Revitalizing DSpace at Duke

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

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

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

DSpace at Duke: What’s in It?

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

Integrations With Other Systems

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

Credit: Paolo Mangiafico

 

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

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

Upgrading DSpace: Ripple Effects

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

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

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

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

User Interface Enhancements in Action

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

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

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

Bootstrap / Bootswatch Theme

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

Images, Icons, and Filesizes

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

Usage & Attention Stats

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

Rights

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

Scholars@Duke Profiles & ORCID Links

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

Other Development Areas

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

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

Coming Soon

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

Streamlined Sidebar

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

Citations

Present a copyable citation on the item page.


…And More!

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

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

Charm City Sounds

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the 52nd Association for Recorded Sound Collections Annual Conference in Baltimore, MD.  From the ARSC website:

Founded in 1966, the Association for Recorded Sound Collections, Inc. is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and study of sound recordings—in all genres of music and speech, in all formats, and from all periods.

ARSC is unique in bringing together private individuals and institutional professionals. Archivists, librarians, and curators representing many of the world’s leading audiovisual repositories participate in ARSC alongside record collectors, record dealers, researchers, historians, discographers, musicians, engineers, producers, reviewers, and broadcasters.

ARSC’s vitality springs from more than 1000 knowledgeable, passionate, helpful members who really care about sound recordings.

ARSC Annual Conferences encourage open sharing of knowledge through informative presentations, workshops, and panel discussions. Tours, receptions, and special local events heighten the camaraderie that makes ARSC conferences lively and enjoyable.

This quote highlights several of the things that have made ARSC resources valuable and educational to me as the Audio Production Specialist at Duke Libraries:

  • The group’s membership includes both professionals and enthusiasts from a variety of backgrounds and types of institutions.
  • Members’ interests and specialties span a broad array of musical genres, media types, and time periods.
  • The organization serves as a repository of knowledge on obscure and obsolete sound recording media and technology.

This year’s conference offered a number of presentations that were directly relevant to our work here in Digital Collections and Curation Services, highlighting audio collections that have been digitized and the challenges encountered along the way.  Here’s a quick recap of some that stood out to me:

  • “Uncovering the Indian Neck Folk Festival Collection” by Maya Lerman (Folklife Center, Library of Congress).  This presentation showcased a collection of recordings and related documentation from a small invitation-only folk festival that ran from 1961-2014 and included early performances from Reverend Gary Davis, Dave Van Ronk, and Bob Dylan.  It touched on some of the difficulties in archiving optical and born-digital media (lack of metadata, deterioration of CD-Rs) as well as the benefits of educating prospective donors on best practices for media and documentation.
  • “A Garage in South Philly: The Vernacular Music Research Archive of Thornton Hagert” by David Sager and Anne Stanfield-Hagert.  This presentation paid tribute to the massive jazz archive of the late Mr. Hagert, comprising over 125,000 items of printed music, 75,000 recordings, 5,500 books, and 2,000 periodicals.  It spoke to the difficulties of selling or donating a private collection of this magnitude without splitting it up and undoing the careful, but idiosyncratic organizational structure as envisioned by the collector.
  • “Freedom is a Constant Struggle: The Golden State Mutual Sound Recordings” by Kelly Besser, Yasmin Dessem and Shanni Miller (UCLA Library).  This presentation covered the audio material from the archive of an African American-owned insurance company founded in 1925 in the Bay Area.  While audio was only a small part of this larger collection, the speakers demonstrated how it added additional context and depth to photographs, video, and written documents.  They also showed how this kind of archival audio can be an important tool in telling the stories of previously suppressed or unheard voices.
  • “Sounds, Sights and Sites of Activism in ’68” by Guha Shankar (Library of Congress).  This presentation examined a collection of recordings from “Resurrection City” in Washington, DC.  This was an encampment that was part of the Poor People’s Campaign, a demonstration for human rights organized by Martin Luther King, Jr. prior to his assassination in 1968.  The talk showed how these archival documents are being accessed and used to inform new forms of social and political activism and wider circulation via podcasts, websites, public lecture and exhibitions.

