Category Archives: User Experience

A collaborative approach to developing a new Duke Libraries catalog

Post contributed by: Emily Daly, Thomas Crichlow, and Cory Lown

If you’re a frequent or even casual user of the Duke Libraries catalog, you’ve probably noticed that it’s remained remarkably consistent over the last decade. Consistency can be a good thing, but there is certainly room for improvement in the Duke Libraries catalog, and staff from the libraries at Duke, UNC, and NCSU are excited to replace the current catalog’s aging infrastructure and outdated user interface with an entirely new collaboratively developed open-source discovery layer. While many things are changing, one key feature will remain the same: The catalog will continue to allow users to locate and access materials not only here at Duke but also across the other Triangle Research Libraries member libraries (NCSU, NCCU, UNC).

Users will be able to search for items in the Duke Libraries catalog and then expand to see books and items from NCSU, NCCU, and UNC if they wish.

Commitment to collaboration

In addition to an entirely new central index that supports institutional and consortial searching, the new catalog benefits from a shared, centrally developed codebase as well as locally hosted, customizable catalog interfaces. Perhaps most notably, the new catalog has been built with the needs of library and complex bibliographic data in mind. While the software used for the current library catalog has evolved and grown in complexity to support e-commerce and business needs (not higher ed or library needs), the library software development community has been hard at work building specialized discovery layers using the open-source Blacklight framework. Peer institutions including Stanford, Cornell, and Princeton are already using Blacklight for their library catalogs, and there is an active Blacklight development community that Duke is excited to be a part of. Being part of this community enables us to build on the good work already in place in other library catalogs, including more intuitive facets, adaptive linking for subjects and other fields, a more responsive user interface for access via tablets and phones, and the ability to preserve the order of MARC fields when it’s useful to researchers (MARC is an international standard for representing bibliographic and related data).

We’re upping our collaboration game locally, too: This project has given us the opportunity to develop a new model for collaborative software development. Rather than reinvent the wheel at each Triangle Research Library, we’re combining effort and expertise to develop a feature-rich yet highly customizable discovery layer that will serve the needs of researchers across the triangle. To do this, we have adopted an agile project management process with talented developers and dedicated product owners from NCSU, UNC, and Duke. The agile approach has helped us be more productive and efficient during the development phase and increased collaboration across the four Triangle Research Libraries, positioning us well for maintaining and governing the catalog after we go live.

This image depicts the structure of the development team that was formed in May 2017 to collaboratively build the new library catalog.

What’s next?

The development team has already conducted multiple rounds of user testing and made changes to the user interface based on findings. We’re now ready to hear feedback from library staff. To facilitate this, we’ll be launching the Duke instance of the catalog to all library staff next Wednesday, August 1. We encourage staff to explore catalog features and records and then report feedback, providing screenshots, URLs, and other details as needed. We’ll continue user testing this fall and solicit extensive feedback from faculty, students, staff, and general researchers.

Our plan (fingers crossed!) is to officially launch the new Duke Libraries catalog to all users in early 2019, perhaps as soon as the start of the spring semester. A local implementation team is already at work to be sure we’re ready to replace Duke’s old catalog with the new and improved version early next year. Meanwhile, development and interface enhancement of the catalog will continue this fall. While we are pleased with what we’ve accomplished over the last 18 months, there is still significant work to be done before we’ll be ready to go live. Here are a few items on the lengthy TO DO list:

  • finish loading the 16 million records from all four Triangle Research libraries
  • integrate Duke’s request workflows so users can request items they discover in the new catalog
  • develop a robust Advanced Search interface in response to user demand
  • tune relevance ranking
  • ensure that non-Roman scripts are searchable and display correctly
  • map non-MARC metadata so items such as digital collections records are discoverable
Effective search and display of non-Roman scripts is just one of the many items left on our list before we launch the library catalog to the public.

There is a lot of work ahead to be sure, but what we will launch to staff next week is a functional catalog with nearly 10 million records, and that number is increasing by the day. We invite you to take the new catalog for a spin and tell us what you think so we can make improvements and be ready for all researchers in just a few short months.

Textbooks and Bean Bags: The 2018 Student Library Satisfaction Survey

This spring, Duke University Libraries conducted the 2018 biennial user satisfaction survey, a large survey of students and faculty at Duke. The goal of the survey is to gauge overall user satisfaction and to gather specific ideas for improvements to DUL materials, services, and spaces. In this post, we’ll share some of the trends within the student responses.

Survey methodology

Since 2013, DUL has created custom surveys rather than use generic survey products, allowing us to customize questions to different patron groups and even different parts of the campus libraries system. Developing and analyzing the results of a customized survey, however, is no small feat! The survey is run every two years, in part because the full cycle of survey development, dissemination, analysis, and follow-up takes the entire two years.

The 2018 survey was deployed in January 2018. A sample of students and faculty received personal invitations over email, but the survey was also advertised on the DUL website and open to anyone. We received responses from 2,610 students. We don’t have full demographic information for everyone, but approximately 54% of the students for whom we have demographics were undergraduates. The survey took approximately five to seven minutes to complete.

Two pie charts. One pie chart shows the distribution of the total 2,610 student participants (48% undergraduate, 41% graduate, 12% unknown). The second pie chart shows the distribution of the 2,307 participants that don't include unknown (54% undergraduate, 46% graduate).
After the survey closed, a group of seven staff at DUL divided up approximately 3,600 free-text responses and manually coded them for topic and, where appropriate, whether they were a request for a new service or change in existing policy or a compliment. The survey data have been visualized in a series of public dashboards. To gather additional information about some of the results, the Assessment & User Experience department also hosted several follow-up focus groups with both students and faculty. The focus group results, while not incorporated into the survey dashboards, have been incorporated into summary reports and recommendations.

