Category Archives: User Experience

Implementing ArcLight: A Reflection

Around this time last year, I wrote about our ambitious plans to implement ArcLight software for archival discovery and access at Duke in 2020. While this year has certainly laid waste to so many good intentions, our team persisted through the cacophony undeterred, and—I’m proud to report—still hit our mark of going live on July 1, 2020 after a six-month work cycle. The site is available at https://archives.lib.duke.edu/.

Now that we have been live for awhile, I thought it’d be worthwhile to summarize what we accomplished, and reflect a bit on how it’s going.

Working Among Peers

I had the pleasure of presenting about ArcLight at the Oct 2020 Blacklight Summit alongside Julie Hardesty (Indiana University) and Trey Pendragon (Princeton University). The three of us shared our experiences implementing ArcLight at our institutions. Though we have the same core ArcLight software underpinning our apps, we have each taken different strategies to build on top of it. Nevertheless, we’re all emerging with solutions that look polished and fill in various gaps to meet our unique local needs. It’s exciting to see how well the software holds up in different contexts, and to be able to glean inspiration from our peers’ platforms.

Title slide to ArcLight@Duke presentation at Blacklight Summit
Slides from ArcLight@Duke presentation, 10/7/2020

A lot of content in this post will reiterate what I shared in the presentation. A recording of that presentation will be available soon, and when it is, I’ll post it here.

Custom-Built Features

Back in April, I discussed at length our custom-built features and interface revisions that we had completed by the halfway point for the project. So, now let’s look closer at everything else we added in the second half (and in the post-launch period).

Browsing Collection Contents

This is one of the hardest things to get right in a finding aids UI, so our solution has evolved through many iterations. We created a context sidebar with lightly-animated loading indicators matching the number of items currently loading. The nav sticks with you as you scroll down the page and the Request button stays visible.  We also decided to present a list of direct child components in the main page body for any parent component.

Restrictions

At the collection level, we wanted to ensure that users didn’t miss any restrictions info, so we presented a taste of it at the top-right of the page that jumps you to the full description when clicking “More.”

Collection restrictions snippet

We changed how access and use restriction indexing so components can inherit their restrictions from any ancestor component. Then we made bright yellow banners and icons in the UI to signify that a component has restrictions.

Restrictions presented on a component

Hierarchical Record Group Browse

Using the excellent Blacklight Hierarchy plugin, we developed a way to browse University Archives collections by an existing hierarchical Record Group classification system. We encoded the group numbers, titles, nesting, and description in a YAML config file so they’re easy to change as they evolve.

Browse by Record Group

Digital Repository & Bento Search Integration

ArcLight exists among a wide constellation of other applications supporting and promoting discovery in the library, so integrating with these other pieces was an important part of our implementation. In April, I showed the interaction between ArcLight and our Requests app, as well as rendering digital object viewers/players inline via the Duke Digital Repository (DDR).

Inline digital object viewing via the DDR

Two other locations external to our application now use ArcLight’s APIs to retrieve archival information.  The first is the Duke Digital Repository (DDR). When viewing a digital collection or digital object that has a physical counterpart in the archives, we pull archival information for the item into the DDR interface from ArcLight’s JSON API.

Duke Digital Repository pulls archival info from ArcLight

The other is our “Bento” search application powering the default All search available from the library website. Now when your query finds matches in ArcLight, you’ll see component-level results under a Collection Guides bento box. Components are contextualized with a linked breadcrumb trail.

ArcLight search results presented in Bento search UI

 

Bookmarks Export CSV

COVID-19 brought about many changes to how Duke Libraries retrieve materials for faculty and student research. You may have heard Duke’s Library Takeout song (819K YouTube views & counting!), and if you have, you probably can’t ever un-hear it.

But with archival materials, we’re talking about items that could never be taken out of the building. Materials may only be accessed in a controlled environment in the Rubenstein Reading Room, which remains highly restricted.  With so much Duke instruction moving online during COVID, we urgently needed to come up with a better workflow to field an explosion of requests for digitizing archival materials for use in remote instruction.

ArcLight’s Bookmarks feature (which comes via Blacklight) proved to be highly valuable here. We extended the feature to add a CSV export. The CSV is constructed in a way that makes it function as a digitization work order that our Digital Collections & Curation Services staff use to shepherd a request through digitization, metadata creation, and repository ingest. Over 26,000 images have now been digitized for patron instruction requests using this new workflow.

