Category Archives: User Experience

Anatomy of an Exhibit Kiosk

I’ve had the pleasure of working on several exhibit kiosks during my time at the library. Most of them have been simple in their functionality, but we’re hoping to push some boundaries and get more creative in the future. Most recently, I’ve been working on building a kiosk for the Queering Duke History: Understanding the LGBTQ Experience at Duke and Beyond exhibit. It highlights oral history interviews with six former Duke students. This particular kiosk example isn’t very complicated, but I thought it would be fun to outline how it’s put together.

Screen shot of the 'attract' loop
Screen shot of the ‘attract’ loop


Most of our exhibits run on one of two late 2009 27″ iMacs that we have at our disposal. The displays are high-res (1920×1080) and vivid, the built-in speakers sound fine, and the processors are strong enough to display multimedia content without any trouble. Sometimes we use the kiosk machines to loop video content, so there’s no user interaction required. With this latest iteration, as users will be able to select audio files for playback, we’ll need to provide a mouse. We do our best to secure them to our kiosk stand, and in my tenure we’ve not had any problems. But I understand in the past that sometimes input devices have been damaged or gone missing. As we migrate to touch-screen machines in the future these sorts of issues won’t be a problem.


We tend to leave our kiosk machines out in the open in public spaces. If the machine isn’t sufficiently locked down, it can lead to it being used for purposes other than what we have in mind. Our approach is to setup a user account that has very narrow privileges and set it as the default login (so when the machine starts up it boots into our ‘kiosk’ account). In OS X you can setup user permissions, startup programs, and other settings via ‘Users and Groups’ in the System Preferences. We also setup power saving settings so that the computer will sleep between midnight and 6:00am using the Energy Saving Scheduler.

My general approach for interactive content is to build web pages, host them externally, and load them on to the kiosk in a web browser. I think the biggest benefits of this approach are that we can make updates without having to take down the kiosk and also track user interactions using Google analytics. However, there are drawbacks as well. We need to ensure that we have reliable network connectivity, which can be a challenge sometimes. By placing the machine online, we also add to the risk that it can be used for purposes other than what we intend. So in order to lock things down even more, we utilize xStand to display our interactive content. It allows for full screen browsing without any GUI chrome, black-listing and/or white-listing sites, and most importantly, it restarts automatically after a crash. In my experience it’s worked very well.

User Interface

This particular exhibit kiosk has only one real mission – to enable users to listen to a series of audio clips. As such, the UI is very simple. The first component is a looping ‘attract’ screen. The attract screen serves the dual purpose of drawing attention to the kiosk and keeping pixels from getting burned in on the display. For this kiosk I’m looping a short mp4 video file. The video container is wrapped in a link and when it’s clicked a javscript hides the video and displays the content div.


The content area of the page is very simple – there are a group of images that can be clicked on. When they are, a lightbox window (I like Fancy Box) pops up that holds the relevant audio clips. I’m using simple html5 audio playback controls to stream the mp3 files.

Screen shot of the 'home' screen UI
Screen shot of the ‘home’ screen UI
Screen shot of the audio playback UI
Screen shot of the audio playback UI

Finally, there’s another javascript running in the background that detects and user input. After 10 minutes of inactivity, the page reloads which brings back the attract screen.

The Exhibit

Queering Duke History runs through December 14, 2014 in the Perkins Library Gallery on West Campus. Stop by and check it out!

Analog to Digital to Analog: Impact of digital collections on permission-to-publish requests

We’ve written many posts on this blog that describe (in detail) how we build our digital collections at Duke, how we describe them, and how we make them accessible to researchers.

At a Rubenstein Library staff meeting this morning one of my colleagues–Sarah Carrier–gave an interesting report on how some of our researchers are actually using our digital collections. Sarah’s report focused specifically on permission-to-publish requests, that is, cases where researchers requested permission from the library to publish reproductions of materials in our collection in scholarly monographs, journal articles, exhibits, websites, documentaries, and any number of other creative works. To be clear, Sarah examined all of these requests, not just those involving digital collections. Below is a chart showing the distribution of the types of publication uses.

Types of permission-to-publish requests, FY2013-2014
Types of permission-to-publish requests, FY2013-2014

What I found especially interesting about Sarah’s report, though, is that nearly 76% of permission-to-publish requests did involve materials from the Rubenstein that have been digitized and are available in Duke Digital Collections. The chart below shows the Rubenstein collections that generate the highest percentage of requests. Notice that three of these in Duke Digital Collections were responsible for 40% of all permission-to-publish requests:

Collections generating the most permission-to-publish requests, FY2013-2014
Collections generating the most permission-to-publish requests, FY2013-2014

So, even though we’ve only digitized a small fraction of the Rubenstein’s holdings (probably less than 1%), it is this 1% that generates the overwhelming majority of permission-to-publish requests.

