A Day in the Life of Digital Collections

I joined the digital collections team in early December 2013, and from day 1 I have been immersed in the details of our long list of unique projects, all with their own set of schedules, stakeholders, and resource needs.  My task has also been to evaluate and improve our overall workflow, create outreach and promotional opportunities (like this blog!), and really anything else that comes up that is related to digital projects. What does that all mean in terms of day-to-day work? It means I attend A LOT of meetings.

Haitian Declaration of Independence
Just another day in the Digital Production Center imaging the Haitian Declaration of Independence!

Luckily most of my meetings are absolutely fascinating and revolve around very exciting projects and materials.  Here are some of my favorite meetings from the last few weeks.  Truth be told, I didn’t go to all of these in one day, but they are a pretty representative sample of the types of meetings I do attend everyday.

Haitian Declaration of Independence:  Perhaps you have heard that the Rubenstein library has a copy of this historic document?  The digital collections implementation team recently met with RL curator Will Hansen to discuss digitizing and providing access to the declaration, and of course he brought it with him.  Its not that large to be honest, but very impressive.  In DPPS we are using this project as catalyst to implement an image server and a new document viewing tool to provide better access to documents like the declaration.

 

“Girl Lost in Thought at Fast Food Counter” Image from the William Gedney Digital Collection

Workflows, Workflows, workflows:  Every week I attend operational meetings with both the Duke Digital Collections Implementation teams and the Digital Production Center to discuss work in progress, scheduling, new projects, and how to perfect our ever changing workflows.  I presented, along with my colleagues from Digital Projects and Production Services as part of our monthly ITS meeting, First Wednesday, on our overall process and some of the changes we have been making since I came on board.  Check out all of our slides! 

Gedney:  Duke Digital Collections patrons are no strangers to the William Gedney Photographs and Writings digital collection.  The physical collection is being re-processed and we will be digitizing more of it later in 2014.  This is a large project with a long timeline, but we are so excited to provide access to more materials in one of our most popular digital collections.

 

Early Greek MS:  the Rubenstein Library has a large collection of early Greek manuscripts.  Many items have already been digitized, and Rubenstein Technical Services is in the process of cataloging them.     Once cataloging is complete, we will be able to plan the publishing aspects of this project.  Both DPPS and our colleagues in the Collaboratory for Classics Computing are thrilled to provide access to digital versions of these items.

Stay tuned for continuing developments in these and all the other projects we have in progress!

GreekMS
A scanned image from one of the Greek Manuscripts in the Rubenstein collection.

 

Post authored by Molly Bragg

Spring Break Travel Tips from Digital Collections

Leave Winter Behind

Today marks the beginning of Spring Break 2014 for Duke students!  We recognize that Spring Break is normally a time of quiet reflection, but for those interested in getting away this week, we’d like to offer some travel tips courtesy of our historic advertising collections.  There’s still time to plan your trip!  Let’s get started.

Dude Ranch Vacations

Where to Go

Sure, the beach is always popular with spring breakers, but consider some alternatives.  Did you know that now is the time to plan Dude Ranch Vacations?

How to Get There

With so many transportation options available it’s hard to choose.  Take in the scenery at a slower pace aboard the Vista Dome cars on the California Zephyr train, “the most talked about train in the country,” or go by Greyhound Bus to “meet the real America.

If efficiency is more your thing, travel by air to get to your destination a little faster, because, as American Airlines reminds us, “air is everywhere.”  Still not convinced?  Take United Airline’s advice: “All the Important People Fly nowadays.

Compared to buses and trains, modern air travel offers such an abundance of options and amenities. For an authentic Spring Break experience, you could reserve a seat on Resort Airline’s “Flying Houseparty” to the Caribbean or maybe grab a beverage in Continental Airline’s Coach Pub in the Sky as featured in the commercial below.

If you’re looking for something a bit more refined,  be sure to book a flight on United where master chefs demonstrate their “cosmopolitan artistry in the finest meals aloft” and where your flight attendant is guaranteed to meet United’s strict qualifications for employment (gender, age, height, weight, and marital status).

What to Take

vacation hair Whether you travel by air, train, or bus, you’ll want to pack only the essentials for your Spring Break getaway.  Start with Dr. West’s Travel Kit, which includes toothpaste and a mini-toothbrush in a “handsome sanitary glass container,” all for just 50 cents.  Be sure to include a bottle of Kreml Shampoo as well so you don’t get caught with embarrassing vacation hair.

Just because you’re traveling doesn’t mean you need to leave your entertainment at home. “Lead the Vacation Fun Parade” by packing super-tiny, ultra-compact Zenith portable radios (only 5 1/2 pounds!).