The good

“I think the library is one of the places of greatest mutual respect on campus. There is less social stratification and freer flow of interaction. I enjoy my time in the library quite a lot.”

The survey included questions that everyone answered and questions that were specific to different libraries. All survey participants identified which library they visited most frequently. For students, 77% selected Perkins & Bostock as their primary libraries. Only 3% (76 students) reported that they don’t physically visit a library.

A bubble chart showing the libraries visited most frequently by students. Perkins & Bostock Libraries are highest with 77%, followed by Lilly Library with 11% and Divinity Library with 6%.

The libraries are considered an important part of the Duke experience by over 80% of participants. Focusing on the students who picked Perkins & Bostock as their primary libraries, we can look at usage of and satisfaction with the library. Of the 1,978 students who responded, over 80% visit Perkins & Bostock at least once a week. And by and large, students are quite satisfied with Perkins & Bostock. Less than 1% of responses fall in the “not satisfied at all” or “not very satisfied” categories, and the vast majority are very satisfied.

Three related bar charts. The first bar chart shows responses to a question asking students to agree that the library is an important part of their experience. 30% of students selected "somewhat agree," and 51% selected "strongly agree." A second chart shows that, for the Perkins & Bostock Libraries, 18% of students visit once a week, 38% visit more than once a week, and 25% visit daily. The third chart shows that for overall satisfaction with Perkins & Bostock, 14% are somewhat satisfied, 65% are very satisfied, and 21% are extremely satisfied.

The Duke University Libraries value diversity of thought, perspective, experience, and background and are actively committed to a culture of inclusion and respect. Beyond gauging user satisfaction, this year we also asked students about their impressions of Duke and DUL as safe spaces. (In the survey, “safe space” was defined as “a place in which people can feel safe from discrimination, harassment, and any other emotional or physical harm.”) We were excited to find that overall students agree that DUL is a safe space (92% respond with “agree” or “strongly agree”), even more than they agree that Duke University as a whole is a safe space (78% response with “agree” or “strongly agree”). Similarly, when asked if the library is a welcoming place, almost 90% agreed. Despite these encouraging numbers, we are committed to continuing to improve in this area wherever we can.

Three related bar charts. The first chart shows that when asked if Duke University is a safe space, 44% somewhat agree and 34% strongly agree. The second chart shows that when asked if the Duke Libraries are a safe space, 32% somewhat agree and 60% strongly agree. The third chart shows that when asked if the library is a welcoming place, 35% somewhat agree and 53% strongly agree.

The So-So

“I use the libraries a lot to study (esp Bostock) with friends, which is both helpful for me academically and comforting for me socially. The libraries fills up pretty often during busy times, so I wonder if more chairs would help accommodate more students (not even more tables, just more seating). Thanks!”

Even though by-and-large students are satisfied with the libraries, they were not afraid to let us know what areas could be improved! They gave us their constructive criticism in a few ways. First, we asked students to offer their opinions on the possibility of expanding different types of library services. Next, we asked how important specific services, materials, and spaces were, as well as how they were meeting the students’ needs. Finally, we gave them the opportunity to offer additional comments about DUL and suggestions on how to make DUL more of a safe space.

When we asked students what services should be expanded, students were most likely to vote for more spaces for individual study, more spaces for collaborative study, and more textbooks to check out. A second tier of requests include better signage, delivery of items between campuses, lockers, and help with digital scholarship.

A stacked bar chart showing the results to a question about the desirability of various specific services. The most desirable service is "more spaces for quiet or individual study," which 88% of responding students said would improve their experience either a little or a lot. Second is "more spaces for collaborative study" with 80% of responding students. Third is "more textbooks to check out for my classes" with 71% of responding students.

Looking at library-specific responses, we can find a bit more detail about these requests. When looking for services that are both important and not meeting students’ needs, we can see that reservable project/study rooms, a variety of seating options,  adequate quiet study space, and textbooks on reserve all appear in the high quadrant for both importance and not meeting students’ needs.

A scatterplot showing that four services are high on importance and on the percentage of students whose needs are not met: adequate quiet study space; variety of seating options; reservable study/project rooms; and print book, textbooks and articles on reserve for classes.

While not every student followed up on these questions with free-text explanations, the analysis of the free-text comments are consistent with these results. Of the 769 student comments that included requests for new services or a change in policy (rather than compliments), the top code was study/research space, which accounts for approximately 12% of the total requests. The second most frequent code was noise (about 9.5% of the requests), clarifying some of the complaints about “adequate quiet study space.” Requests often include a desire for the Libraries’ quiet space policies to be better enforced. The third most frequent code was atmosphere/sense of welcome – e.g., how inviting the library feels, feelings of “stress in the air.” This code was applied to just over 8% of the requests.

A bar chart showing the top 10 topical tags for requests, including study/research space (about 12%), noise (about 9.5%), and atmosphere/sense of welcome (just over 8%)

Security, furniture, advertising, and signage also ranked highly among requests. Students seem especially desirous of “comfortable” seating; write-in comments mention several types of comfortable seating by name, including couches and bean bags.

The Unknown

“Having taken this survey, I have realized that there are many things which the Duke University Libraries offer which I am not currently taking advantage of…”

While student needs and reactions change over time, one thing remains the same: they unknowingly request services we already offer. Sometimes the survey itself alerts students to particular services.

When we ask students how certain services are meeting their needs or which services should be expanded, we offer a choice labelled “I didn’t know the the library provided this.” Here are some of our most pressing “marketing opportunities,” according to the number of people who were unaware of the service.

A dumbbell plot showing the percentage of students who didn't know about a service, split into those who did find the service important to their research, coursework or teaching and those who did not. Regardless of importance, the service with the highest percentage of students who did not know about it was "support for using, analyzing, and visualizing data." Second highest was "self-checkout stations," followed by "scheduled assistance from library staff."