I find this stat both encouraging and discouraging at the same time. On one hand, it’s great to see that folks are finding our digital collections and using them in their publications or other creative output. On the other hand, it’s frightening to think that the remainder of our amazing but yet-to-be digitized collections are rarely if ever used in publications, exhibits, and websites.

I’m not suggesting that researchers aren’t using un-digitized materials. They certainly are, in record numbers. More patrons are visiting our reading room than ever before. So how do we explain these numbers? Perhaps research and publication are really two separate processes. Imagine you’ve just written a 400 page monograph on the evolution of popular song in America, you probably just want to sit down at your computer, fire up your web browser, and do a Google Image Search for “historic sheet music” to find some cool images to illustrate your book. Maybe I’m wrong, but if I’m not, we’ve got you covered. After it’s published, send us a hard copy. We’ll add it to the collection and maybe we’ll even digitize it someday.

[Data analysis and charts provided by Sarah Carrier – thanks Sarah!]

Large-Scale Digitization and Lessons from the CCC Project

Back in February 2014, we wrapped up the CCC project, a collaborative three year IMLS-funded digitization initiative with our partners in the Triangle Research Libraries Network (TRLN). The full title of the project is a mouthful, but it captures its essence: “Content, Context, and Capacity: A Collaborative Large-Scale Digitization Project on the Long Civil Rights Movement in North Carolina.”

Together, the four university libraries (Duke, NC State, UNC-Chapel Hill, NC Central) digitized over 360,000 documents from thirty-eight collections of manuscripts relevant to the project theme. About 66,000 were from our David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library collections.


So how large is “large-scale”? By comparison, when the project kicked off in summer 2011, we had a grand total of 57,000 digitized objects available online (“published”), collectively accumulated through sixteen years of digitization projects. That number was 69,000 by the time we began publishing CCC manuscripts in June 2012. Putting just as many documents online in three years as we’d been able to do in the previous sixteen naturally requires a much different approach to creating digital collections.

Traditional Digitization Large-Scale Digitization
Individual items identified during scanning No item-level identification: entire folders scanned
Descriptive metadata applied to each item Archival description only (e.g., at the folder level)
Robust portals for search & browse Finding aid / collection guide as access point

There are some considerable tradeoffs between document availability vs. discovery and access features, but going at this scale speeds publication considerably. Large-scale digitization was new for all four partners, so we benefited by working together.

Digitized documents accessed through an archival finding aid / collection guide with folder-level description.

Project Evaluation

CCC staff completed qualitative and quantitative evaluations of this large-scale digitization approach during the course of the project, ranging from conducting user focus groups and surveys to analyzing the impact on materials prep time and image quality control. Researcher assessments targeted three distinct user groups: 1) Faculty & History Scholars; 2) Undergraduate Students (in research courses at UNC & NC State); 3) NC Secondary Educators.

Here are some of the more interesting findings (consult the full reports for details):

  • Ease of Use. Faculty and scholars, for the most part, found it easy to use digitized content presented this way. Undergraduates were more ambivalent, and secondary educators had the most difficulty.
  • To Embed or Not to Embed. In 2012, Duke was the only library presenting the image thumbnails embedded directly within finding aids and a lightbox-style image navigator. Undergrads who used Duke’s interface found it easier to use than UNC or NC Central’s, and Duke’s collections had a higher rate of images viewed per folder than the other partners. UNC & NC Central’s interfaces now use a similar convention.
  • Potential for Use. Most users surveyed said they could indeed imagine themselves using digitized collections presented in this way in the course of their research. However, the approach falls short in meeting key needs for secondary educators’ use of primary sources in their classes.
  • Desired Enhancements. The top two most desired features by faculty/scholars and undergrads alike were 1) the ability to search the text of the documents (OCR), and 2) the ability to explore by topic, date, document type (i.e., things enabled by item-level metadata). PDF download was also a popular pick.


Impact on Duke Digitization Projects

Since the moment we began putting our CCC manuscripts online (June 2012), we’ve completed the eight CCC collections using this large-scale strategy, and an additional eight manuscript collections outside of CCC using the same approach. We have now cumulatively put more digital objects online using the large-scale method (96,000) than we have via traditional means (75,000). But in that time, we have also completed eleven digitization projects with traditional item-level identification and description.

