Midnight in the Garden of Film and Video

A few weeks ago, archivists, engineers, students and vendors from across the globe arrived in the historic city of Savannah, GA for AMIA 2014. The annual conference for The Association of Moving Image Archivists is a gathering of professionals who deal with the challenge of preserving motion picture film and videotape content for future generations. Since today is Halloween, I must also point out that Savannah is a really funky city that is haunted! The downtown area is filled with weeping willow trees, well-preserved 19th century architecture and creepy cemeteries dating back to the U.S. Civil and Revolutionary wars. Savannah is almost as scary as a library budget meeting.

The bad moon rises over Savannah City Hall.
The bad moon rises over Savannah City Hall.

Since many different cultural heritage institutions are digitizing their collections for preservation and online access, it’s beneficial to develop universal file standards and best practices. For example, organizations like NARA and FADGI have contributed to the universal adoption of the 8-bit uncompressed TIFF file format for (non-transmissive) still image preservation. Likewise, for audio digitization, 24-bit uncompressed WAV has been universally adopted as the preservation standard. In other words, when it comes to still image and audio digitization, everyone is driving down the same highway. However, at AMIA 2014, it was apparent there are still many different roads being taken in regards to moving image preservation, with some potential traffic jams ahead. Are you frightened yet? You should be!

The smallest known film gauge: 3mm. Was it designed by ancient druids?
The smallest known film gauge: 3mm. Was it built by ancient druids?

Up until now, two file formats have been competing for dominance for moving image preservation: 10-bit uncompressed (.mov or .avi wrapper) vs. Motion JPEG2000 (MXF wrapper). The disadvantage of uncompressed has always been its enormous file size. Motion JPEG2000 incorporates lossless compression, which can reduce file sizes by 50%, but it’s expensive to implement, and has limited interoperability with most video software and players. At AMIA 2014, some were championing the use of a newer format, FFV1, a lossless codec that has compression ratios similar to JPEG2000, but is open source, and thus more widely adoptable. It is part of the FFmpeg software project. Adoption of FFV1 is growing, but many institutions are still heavily invested in 10-bit uncompressed or Motion JPEG2000. Which format will become the preservation standard, and which will become ghosts that haunt us forever?!?

Another emerging need is for content management systems that can store and provide public access to digitized video. The Hydra repository solution is being adopted by many institutions for managing preservation video files. In conjunction with Hydra, many are also adopting Avalon to provide public access for online viewing of video content. Like FFmpeg, both Hydra and Avalon are open source, which is part of their appeal. Others are building their own systems, catered specifically to their own needs, like The Museum of Modern Art. There are also competing metadata standards. For example, PBCore has been adopted by many public television stations, but is generally disliked by libraries. In fact, they find it really creepy!

A new print of Peter Pan was shown at AMIA 2014
A new print of Peter Pan was shown at AMIA 2014. That movie gave me nightmares as a child.

Finally, there is the thorny issue of copyright. Once file formats are chosen and delivery systems are in place, methods must be implemented to control access by only those intended, to protect copyright and hinder piracy. The Avalon Media System enables rights and access control to video content via guest passwords. The Library of Congress works around some of these these issues another way, by setting up remote viewing rooms in Washington, DC, which are connected via fiber-optic cable to their Audio-Visual Conservation Center in Culpeper, Va. Others, with more limited budgets, like Dino Everett at USC Cinematic Arts, watermark their video, upload it to sites like Vimeo, and implement temporary password protection, canceling the passwords manually after a few weeks. I mean, is there anything more frightening than a copyright lawsuit? Happy Halloween!

Preview of the W. Duke, Sons & Co. Digital Collection

T206_Piedmont_cards
When I almost found the T206 Honus Wagner

It was September 6, 2011 (thanks Exif metadata!) and I thought I had found one–a T206 Honus Wagner card, the “Holy Grail” of baseball cards.  I was in the bowels of the Rubenstein Library stacks skimming through several boxes of a large collection of trading cards that form part of the W. Duke, Sons & Co. adverting materials collection when I noticed a small envelope labeled “Piedmont.”  For some reason, I remembered that the Honus Wagner card was issued as part of a larger set of cards advertising the Piedmont brand of cigarettes in 1909.  Yeah, I got pretty excited.