Bookmarks export to CSV

More Features

Here’s a list of several other custom features we completed after the April midway point.

  • Relevancy optimization
  • WCAG2.0 AA accessibility
  • ARKs & permalinks
  • Advanced search modal
  • Catalog record links
  • Dynamic sitemaps (via gem)
  • Creative Commons / RightsStatements.org integration
  • Twitter card metadata
  • Open Graph metadata
  • Google Analytics event tracking with Anonymize IP
  • Debug mode for relevancy tuning

Data Pipeline

Bringing ArcLight online required some major rearchitecting of our pipeline to preview and publish archival data. Our archivists have been using ArchivesSpace for several years to manage the source data, and exporting EAD2002 XML files when ready to be read by the public UI. Those parts remain the same for now, however, everything else is new and improved.
Data pipeline diagram for Duke finding aids

Our new process involves two GitLab repositories: one for the EAD data, and another for the ArcLight-based application. The data repo uses GitLab Webhooks to send POST requests to the app to queue up reindexing  jobs automatically whenever the data changes.  We have a test/preview branch for the data that updates our dev and test servers for the application, so archivists can easily see what any revised or new finding aids will look like before they go live in production.

We use GitLab CI/CD to easily and automatically deploy changes to the application code to the various servers. Each code change gets systematically checked for passing unit and feature tests, security, and code style before being integrated. We also aim to add automated accessibility testing to our pipeline within the next couple months.

A lot of data gets crunched while indexing EAD documents through Traject into Solr. Our app uses Resque-based background job processing to handle the transactions. With about 4,000 finding aids, this creates around 900,000 Solr documents; the index is currently a little over 1GB. Changes to data get reindexed and reflected in the UI near-instantaneously. If we ever need to reindex every finding aid, it takes only about one hour to complete.

What We Have Learned

We have been live for just over four months, and we’re really ecstatic with how everything is going.

Usability

In September 2020, our Assessment & User Experience staff conducted ten usability tests using our ArcLight UI, with five experienced archival researchers and five novice users. Kudos to Joyce Chapman, Candice Wang, and Anh Nguyen for their excellent work. Their report is available here. The tests were conducted remotely over Zoom due to COVID restrictions. This was our first foray into remote usability testing.

Remote usability testing screenshot

Novice and advanced participants alike navigated the site fairly easily and understood the contextual elements in the UI. We’re quite pleased with how well our custom features performed (especially the context sidebar, contents lists, redesigned breadcrumb trail). The Advanced Search modal got more use than we had anticipated, but it was effective. We were also somewhat surprised to find that users were not confused by the All Collections vs. This Collection search scope selector when searching the site.

“The interface design does a pretty good job of funneling me to what I need to see… Most of the things I was looking for were in the first place or two I’d suspect they’d be.” — Representative quote from a test participant

A few improvements were recommended as a result of the testing:

  1. make container information clearer, especially within the requesting workflow
  2. improve visibility of the online access facet
  3. make the Show More links in the sidebar context nav clearer
  4. better delineate between collections and series in the breadcrumb
  5. replace jargon with clearer labels, especially “Indexed Terms

We recently implemented changes to address 2, 3, and 5. We’re still considering options for 1 and 4.  Usability testing has been invaluable part of our development process. It’s a joy (and often a humbling experience!) to see your design work put through the paces with actual users in a usability test. It always helps us understand what we’re doing so we can make things better.

Usage

We want to learn more about how often different parts of the UI are used, so we implemented Google Analytics event tracking to anonymously log interactions. We use the Anonymize IP feature to help protect patron privacy.

Google Analytics Event Tracking
Top Google Analytics event categories & actions, Jul 1 – Nov 20, 2020.

Some observations so far:

  • The context nav sidebar is by far the most interacted-with part of the UI.
  • Browsing the Contents section of a component page (list of direct child components) is the second-most frequent interaction.
  • Subject, Collection, & Names are the most-used facets, in that order. That does not correlate with the order they appear in the sidebar.
  • Links presented in the Online Access banners were clicked 5x more often than the limiter in the Online Access facet (which matches what we found in usability testing)
  • Basic keyword searches happen 32x more frequently than advanced searches

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

We want to be sure that when people search Google for terms that appear in our finding aids, they discover our resources. So when several Blacklight community members combined forces to create a Blacklight Dynamic Sitemaps gem this past year, it caught our eye. We found it super easy to set up, and it got the vast majority of our collection records Google-indexed within a month or so. We are interested in exploring ways to get it to include the component records in the sitemap as well.