We see the large-scale model for digitization as complementary to our existing practices: a technique we can use to meet the publication needs of some projects.


Do people actually use the collections when presented in this way? Some interesting figures:

  • Views / item in 2013-14 (traditional digital object; item-level description): 13.2
  • Views / item in 2013-14 (digitized image within finding aid; folder-level description): 1.0
  • Views / folder in 2013-14 (digitized folder view in finding aid): 8.5

It’s hard to attribute the usage disparity entirely to the publication method (they’re different collections, for one). But it’s reasonable to deduce (and unsurprising) that bypassing item-level description generally results in less traffic per item.

On the other hand, one of our CCC collections (The Allen Building Takeover Collection) has indeed seen heavy use–so much, in fact, that nearly 90% of TRLN’s CCC items viewed in the final six months of the project were from Duke. Its images averaged over 78 views apiece in the past year; its eighteen folders opened 363 times apiece. Why? The publication of this collection coincided with an on-campus exhibit. And it was incorporated into multiple courses at Duke for assignments to write using primary sources.

The takeaway is, sometimes having interesting, important, and timely content available for use online is more important than the features enabled or the process by which it all gets there.

Looking Ahead

We’ll keep pushing ahead with evolving our practices for putting digitized materials online. We’ve introduced many recent enhancements, like fulltext searching, a document viewer, and embedded HTML5 video. Inspired by the CCC project, we’ll continue to enhance our finding aids to provide access to digitized objects inline for context (e.g., The Jazz Loft Project Records). Our TRLN partners have also made excellent upgrades to the interfaces to their CCC collections (e.g., at UNC, at NC State) and we plan, as usual, to learn from them as we go.

Bento is Coming!

A unified search results page, commonly referred to as the “Bento Box” approach, has been an increasingly popular method to display search results on library websites. This method helps users gain quick access to a limited result set across a variety of information scopes while providing links to the various silos for the full results. NCSU’s QuickSearch implementation has been in place since 2005 and has been extremely influential on the approach taken by other institutions.

Way back in December of 2012, the DUL began investigating and planning for implementing a Bento search results layout on our website. Extensive testing revealed that users favor searching from a single box — as is their typical experience conducting web searches via Google and the like. Like many libraries, we’ve been using Summon as a unified discovery layer for articles, books, and other resources for a few years, providing an ‘All’ tab on our homepage as the entry point. Summon aggregates these various sources into a common index, presented in a single stream on search results pages. Our users often find this presentation overwhelming or confusing and prefer other search tools. As such, we’ve demoted the our ‘All’ search on our homepage — although users can set it as the default thanks to the very slick Default Scope search tool built by Sean Aery (with inspiration from the University of Notre Dame’s Hesburgh Libraries website):

Default Search Tool

The library’s Web Experience Team (WebX) proposed the Bento project in September of 2013. Some justifications for the proposal were as follows:

Bento boxing helps solve these problems:

  • We won’t have to choose which silo should be our default search scope (in our homepage or masthead)
  • Synthesizing relevance ranking across very different resources is extremely challenging, e.g., articles get in the way of books if you’re just looking for books (and vice-versa).
  • We need to move from “full collection discovery to full library discovery” – in the same search, users discover expertise, guides/experts, other library provisions alongside items from the collections. 1
  • “A single search box communicates confidence to users that our search tools can meet their information needs from a single point of entry.” 2


  1. Thirteen Ways of Looking at Libraries, Discovery, and the Catalog by Lorcan Dempsey.
  2. How Users Search the Library from a Single Search Box by Cory Lown, Tito Sierra, and Josh Boyer

Sean also developed this mockup of what Bento results could look like on our website and we’ve been using it as the model for our project going forward:

Bento Mockup

For the past month our Bento project team has been actively developing our own implementation. We have had the great luxury of building upon work that was already done by brilliant developers at our sister institutions (NCSU and UNC) — and particular thanks goes out to Tim Shearer at UNC Libraries who provided us with the code that they are using on their Bento results page, which in turn was heavily influenced by the work done at NCSU Libraries.

Our approach includes using results from Summon, Endeca, Springshare, and Google. We’re building this as a Drupal module which will make it easy to integrate into our site. We’re also hosting the code on GitHub so others can gain from what we’ve learned — and to help make our future enhancements to the module even easier to implement.

Our plan is to roll out Bento search in August, so stay tuned for the official launch announcement!


PS — as the 4th of July holiday is right around the corner, here are some interesting items from our digital collections related to independence day: