford, Princeton, Michigan, and Indiana for Arclight Community Work Cycle II in fall 2019.

Three Duke staff members participated: I was a member of the Development Team, Noah Huffman a member of the Product Owners Team, and Will Sexton on the Steering Group.

The work cycle is complete and you can try out the current state of the core  ArcLight demo application. It includes several finding aids from each of the participating partner institutions. Here are just a few highlights that have us excited about bringing ArcLight to Duke:

ArcLight UI screenshots
Search results can be grouped by collection. Faceted navigation helps pinpoint items of interest from deep within a finding aid.
Screenshots of Arclight UI
Components are individually discoverable and have their own pages. Integrations with online content viewers and request systems such as Aeon are possible.

Here’s a final demo video (37 min) that nicely summarizes the work completed in the fall 2019 work cycle.

Lighting the Way

National Forum on Archival Discovery and DeliveryWith some serious momentum from the fall ArcLight work cycle and plans taking shape to implement the software in 2020, the Duke Libraries intend to participate in the Stanford-led, IMLS grant-funded Lighting the Way project, a platform-agnostic National Forum on Archival Discovery and Delivery. Per the project website:

Lighting the Way is a year-long project led by Stanford University Libraries running from September 2019-August 2020 focused on convening a series of meetings focused on improving discovery and delivery for archives and special collections.

Coming in 2020: ArcLight Implementation at Duke

There’ll be much more share about this in the new year, but we are gearing up now for a 2020 ArcLight launch at Duke. As good as the platform is now out-of-the-box, we’ll have to do additional development to address some local needs, including:

  • Duke branding
  • An efficient preview/publication workflow
  • Digital object viewing / repository integration
  • Sitemap generation
  • Some data cleanup

Building these local customizations will be time well-spent. We’ll also look for more opportunities to collaborate with peers and contribute code back to the community. The future looks bright for Duke with ArcLight lighting the way.

Building a new Staff Directory

The staff directory on the Library’s website was last overhauled in late 2014, which is to say that it has gotten a bit long in the tooth! For the past few months I’ve been working along with my colleagues Sean Aery, Tom Crichlow, and Derrek Croney on revamping the staff application to make it more functional, easier to use, and more visually compelling.

staff directory interface
View of the legacy staff directory interface

 

Our work was to be centered around three major components — an admin interface for HR staff, an edit form for staff members, and the public display for browsing people and departments. We spent a considerable amount of time discussing the best ways to approach the infrastructure for the project. In the end we settled on a hybrid approach in which the HR tool would be built as a Ruby-on-Rails application, and we would update our existing custom Drupal module for staff editing and public UI display.

We created a seed file for our Rails app based on the legacy data from the old application and then got to work building the HR interface. We decided to rely on the Rails Admin gem as it met most of our use cases and had worked well on some other internal projects. As we continued to add features, our database models became more and more complex, but working in Rails makes these kind of changes very straightforward. We ended up with two main tables (People and Departments) and four auxiliary tables to store extra attributes (External Contacts, Languages, Subject Areas, and Trainings).

rails admin
View of the Rails Admin dashboard

 

We also made use of the Ancestry gem and the Nestable gem to allow HR staff to visually sort department hierarchy. This makes it very easy to move departments around quickly and using a visual approach, so the next time we have a large department reorganization it will be very easy to represent the changes using this tool.

department sorting
Nestable gem allows for easy sorting of departments

 

After the HR interface was working well, we concentrated our efforts on the staff edit form in Drupal. We’d previously augmented the default Drupal profile editor with our extra data fields, but wanted to create a new form to make things cleaner and easier for staff to use. We created a new ‘Staff Profile’ tab and also included a link on the old ‘Edit’ tab that points to the new form. We’re enabling staff to include their subject areas, preferred personal pronouns, language expertise, and to tie into external services like ORCID and Libguides.

drupal edit form
Edit form for Staff Profile

 

The public UI in Drupal is where most of our work has gone. We’ve created four approaches to browsing; Departments, A–Z, Subject Specialists, and Executive Group. There is also a name search that incorporates typeahead for helping users find staff more efficiently.