Finally, if you’re overwhelmed by too many travel options and would rather stay home, avoid the crowds, and spend your money elsewhere this Spring Break, treat yourself to something special:  It’s Spring, Get a Pontiac.

Post contributed by Noah Huffman

Announcing the Duke Chapel Recordings Digital Collection and Video Player!

Duke Digital Collections is excited to announce our newest digital collection: Duke Chapel Recordings!

 dukechapel

This digital collection consists of a selection of audio and video recordings from the extensive collection of Duke University Chapel recordings housed in the Duke University Archives, part of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.   The digital collection features 168 audio and video recordings from the chapel including sermons from notable African American and female preachers.  This project has been a fruitful collaboration between Duke Chapel, the Divinity School, the Rubenstein Library and of course the digital projects team in Duke University Libraries.  To learn more, visit the Devil’s Tale blog (the blog of the Rubenstein Library).

But wait, there’s more!

sermon video
Brenda Kirton speaks in this still from one of the Duke Chapel Recordings digital collection.

Fifteen of the recordings were digitized from VHS tapes and are available as video playable from within the digital collection.  These are our first digitized videos delivered via our own infrastructure. Our previous efforts have all relied on external platforms like YouTube, iTunes, and the Internet Archive to serve up the videos. While these tools are familiar to users, feature-rich, and built on a strong technological backbone, we have been intending for quite awhile to develop support for delivering digital video in-house.

When you view a video from the Duke Chapel Recordings, you’ll see a “poster frame” image of the featured speaker. Click the play button to begin (of course!) and the video will play within the page. Watching the videos is a “pseudo-streaming” or “progressive download” experience akin to YouTube. That is, you can start watching almost immediately, and you can click ahead to arbitrary points in the middle of the video at any time.  And while you might occasionally have to wait for things to buffer, videos should play smoothly on desktop, tablet, and smartphone devices, and can be easily enlarged to full-screen. Finally, there’s a Download link right below the video if you’d like to take the files with you.

Behind the scenes, we are using the robust JW Player tool, for which the Pro version was recently made available by site-license to the Duke community by our friends in the Office of Information Technology. JW Player is media player software that uses a combination of HTML5 video and Javascript. It can play video from a streaming server, but as in our case, it can also pseudo-stream video over HTTP via a standard web server. Using HTML5 video, the browser requests and receives only the chunks of the video file that it needs as it plays. Almost all of the major modern browsers support HTML5 video delivering H.264/AAC MP4 content (our video encoding of choice), and a peek at our use statistics indicates that more than 80% of our users visit our site with these browsers.  For the rest, JW Player renders a nearly identical media player using Adobe Flash.

We’re looking forward to hearing from our users and learning from our peers who are working with digital media to keep refining our approach.  We hope to make many more videos from our collections available in the near future.

Post authored by Sean Aery and Molly Bragg.

Digitization Details: Re-Formatting Audio Cassettes

Cassette
A real live audio cassette!

The 310 oral histories that comprise the newly published additions to the Behind the Veil digital collection were originally recorded in the 1990’s to the now (nearly) obsolete compact cassette format—what were commonly called “tapes”.  The beauty of the compact cassette format was that it was small and portable (especially compared to the earlier reel-to-reel tape format), relatively durable due to its hard plastic outer shell, and most of all—could easily be recorded to at home by non-professional users.  This made it perfect for oral historians who needed to be able to record interviews in the field at low cost with minimal hassle.  

Unfortunately, the compact cassette format hasn’t aged particularly well.  Due to cheap materials, poor storage conditions, and normal mechanical wear and tear, many of these tapes are already borderline unplayable a short 40 years after their first introduction.  This introduces a number of challenges to our process of converting the audio information on the tapes into a digital file format that can easily be accessed online by patrons.  I won’t exhaustively detail our digitization process here, but only touch on a few issues and how we dealt with them.

Inspecting a tape
Our fearless audio digitization expert carefully inspects a tapes.

Physical degradation and damage to tapes: We visually inspected each tape prior to digitization.  Any that were visibly broken or had twisted or jammed tape were rehoused in new outer shells.  At least with this collection, rehousing allowed us to successfully play back all of the tapes.

Poor quality of original recordings: We also did a brief audio inspection of each tape before digitization.  This allowed us to identify issues with audio quality.  We found that the interviews were done in a wide variety of locations, often with background traffic, television, appliance and conversation noise bleeding into the recording.  There was no easy fix for this, as these issues are inherent in the recording.  Our solution was to provide the best possible playback on a high-quality cassette deck, a direct and balanced signal path, and high quality analog-to-digital conversion at the preservation standard of 24 bits, 96.1 kHz.  This ensured that the digital copy faithfully reproduced the audio material on the cassette, warts and all.