For each service, there are two values – one for the students who marked the service as important and another for those who didn’t. As might be expected, awareness is always lower among students who don’t find the service important, but there are also services that have lower awareness overall. Services like support analyzing data, self-checkout stations, meetings with library staff, and reservable interview rooms may be good candidates for increased marketing. (If you look at the previous scatterplot, you’ll see that reservable interview rooms also had a high value for students whose needs weren’t being met, even though it’s not rated very highly on importance.)

Another good indicator of marketing opportunities is our analysis of the students’ free-text comments. Some of the major requests from students actually match up well with some of our existing but possibly under-advertised services.

We already know that students are always on the lookout for quiet study spaces. This need is especially pronounced for graduate students, who seem to feel outnumbered by undergraduates, who need quiet space for long periods to work on independent research projects, and who don’t always have private office space elsewhere on campus. When we asked students about services they would like us to expand, we offered them the opportunity to comment on “Additional specialized spaces for honors researchers, graduate students, or other student populations.” Out of 281 total comments on additional specialized spaces, 142 (or almost 51%) mentioned graduate students. In analyzing the comments and in follow-up focus groups with graduate students, however, it appears that many are not aware of either one or both of the dedicated graduate student spaces in Perkins Library.

Riess Graduate Student Reading Room

a photo from outside a room, showing 2 large tables with 8 chairs each and outlets along the top. The room has windows along the back wall and a keypad on the door.

The graduate reading room is a shared reading space for graduate students on the 2nd floor of Perkins. It has a key pad entry code that can be obtained from the Library Service Desk. The room is has good natural lighting and is an “absolutely quiet” zone. Some of the requests indicate that students would like more individual desks, however, so some students may be unsatisfied with this as the only dedicated space open to all graduate students.

Graduate Research Commons

a photo of a room with many cubicles and lockers and a few windows in the back

In the spring of 2016, a large room on the second floor of Perkins was converted into the Graduate Research Commons. The space has 27 individual cubicles of two different heights, adjustable sit-stand desks, and dedicated lockers for all users. The room also includes a technology center with an e-Print terminal, a scanner, and a desktop computer with the Adobe software suite.

Unlike the Graduate Reading Room, however, students must apply for access to the Graduate Research Commons. Despite its many features, the space has been underutilized, and it appears that many students are not familiar with it and have never tried to apply for access. A review of this space could reveal ways to market and set policies for the space.

Next Steps

To determine the most needed and feasible improvements for follow-up, the Assessment & User Experience department will host a DUL-wide staff workshop in July to review the results and make specific recommendations to improve the experience of all of our users. Contact us if you would like information more about this workshop.

We look forward to sharing more of our progress on this and other assessment projects for DUL in the future!

Revitalizing DSpace at Duke

Near the tail end of 2017, the Duke Libraries committed to a major multi-version upgrade for DukeSpace (powered by the open-source repository platform DSpace), and assembled an Avengers-like team to combine its members’ complementary powers to conquer it together.  The team persisted through several setbacks and ultimately prevailed in its mission. The new site launched successfully in March 2018.

That same team is now back for a sequel, collaborating to tackle additional issues around system integrations, statistics/reporting, citations, and platform maintenance. Phase II of the project will wrap up this summer.

I’d like to share a bit more about the DSpace upgrade project, beginning with some background on why it’s important and where the platform fits into the larger picture at Duke. Then I’ll share more about the areas to which we have devoted the most developer time and attention over the past several months.   Some of the development efforts were required to make DSpace 6 viable at all for Duke’s ongoing needs. Other efforts have been to strengthen connections between DukeSpace and other platforms.  We have also been enhancing several parts of the user interface to optimize its usability and visual appeal.

DSpace at Duke: What’s in It?

Duke began using DSpace around 2006 as a solution for Duke University Archives to collect and preserve electronic theses and dissertations (ETDs). In 2010, the university adopted an Open Access policy for articles authored by Duke faculty, and DukeSpace became the host platform to make these articles accessible under the policy. These two groups of materials represent the vast majority of the 15,000+ items currently in the platform. Ensuring long-term preservation, discovery, and access to these items is central to the library’s mission.

Integrations With Other Systems

DukeSpace is one of three key technology platforms working in concert to support scholarly communications at Duke. The other two are the proprietary Research Information Management System Symplectic Elements, and the open-source research networking tool VIVO (branded as Scholars@Duke). Here’s a diagram illustrating how the platforms work together, created by my colleague Paolo Mangiafico:

Credit: Paolo Mangiafico

 

In a nutshell, DSpace plays a critical role in Duke University scholars’ ability to have their research easily discovered, accessed, and used.

  • Faculty use Elements to manage information about their scholarly publications. That information is pulled neatly into Scholars@Duke which presents for each scholar an authoritative profile that also includes contact info, courses taught, news stories in which they’re mentioned,  and more.
  • The Scholars@Duke profile has an SEO-friendly URL, and the data from it is portable: it can be dynamically displayed anywhere else on the web (e.g., departmental websites).
  • Elements is also the place where faculty submit the open access copies of their articles; Elements in turn deposits those files and their metadata to DSpace. Faculty don’t encounter DSpace at all in the process of submitting their work.
  • Publications listed in a Scholars@Duke profile automatically include a link to the published version (which is often behind a paywall), and a link to the open access copy in DSpace (which is globally accessible).