The Department view displays a nested view of our complicated organizational structure which helps users to understand how a given department relates to another one. You can also drill down through departments when you’ve landed on a department page.

departments
View of departments

 

Department pages display all staff members therein and positions managers at the top of the display. We also display the contact information for the department and link to the department website if it exists.

department example
Example of a department page

 

The Staff A–Z list allows users to browse through an alphabetized list of all staff in the library. One challenge we’re still working through is staff photos. We are lacking photos for many of our staff, and many of the photos we do have are out of date and inconsistently formatted. We’ve included a default avatar for staff without photos to help with consistency, but they also serve the purpose of highlighting the number of staff without a photo. Stay tuned for improvements on this front!

a-to-z list
A-to-Z browse

 

The Subject Specialists view helps in finding specific subject librarians. We include links to relevant research guides and appointment scheduling. We also have a text filter at the top of the display that can help quickly narrow the results to whatever area you are looking for.

subject specialists
Subject Specialists view

 

The Executive Group display is a quick way to view the leadership of the library.

executive group
Executive Group display

 

One last thing to highlight is the staff display view. We spent considerable effort refining this, and I think our work has really paid off. The display is clean and modern and a great improvement from what we had before.

old profile
View of staff profile in legacy application
updated profile
View of the same profile in the new application

 

In addition to standard information like name, title, contact info, and department, we’re displaying:

  • a large photo of the staff person
  • personal pronouns
  • specialized trainings (like Duke’s P.R.I.D.E. program)
  • links our to ORCID, Libguides, and Libcal scheduling
  • customizable bio (with expandable text display)
  • language expertise
  • subject areas

Our plan is to roll out the new system at the end of the month, so you can look forward to a greatly improved staff directory experience soon!

Web Accessibility: Values and Vigilance

The Duke Libraries are committed to providing outstanding service based on respect and empathy for the diverse backgrounds and needs in our community. Our guiding principles make clear how critically important diversity and inclusion are to the library, and the extent to which we strive to break down barriers to scholarship.

One of the biggest and most important barriers for us to tackle is the accessibility of our web content. Duke University’s Web Accessibility site sums it up well:

Duke believes web content needs to be accessible to people with a wide range of abilities, including visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, language, learning, and neurological abilities.

Screenshot of Duke Web Accessibility homepage
The Duke Web Accessibility website is a tremendous resource for the Duke community.

This belief is also consistent with the core values expressed by the American Library Association (ALA). A library’s website and online resources should be available in formats accessible to people of all ages and abilities.

Web Content

As one of the largest research libraries in the U.S., we have a whole lot of content on the web to consider.

Our website alone comprises over a thousand pages with more than fifty staff contributors. The library catalog interface displays records for over 13 million items at Duke and partner libraries. Our various digital repositories and digital exhibits platforms host hundreds of thousands of interactive digital objects of different types, including images, A/V, documents, datasets, and more. The list goes on.

Any attempt to take a full inventory of the library’s digital content reveals potentially several million web pages under the library’s purview, and all that content is managed and rendered via a dizzying array of technology platforms. We have upwards of a hundred web applications with public-facing interfaces. We built some of these ourselves, some are community-developed (with local customizations), and others we have licensed from vendors. Some interfaces are new, some are old. And some are really old, dating all the way back to the mid-90s.

Ensuring that this content is equally accessible to everyone is important, and it is indeed a significant undertaking. We must also be vigilant to ensure that it stays accessible over time.

With that as our context, I’d like to highlight a few recent efforts in the library to improve the accessibility of our digital resources.

Style Guide With Color Contrast Checks

In January 2019, we launched a new catalog, replacing a decade-old platform and its outdated interface. As we began developing the front-end, we knew we wanted to be consistent, constrained, and intentional in how we styled elements of the interface. We were especially focused on ensuring that any text in the UI had sufficient contrast with its background to be accessible to users with low vision or color-blindness.

We tried out a few existing “living style guide” frameworks. But none of them proved to be a good fit, particularly for color contrast management. So we ended up taking a DIY approach and developed our own living style guide using Javascript and Ruby.