The ARSC Conference also touched on my personal interests in American traditional and vernacular music, especially folk and blues from the early 20th Century.  Presentations on the bluegrass scene in Baltimore, blues guitarist Johnny Shines, education outreach by the creators of PBS’s “American Epic” documentaries, and Hickory, NC’s own Blue Sky Boys provided a welcome break from favorite archivist topics such as metadata, workflows, and quality control.  Other fun parts of the conference included an impromptu jam session, a silent auction of books & records, and posters documenting the musical history of Baltimore.  True to the city’s nickname, I was charmed by my time in Baltimore and inspired by the amazingly diverse and dedicated work towards collecting and preserving our audio heritage by the ARSC community.

 

 

To Four Years and Beyond

It is graduation week here at Duke and everyone is scattering about like pollen in the air. There are large tents popping up, students taking pictures in gowns, and people taking long walks across campus. These students, like the groups before them, are embarking on new territory.

They are setting out into the world as adults preparing for the rest of their lives. For four years, they have been studying, partying and sleeping their way through life as pseudo grown ups, but now they have reached an unfamiliar page in their lives. They are being faced with societal expectations, financial obligations, and a world that is still in progress. How will this fresh batch of individuals fit into our ever changing society? I’m sure people have been asking this question for decades, but in asking this question I managed to find some digital collections featuring people who contributed to society in various ways.


Judy Richardson took part in the Civil Rights Movement through the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.


Deena Stryker went to Cuba in order to document the Cuban Revolution.


Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer went to Argentina during the Dirty War.


H. Lee Waters travelled through the South to film and showcase the daily lives of Southerners.


All of these individuals went out into the world and gave something to it. For the past four years, our country has witnessed copious changes. We have seen serious adjustments in political climate, social activism, and technology. It will be interesting to see where the 2018 Duke graduates will go and what they will do in their open future.

Shiny New Chrome!

Chrome bumper and grill

In 2008, Google released their free web browser, Chrome.  It’s improved speed and features led to quick adoption by users, and by the middle of 2012, Chrome had become the world’s most popular browser. Recent data puts it at over 55% market share [StatCounter].

As smartphones and tablets took off, Google decided to build an “operating system free” computer based around the Chrome browser – the first official Chromebook launched in mid-2011.  The idea was that since everyone is doing their work on the web anyway (assuming your work==Google Docs), then there wasn’t a need for most users to have a “full” operating system – especially since full operating systems require maintenance patches and security updates.  Their price-point didn’t hurt either – while some models now top-out over $1000, many Chromebooks come in under $300.Acer Chromebook

We purchased one of the cheaper models recently to do some testing and see if it might work for any DUL use-cases.  The specific model was an Acer Chromebook 14, priced at $250.  It has a 14” screen at full HD resolution, a metal body to protect against bumps and bruises, and it promises up to 12 hours of battery life.  Where we’d usually look at CPU and memory specs, these tend to be less important on a Chromebook — you’re basically just surfing the web, so you shouldn’t need a high-end (pricey) CPU nor a lot of memory.  At least that’s the theory.

But what can it do?

Basic websurfing, check!  Google Docs, check!  Mail.duke.edu for work-email, check!  Duke.box.com, check!  LibGuides, LibCal, Basecamp, Jira, Slack, Evernote … check!

LastPass even works to hold all the highly-complex, fully secure passwords that you use on all those sites (you do you complex passwords, don’t you?).

Not surprisingly, if you do a lot of your day-to-day work inside a browser, then a Chromebook can easily handle that.  For a lot of office workers, a Chromebook may very well get the job done – sitting in a meeting, typing notes into Evernote; checking email while you’re waiting for a meeting; popping into Slack to send someone a quick note.  All those work perfectly fine.

What about the non-web stuff I do?

Microsoft Word and Excel, well, kinda sorta.  You can upload them to Google Docs and then access them through the usual Google Docs web interface.  Of course, you can then share them as Google Docs with other people, but to get them back into “real” Microsoft Word requires an extra step.

Aleph, umm, no.  SAP for your budgets, umm, no. Those apps simply won’t run on the ChromeOS.  At least not directly.