I carefully opened the envelope, removed a small stack of cards, and laid them out side by side, but, sadly, there was no Honus Wagner to be found.  A bit deflated, I took a quick snapshot of some of the cards with my phone, put them back in the envelope, and went about my day.  A few days later, I noticed the photo again in my camera roll and, after a bit of research, confirmed that these cards were indeed part of the same T206 set as the famed Honus Wagner card but not nearly as rare.

Fast forward three years and we’re now in the midst of a project to digitize, describe, and publish almost the entirety of the W. Duke, Sons & Co. collection including the handful of T206 series cards I found.  The scanning is complete (thanks DPC!) and we’re now in the process of developing guidelines for describing the digitized cards.  Over the last few days, I’ve learned quite a bit about the history of cigarette cards, the Duke family’s role in producing them, and the various resources available for identifying them.

T206 Harry Lumley
1909 Series T206 Harry Lumley card (front), from the W. Duke, Sons & Co. collection in the Rubenstein Library
T206 Harry Lumley card (back)
1909 Series T206 Harry Lumley card (back)

 

 

Brief History of Cigarette Cards

A Bad Decision by the Umpire
“A Bad Decision by the Umpire,” from series N86 Scenes of Perilous Occupations, W. Duke, Sons & Co. collection, Rubenstein Library.
  • Beginning in the 1870s, cigarette manufacturers like Allen and Ginter and Goodwin & Co. began the practice of inserting a trade card into cigarette packages as a stiffener. These cards were usually issued in sets of between 25 and 100 to encourage repeat purchases and to promote brand loyalty.
  • In the late 1880s, the W. Duke, Sons, & Co. (founded by Washington Duke in 1881), began inserting cards into Duke brand cigarette packages.  The earliest Duke-issued cards covered a wide array of subject matter with series titled Actors and Actresses, Fishers and Fish, Jokes, Ocean and River Steamers, and even Scenes of Perilous Occupations.
  • In 1890, the W. Duke & Sons Co., headed by James B. Duke (founder of Duke University), merged with several other cigarette manufacturers to form the American Tobacco Company.
  • In 1909, the American Tobacco Company (ATC) first began inserting baseball cards into their cigarettes packages with the introduction of the now famous T206 “White Border” set, which included a Honus Wagner card that, in 2007, sold for a record $2.8 million.
The American Card Catalog
Title page from library’s copy of The American Card Catalog by Jefferson R. Burdick.

Identifying Cigarette Cards

  • The T206 designation assigned to the ATC’s “white border” set was not assigned by the company itself, but by Jefferson R. Burdick in his 1953 publication The American Card Catalog (ACC), the first comprehensive catalog of trade cards ever published.
  • In the ACC, Burdick devised a numbering scheme for tobacco cards based on manufacturer and time period, with the two primary designations being the N-series (19th century tobacco cards) and the T-series (20th century tobacco cards).  Burdick’s numbering scheme is still used by collectors today.
  • Burdick was also a prolific card collector and his personal collection of roughly 300,000 trade cards now resides at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

 

Preview of the W. Duke, Sons & Co. Digital Collection [coming soon]

Dressed Beef (Series N81 Jokes)
“Dressed Beef” from Series N81 Jokes, W. Duke, Sons & Co. collection, Rubenstein Library
  •  When published, the W. Duke, Sons & Co. digital collection will feature approximately 2000 individual cigarette cards from the late 19th and early 20th centuries as well as two large scrapbooks that contain several hundred additional cards.
  • The collection will also include images of other tobacco advertising ephemera such as pins, buttons, tobacco tags, and even examples of early cigarette packs.
  • Researchers will be able to search and browse the digitized cards and ephemera by manufacturer, cigarette brand, and the subjects they depict.
  • In the meantime, researchers are welcome to visit the Rubenstein Library in person to view the originals in our reading room.