Screenshot of the library catalog style guide showing a color palette.
The library catalog’s living style guide dynamically checks for color contrast accessibility.

Here’s how it works. In our templates we specify the array of color variable names for each category. Then we use client-side Javascript to dynamically measure the hex & RGB values and the luminance of each color in the guide. From those figures, we return score labels for black and white contrast ratios, color-coded for WCAG 2.0 compliance.

This style guide is “living” in that it’s a real-time up-to-date reflection of how elements of the UI will appear when using particular color variable names and CSS classes. It helps to guide developers and other project team members to make good decisions about colors from our palette to stay in compliance with accessibility guidelines.

Audiovisual Captions & Interactive Transcripts

In fall 2017, I wrote about an innovative, custom-developed feature in our Digital Repository that renders interactive caption text for A/V within and below our media player. At that time, however, none of our A/V items making use of that feature were available to the public.  In the months since then, we have debuted several captioned items for public access.

We extended these features in 2018, including: 1) exporting captions on-the-fly as Text, PDF, or original WebVTT files, and 2) accommodating transcript files that originated as documents (PDF, Word)

Screenshot of an interactive transcript with export options
WebVTT caption files for A/V are rendered as interactive HTML transcripts and can be exported into text or PDF.

Two of my talented colleagues have shared more about our A/V accessibility efforts at conferences over the past year. Noah Huffman presented at ARCHIVES*RECORDS (Joint Annual Meeting of CoSA, NAGARA, and SAA) in Aug 2018. And Molly Bragg presented at Digital Library Federation (DLF) Forum (slides) in Nov 2018.

Institutional Repository Accessibility

We have documented our work over 2018 revitalizing DSpace at Duke, and then subsequently developing a new set of innovative features that highlight Duke researchers and the impact of their work. This spring, we took a closer look at our new UI’s accessibility following Duke’s helpful guide.
In the course of this assessment, we were able to identify (and then fix!) several accessibility issues in DukeSpace. I’ll share two strategies in particular from the guide that proved to be really effective. I highly recommend using them frequently.

The Keyboard Test

How easy is it to navigate your site using only your keyboard? Can you get where you want to go using TAB, ENTER, SPACE, UP, and DOWN?  Is it clear which element of the page current has the focus?
Screenshot of DukeSpace homepage showing skip to content link
A “Skip to main content” feature in DukeSpace improves navigation via keyboard or assistive devices.
This test illuminated several problems. But with a few modest tweaks to our UI markup, we were able to add semantic markers to designate page sections and a skip to main content link, making the content much more navigable for users with keyboards and assistive devices alike.

A Browser Extension

If you’re a developer like me, chances are you already spend a lot of time using your browser’s Developer Tools pane to look under the hood of web pages, reverse-engineer UIs, mess with styles and markup, or troubleshoot problems.
The Deque Systems aXe Chrome Extension (also available for Firefox) integrates seamlessly into existing Dev Tools. It’s a remarkably useful tool to have in your toolset to help quickly find and fix accessibility issues. Its interface is clear and easy to understand. It finds and succinctly describes accessibility problems, and even tells you how to fix them in your code.
An image from the Deque aXe Chrome extension site showing the tool in action.
With aXe testing, we quickly learned we had some major issues to fix. The biggest problems revealed were missing form labels and page landmarks, and low contrast on color pairings. Again, these were not hard to fix since the tool explained what to do, and where.
Turning away from DSpace for a moment, see this example article published on a popular academic journal’s website. Note how it fares with an automated aXe accessibility test (197 violations of various types found).  And if you were using a keyboard, you’d have to press Tab over 100 times in order to download a PDF of the article.
Screenshot of aXe Chrome extension running on a journal website.
UI for a published journal article in a publisher’s website after running the aXe accessibility test. Violations found: 197.

Now, let’s look at the open access copy of that same article that resides in our DukeSpace site. With our spring 2019 DukeSpace accessibility revisions in place, when we run an aXe test, we see zero accessibility violations. Our interface is also now easily navigated without a mouse.

Screenshot or DukeSpace UI showing no violations found by aXe accessibility checker
Open access copy of an article in DukeSpace: No accessibility violations found.

Here’s another example of an open access article in DukeSpace vs. its published counterpart in the website of a popular journal (PNAS).  While the publisher’s site markup addresses many common accessibility issues, it still shows seven violations in aXe. And perhaps most concerning is that it’s completely unnavigable via a keyboard: the stylesheets have removed all focus styles from displaying.

Concluding Thoughts

Libraries are increasingly becoming champions for open access to scholarly research. The overlap in aims between the open access movement and web accessibility in general is quite striking. It all boils down to removing barriers and making access to information as inclusive as possible.

Our open access repository UIs may never be able to match all the feature-rich bells and whistles present in many academic journal websites. But accessibility, well, that’s right up our alley. We can and should do better. It’s all about being true to our values, collaborating with our community of peers, and being vigilant in prioritizing the work.

Look for many more accessibility improvements throughout many of the library’s digital resources as the year progresses.


Brief explanatory note about the A11Y++ image in this post: A11Y is a numeronym — shorthand for the word “accessibility” and conveniently also visually resembling the word “ally.” The “++” is an increment operator in many programming languages, adding one to a variable. 

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

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

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

LibKey Discovery logo

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

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

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

Pros

  • One-Click Article and Full Journal Access

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

  • Streamlined Appearance

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

  • Seamless Integration

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

Cons

  • Cost

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

  • Inconsistency in Options

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

LibKey Discovery User Testing Findings

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

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

LibKey Summary

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

Kopernio logo

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

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

Pros

  • OA Content + Library Subscription

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

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

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

  • One-Click

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

Cons

  • Creates New Pain Points

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

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

Screenshot: Sharing articles through Kopernio
Sharing an article through Kopernio

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

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

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

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

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

Lean Library Logo

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

Conclusion

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

New Duke Libraries catalog to go live January 16

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

What to expect from the new catalog

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

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

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

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

We welcome your feedback

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

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

Find your haven at Oasis Perkins

(Thanks to Assessment and User Experience Intern Brenda Yang for this post and for her amazing work on Oasis Perkins!)

What if it was possible to unwind – color, do a jigsaw puzzle, meditate – without leaving the Libraries?

It is at Oasis Perkins! This high-ceilinged refuge is tucked into the fourth floor of Perkins in room 418. It’s a perfect place to escape any finals-related tension palpable in study spaces this time of year.

A floor plan showing the location of Oasis Perkins on the 4th Floor of Perkins LibraryYou’ll find:

  • Yoga mats and meditation cushions
  • A jigsaw puzzle table
  • Coloring books, logic puzzles, and sudoku pages
  • Origami paper and instruction books
  • A quiet nook
  • A white noise machine
  • Plenty of natural light (during the day)
  • And more to explore!

Unlike other fourth floor spaces in Perkins and Bostock meant for silent study, feel free to chat and connect with a friend or strangers, or simply sit and reflect quietly.

How did Oasis Perkins come to be?

A photo of different types of teas from the Tea-laxation event.

One major motivation was direct feedback from students. Comments from our 2018 Student Library Satisfaction Survey made clear that while study spaces at the Duke Libraries are a keystone of many students’ academic lives, it can be a stressful place, especially during the exam season: “I love coming to the library during most of the semester… particularly during finals, there is an overwhelming sense of stress that emanates from the other students at the library.” A few students explicitly requested “a room to relax,” a place to have have a “refreshing study break without leaving the library somehow,” or a “stress-relief room.”

We hope that Oasis Perkins can serve as a dedicated place for students to nurture their well-being, fitting into the ecosystem of Oasis West and Oasis East (which are managed by Duke Wellness). However, Oasis Perkins is located, of course, right inside of Perkins Library – and its doors don’t close.

You’ll also find occasional events hosted in Oasis Perkins, from Koru Meditation classes to “Tea-laxation” events. Check out the Oasis Perkins webpage to stay up to date on events, or be in touch if your organization would like to host a relevant get together in this space!