Acer ChromebookBut just as many of you currently “remote” into your work computer from home, e.g., you _can_ use a Chromebook to “remote” into other machines, including “virtual” machines that we can set up to run standard Windows applications.  There’s an extra step or two in the process to reserve a remote system and connect to it.  But if you’re in a job where just a small amount of your work needs “real” Windows applications, there still might be some opportunity to leverage Chromebooks as a cheaper alternative to a laptop.

Final Thoughts:

I’m curious to see where (or not) Chromebooks might fit into the DUL technology landscape.  Their price is certainly budget-friendly, and since Google automatically updates and patches them, they could reduce IT staff effort.  But there are clearly issues we need to investigate.  Some of them seem solvable, at least technically.  But it’s not clear that the solution will be usable in day-to-day work.Google Chrome logo

If you’re interested in trying one out, please contact me!

 

“We have so much time and so little to do. Strike that; reverse it.”

We are an ambitious organization, and that is a wonderful trait which directs our motivations and intentions towards good service to our users and community.  But what happens when we realize that we have so much to accomplish in a short period of time?  It can either cripple us or make us excited and frantic, like Willa Wonka’s reaction when he reveals to Charlie that he has won the contest.   Within the Libraries, there are so many great ideas and valuable projects worth doing that it creates competition for the time and people available.

Image for multitasking

In the summer and early fall of 2017, the ITS leadership team developed a roadmap document for valuable projects we believed were established priorities for the Libraries requiring ITS resources.  The visualization was intended to be an indication of just how much was in the queue rather than a timeline of scheduling and completing projects.  Moreover, the visualization indicates how much operations and maintenance consume the capacity to do new projects, eventually and completely overwhelming opportunity for new projects.  It served its purpose of showing how even a subset of projects can look daunting, but it also only reveals a glimpse of the preparation, effort, and actual work it takes to manage multiple projects in a portfolio.  It also lacks information about the projects that are not in the roadmap or what the process should be to shift priorities when a new initiative is created, how to react to unexpected opportunities for funding, or a when a grant proposal is awarded.  Most importantly, it lacks the detail about the people involved in the projects, the most important part of project management.

ITS major projects 3+ year roadmap
ITS major projects 3+ year roadmap

The realignment of the Libraries announced this spring gave me the opportunity to reconsider staff strengths and roles in the face of the priorities already documented, and specifically I wanted to consider a new way of managing the streams of projects within the portfolio being created.  Project management, regardless of the methodology, creates a culture, and, at its best, creates an inclusive, open, collaborative, and cooperative culture.  My ultimate goal for the new Digital Strategies and Technology division is to create opportunity for that culture to develop throughout the Libraries, led by the example of DST.

Digital Strategies and Technology organizational chart
Digital Strategies and Technology organizational chart

At its foundation, it is important to establish that no one department owns any project completely.  Leadership may come from one department, while project staff will come from another, and stakeholders may come from one or more other departments throughout the Libraries.  Starting off with three streams of project leadership, Library Systems (Karen Newbery), Web Experience (Tom Crichlow), and Application Development (Cory Lown), provides the Libraries new pathways to envisage how ideas can become successful and completed projects.  We hope creating these three streams will ease the engagement for stakeholders with project leaders, as well as create a reasonable pipeline and queue for evaluating and prioritizing prospective projects and ideas.

image for team work

Project leadership requires executive support and broad awareness of the strategic priorities across the Libraries.  The new position of Director of ITS will oversee the portfolio of projects from ensuring that project timelines are properly defined, ITS staff are assigned to the right projects based on their strengths and capacity, expectation management with project stakeholders, as well as advocating for resources, changes to priority, and on going and consistent communication.  Because the project leaders do not have their own teams, ITS and DUL staff will have the opportunity to work with different leaders for various projects.  Balancing a limited number of project team staff across three (or more) parallel projects will require detailed planning, agility, and effective communication that we are searching for in the new Director of ITS.