 

 

 

Hydra Connect #2: Cleveland Rocks

I recently traveled to Cleveland to attend the second-ever Hydra Connect meeting. For some quick background, Hydra is a repository solution that many libraries and other institutions are using to manage large and interesting collections of digital things. At DUL, our amazing Repository Services team has been working on our Hydra-based repository for around two years. Mike Adamo of DPPS and others have been getting lots of content into the system and from what I understand it’s working great so far. David and Jim have also worked on a Digital Asset Management tool that will be used by the Duke CIT to archive video assets from MOOCs.

The Kelvin Smith Library at Case Western Reserve University
The Kelvin Smith Library at Case Western Reserve University

DPPS has grand plans to migrate our current digital collections platform to a Hydra-based system, so we’ll be working closely with David and the Jims to utilize their expertise. I attended Hydra Connect as a way to get some exposure to the community and to try and soak up as much knowledge as possible. I’d say the grand takeaway (and I heard this sentiment repeated time and time again) is that Hydra is an amazing open source community. Every single person I met at the meeting was friendly, knowledgeable, and happy to answer questions. It was a fantastic experience. The host institution, Case Western Reserve University, was great and in general Cleveland was excellent – the area we stayed in was very walkable, there were several interesting museums nearby, and by and large the weather was perfect.

Interactive wall at the Cleveland Museum of Art
Interactive wall at the Cleveland Museum of Art

Hydra Connect #2 nearly doubled the attendance number from Hydra Connect #1 so clearly there is momentum behind the project. But what seems really apparent is that the community is very welcoming. Beginners like me are treated warmly – you are not scoffed at for asking basic questions.

I started off the meeting by attending a half day Dive into Hydra workshop and followed that with an intro to blacklight. The organizers cleverly passed out USB drives with a pre-packaged development environment all ready to go, so everyone in the room was up and running right away. We made it all the way through the program and even completed a few of the bonus tasks. The organizers did a great job of explaining how our simplified examples could be applied to more complex projects and also stressed best practices for making UI tweaks (protip – use the internationalizations). All in all a very empowering experience.

Cleveland street art
Cleveland street art

Wednesday was filled with lots of knowledge sharing. Between the lightning talks and the poster sessions it was amazing to see how many really interesting Hydra projects are out there! In particular, I was struck by these:

Thursday had  more sessions, more lightning talks, and an ‘unconference.’ I really enjoyed the sessions on UX and Project Management.

Overall I had a great experience at Hydra Connect. I learned a ton, met some great people, and most importantly I’m psyched to get to work on a Hydra project here at DUL.

A Digital Exhibits Epic Saga: Game of Stones

A screen from the Queering Duke History exhibit kiosk, just one of the ways DigEx supports library exhibits.

Just under a year ago Duke University Libraries formed the Digital Exhibits Working Group (DigEx) to provide vision, consulting expertise, and hands-on support to the wide array of projects and initiatives related to gallery exhibits, web exhibits, data visualizations, digital collections, and digital signage.  Membership in the group is as cross-departmental as the projects they support. With representatives from Data and Visualization, Digital Projects and Production Services, Digital Scholarship Services, Communications, Exhibits, Core Services and the Rubenstein Library, every meeting is a vibrant mix of people, ideas and agenda items.

The group has taken on a number of ambitious projects; one of which is to identify and understand digital exhibits publishing platforms in the library (we are talking about screens here).   Since April, a sub-committee – or “super committee” as we like to call ourselves – of DigEx members have been meeting to curate a digital exhibit for the Link Media Wall.  DigEx members have anecdotal evidence that our colleagues want to program content for the wall, but have not been able to successfully do so in the past.  DigEx super committee to the rescue!