Google Search Console showing index performance

 

Launching ArcLight: Retrospective

We’re pretty proud of how this all turned out. We have accomplished a lot in a relatively short amount of time. And the core software will only improve as the community grows.

At Duke, we already use Blacklight to power a bunch of different discovery applications in our portfolio. And given that the responsibility of supporting ArcLight falls to the same staff who support all of those other apps, it has been unquestionably beneficial for us to be able to work with familiar tooling.

We did encounter a few hurdles along the way, mostly because the software is so new and not yet widely adopted. There are still some rough edges that need to be smoothed out in the core software. Documentation is pretty sparse. We found indexing errors and had to adjust some rules. Relevancy ranking needed a lot of work. Not all of the EAD elements and attributes are accounted for; some things aren’t indexed or displayed in an optimal way.

Still, the pros outweigh the cons by far. With ArcLight, you get an extensible Blacklight-based core, only catered specifically to archival data. All the things Blacklight shines at (facets, keyword highlighting, autosuggest, bookmarks, APIs, etc.) are right at your fingertips. We have had a very good experience finding and using Blacklight plugins to add desired features.

Finally, while the ArcLight community is currently small, the larger Blacklight community is not. There is so much amazing work happening out in the Blacklight community–so much positive energy! You can bet it will eventually pay dividends toward making ArcLight an even better solution for archival discovery down the road.

Acknowledgements

Many thanks go out to our Duke staff members who contributed to getting this project completed successfully. Especially:

  • Product Owner: Noah Huffman
  • Developers/DevOps: Sean Aery, David Chandek-Stark, Michael Daul, Cory Lown (scrum master)
  • Project Sponsors: Will Sexton & Meghan Lyon
  • Redesign Team: Noah Huffman (chair), Joyce Chapman, Maggie Dickson, Val Gillispie, Brooke Guthrie, Tracy Jackson, Meghan Lyon, Sara Seten Berghausen

And thank you as well to the Stanford University Libraries staff for spearheading the ArcLight project.

Understanding the experiences and needs of Black students at Duke

How can the Duke Libraries better support the needs of Black students at Duke? A team of library staff conducted qualitative research with Black students over the past two years in order to answer this question. This research was part of a multi-year effort at the Libraries to better understand the experiences and needs of various populations at Duke, beginning with first generation college students and continuing this year with a focus on international students.

Our final report discusses the full research process and our findings in more detail than that provided below, including a full list of recommendations resulting from the study.

We began by reading existing research on university and academic libraries’ support of Black students and speaking with key stakeholders on campus, such as Chandra Guinn, the director of the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture. We researched past studies at Duke that had information on the Black student experience, and learned about the history of faculty diversity initiatives and racist incidents that had taken place on campus. We then held two discussion groups and three PhotoVoice sessions with Black graduate and undergraduate students, in addition to analyzing thousands of responses from the Libraries’ 2020 student satisfaction survey broken out by race. Photovoice is a community-based, participatory research method that originated in global health research. Participants take photos in response to prompts and submit them along with captions. This is followed by a group discussion led by participants as they discuss each set of images and captions.

We sought to understand students’ experiences in the Libraries and on campus to improve how all students interact with library services, facilities, and materials. We did not limit our discussions to library services and spaces, as it was important to explore Black students’ experience and use of the Libraries holistically. The research team pursued eight research questions:

  1. To what extent are the Libraries viewed as an inclusive space by Black students?
  2. To what extent is the University viewed as an inclusive space by Black students?
  3. To what extent do students experience microaggressions or bias because of their race in the Libraries, on campus, in Durham, or in North Carolina?
  4. What changes can the Libraries make to ensure Black students feel supported and included? How can the Libraries improve spaces, services, and programs to ensure Black students feel supported and included?
  5. What changes can the University make to ensure Black students feel supported and included? How can the University improve spaces, services, and programs to ensure Black students feel supported and included?
  6. What campus and community services, spaces, and programs do Black students use and find helpful?
  7. What library services, spaces, instruction sessions, and programs do Black students use and find helpful?
  8. What campus and library services, spaces, and programs help Black students feel welcome or supported?