Beyond the organizational changes, the Digital Strategies and Technology Leadership Team has begun to develop definitions and guidelines to help new projects start off strong.  Over the next couple of months, we will publish a wiki that documents what we believe are critical elements for the strong foundation of projects.  There will be definitions of projects roles, setting expectations from the start of roles and responsibilities, a template for a project charter that the project sponsor, project leader, stakeholders, and team can use to set the initial agreement for the project, and a guide for setting timelines and sprint planning so that project team members can manage their time within the project and with respect to other projects or priorities.

We look forward to sharing these ideas soon and continuing the conversations about the best ways to fulfill our ambitions and strategic directions together.

Baby Advice (from Duke Digital Collections)

As a recent first-time parent, I’m constantly soliciting advice from other more experienced people I meet about how best to take care of my baby. I thought it might be fun to peruse the Duke Digital Collections to see what words of wisdom could be gleaned from years past.


This 1930 ad, part of the Medicine and Madison Avenue collection, advises that we should make regular visits to the doctor’s office so our baby can be ‘carefully examined, measured, weighed and recorded.’ Excellent – we’ve been doing that!


This one from 1946 offers the ‘newest facts and findings on baby care and feeding.’ Overall the advice largely seems applicable to today. I found this line to be particularly fun:

Let your child participate in household tasks — play at dusting or cooking or bedmaking. It’s more of a hindrance than a help, but it gives the youngster a feeling of being needed and loved.


Baby strollers seem to have many innovative features these days, but more than 100 years ago the Oriole Go-Basket — a ‘combined Go-Cart, High Chair, Jumper and Bassinet’ — let you take your baby everywhere.


I’m a puzzled father of a rather young child — it’s like this 1933 ad was written just for me…


Of all the digitized materials in the collections I searched through, this 1928 booklet from the Emergence of Advertising in America collection seems to hold the most knowledge. On page 15, they offer ‘New Ways to Interest the Whole Family’ and suggest serving ‘Mapl-Flake’ and ‘Checkr-Corn Flake’ — are these really Web startups from 2005?


And finally, thanks to this 1955 ad, I’m glad to know I can give my baby 7-up, especially when mixed in equal parts with milk. ‘It’s a wholesome combination — and it works!’

The Backbone of the Library, the Library Catalog

Did you ever stop to think about how the materials you find in the Library’s catalog search get there?  Did you know the Duke Libraries have three staff members dedicated to making sure Duke’s library catalog is working so faculty and students can do their research? The library catalog is the backbone of the library and I hope by the end of this post you will have a new appreciation for some of the people who support this backbone of the library and what is involved to do that.

Diagram of functions of a library catalog
Functions of a library catalog

Discovery Services is charged with supporting the integrated library system (ILS), aka “the catalog”. What is an “integrated library system”?  According to Wikipedia, “an ILS (is used) to order and acquire, receive and invoice, catalog, circulate, track and shelve materials.” Our software is used by every staff person in all the Duke Libraries, including the professional school libraries, the Goodson Law Library, the Ford Library at the Fuqua School of Business, and the Medical Center Library, and the Duke Kunshan University Library. At Duke, we have been using Ex Libris’s Aleph as our ILS since 2004.

Discovery Services staff work with staff in Technical Services who do the acquiring, receiving and invoicing and cataloging of materials. Our support for that department includes setting up vendors who send orders and bibliographic records via the EDIFACT format or the MARC format. Some of our catalogers do original cataloging where they describe the book in the MARC format, and a great many of our records are copy cataloged from OCLC. Our ILS needs to be able to load these records, regardless of format, into our relational database.

We work with staff in Access and Delivery Services/Circulation in all the libraries to set up loan policies so that patrons may borrow the materials in our database. All loan policies are based on the patron type checking out the item, the library that owns the item and the item’s type. We currently have 59 item types for everything from books, to short-term loans, sound CD’s, and even 3D scanners! There are 37 patron types ranging from faculty, grad students, staff, undergrads, alumni and even retired library employees. And we support a total of 12 libraries. Combine all of those patrons, items and libraries, and there are a lot of rules! We edit policies for who may request an item and where they can choose to pick it up, when fines are applied and when overdue and lost notices are sent to patrons. We also load the current course lists and enrollment so students and faculty can use the materials in Course Reserves.