Upgrading DSpace: Ripple Effects

The following diagram expands upon the previous one. It adds boxes to the right to account for ETDs and other materials deposited to DSpace either by batch import mechanisms or directly via the application’s web input forms. In a vacuum, a DSpace upgrade–complex as that is in its own right–would be just the green box. But as part of an array of systems working together, the upgrade meant ripping out and replacing so much more. Each white star on the diagram represents a component that had to be thoroughly investigated and completely re-done for this upgrade to succeed.

One of the most complicated factors in the upgrade effort was the bidirectional arrow marked “RT2”:  Symplectic’s new Repository Tools 2 connector. Like its predecessor RT1, it facilitates the deposit of files and metadata from Elements into DSpace (but now via different mechanisms). Unlike RT1, RT2 also permits harvesting files and metadata from DSpace back into Elements, even for items that weren’t originally deposited via Elements.  The biggest challenges there:

  • Divergent metadata architecture. DukeSpace and Elements employ over 60 metadata fields apiece (and they are not the same).
  • Crosswalks. The syntax for munging/mapping data elements from Elements to DSpace (and vice versa) is esoteric, new, and a moving target.
  • Legacy/inconsistent data. DukeSpace metadata had not previously been analyzed or curated in the 12 years it had been collected.
  • Newness. Duke is likely the first institution to integrate DSpace 6.x & Elements via RT2, so a lot had to be figured out through trial & error.

Kudos to superhero metadata architect Maggie Dickson for tackling all of these challenges head-on.

User Interface Enhancements in Action

There are over 2,000 DSpace instances in the world. Most implementors haven’t done much to customize the out-of-the-box templates, which look something like this for an item page:

DSpace interface out of the box. From http://demo.dspace.org/xmlui/

The UI framework itself is outdated (driven via XSLT 1.0 through Cocoon XML pipelines), which makes it hard for anyone to revise substantially. It’s a bit like trying to whittle a block of wood into something ornate using a really blunt instrument. The DSpace community is indeed working on addressing that for DSpace 7.0, but we didn’t have the luxury to wait. So we started with the vanilla template and chipped away at it, one piece at a time. These screenshots highlight the main areas we have been able to address so far.

Bootstrap / Bootswatch Theme

We layered on the same adapted Bootswatch theme in use by the Duke Libraries’ Drupal website and Duke Digital Repository, then applied the shared library masthead. This gives DukeSpace a fairly common look and feel with the rest of the library’s web presence.

Images, Icons, and Filesizes

We configured DSpace to generate and display thumbnail images for all items. Then we added icons corresponding to MIME types to help distinguish different kinds of files. We added really prominent indicators for when an item was embargoed (and when it would become available), and also revised the filesize display to be more clear and concise.

Usage & Attention Stats

Out of the box, DSpace item statistics are only available by clicking a link on the item page to go to a separate stats page. We figured out how to tap into the Solr statistics core and transform that data to display item views and file downloads directly in the item sidebar for easier access. We were also successful showing an Altmetric donut badge for any article with a DOI. These features together help provide a clear indication on the item page how much of an impact a work has made.

Rights

We added a lookup from the item page to retrieve the parent collection’s rights statement, which may contain a statement about Open Access, a Creative Commons license, or other explanatory text. This will hopefully assert rights information in a more natural spot for a user to see it, while at the same time draw more attention to Duke’s Open Access policy.

Scholars@Duke Profiles & ORCID Links

For any DukeSpace item author with a Scholars@Duke profile, we now display a clickable icon next to their name. This leads to their Scholars@Duke profile, where a visitor can learn much more about the scholar’s background, affiliations, and other research. Making this connection relies on some complicated parts: 1) enable getting Duke IDs automatically from Elements or manually via direct entry; 2) storing the ID in a DSpace field; 3) using the ID to query a VIVO API to retrieve the Scholars@Duke profile URL. We are able to treat a scholar’s ORCID in a similar fashion.

Other Development Areas

Beyond the public-facing UI, these areas in DSpace 6.2 also needed significant development for the upgrade project to succeed:

  • Fixed several bugs related to batch metadata import/export
  • Developed a mechanism to create user accounts via batch operations
  • Modified features related to authority control for metadata values

Coming Soon

By summer 2018, we aim to have the following in place:

Streamlined Sidebar

Add collapsable / expandable facet and browse options to reduce the number of menu links visible at any given time.

Citations

Present a copyable citation on the item page.


…And More!

  • Upgrade the XSLT processor from Xalan to Saxon, using XLST 3.0; this will enable us to accomplish more with less code going forward
  • Revise the Scholars@Duke profile lookup by using a different VIVO API
  • Create additional browse/facet options
  • Display aggregated stats in more places

We’re excited to get all of these changes in place soon. And we look forward to learning more from our users, our collaborators, and our peers in the DSpace community about what we can do next to improve upon the solid foundation we established during the project’s initial phases.

A New & Improved Rubenstein Library Website

We kicked off the spring 2018 semester by rolling out a brand-new design for the David M. Rubenstein Library website.  The new site features updated imagery from the collections, better navigation, and more prominent presence for the exhibits currently on display.

Rubenstein website, Jan 2018
January 2018: New design for the Rubenstein Library homepage.

 

Much credit goes to Katie Henningsen and Kate Collins who championed the project.

Objectives for the Redesign

  • Make wayfinding from the homepage clearer (by reorganizing links into a primary dropdown navigation)
  • Dynamically feature Rubenstein Library exhibits that are currently on display
  • Improve navigation to key Rubenstein site pages from within research center / collection pages
  • Display larger images illustrative of the library’s distinctive and diverse collections
  • Retain aspects of the homepage that have been effective, e.g., hours and resource search boxes
  • Improve the site aesthetic

Internal Navigation

With a new primary navigation in hand on the Rubenstein homepage that links to key pages in the site, we began to explore ways to get visitors to those links in an unobtrusive way when they aren’t on the homepage.  Each research center within the library, e.g., the John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History, has its own sub-site with its own secondary menus, which already contend a bit with the blue Duke Libraries menu in the masthead.  To avoid burying visitors in a Russian nesting doll of navigation, we decided to try dropping the RL menu down from the breadcrumb trail link so it’s tucked away, but still accessible when needed. We’re eager to learn whether or not this is effective.