To what extent is Duke University viewed as an inclusive space?

Participants praised many services, programs, and spaces at Duke that contribute to a welcoming environment. At the same time, participants agreed that Duke provides a less inclusive space for Black students than White students. Black students contend with campus culture, curricula, and physical spaces that still largely reflect and center White experiences, history, and values. Academia is a space where Black students do not see themselves valued or accurately represented. From the arts and sciences to statistics and economics, participants reported systemic bias in instructors’ behavior and the scholarship assigned and discussed in class. They experience microaggressions in almost every area of life at Duke. These instances of bias reinforce the idea that their belonging at Duke is qualified.

We found that many Black graduate students have a level of support via their academic programs, beyond what is available to Duke undergraduate students. Participants praised many of their graduate programs for creating inclusive and supportive environments. Elements contributing to such environments include peer and faculty mentors, programs and events, policies, committees, opportunities to be part of decision-making, communication from faculty and administrators, and efforts to increase diversity. Black undergraduate students may be further removed from decision-makers than graduate students, functioning in an anonymous sea of students receiving the same general services. Thus, compared to graduate students, undergraduates may feel less self-efficacy to effect change in campus-wide inclusion efforts.

To what extent are the Libraries viewed as an inclusive space?

Black students largely view the Libraries as inclusive spaces in the sense that they meet their diverse learning needs as underrepresented students at a predominantly White institution (PWI).  When asked whether they see the Libraries as inclusive spaces and whether they feel safe, welcome, and supported at the Libraries, both undergraduate and graduate students listed numerous services and resources offered by the Libraries that they value. These include online journals, the variety of study spaces, the textbook lending program, technology support and resources, events and training opportunities, and research support. Respondents reported positive experiences with the Libraries overall.

However, students also reported some negative interactions with staff and with peers in the Libraries. They also perceive aspects of library spaces to be unwelcoming, specifically to Black students because they center White history. Responses to the 2020 student satisfaction survey showed that while around 88% of both Black and White students agreed that the Libraries are a welcoming place for them, only 60% of Black respondents and 66% of White respondents strongly agreed with the statement. Other aspects of the library experience were perceived as unwelcoming for reasons unrelated to race. Though students reported negative experiences in the Libraries, none reported experiencing bias or microaggressions because of their race in DUL.

Students reported a general feeling that both Duke and Duke Libraries, while not actively hostile or racist, are complicit in their silence. Students do not see enough visible actions and signs supporting diversity and inclusion, efforts to limit White western European cultural dominance, or attempts to educate White students about minority experiences. Participants are not convinced that Duke cares about racist incidents, and believe that Duke and Duke Libraries will not take meaningful action if they complain about or report instances of prejudice or microaggression.

What does it mean to be Black at Duke?

“It’s like I have to prove something to somebody: I’m here for the same reason that you are.”

To walk invisible, to speak for all

Students described the contradiction and contrast of seeing oneself almost universally absent – from the scholarship assigned in class and portraits on the walls, to the faces of faculty reflected from the front of class rooms – while simultaneously representing the entire race to others. This is the reality that many experience at Duke, an elite PWI.

Participants discussed being treated as invisible. One undergraduate male shared that even on campus “people usually avoid me with eye contact, crossing to the other side of the street.” It also takes a toll on Black students not to see their backgrounds and experiences represented in the Duke faculty. Currently, Duke’s faculty is significantly less diverse than the study body. Many Black students know the exact number of Black faculty and administrators in their academic programs, and the numbers matter. At the same time, Black students are often unable to fade into a crowd and are forced to be perennially conscious of their race identity in a way that White students at Duke, at PWIs, and in the United States in general, are not. White students and instructors sometimes treat Black students as monoliths, expecting their views and actions to exemplify those of all Black people. Students discussed pressure “to uphold a good image and to go the extra mile…to actively disprove stereotypes.”

One graduate student said:

I feel like I have to speak for everyone…Black people in America don’t have the privilege of individuality.