You can find a smaller space on the second floor at the Prayer and Meditation Room in Perkins 220.

Other Wellness Resources at Duke

For other tips and events to help you end the semester strong, check out the Duke Libraries End of Semester Survival Guide. There are also a number of resources right on Duke’s campus to support your mental health, which include:

Oasis Perkins has existed in its current form for only one short semester! Is there something that could change about the Oasis Perkins that would help you re-charge? Our team at the Libraries would love to make it better for you. Fill out a feedback from in the suggestion box in Oasis Perkins, or reach out to brenda.yang@duke.edu with your comments or suggestions.

Highlighting Duke Scholars Alongside Their Research

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

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

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

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

Scholars@Duke Author Profiles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other New Features

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

Citations

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

DukeSpace citation for a dissertation
DukeSpace citation for a dissertation

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

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

 

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

Homepage

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

 

Final Thoughts

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


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

Understanding the experiences and needs of 1G students at Duke

How can the Duke Libraries support the needs of first-generation (1G) college students at Duke?

A team of library staff became interested in this question after noticing that 1G students’ responses to a survey question about the Libraries were different from those of continuing-generation students. While many 1G students are successful in and out of Duke classrooms, we wondered how their experiences might differ from those of continuing-generation students.

To begin our project, we read existing research on academic libraries’ support of 1G students and spoke  with offices on campus that support 1G students, such as the Duke Office of Access & Outreach. Then, we conducted six focus groups with 1G students, in addition to analyzing responses from the Libraries’ 2018 user survey (which included 2,381 student responses) for 1G and continuing generation students. Our full report discusses this process and our findings in more detail, including concrete recommendations for improving library services.

While the experiences of 1G students are not monolithic, we identified nine core findings, which speak to challenges students experience and suggest specific points for intervention and support. One important overall finding is that 1G challenges are student challenges: support or expansions of campus and library services targeted toward 1G students will help all students succeed.

Finding 1. 1G students perceive a dearth of academic and social information capital.

We asked all focus group participants the following, “Have you ever felt like other people around you know things about college that you don’t know about?” Each time, the response from the group was an overwhelming expression of, “Yes, of course, all the time.” One student captured the experience of her continuing-generation:

“Who told you that? Have you been told your whole life you have to do this? Was there an info session I missed?”

Students repeatedly referred to Duke’s demanding academic environment and the abrupt transition from their high school habits to the expectations of Duke classrooms. At times Duke staff may also take for granted how much knowledge incoming students have.

Information capital is not limited to classrooms; it is also used in social contexts and in navigating college life. 1G experiences are diverse: while some students reported feelings of isolation, others described feeling supported through orientation programs and a lively community on Duke’s East Campus, where many undergraduates live.

While 1G students perceive that continuing generation students are able to rely on family to guide them through the myriad of informational and financial challenges encountered in college, 1G students do not have access to this information from their parents. In addition, they sometimes feel unable to share the stress of college with their parents.

“You have the pressure of pretending ‘I’m okay.’  My parents are so proud of me that I can’t tell them what’s really going on.”

Finding 2. Finances are stressful, and an early source of feeling unwelcome.

Our past research suggested that feeling that one doesn’t belong is a global concern for first-years adjusting to life on a college campus, and one particularly poignant for 1G students. Duke is no exception. Several focus group participants shared comments they received from their peers after revealing that they were the first in their families to attend college:

“Oh you’re smart for a first-generation student. I never would have known!”

First-year focus group participants quoted other early encounters with roommates or colleagues that continued to sting. Many of these comments reflect the fact that financial security is one of the starkest differentiators between many 1G students and their peers at Duke.

“There’s definitely a mentality that exists at Duke that middle class is poor and lower class is even worse. Not that everybody is like that, but it certainly exists.”

When 1G students reveal aspects of their own financial circumstances to their peers, they receive blowback in several ways. For example, a few students shared that their financial aid was stigmatized, with other students suggesting that those who receive aid are very “lucky” to pay so little, or stating explicitly their own significant costs of attendance, possibly to engender shame or guilt. These experiences are formative, alienating, and angering.