Diagram of ILS Connections
ILS Connections

The ILS is connected with other systems. There was a recent post here on Bitstreams about the work of the Discovery Strategy Team. Our ILS, Aleph, is represented in both the whiteboard photo and the Lucidchart photo. One example of an integration point the Library’s discovery interface. We also connect to the software that is used at the Library Service Center (GFA). When an item is requested from that location, the request is sent from the ILS to the software at the Library Service Center so they can pull and deliver the item. The ILS is also integrated with software outside of the library’s support including the Bursar’s Office, the University’s Identity Management system, and the University’s accounting system.

 

 

We also export our data for projects in which the library is involved, such as HathiTrust, Ivy Plus, TRLN Discovery (coming soon!), and SHARE-VDE. These shared collection projects often require extra work from Discovery Services to make sure the data the project wants is included in our export.

Discovery Services spent the fall semester working on upgrading Aleph. We worked with our OIT partners to create new virtual servers, install the Aleph software and upgrade our current data to the new version. There were many configuration changes, and we needed to test all of our custom programs to be sure they worked with the new version. We have been using the Aleph software for a more than a decade, and while we’ve upgraded the software over the years, libraries have continued to change.

folio logo

We are currently preparing a project to migrate to a new ILS and library services platform, FOLIO. That means moving our eight million bibliographic records and associated information, our two million patron records, hundreds of thousands orders, items, e-resources into the new data format FOLIO will require. We will build new servers, install the software, review and/or recreate all of our custom programs that we currently use. We will integrate FOLIO with all the applications the library uses, as well as applications across campus. It will be a multi-year project that will take thousands of hours of staff time to complete. The Discovery Services staff is involved in some of the FOLIO special interest groups working with people across the world who are working together to develop FOLIO.

We work hard to make it easy for our patrons to find library material, request it or borrow it. The next time you check out a book from the library, take a moment to think about all the work that was required behind the scenes to make that book available to you.

The Art of Revolution

 

Model for Monument to the Third International, Vladimir Tatlin

Russia has been back in the news of late for a variety of reasons, some, perhaps, more interesting than others. Last year marked the centennial of the 1917 Russian Revolution, arguably one of the foundational events of the 20th century. The 1917 Revolution was the beginning of enormous upheaval that touched all parts of Russian life. While much of this tumult was undeniably and grotesquely violent, some real beauty and lasting works of art emerged from the maelstrom. New forms of visual art and architecture, rooted in a utopian vision for the new, modern society, briefly flourished. One of the most visible of these movements, begun in the years immediately preceding the onset of revolution, was Constructivism.

 

As first articulated by Vladimir Tatlin, Constructivism as a philosophy held that art should be ‘constructed’; that is to say, art shouldn’t be created as an expression of beauty, but rather to represent the world and should be used for a social purpose. Artists like Tatlin, El Lissitzky, Naum Gabo, and Alexander Rodchenko worked in conversation with the output of the Cubists and Futurists (along with their Russian Suprematist compatriots, like Kazimir Malevich), distilling everyday objects to their most basic forms and materials.

Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge, El Lissitzky, 1919

As the Revolution proceeded, artists of all kinds were rapidly brought on board to help create art that would propagate the Bolshevik cause. Perhaps one of El Lissitzky’s most well-known works, “Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge”, is illustrative of this phenomenon. It uses the new, abstract, constructed forms to convey the image of the Red Army (the Bolsheviks) penetrating and defeating the White Army (the anti-Bolsheviks). Alexander Rodchenko’s similarly well-known “Books” poster, an advertisement for the Lengiz Publishing House, is another informative example, blending the use of geometric forms and bright colors with advertising for a  publishing house that produced materials important to the Soviet cause.