Rubenstein primary navigation menu available from breadcrumb trail.

A Look Back

Depending on how you count, this is now the seventh or eighth homepage design for the Rubenstein Library (formerly the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library; formerly the Special Collections Library). I thought I’d take a quick stroll down memory lane, courtesy of the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, to reflect on how far we have come over the years.

1996

Duke Special Collections Library website, 1996
October 1996 (explore)

Features:

  • prominent news, exhibits, and online collections
  • links to online SGML- and HTML-encoded finding aids (42 of them!)
  • a site search box powered by Excite!

1997

April 1997 (explore)

Features:

  • two-column layout with a left-hand nav
  • digitized collections
  • a special collections newsletter called The Broadside
  • became the “Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library” in 1997

2005

December 2005 (explore Jan 2006)

Features:

  • color-coded navigation broken into three groups of links
  • image from the collections
  • featured exhibit with image
  • rounded corners and shadows
  • first use of a CMS (content management system named Cascade Server)*

2007

August 2007 (explore)

Features:

  • first time sharing a masthead with rest of the Duke University Libraries
  • retained the lists of links, single collection image, and featured exhibit from previous iteration

2011

September 2011 (explore)

Features:

  • renamed as the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
  • first time with catalog and finding aids search boxes on the homepage
  • first appearance of social media & RSS icons
  • first iteration to display library hours
  • first news carousel appearance

2014

January 2014 (explore)

Features:

  • new site in Drupal content management system
  • first responsive RL website (works well on mobile devices)
  • array of vertical image panels from the collections
  • extended color palette to match Duke University website styles (at the time)
  • gradients and rounded buttons with shadows
  • first time able to search digital collections from RL homepage
  • first site with Login button for Aeon (Special Collections request system)

2017

January 2017 (explore)

Features:

2018

Rubenstein website, Jan 2018
January 2018

Features

  • lightened the overall aesthetic
  • featured image cycling from selections at random (diagonally sliced using css clip-path polygons)
  • prominent current exhibits feed with images
  • a primary nav with dropdown menus

How long will this latest edition of the Rubenstein Library homepage stick around? Only time will tell, but we’ll surely continue to iterate, learn from the past, and improve with each attempt. For now, we’re pleased with the new site, and hope you will be as well.


* Revised Feb 9, 2018 to reflect that the first version using a content management system was in 2005 rather than 2007.

Accessible AV in the Duke Digital Repository

Over the course of 2017, we improved our capacity to support digital audiovisual materials in the Duke Digital Repository (DDR) by leaps and bounds. A little more than a year ago, I had written a Bitstreams blog post highlighting the new features we had just developed in the DDR to provide basic functionality for AV, especially in support of the Duke Chapel Recordings collection. What a difference a year makes.

This past year brought renewed focus on AV development, as we worked to bring the NEH grant-funded Radio Haiti Archive online (launched in June).  At the same time, our digital collections legacy platform migration efforts shifted toward moving our existing high-profile digital AV material into the repository.

Closed Captions

At Duke University Libraries, we take accessibility seriously. We aim to include captions or transcripts for the audiovisual objects made available via the Duke Digital Repository, especially to ensure that the materials can be perceived and navigated by people with disabilities. For instance, work is well underway to create closed captions for all 1,400 items in the Duke Chapel Recordings project.

Screenshot showing Charmin commercial from AdViews collection with caption overlay
Captioned video displays a CC button and shows captions as an overlay in the video player. Example from the AdViews collection, coming soon to the DDR.

The DDR now accommodates modeling and ingest for caption files, and our AV player interface (powered by JW Player) presents a CC button whenever a caption file is available. Caption files are encoded using WebVTT, the modern W3C standard for associating timed text with HTML audio and video. WebVTT is structured so as to be machine-processable, while remaining lightweight enough to be reasonably read, created, or edited by a person. It’s a format that transcription vendors can provide. And given its endorsement by W3C, it should be a viable captioning format for a wide range of applications and devices for the foreseeable future.

Example WebVTT captions
Text cues from a WebVTT caption file for an audio item in the Duke Chapel Recordings collection.

Interactive Transcripts

Displaying captions within the player UI is helpful, but it only gets us so far. For one, that doesn’t give a user a way to just read the caption text without requiring them to play the media. We also need to support captions for audio files, but unlike with video, the audio player doesn’t include enough real estate within itself to render the captions. There’s no room for them to appear.

So for both audio and video, our solution is to convert the WebVTT caption files on-the-fly into an interactive in-page transcript. Using the webvtt-ruby gem (developed by Coconut) , we parse the WebVTT text cues into Ruby objects, then render them back on the page as HTML. We then use the JWPlayer Javascript API to keep the media player and the HTML transcript in sync. Clicking on a transcript cue advances the player to the corresponding moment in the media, and the currently-playing cue gets highlighted as the media plays.

Screenshot of interactive audio transcript
Example interactive synchronized transcript for an audio item (rendered from a WebVTT caption file). From a collection coming soon to the DDR.

 

We also do some extra formatting when the WebVTT cues include voice tags (<v> tags), which can optionally indicate the name of the speaker (e.g., <v Jane Smith>). The in-page transcript is indexed by Google for search retrieval.

Transcript Documents

In many cases, especially for audio items, we may have only a PDF or other type of document with a transcript of a recording that isn’t structured or time-coded.  Like captions, these documents are important for accessibility. We have developed support for displaying links to these documents near the media player. Look for some new collections using this feature to become available in early 2018.