Finding 3. An ecosystem of supportive offices and people on campus is critical, but knowledge of and willingness to access resources takes time.

The landscape described above is important to understand because it is the one 1G students step into when they arrive at Duke. However, peer attitudes and financial impediments are difficult intervention points. In contrast, faculty, older peers, and staff are better positioned to be support systems native to the institution:

“When you go to Duke resources, people are more than happy to help you. Adults at Duke are much more receptive and much more understanding of our issues as first-generation students.”

In general, students spoke warmly of the many services, programs, and offices offered on campus. This included the Office of A&O, resident assistants (RAs), peer advisors, a close community on East Campus as freshmen, pre-orientation, the Women’s Center, the Financial Aid office, Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS), Duke Reach, and cultural student groups.

Word cloud of campus spaces that 1G focus group respondents identified as safe and welcoming

The staff in the Office of A&O were mentioned frequently. Students praised staff members, citing their open door policy, knowledge, and willingness to offer genuine and consistent support.

Unfortunately, some students reported feeling stigmatized by others when they were known to have used campus resources such as CAPS, the Academic Resource Center (ARC), the Women’s Center, and identity centers.

Finding 4. The cost of textbooks is a special pain point.

In most focus groups, students shared the challenge, stress, and fear of purchasing expensive textbooks. This anxiety about textbooks rests on top of an ongoing concern about finances. Students described extensive efforts to find affordable copies, taking great pains to maintain their workbooks so they could re-sell them at the end of the semester, and to locate upper-level textbooks that were not available through Textbook on Reserve.

“[Laughter] I’ve never researched so hard as when I’m looking for a digital version of a textbook!”

Students who knew about and utilized the Libraries Textbooks on Reserve made special note of its impact and importance in alleviating some financial burden.

“The textbook rental program has been really important and impactful for me… To get them here and be able to rent them out for 3 hours has been perfect. It’s really important to have that.”

Results from the Libraries biennial student survey also support the idea that the Textbooks on Reserve program is particularly important for 1G students.

Finding 5. 1G challenges are challenges common to many Duke students.

Broadly speaking, 1G students’ responses to our 2018 survey did not differ from those of continuing-generation students. Both groups are generally confident in their ability to use library resources and report that they have successfully used the library and/or the library website to find research articles and books for class assignments. They find the website easy to use, believe that the library is welcoming, that library staff are helpful, and that the library is an important part of their experience at Duke.

1G students were more likely to report that expansion of the Textbooks on Reserve program and the device-lending program (for borrowing equipment such as laptops or cameras) would improve their library experience a great deal.

Overall, the four areas in which more than 50% of all undergraduates responded that expanded services would improve their library experience “a lot” include:

  • More spaces for quiet/individual study
  • More textbooks to check out for my classes
  • Additional specialized spaces for honors researchers, graduate students, or other student populations
  • More spaces for collaborative study

Survey data indicated a few differences between the services that 1G and continuing generation students believe to be important to their academics. The chart below shows services that 1G students more frequently listed as “important” than continuing generation students.

Survey responses of services that are important to students. Items shown are those that reflect a greater than 10%-pt difference between 1G and continuing generation students

Finding 6. It is sometimes hard to find existing resources at the Libraries.

When asked about services they wish they had known about earlier, our 1G focus group participants mentioned the Textbooks on Reserve program, library workshops (e.g., Matlab workshops), subject librarians, lockers available for short-term use, and the ability to reserve study rooms. Students described numerous library resources they have discovered seemingly by chance or long after their first semester at Duke. At multiple points during the focus groups students expressed that important services are not adequately marketed or shared with all 1G students. First-year 1G students reiterated the feeling of “unknown unknowns”: of understanding that many resources are available, but often finding it difficult to locate specific points of access.

Finding 7. Getting help from experts at the Libraries is important, but difficult.