The Link super committee started meeting in April, and at first we thought our goals were simple and clear.  In curating an exhibit for the link wall we wanted to create a process and template for other colleagues to follow.  We quickly chose an exhibit topic: the construction of West Campus in 1927-1932 told through the University Archive’s construction photography digital collection and Flickr feed.  The topic is both relevant given all the West campus construction happening currently, and would allow us to tell a visually compelling story with both digitized historic photographs and opportunities for visualizations (maps, timelines, etc).

Test stone wall created by University to select the stones for our Gothic campus.
Test stone wall created by University to select the stones for our Gothic campus (1925).

Our first challenge arose with the idea of templating.  Talking through ideas and our own experiences, we realized that creating a design template would hinder creative efforts and could potentially lead to an unattractive visual experience for our patrons.  Think Microsoft PowerPoint templates; do you really want to see something like that spread across 18 digital panels? So even though we had hoped that our exhibit could scale to other curators, we let go of the idea of a template.

 

We had logistical challenges too.  How do we design for such a large display like the media wall?  How do you create an exhibit that is eye catching enough to catch attention, simple enough for someone to understand as they are walking by yet moves through content slowly enough that someone could stop and really study the images?  How do we account for the lines between each separate display and avoid breaking up text or images?  How do we effectively layout our content on our 13-15” laptops when the final project is going to be 9 FEET long?!!  You can imagine that our process became de-railed at times.

Stone was carried from the quarry in Hillsborough to campus by way of a special railroad track.

But we didn’t earn the name super committee for nothing.  The Link media wall coordinator met with us early on to help solve some of our challenges. Meeting with him and bringing in our DigEx developer representative really jumpstarted the content creation process.  Using a scaled down grid version of the media wall, we started creating simple story boards in Powerpoint.  We worked together to pick a consistent layout each team member would follow, and then we divided the work of finding images, and creating visualizations.  Our layout includes the exhibit title, a map and a caption on every screen to ground the viewer in what they are seeing no matter where they come into the slideshow. We also came up with guidelines as to how quickly the images would change.

 

media_wall_grid.draft2-grid
Mockup of DigEx Link Media Wall exhibit showing gridlines representing delineations between each display.

At this point, we have handed our storyboards to our digital projects developer and he is creating the final exhibit using HTML and web socket technology to make it interactive (see design mockup above). We are also finishing up an intro slide for the exhibit.   Once the exhibit is finished, we will review our process and put together guidelines for other colleagues in DUL to follow.  In this way we hope to meet our goal of making visual technology in the library more available to our innovative staff and exhibits program.   We hope to premiere the digital exhibit on the Link Wall before the end of the calendar year.  Stay Tuned!!

Special shout out to the Link Media Wall Exhibit Super Committee within the Digital Experiences Working Group (DigEx):  Angela Zoss, Data Visualization Coordinator, Meg Brown, The E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation Exhibits Coordinator, Michael Daul, Digital Projects Developer, Molly Bragg, Digital Collections Program Manager and Valerie Gillispie, University Archivist.

 

What’s DAT Sound?

My recent posts have touched on endangered analog audio formats (open reel tape and compact cassette) and the challenges involved in digitizing and preserving them.  For this installment, we’ll enter the dawn of the digital and Internet age and take a look at the first widely available consumer digital audio format:  the DAT (Digital Audio Tape).

IMG_0016

The DAT was developed by consumer electronics juggernaut Sony and introduced to the public in 1987.  While similar in appearance to the familiar cassette and also utilizing magnetic tape, the DAT was slightly smaller and only recorded on one “side.”  It boasted lossless digital encoding at 16 bits and variable sampling rates maxing out at 48 kHz–better than the 44.1 kHz offered by Compact Discs.  During the window of time before affordable hard disk recording (roughly, the 1990s), the DAT ruled the world of digital audio.

The format was quickly adopted by the music recording industry, allowing for a fully digital signal path through the recording, mixing, and mastering stages of CD production.  Due to its portability and sound quality, DAT was also enthusiastically embraced by field recordists, oral historians & interviewers, and live music recordists (AKA “tapers”):

tapers[Conway, Michael A., “Deadheads in the Taper’s section at an outside venue,” Grateful Dead Archive Online, accessed October 10, 2014, http://www.gdao.org/items/show/834556.]