Screenshot of a transcript document menu above the AV player
Transcript documents presented above the media player. Coming soon to AV collections in the DDR.

 

 

A/V Embedding

The DDR web interface provides an optimal viewing or listening experience for AV, but we also want to make it easy to present objects from the DDR on other websites, too. When used on other sites, we’d like the objects to include some metadata, a link to the DDR page, and proper attribution. To that end, we now have copyable <iframe> embed code available from the Share menu for AV items.

Embed code in the Share menu for an audio item.
Copyable embed code from an audio recording in the Radio Haiti Archive.

This embed code is also what we now use within the Rubenstein Library collection guides (finding aids) interface: it lets us present digital objects from the DDR directly from within a corresponding collection guide. So as a researcher browses the inventory of a physical archival collection, they can play the media inline without having to leave.

Screenshot of Rubenstein Library collection guide presenting a Duke Chapel Recordings video inline.
Embedded view of a DDR video from the Duke Chapel Recordings collection presented inline  in a Rubenstein Library archival collection guide.

Sites@Duke Integration
If your website or blog is one of the thousands of WordPress sites hosted and supported by Sites@Duke — a service of Duke’s Office of Information Technology (OIT) — we have good news for you. You can now embed objects from the DDR using WordPress shortcode. Sites@Duke, like many content management systems, doesn’t allow authors to enter <iframe> tags, so shortcode is the only way to get embeddable media to render.

Example of WordPress shortcode for DDR embedding on Sites@Duke.edu sites.
Sites@Duke WordPress sites can embed DDR media by using shortcode with the DDR item’s permalink.

 

And More!

Here are the other AV-related features we have been able to develop in 2017:

  • Access control: master files &  derivatives alike can be protected so access is limited to only authorized users/groups
  • Video thumbnail images: model, manage, and display
  • Video poster frames: model, manage, and display
  • Intermediate/mezzanine files: model and manage
  • Rights display: display icons and info from RightsStatements.org and Creative Commons, so it’s clear what users are permitted to do with media.

What’s Next

We look forward to sharing our recent AV development with our peers at the upcoming Samvera Connect conference (Nov 6-9, 2017 in Evanston, IL). Here’s our poster summarizing the work to date:

Poster presentation screenshot for Samvera Connect 2017
Poster about Duke’s AV development for Samvera Connect conference, Nov 6-9, 2017 (Evanston, IL)

Looking ahead to the next couple months, we aim to round out the year by completing a few more AV-related features, most notably:

  • Export WebVTT captions as PDF or .txt
  • Advance the player via linked timecodes in the description field in an item’s metadata
  • Improve workflows for uploading caption files and transcript documents

Now that these features are in place, we’ll be sharing a bunch of great new AV collections soon!

Nested Folders of Files in the Duke Digital Repository

Born digital archival material present unique challenges to representation, access, and discovery in the DDR. A hard drive arrives at the archives and we want to preserve and provide access to the files. In addition to the content of the files, it’s often important to preserve to some degree the organization of the material on the hard drive in nested directories.

One challenge to representing complex inter-object relationships in the repository is the repository’s relatively simple object model. A collection contains one or more items. An item contains one or more components. And a component has one or more data streams. There’s no accommodation in this model for complex groups and hierarchies of items. We tend to talk about this as a limitation, but it also makes it possible to provide search and discovery of a wide range of kinds and arrangements of materials in a single repository and forces us to make decisions about how to model collections in sustainable and consistent ways. But we still need to preserve and provide access to the original structure of the material.

One approach is to ingest the disk image or a zip archive of the directories and files and store the content as a single file in the repository. This approach is straightforward, but makes it impossible to search for individual files in the repository or to understand much about the content without first downloading and unarchiving it.

As a first pass at solving this problem of how to preserve and represent files in nested directories in the DDR we’ve taken a two-pronged approach. We will use a simple approach to modeling disk image and directory content in the repository. Every file is modeled in the repository as an item with a single component that contains the data stream of the file. This provides convenient discovery and access to each individual file from the collection in the DDR, but does not represent any folder hierarchies. The files are just a flat list of objects contained by a collection.

To preserve and store information about the structure of the files we add an XML METS structMap as metadata on the collection. In addition we store on each item a metadata field that stores the complete original file path of the file.

Below is a small sample of the kind of structural metadata that encodes the nested folder information on the collection. It encodes the structure and nesting, directory names (in the LABEL attribute), the order of files and directories, as well as the identifiers for each of the files/items in the collection.

<?xml version="1.0"?>
<mets xmlns="http://www.loc.gov/METS/" xmlns:xlink="http://www.w3.org/1999/xlink">
  <metsHdr>
    <agent ROLE="CREATOR">
      <name>REPOSITORY DEFAULT</name>
    </agent>
  </metsHdr>
  <structMap TYPE="default">
    <div LABEL="2017-0040" ORDER="1" TYPE="Directory">
      <div ORDER="1">
        <mptr LOCTYPE="ARK" xlink:href="ark:/99999/fk42j6qc37"/>
      </div>
      <div LABEL="RL11405-LFF-0001_Programs" ORDER="2" TYPE="Directory">
        <div ORDER="1">
          <mptr LOCTYPE="ARK" xlink:href="ark:/99999/fk4j67r45s"/>
        </div>
        <div ORDER="2">
          <mptr LOCTYPE="ARK" xlink:href="ark:/99999/fk4d50x529"/>
        </div>
        <div ORDER="3">
          <mptr LOCTYPE="ARK" xlink:href="ark:/99999/fk4086jd3r"/>
        </div>
      </div>
      <div LABEL="RL11405-LFF-0002_H1_Early-Records-of-Decentralization-Conference" ORDER="3" TYPE="Directory">
        <div ORDER="1">
          <mptr LOCTYPE="ARK" xlink:href="ark:/99999/fk4697f56f"/>
        </div>
        <div ORDER="2">
          <mptr LOCTYPE="ARK" xlink:href="ark:/99999/fk45h7t22s"/>
        </div>
      </div>
    </div>
  </structMap>
</mets>

Combining the 1:1 (item:component) object model with structural metadata that preserves the original directory structure of the files on the file system enables us to display a user interface that reflects the original structure of the content even though the structure of the items in the repository is flat.