The validity of Black students’ presence at Duke is challenged both by fellow students and by Durham community members. Black students are hyper-aware that most Black people on campus are staff, not students, and some discussed unease wondering if people mistake them for staff as well. A student explains the need to prove that they belong, not just academically or intellectually, but even physically on campus:

Every time I walk around campus, I’m like, ‘I need to have my book bag on so people know I’m a student, so people don’t think I’m an employee.’… It’s a focus: I have to look like I’m a student. It’s like I have to prove something to somebody: I’m here for the same reason that you are.

A Black undergraduate recounted a story of how she and her friends were aggressively confronted by a group of White male students one night on their way to an event in a campus building who asked, “Do you even go here?” Many participants discussed how demoralizing it is when White people make the frequent assumption that they were admitted to Duke as part of an athletic program, or tell them that they were accepted to Duke as part of a racial quota instead of on the same academic merits as other students.

Graduate students discussed how Duke seems best able to accommodate two specific kinds of Black student, with room for improvement in how it accommodates others:

Duke makes it accommodating for Black students, but only a specific kind of Black student: Black athletes from America, or very rich African kids. I’m African American but not an athlete, or rich. I’m academically curious, and I just feel like I’m alone.

Participants acknowledge and appreciate the diversity of the Black student experience and wish others would do the same. Black students at Duke are rich and poor. They come from countries spanning the globe and from different religions and cultural backgrounds. While some are athletes, most are not.

Being Black at a predominantly White institution

PWIs such as Duke were not originally intended for Black students. Despite the time that has passed and the number of students of color who have been admitted, Duke remains a historically White space, and this history continues to permeate and shape the culture of the campus. The students in our study were fiercely aware of this history.

Undergraduates expressed concerns that many White students have little comprehension of or interest in understanding the experiences of “the Other” and are surrounded by White peers who are often ignorant of and oblivious to American racial dynamics and the realities of racism. Undergraduate participants perceive that Duke’s curriculum does not prioritize ensuring that all students will be exposed to diverse points of view and experiences through required courses or activities, and interdisciplinary courses tend to be racially segregated.

Duke Libraries and Duke as complacent and complicit

There was a general feeling that Duke Libraries and Duke, while not actively hostile or racist, are complicit in their silence. Students do not see enough explicit signals supporting diversity and inclusion, efforts to limit White western European cultural dominance, or to educate elite White students about minority experiences.

The 2020 Libraries student survey asked students whether they feel safe from discrimination, harassment, and emotional and physical harm at Duke Libraries and at Duke University. There are stark differences by race among the 2,600 students who responded. Black students do not feel as safe from discrimination, harassment, and emotional and physical harm as White students either on campus or in the Libraries.

2020 DUL student satisfaction survey: “I feel safe” at the Libraries
Figure 1. 2020 DUL student satisfaction survey: “I feel safe” at the Libraries
2020 DUL student satisfaction survey: “I feel safe” at Duke University
Figure 2. 2020 DUL student satisfaction survey: “I feel safe” at Duke University

Fewer (34%) of Black students “strongly agree” that they feel safe at Duke University, versus 71% of White students. A quarter of all Black students do not feel safe to some extent, versus only 7% of White students. More Black and White students feel safe in the Libraries than on campus in general, but fewer Black students “strongly agree” with the statement than White students 71% versus 89%.

Discussion group participants believe that if campus spaces want to make minorities feel welcome, they need more visible signs or statements about inclusion and diversity, particularly because the default in Duke spaces is overwhelming visible representations of White people and Western art and architecture. In reference to the Perkins & Bostock Libraries, one graduate student said:

I don’t see an active attempt to make it welcoming per se. Depending on…what your experience has been like as a Black student on campus, I think there would need to be a purposeful and very explicit attempt to make it welcoming. Not to say there’s a malicious attempt to make it unwelcoming.

Systemic injustice perpetuated through the curriculum

“We were absent in the scholarship. Not just black people – any people of color. And when it was there, it was highly problematized…Every time people of color are mentioned, it’s in some kind of negative context. We’re deficient in some sort of way.”

Academics at Duke are often a space where Black students do not see themselves highly represented or valued. From the arts and sciences to statistics and economics, participants report systemic bias in a variety of areas ranging from instructors’ behavior to the scholarship assigned in class. A student in a business class reported the glaring lack of a single case study involving a Black-owned business or a business run by Black people. Another graduate student in the sciences explained:

All of the people you study are dead White men. And if you never did any outside scholarship yourself, you might be convinced that those are the only people who have ever done [redacted] science in the world.