 

Lengiz, Alexander Rodchenko, 1924

Constructivism (and its close kin, Suprematism) would go on to have an enormous impact on Russian and Soviet propaganda and other political materials throughout the existence of the Soviet Union. The Duke Digital Repository has an impressive collection of Russian political posters, spanning almost the entire history of the Soviet Union, from the 1917 Revolution on through to the Perestroika of the 1980s. The collection contains posters and placards emphasizing the benefits of Communism, the achievements of the Soviet Union under Communism, and finally the potential dangers inherent in the reconstruction and openness that characterized the period under Mikhail Gorbachev.  I wanted to use this blog post to highlight a few of my favorites below, some of which bear evidence of this broader art historical legacy.

 

Literacy, the road to Communism, 1920
Easter. Contrast of joyous Easter of Long Ago with Serious Workers of Com.[mmunist] Russia, 1930
Member of a Religious Sect Is Fooling the People, 1925
Young Leninists are the children of Il’ich, 1924
Female workers and peasants, make your way to the voting booth! Under the red banner, in the same ranks as the men, we inspire fear in the bourgeoisie!, 1925

 

Living Our Best DSpace Lives

Last week, an indefatigable team at Duke University Libraries released an upgraded version of the DukeSpace platform, completing  the first phase of the critical project that I wrote about in this space in January.  One member of the team remarked that we now surely have “one of the best DSpaces in the world,” and I dare anyone to prove otherwise.

DukeSpace serves as the Libraries’ open-access institutional repository, which makes it a key aspect of our mission to “partner in research,” as outlined in our strategic plan.  As I wrote in January, the version of the DSpace platform that underlies the service had been stuck at 1.7, which was released during 2010 – the year the iPad came out, and Lady Gaga wore a meat dress. We upgraded to version 6.2, though the differences between the two versions are so great that it would be more accurate to call the project a migration.

That migration turned out to be one of the more complex technology projects we’ve undertaken over the years. The main complicating factor was the integration with Symplectic Elements, the Research Information Management System (RIMS) that powers the Scholars at Duke site. As far as we know, we are the first institution to integrate Elements with DSpace 6.2. It was a beast to do, and we are happy to share our knowledge gained if it will help any of our peers out there trying to do the same thing.

Meanwhile, feel free to click on over to and enjoy one of the best DSpaces in the world. And congratulations to one of the mightiest teams assembled since Spain won the World Cup!

Learn from the Past, Organize for the Future

This Friday and Saturday, March 23 – 24, veterans of the Civil Rights Movement, contemporary activists from the Movement for Black Lives, scholars, librarians, educators, and students are gathering in Durham for the culminating events of the SNCC Digital Gateway Project. We hope you can be there too.

The SNCC Legacy Project, the Center for Documentary Studies, and Duke University Libraries joined forces over four years ago to create the SNCC Digital Gateway, where those who made the history are central to telling the story. Now as the project nears completion, we’re reflecting on the collaboration and celebrating the good work.

The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)—the only youth-led national civil rights group—organized a grassroots movement in the 1960s that empowered Black communities and transformed the nation. Veteran SNCC activists have been collaborating with Duke University to build the SNCC Digital Gateway, a website told from the perspective of the activists themselves that documents SNCC’s work building democracy from the ground up and makes those experiences, thinking, and strategies accessible for the generations to come.

Over 20 SNCC veterans, members of the Durham chapter of BYP100, phillip agnew of Dream Defenders, Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson, co-director of Highlander Center for Research and Education, local activists, educators, students, and more are coming together this weekend to reflect on the creation of the SNCC Digital Gateway and to explore how grassroots organizing work of the past can inform today’s struggles for justice and democracy.

Events on Friday, March 23, taking place in the Richard White Lecture Hall at Duke University, will focus on the partnership between SNCC veterans and the academy and the nuts and bolts of doing collaborative digital humanities work. Then on Saturday, March 24, participants will gather at the Walker Complex at North Carolina Central University to explore how SNCC’s organizing can inform today’s struggles and strategize about electoral politics and power, grassroots organizing, controlling the public narrative, coalition building, and more.

You can find more information about closing events here. Don’t miss this chance to learn from and interact with those who were organizing in the sixties and those who are organizing today. Bring yourselves. Bring others. It’s free, and you’re invited.

Notes from the Duke University Libraries Digital Projects Team