There’s more to it of course. We had to develop a new ingest process that could take as its starting point a file path and then crawl it and its subdirectories to ingest files and construct the necessary structural metadata.

On the UI end of things a nifty Javascript plugin called jsTree powers the interactive directory structure display on the collection page.

Because some of the collections are very large and loading a directory tree structure of 100,000 or more items would be very slow, we implemented a small web service in the application that loads the jsTree data only when someone clicks to open a directory in the interface.

The file paths are also keyword searchable from within the public interface. So if a file is contained in a directory named “kitchen/fruits/bananas/this-banana.txt” you would be able to find the file this-banana.txt by searching for “kitchen” or “fruit” or “banana.”

This new functionality to ingest, preserve, and represent files in nested folder structures in the Duke Digital Repository will be included in the September release of the Duke Digital Repository.

Turning on the Rights in the Duke Digital Repository

As 2017 reaches its halfway point, we have concluded another busy quarter of development on the Duke Digital Repository (DDR). We have several new features to share, and one we’re particularly delighted to introduce is Rights display.

Back in March, my colleague Maggie Dickson shared our plans for rights management in the DDR, a strategy built upon using rights status URIs from RightsStatements.org, and in a similar fashion, licenses from Creative Commons. In some cases, we supplement the status with free text in a local Rights Note property. Our implementation goals here were two-fold: 1) use standard statuses that are machine-readable; 2) display them in an easily understood manner to users.

New rights display feature in action on a digital object.

What to Display

Getting and assigning machine-readable URIs for Rights is a significant milestone in its own right. Using that value to power a display that makes sense to users is the next logical step. So, how do we make it clear to a user what they can or can’t do with a resource they have discovered? While we could simply display the URI and link to its webpage (e.g., http://rightsstatements.org/vocab/InC-EDU/1.0/ ) the key info still remains a click away. Alternatively, we could display the rights statement or license title with the link, but some of them aren’t exactly intuitive or easy on the eyes. “Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International,” anyone?

Inspiration

Looking around to see how other cultural heritage institutions have solved this problem led us to very few examples. RightsStatements.org is still fairly new and it takes time for good design patterns to emerge. However, Europeana — co-champion of the RightsStatements.org initiative along with DPLA — has a stellar collections site, and, as it turns out, a wonderfully effective design for displaying rights statuses to users. Our solution ended up very much inspired by theirs; hats off to the Europeana team.

Image from Europeana site.
Europeana Collections UI.

Icons

Both Creative Commons and RightsStatements.org provide downloadable icons at their sites (here and here). We opted to store a local copy of the circular SVG versions for both to render in our UI. They’re easily styled, they don’t take up a lot of space, and used together, they have some nice visual unity.

Rights & Licenses Icons
Circular icons from Creative Commons & RightsStatements.org

Labels & Titles

We have a lightweight Rails app with an easy-to-use administrative UI for managing auxiliary content for the DDR, so that made a good home for our rights statuses and associated text. Statements are modeled to have a URI and Title, but can also have three additional optional fields: short title, re-use text, and an array of icon classes.

Editing rights info associated with each statement.

Displaying the Info

We wanted to be sure to show the rights status in the flow of the rest of an object’s metadata. We also wanted to emphasize this information for anyone looking to download a digital object. So we decided to render the rights status prominently in the download menu, too.

Rights status in download menu
Rights status displays in the download menu.

 

Rights status also displays alongside other metadata.

What’s Next

Our focus in this area now shifts toward applying these newly available rights statuses to our existing digital objects in the repository, while ensuring that new ingests/deposits get assessed and assigned appropriate values. We’ll also have opportunities to refine where and how the statuses get displayed. We stand to learn a lot from our peer organizations implementing their own rights management strategies, and from our visitors as they use this new feature on our site. There’s a lot of work ahead, but we’re thrilled to have reached this noteworthy milestone.

508 Update, Update

A little more than a year ago, I wrote about the proposed update to the 508 accessibility standards. And about three weeks ago, the US Access Board published the final rule that contains updates to the 508 accessibility requirements for Information and Communication Technology (ICT). The rules had not previously been updated since 2001 and as such had greatly lagged behind modern web conventions.

It’s important to note that the 508 guidelines are intended to serve as a vehicle for guiding procurement, while at the same time applying to content created by a given group/agency. As such, the language isn’t always straightforward.

What’s new?

As I outlined in my previous post, a major purpose of the new rule is to move away from regulating types of devices and instead focus on functionality:


… one of the primary purposes of the final rule is to replace the current product-based approach with requirements based on functionality, and, thereby, ensure that accessibility for people with disabilities keeps pace with advances in ICT.


To that effect, one of the biggest change over the old standard is the adoption of WCAG 2.0 as the compliance level. The fundamental premise of WCAG compliance is that content is ‘perceivable, operable, and understandable’ — bottom line is that as developers, we should strive to make sure all of our content is usable for everyone across all devices. The adoption of WCAG allows the board to offload responsibility of making incremental changes as technology advances (so we don’t have to wait another 15 years for updates) and also aligns our standards in the United States with those used around the world.