In addition to racial biases in scholarship assigned, participants discussed the behavior of faculty and instructors as it contributed to systemic injustice in the classroom:

Particularly in statistics classes, almost all data that were racialized normalized Whites and problematized Blacks and other minorities, relatively. There was one assignment where we were supposed to look at and interpret the data, and White people were clearly worse off. The professor did gymnastics to interpret it in such a way where Black people would still be worse off. Come on! They couldn’t even see a way for White people to ever be worse off. And this happens all the time. Whether it’s a guest lecture or whatever…They just focus on the disparities, they interpret it very narrowly, and then there’s no discussion of the origins of those disparities or any solutions to them.

Black students often expect to face racial bias in their daily lives outside academia or from other students on campus. But faculty are both mentors and authority figures who represent the face of Duke to their students. Their silence can speak as loudly as their words in molding students’ perceptions of the extent to which Duke, as well as academic fields more broadly, value them.

On White and Western dominance of physical spaces

Physical spaces communicate priorities, expectations, and cultural values both implicitly and explicitly. They do this via architecture, materials in the spaces such as art, signs, and decorations, and social groupings within spaces. There are parts of Duke that Black students find welcoming and inclusive, but overall, participants do not consider the physical spaces of campus to be as inclusive for Black students as they are for White students.

Students across discussion groups listed example after example of spaces at Duke – including a number of libraries – where art and architecture caused physical spaces to feel exclusionary. Duke’s campus and libraries are filled with photography, statues, and portraits depicting mostly White males. This theme was raised by both undergraduates and graduates as a way that campus spaces make Black students (and likely other groups) feel unwelcome and excluded:

In the library at the [professional] school, there’s this room…A bunch of huge paintings of old White guys…It means something, right? Because there’s no other part of that library where you’ll see a big portrait painting of someone who isn’t a White male. It’s more White supremacy in itself: the absence of other people being represented in this school says a lot. If they wanted to do something about it they could. They could put in more paintings. There have been people of color who’ve been through Duke and have gone on to do great things.

The Gothic Reading Room and portraits of white men
Photograph of the Gothic Reading Room filled with portraits of White men

A number of the discussion groups touched on a related topic, which is the lack of a library or a room within the main campus library dedicated to Black studies. Many students came from undergraduate schools that did have such spaces and were surprised to find them lacking at Duke, especially given the presence of the Nicholas Family Reading Room for International Studies (referred to by students as the “Asian reading room”), which houses reference collections for many non-English languages – though not all Asian. One of the more common recommendations across discussion groups was to create such a space within Perkins & Bostock Libraries, similar to the Nicholas Family Reading Room. Such a space would display books and journals related to Black studies or Black history and feature art, photographs, or exhibits related to Black culture or the history of Black people at Duke or in Durham.

Study spaces as social territories

Another aspect of Perkins & Bostock Libraries that feels exclusionary to participants is the territorial dominance of in different parts of the Libraries. This issue was also raised by students in numerous free-text comments of the 2020 student satisfaction survey, focused on Greek Life members laying an unofficial claim to library study spaces. Participants explained that these groups’ behavior often causes students unaffiliated with those fraternities to feel unwelcome in these public, highly-valued study spaces. Both discussion group participants and survey respondents also complained about the groups disturbing other students by not following posted noise norms for quiet study zones and even using library study rooms for fraternity business. One survey respondent said:

The library is divided (perhaps unofficially) into study areas based on Greek and SLG membership. I consider this to be a disgusting practice and it also leaves me (a graduate student) unsure where I can comfortably sit. I just wish the library was not yet another place where the caste system that is the Duke social scene gets reinforced.

Several students discussed how fraternities sometimes reserve bookable library study rooms and use these spaces for business purposes, to bestow access to social resources (in this case, access to parties) that are highly exclusive and closed to the majority of the campus, which further perpetuates exclusivity on campus. The language the students use to describe these interactions (“ostracized,” “uncomfortable,” “not welcomed”) shows the extent to which the presence of these groups in library spaces that are supposed to be inclusive actually makes students feel excluded, as if they cannot use those spaces due to their lack of membership in those groups.