 

However, the format never caught on with the public at large, partially due to the cost of the players and the fact that few albums of commercial music were issued on DAT [bonus trivia question:  what was the first popular music recording to be released on DAT?  see below for answer].  In fact, the recording industry actively sought to suppress public availability of the format, believing that the ability to make perfect digital copies of CDs would lead to widespread piracy and bootlegging of their product.  The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) lobbied against the DAT format and attempted to impose restrictions and copyright detection technology on the players.  Once again (much like the earlier brouhaha over cassette tapes and subsequent battle over mp3’s and file sharing) “home taping” was supposedly killing music.

By the turn of the millennium, CD burning technology had become fairly ubiquitous and hard disk recording was becoming more affordable and portable.  The DAT format slowly faded into obscurity, and in 2005, Sony discontinued production of DAT players.

In 2014, we are left with a decade’s worth of primary source audio tape (oral histories, interviews, concert and event recordings) that is quickly degrading and may soon be unsalvageable.  The playback decks (and parts for them) are no longer produced and there are few technicians with the knowledge or will to repair and maintain them.  The short-term answer to these problems is to begin stockpiling working DAT machines and doing the slow work of digitizing and archiving the tapes one by one.  For example, the Libraries’ Jazz Loft Project Records collection consisted mainly of DAT tapes, and now exists as digital files accessible through the online finding aid:  http://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/findingaids/jazzloftproject/.  A long-term approach calls for a survey of library collections to identify the number and condition of DAT tapes, and then for prioritization of these items as it may be logistically impossible to digitize them all.

And now, the answer to our trivia question:  in May 1988, post-punk icons Wire released The Ideal Copy on DAT, making it the first popular music recording to be issued on the new format.

 

Can we make an Age of Engagement?

Screen capture of the American Memory home page, January 1988. From the Wayback Machine.
Screen capture of the American Memory home page, January 1988. From the Wayback Machine.

An era ended with an email that I got a few weeks ago from the Library of Congress.

Maybe I’m being a bit dramatic, but the LoC informed us that its venerable American Memory site would no longer include records and links to Historic American Sheet Music and Emergence of Advertising in America, the two digital collections that Duke University Libraries built with grants from the LoC and Ameritech ca. 1996-1998. Since then, the email explained,

[T]he Internet has changed significantly. Search engines have dramatically improved; users have come to expect that the most relevant content to their search query will be found regardless of its location on the web. Users no longer rely on browsing through aggregated directories of content but instead find discrete pages via searching and following related links. In the environment dominated by search engines, duplication can detract from an item’s findability, rather than enhance it.

While we’ll miss the juicy web stats that we got from American Memory referrals, it’s hard to argue with the message’s logic, its summary of user expectations, and the desire of the LoC to simplify its architecture and remove dependencies on the bit-rotting sites of the original Ameritech grant recipients. Still, the end of a long-term relationship tends to make one reflective. It got me thinking about the history of digital collections in libraries, and how we in the field have passed through two distinct ages, roughly a decade each, and now enter a third which, to some extent, is ours to make.

Continue reading Can we make an Age of Engagement?

Creating, Reading, Learning: Work and Life

Does anyone else find it difficult to blog about work? For me, it’s not for lack of things to write about or lack of interest in what I am working on. It has more to do with the fact that the excitement I feel for the projects I’m working on, the people I work with and the growth I’ve seen in my department doesn’t translate well in writing. At least not for me and my writing style. Maybe I need to take a writing course? Maybe I need to find my voice in blogging? Maybe I just need to get on with it?

As is true for many of us, the things that interest or occupy us at work bleed into our lives at home and vice versa, whether or not we want them to. Personally, I find that some, but not all of the things I am focused on at work have a place in my life at home.

Below is a list of things I am creating, reading, watching, wanting and learning both at work and at home. I hope you enjoy!