Other errors in original recordings: There were some issues in the original recordings that we opted to fix via digital editing or processing in our files for patron use (while retaining the unaltered preservation files).

  • In cases where there was a significant gap of silence in the middle of a tape, we edited out the silence for continuity’s sake.
  • In cases where there were loud and abrasive clicks, pops, or microphone noise at the beginning or end of a tape side, we edited out these noises.
  • Several tapes were apparently recorded at the wrong speed, resulting in a “chipmunk voice” effect.  I used a Speed/Pitch function in our audio capture software to electronically slow these files down so that they play back intelligibly and as intended.
deck
Audio digitization deck

Another challenge, common to all time-based analog media, is the cassette tape’s “real-time” nature.  Unlike a digital file that can be copied nearly instantaneously, a 90-minute cassette tape actually takes 90 minutes to make a digital copy.  Currently we run two cassette decks simultaneously, allowing us to double our throughput.

As you can see, audio cassette digitization is more than just a matter of pressing “play”!

–post written by Zeke Graves

Still want to learn more about the Behind the Veil collection of oral histories?  Check out coverage of the collection over at Rubenstein Library blog, The Devil’s Tale.

 

About “Digital Collections”

When users see the phrase “Digital Collections” how are they to know it’s where they’ll find these photos of Fidel Castro looking in his fridge for leftovers?
We have a problem with “Digital Collections.” It’s a phrase that’s exclusive to libraries and librarians, mysterious to patrons and web site users, and inadequate for its purpose. It describes what it references with about the same precision that “athletic endeavor” describes a Duke-UNC basketball game.

Yet it seems a given that libraries use the phrase to refer to their online installations of digitized primary sources from unique or rare collections. I remember talking about “digital collections” when I was a graduate student in Information and Library Science in the 1990s; the phrase just seemed to stick in our field, despite having almost no meaning outside of it.

We use it at Duke, and our usability studies show  time and again that it’s one of the least understood things on our web site. People tend to be excited when they find our collections and understand what they are. We just seem to have a problem providing the context they need to get there.

I don’t  have the answer to the problem today, but I’ve begun to do some thinking on how libraries cue web site users on their digitized collections, how we describe the resources, and how we might better convey what we’re doing for our audience. At Duke, we’re preparing to update our design for our “Digital Collections,” and my hope is that when we’ve finished, we’re calling it something entirely different.

On This Valentine’s Day, Cook up Something Special

Your Duke Digital Collections team, as well as most of the rest of the university have been locked down at home for the past two days due to snow, ice and the dreaded “wintry mix”.  If you, like us are looking for ways to entertain yourself and celebrate Valentine’s Day, you are in luck!

Among the treasures in the Emergence of Advertising digital collection, we have a cookbook specially designed to help you plan and execute meals for all holiday occasions from children’s parties to, you guessed it, Valentines Day!  Check out some of the recipes below.

http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/eaa_CK0045/
Valentine’s Day inspired goodies from “Selected Recipes and Menus for Parties, Holidays, and Special Occasions”

Nothing says, be my valentine like Chicken a la King and Drip Coffee!!

Announcing 310 Newly Digitized Behind the Veil Interviews and a New Blog!

Duke Digital Collections is pleased to announce that we have published 310 newly digitized interviews in the Behind the Veil: Documenting African-American Life in the Jim Crow South digital collection!  The new interviews are specifically focussed on North Carolina residents.  Although several regions are represented, many interviews focus on the Charlotte, Durham and Enfield regions of the state.

Visit the Behind the Veil Digital Collection

The North Carolina recordings were all digitized as part of the Triangle Research Libraries Network’s project “Content, Context and Capacity: A Collaborative Large-Scale Digitization Project on the Long Civil Rights Movement in North Carolina.”  Publishing these recordings concludes this multi-year endeavor, which digitized collections from UNC Chapel Hill, NC Central University and NC State’s special collections holdings as well as Duke.

Prior to publishing the new NC recordings the Behind the Veil digital collection, contained 100 recordings.  Although we were able to build on the existing collection without developing new technology we essentially QUADRUPLED the number of interviews available online!!    The digital collection was created by digitizing the original audio cassettes and scanning any existing transcripts.   The entire collection (over 1,200 interviews on audio cassettes) is available for research at the John Hope Franklin Center for African and African American History and Culture in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.  Visit the Devil’s Tale (the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library blog) for more details.

Speaking of blogs, you are looking at the brand new blog of Duke’s Digital Projects and Production Services Department.  Visit Bitstreams to learn more about all the exciting and innovative digital projects at Duke University Libraries!

 

Notes from the Duke University Libraries Digital Projects Team