1G students indicated that reaching out to library staff can be intimidating or even frightening. They described an initial barrier to asking for help, even while knowing it is likely the best way to receive assistance. Students noted feeling that their questions are “silly,” and they believe they have “gaps” in their knowledge. Students also reflected that it would be helpful for the person providing guidance to understand students’ lack of familiarity with library resources and services.

“We have a librarian for an English department, and for the Linguistics department… but it would be awesome to have a 1G librarian. Just someone who already knows that we don’t know anything, and it’s okay.”

Finding 8. Checking out books using call numbers is daunting.

Focus group participants frequently noted difficulty finding and checking out books using call numbers. 1G students did not pin this difficulty on library staff, but rather on their own lack of knowledge.

“The assumption is that we’ve been in libraries before.  They [library staff] were helpful after I admitted I didn’t know my way around.”

The stacks are an understandably daunting environment, especially for those unfamiliar with academic libraries. Students reported feeling supported once they made their confusion clear. Previous assessments have shown that the difficulty of understanding call numbers and finding materials in the Libraries is one experienced by many students, regardless of 1G status.

Finding 9. While students generally view the Libraries as a safe space, 1G students feel less strongly that this is true.

Some of the most striking differences in responses between 1G and continuing-generation students relate to the survey question asking the extent to which both Duke Campus and the Libraries feel like a safe space. For the purposes of the user survey, a “safe space” was defined as a place in which people can feel safe from discrimination, harassment, and any other emotional or physical harm.

Only 20% of 1G students “strongly agree” that Duke Campus is a safe space for them, compared to 36% of continuing-generation students. While it is a small percent, four times as many 1G students (4% compared to 1%) “strongly disagree” that campus is a safe space for them. Duke University has some work to do before all students, and especially 1G students, feel that it is a safe space.

Both 1G and continuing generation students feel strongly that the Libraries are more of a safe space than Duke University. This is encouraging, as a major goal of the Libraries is to provide a welcoming space for all. Differences in feelings about the Libraries as a safe space between 1G and non-1G are less stark but still present: 52% of 1G students “strongly agree” that the Libraries are a safe space compared to 61% of continuing-generation students.

Summary

First-generation students are resilient and successful members of the Duke community. The early years on campus, which involve finding the right communities for support and learning new academic skills, can be a difficult transition for some. While all students experience challenges in college, 1G students may not have access to certain sources of information capital and can have significant financial stressors that are difficult for many peers to understand. The Duke University Libraries are well poised to support the success of 1G students on campus. Library staff can help reduce the burdens associated with transitioning from high school to college by making academic and research support known to students early and often, providing access to cost-prohibitive textbooks, and continuing to make the Duke Libraries a welcoming space for all students.

What’s next?

These findings became the basis of the 19 recommendations outlined in the research team’s full report. For example, one important recommendation was to expand the Textbooks on Reserve program. Though the library already had a pilot program, it became clear that all students would benefit from expanding the program to include more textbooks and increasing marketing of the program. This fall the program expanded to include textbooks from the 100 largest courses on campus, and the Libraries has already seen an increase in student use of these books. There was also a recommendation that a librarian be designated as a 1G Student Success Librarian as a way to build the ecosystem of supportive offices and people described in focus groups. Arianne Hartsell-Gundy is currently serving in this role as a way to coordinate the libraries’ efforts, make connections with other programs and departments providing support, and serve as a point of contact for 1G students.

Additionally, The Libraries formed a 1G Study Recommendations Implementation Team (headed by the 1G Student Success Librarian) to prioritize recommendations and work across the Libraries to improve services, library instruction, and marketing/outreach to 1G students. One of the team’s first projects was to increase the library presence during the Rubenstein Scholars summer program. In addition to providing a library instruction session and one-on-one appointments with the students in this program, librarians attended a poster session and a mixer as a way to increase their presence. Also, the team is engaging with the staff dedicated to working on our service desks to find ways to help students feel more comfortable asking questions and navigating our book stacks. The team is pleased with their progress thus far and looks forward to finding new ways to connect with and support 1G students.

By: Joyce Chapman, Brenda Yang, Arianne Hartsell-Gundy, Emily Daly