Creating:

I recently finished work on a donor request for slides from the Morris and Dorothy Margolin film collection. Right now I am digitizing the Duke Gardens Accession Cards , a planting card catalog from the Sarah P. Duke Gardens records collection. These particular requests are not for public consumption but support curatorial research at Duke.   The Digital Production Center fulfills many requests of this nature that never show up on the Digital Collections website but are none the less interesting and useful.

card
From the planting card catalog at the Sarah P. Duke Gardens. The names and places on the card have been changed to protect the innocent.

At home I create digital content of my own using similar cameras, lights and software. I really enjoy studio shooting because I can control the lighting environment to suit my needs. My training as a photographer has translated well to my work at Duke. I have also applied things I use at work to my photography at home such as managing larger numbers of files and working in a calibrated environment.

Reading:

Technical Guidelines for Digitizing Cultural Heritage Materials: Creation of Raster Image Master Files written by the Federal Agencies Digitization Initiative (FADGI) – Still Image Working Group. This standard outlines digital imaging standards related to DPI, bit depth and color profiles and is an updated version of the NARA Technical Guidelines for Digitizing Archival Materials which the Digital Production Center has been following since its creation. Exciting reading!

At home I’m reading The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. A complex book about the happenings of the gold rush town of Hokitika, in the southwest of New Zealand circa 1866 where a crime has just been committed. Super long (848 pages) but worth the read.

Watching:

Color Management and Quality Output by Tom Ashe. This webinar is offered by Xrite, a leader in professional grade color profiling hardware and software. As described in a previous blog post, color management is a critical part of the work we do in the Digital Production Center.

Are you color blind? You might be if you have trouble seeing the numbers within these five circles.
Are you color blind? You might be if you have trouble seeing the numbers within these five circles.

At home I just watched Tiny, a documentary on the Tiny   House movement that chronicles the building of a tiny house. These houses range from 60 – 100 square feet and are usually built on trailers to avoid problems with state  ordinances that require an in ground home be no less than 600 square feet. Whoa!

Wanting:

A DT RG3040 Reprographic System by Phase One. This model has a foot operated book cradle with a 90 degree platen and two P65 R-cams that shoot opposing pages simultaneously. This would really speed up and simplify digitization of fragile bound volumes that can only be opened 90 degrees during digitization. I would also take an oversize map scanner.

At home I really I want to setup a traditional wet darkroom, but we do not have the space. I’m thinking about building a single car garage just to accommodate a darkroom but will probably have to settle for setting up in the bathroom.

Learning:

The Python programming language. I have completed a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) through Coursera and am now in the middle of my second course. While I haven’t built anything (at work) from scratch yet, I have been able to troubleshoot a few broken scripts and get them up and running again. The Digital Production Center is, as the name states, a production environment that lends itself to automation. While taking these classes I have developed many ideas on how to automate parts of our workflow and I am excited to start programming.

At home I continue to learn the Python programming language. The more I learn about Python the more I want to learn. While learning has been frustrating at times it has also been rewarding when I finally develop a solution that works. The IT staff in the Library has also been very supportive which keeps me moving forward when I get stuck on a problem that takes some time to figure out. python

When I started putting this post together I didn’t realize it was about work/life balance but I believe that is what it became. It seems my work/life balance is a very fluid thing. I feel lucky to work at a place where my personal interests dovetail nicely with my work interest.   While this is not always the case, most of the time I enjoy coming to work and I also enjoy going home at the end of the day.

Meet staff from Assessment and User Experience

Digital projects at Duke University Libraries are created and maintained by staff from throughout the Libraries. One of the many departments supporting this work is Assessment and User Experience (AUX). We currently have a staff of five.

Emily Daly

Emily Daly

Position: Head of Assessment & User Experience; Librarian for Education

Length of time at Duke: 8 years

What I do at the Library: As Librarian for Education, I help staff the Perkins Help Desk, lead library instruction sessions, teach a half-credit course for the Program in Education, and provide support for students and faculty across the university who are engaging in education-related research. As Head of AUX, I help lead and coordinate DUL staff members’ efforts to assess the effectiveness of our library collections, services and our physical and virtual spaces, and then attempt to improve our services and resources based on our researchers’ feedback. I do this in close collaboration with my talented colleagues Tom, Joyce, Ian and Jeremy. I also serve as a pre-major advisor for 6 first-year students or sophomores.