Features of a space matter

The Libraries’ 2020 student survey asked whether respondents enjoy working in a campus library more than other campus spaces. A third of White students “strongly agree” with this statement, versus one-fourth of Black students. Participants in our discussion groups highlighted three features that greatly contribute to study spaces feeling welcoming and supportive, which are likely true for students from all backgrounds: natural light, green spaces and greenery, and vibrant colors.

Library staff have long been aware that students can study and de-stress better in library spaces with natural light. Increasing natural light is only possible when planning and constructing new facilities, but we can review the current spaces to ensure that all areas with natural light have seating options around them. Participants discussed how greenery, even fake plants, contribute to mental well-being and create study spaces that are less stressful. This also includes views of nature out of windows. Vibrant colors and artwork were mentioned time and again as factors that create positive energy and support well-being. Both the Link on the first floor of Bostock Library and the Bryan Center were held up as examples of well-designed spaces at Duke with brightly colored walls and furniture, or artwork.

In comparison, the Perkins & Bostock Libraries were seen as having much room to improve, with the exception of the following spaces: the Link, The Edge, the large reading rooms, light-filled breezeways, and the newly renovated Rubenstein Library. Participants requested that the Perkins & Bostock Libraries modernize its decor and add vibrant colors via paint, carpets, furniture and art. The students feel that the drab colors in study rooms and general open study areas exacerbate the sense of stress that already pervades the library. Students had unapologetically negative views of the atmosphere produced by color and decor choices:

I think Perkins is so uninviting…At a basic level, it’s just not a comfortable, inviting space to me. I hate the lighting. Part of it is that there is very little natural light throughout the library but then I just don’t like the colors that are chosen… It’s depressing. It just seems very outdated.

Campus and library wayfinding came up in multiple discussion groups as an area that needs improvement and contributes to students feeling unwelcome and stressed. Duke’s policy to not have visible external building signage and to use the same architecture for most buildings on West Campus leads newcomers to feel excluded and lost. Participants were critical of the fact that the main campus library has no identifying external feature or sign. Participants also discussed the need for better internal directional and informational signage within the Libraries. Improved signage is necessary both to assist with finding materials, and for guidance on use of study rooms and computer look-up stations. Students like the noise norms and zones designated by signage within the Libraries and want this signage to be larger and more prominent.

Affinity spaces are critical and signal what Duke values

Spaces noted by participants as welcoming and supportive included the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture, the Wellness Center, the West Campus Oasis, the Duke Chapel, the Women’s Center, the Bryan Center, gardens and green spaces, and the Center for Multicultural Affairs. Students also spoke enthusiastically about a number of campus services, including the on-campus dentist; Wellness Center activities like a weekly group therapy session for Black women and free physical assessments; movie nights at the Bryan Center; campus buses; the entrepreneurship program; CAPS; the Writing Studio; and state-of-the-art gym facilities.

Many Photovoice participants submitted photographs and captions about the Mary Lou Williams Center, its programming, and its staff. For participants, the fact that Duke University funds and supports programming for such a large, beautiful space highlights Duke’s commitment to Black students and Black culture. However, not everyone feels welcome on the campus as a whole. One student said they go to the Mary Lou to “escape the white gaze” of the broader campus. These spaces should not be seen as spaces one has to go to escape the general campus experience, but rather as spaces that contribute to their campus experience.

Graduate students talked about the robust support networks in their academic programs. Students reported feeling supported in many ways, from professors who learn students’ names and Deans attending welcome lunches with new students, to orientation activities, peer and professor mentor programs, support for healthy work-life balances, and committees on diversity and inclusion.

Participants felt welcomed by events hosted solely for Black students, such as Black Convocation and parties held by Black Greek organizations, as well as outreach from the Mary Lou Williams Center to all incoming Black students.

Program for Duke's Black Convocation 2019
Photovoice image submission of the program for Black Convocation

Library services support students

Library services that were praised included library materials and online resources; the library website; textbook lending; device lending; technology such as scanners, 3D printers, and DVD players in Lilly; events such as snacks and coffee in the library and Puppies in Perkins during finals week; orientation sessions; reservable study rooms; designated noise norms and zones; ePrint; personal assistance from librarians; and Oasis Perkins.[1] Students are surprised by how many services the Libraries offer and want more marketing and information about these services. Library staff should continue to develop outreach strategies for marketing services to students at various points in their programs and majors, both online and within library spaces.