Harmonization with international standards and guidelines creates a larger marketplace for accessibility solutions, thereby attracting more offerings and increasing the likelihood of commercial availability of accessible ICT options.


Another change has to do with making a wider variety of electronic content accessible, including internal documents. It will be interesting to see to what degree this part of the rule is followed by non-federal agencies.


The Revised 508 Standards specify that all types of public-facing content, as well as nine categories of non-public-facing content that communicate agency official business, have to be accessible, with “content” encompassing all forms of electronic information and data. The existing standards require Federal agencies to make electronic information and data accessible, but do not delineate clearly the scope of covered information and data. As a result, document accessibility has been inconsistent across Federal agencies. By focusing on public-facing content and certain types of agency official communications that are not public facing, the revised requirements bring needed clarity to the scope of electronic content covered by the 508 Standards and, thereby, help Federal agencies make electronic content accessible more consistently.


The new rules do not go into effect until January 2018. There’s also a ‘safe harbor’ clause that protects content that was created before this enforcement date, assuming it was in compliance with the old rules. However, if you update that content after January, you’ll need to make sure it complies with the new final rule.


Existing ICT, including content, that meets the original 508 Standards does not have to be upgraded to meet the refreshed standards unless it is altered. This “safe harbor” clause (E202.2) applies to any component or portion of ICT that complies with the existing 508 Standards and is not altered. Any component or portion of existing, compliant ICT that is altered after the compliance date (January 18, 2018) must conform to the updated 508 Standards.


So long story short, a year from now you should make sure all the content you’re creating meets the new compliance level.

A Refreshing New Look for Our Library Website

If you’ve visited the Duke University Libraries website in the past month, you may have noticed that it looks a bit more polished than it used to. Over the course of the fall 2016 semester, my talented colleague Michael Daul and I co-led a project to develop and implement a new theme for the site. We flipped the switch to launch the theme on January 6, 2017, the week before spring classes began. In this post, I’ll share some background on the project and its process, and highlight some noteworthy features of the new theme we put in place.

Newly refreshed Duke University Libraries website homepage.

Goals

We kicked off the project in Aug 2016 using the title “Website Refresh” (hat-tip to our friends at NC State Libraries for coining that term). The best way to frame it was not as a “redesign,” but more like a 50,000-mile maintenance tuneup for the site.  We had four main goals:

  • Extend the Life of our current site (in Drupal 7) without a major redesign or redevelopment effort
  • Refresh the Look of the site to be modern but not drastically different
  • Better Code by streamlining HTML markup & CSS style code for easier management & flexibility
  • Enhance Accessibility via improved compliance with WCAG accessibility guidelines

Our site is fairly large and complex (1,200+ pages, for starters). So to keep the scope lean, we included no changes in content, information architecture, or platform (i.e., stayed on Drupal 7). We also worked with a lean stakeholder team to make decisions related to aesthetics.

Extending the Life of the Site

Our old website theme was aging; the project leading to its development began five years ago in Sep 2012, was announced in Jan 2013, and then eventually launched about three years ago in Jan 2014. Five years–and even three–is a long time in web years. Sites accumulate a lot of code cruft over time, the tools for managing and writing code become deprecated quickly. We wanted to invest a little time now to replace some pieces of the site’s front-end architecture with newer and better replacements, in order to buy us more time before we’d have to do an expensive full-scale overhaul from the ground up.

Refreshing the Look

Our 2014 site derived a lot its aesthetic from the main Duke.edu website at the time. Duke’s site has changed significantly since then, and meanwhile, web design trends have changed dramatically: flat design is in, skeuomorphism out.  Google Web Fonts are in, Times, Arial, Verdana and company are out.  Even a three year old site on the web can look quite dated.

Old site theme, dated aesthetics.
New “refreshed” theme, with flatter, more modern aesthetic

Closeup on skeuomorphic embellishments vs. flat elements.

Better Code

Beyond evolving aesthetics, the various behind-the-scenes web frameworks and code workflows are in constant, rapid flux; it can really keep a developer’s head on a swivel. Better code means easier maintenance, and to that end our code got a lot better after implementing these solutions:

  • Bootstrap Upgrade. For our site’s HTML/CSS/JS framework, we moved from Bootstrap version 2 (2.3.1) to version 3 (3.3.7). This took weeks of work: it meant thousands of pages of markup revisions, only some of which could be done with a global Search & Replace.
  •  Sass for CSS. We trashed all of our old theme’s CSS files and started over using Sass, a far more efficient way to express and maintain style rules than vanilla CSS.
  • Gulp for Automation. Our new theme uses Gulp to automate code tasks like processing Sass into CSS, auto-prefixing style declarations to work on older browsers, and crunching 30+ css files down into one.
  • Font Awesome. We ditched most of our older image-based icons in favor of Font Awesome ones, which are far easier to reference and style, and faster to load.
  • Radix.  This was an incredibly useful base theme for Drupal that encapsulates/integrates Sass, Gulp, Bootstrap, and FontAwesome. It also helped us get a Bootswatch starter theme in the mix to minimize the local styling we had to do on top of Bootstrap.

We named our new theme Dulcet and put it up on GitHub.

Sass for style management, e.g., expressing colors as reusable variables.
Gulp for task automation, e.g., auto-prefixing styles to account for older browser workarounds.

 Accessibility

Some of the code and typography revisions we’ve made in the “refresh” improve our site’s compliance with WCAG2.0 accessibility guidelines. We’re actively working on further assessment and development in this area. Our new theme is better suited to integrate with existing tools, e.g., to automatically add ARIA attributes to interactive page elements.

Feedback or Questions?

We would love to hear from you if you have any feedback on our new site, if you spot any oddities, or if you’re considering doing a similar project and have any questions. We encourage you to explore the site, and hope you find it a refreshing experience.