The Libraries textbook lending program came up in every undergraduate discussion group. Students were enthusiastic about the program and the financial burden that it alleviates.

I think [library] rental textbooks are really nice…Knowing that if I change a class I don’t need to buy this book the first week and resell it for only 30%. If you’re paying for your own books, that’s not feasible. It’s…another stress coming into your freshman year of college. Thinking, ‘oh no I have to buy this $200 math book online – no, you can rent it from the library until you know whether you’re even supposed to be in that math class.’ Knowing that I can get through the first part of the semester without having to worry about textbooks is big.

According to results from the Libraries’ 2020 student survey, about one-fourth of all undergraduate students (regardless of race) said that textbook lending is important to them. At the same time, only 48.5% of both Black and White students said that the current program completely meets their needs, and 8% of those who said textbook lending is important to them reported being unaware of the Libraries textbook lending program. The survey also provided the following open-ended prompt to students: “In a perfect world, with unlimited time and resources, the Libraries would…” Eight percent of responses (127 out of 1,535) included a request for the Libraries to provide free textbooks.

Person-to-person interactions make a difference

Interactions with other people can be critical contributors to whether students at Duke feel welcome and supported. Participants discussed many positive interactions on campus and in the Libraries, with library service desk staff, librarians assisting with research, friendly security guards, housekeeping staff, academic program office staff, Mary Lou Williams Center staff, and financial aid officers. Black staff at Duke also provide important social support for students, whether assigned as mentors or simply lending a sympathetic ear. One student immediately thought of a staff member when asked about the most helpful programs and services on campus:

It’s not a program, it’s [an office administrator]. Since she’s a sister, we can just talk about anything. She looks out for me in a way that I know only a Black person would look out.

Library security guards stand out as a group that can help students feel safe and supported with just a friendly word or wave (though as previously noted, security guards can also easily make Black students feel unwelcome):

First semester sophomore year when I was [at the library] really late, there was this one security guard who I saw just going around and around, and each time he would wave. Then I was studying there just two nights ago, I just saw him again and he waved, and it just felt really good.

Affinity groups are important to all students, and especially important to minorities at PWIs. Students mentioned feeling welcomed by the existence of campus student groups such as the Black Student Alliance and Black Graduate & Professional Student Association, Black Greek Life, and spaces for affinity groups to gather (such as the Mary Lou and Black Student Alliance office).

Participants discussed many positive interactions with library staff. Participants value friendliness and good customer service, as well as subject expertise. However, discussions highlighted the fact that initial impressions and experiences are critical, and if students’ initial interaction is negative, they are likely not to come back. In particular, library staff must be mindful of the delicate balance between their roles as teachers and as service providers. While many library staff are trained to teach research skills, students often approach the service desk expecting staff to help them complete their task as quickly and efficiently as possible. Efforts to teach them how to complete the action by themselves instead of just assisting them can be interpreted as patronizing, a rebuke for having “bothered” staff, or poor customer service.

Overall, participants have a positive view of the Libraries. They recommended improvements, especially for physical spaces, and underscored the importance of marketing services such as textbook lending and relaxation events. Participants shared valuable insights that can help library staff understand what it means to be Black at Duke and in Durham, and ways that library staff can make spaces more welcoming and help ease the burden that Black students feel on a daily basis.

What’s next?

These findings became the basis of 34 recommendations outlined in the research team’s full report. One of the top recommendations from participants is that the Libraries dedicate a study space to Black scholarship. Such a space was envisioned to include art, photographs, or exhibits related to Black culture and history and highlight library resources from Black scholars.

The research team has presented and discussed this study at all staff meetings at the Libraries, as well as  to various groups and units on Duke’s campus over the summer of 2020. The report was shared widely within the library community to encourage other libraries to consider these questions and undertake similar work.

In August 2020, the Libraries formed a Black Student Study Next Steps Coordinating Team charged with prioritizing and coordinating the implementation of recommendations from the study, as well as additional recommendations that came out of a staff workshop delving into the Libraries’ 2020 student satisfaction survey. For more information on this study or the Coordinating Team, contact Joyce Chapman joyce.chapman@duke.edu.

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.