I think Assessment and User Experience matters in the life of the Duke community because DUL staff provide a range of services and resources to a large group of researchers whose needs are varied and continuously evolving. We work to understand what our users need to conduct their research as effectively and, in many cases, as efficiently as possible. We evolve our services, spaces and resources to meet their changing needs. That, and on a selfish note, it’s really fun and engaging to talk with students and faculty who care deeply about their research.

On the most unexpected trip I ever took I handed in my resume at the public library in Casper, Wyoming. Three weeks later and with virtually no work experience in libraries, I started as Natrona County Public Library’s first full-time Teen Services Librarian (or “Specialist,” since I didn’t yet have an MSLS). I thought I’d be at the library for a year and then return to teaching high school English — I was just waiting for a position to become available. It’s been 11 years since I submitted that resume, and in that time, I’ve worked as a public librarian, school librarian and academic librarian.

If I could take a month to intensively learn one new thing it would be human development with an emphasis on early childhood development, education policy, or web design/development — it’s too hard to pick just one thing to study, which is one reason I became a librarian.

Something memorable that I never expected to see at Duke was college seniors in black graduation gowns walking the quad and stopping periodically to put their hands over the heads and chant. I know now it’s linked to a secret society of some sort, but that’s the extent of my knowledge, and I’m okay with leaving it that way.

What I am currently reading for pleasure: Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Another tidbit about me (related to the pic) is that one of my guilty pleasures is ice cream, and I’m proud to say I’ve passed on my weakness for it to my sons, 5 ½ year-old Philip and 2-year-old Patrick.

Ian Sloat

Ian Sloat

Position: AUX Student Assistant

What I do at Duke and at the Library: I am a graduate student in the MALS program and at the library I have mostly been working on updating signage and usability studies.

How long have you been at Duke? Just over one year as a student and 5 months at Perkins.

I think Assessment and User Experience matters in the life of the Duke community because it provides us with evidence that we can use to better improve the library for all of the members of the Duke community.

On the most unexpected trip I ever took, I was living in Scotland as an exchange student and I decided to take a trip to the highlands. I got off the bus in Loch Ness to go to the hostel I booked before I left. I walked up to the hostel as the bus was pulling away and when I got to the door, they had a sign up saying they were closed for the season. I stood outside (in the rain of course) for 3 hours until I hitched my way 20 miles north to Inverness and found a cheap hotel for the night.

If I could take a month to intensively learn one new thing it would be a second language, I took French for 9 years growing up in Canada, but I can’t speak a lick of it, so maybe something else.

Jeremy Zhang

Position: Undergraduate Assessment and User Experience Assistant

What I do at Duke and at the Library: I am currently an undergraduate student studying Electrical and Computer Engineering and Economics. In the library I help conduct research and produce both qualitative and quantitative data on many facets of the library. I also help develop and edit the main library website.

I think Assessment and User Experience matters in the life of the Duke community because it is important to streamline processes for students and researchers conducting research or working on their daily homework.

If I could take a month to intensively learn one new thing it would be how to produce electronic music.

What I am currently reading for pleasure: Understanding Wall Street, by Jeffrey Little.

Joyce Chapman

Joyce Chapman

Position: Assessment Coordinator

Length of time at Duke: 3 ½ weeks

What I do at the Library: Still figuring it out 🙂 The plan is to collect, analyze, and document data useful for evaluating library operations and understanding user needs; support data management, analysis, and reporting needs across the Libraries; and coordinate and deliver training on evaluation, data, and reporting tools. I’m here to help you, so get in touch!

I think Assessment and User Experience matters in the life of the Duke community because they help us to continuously monitor the Libraries’ impact and effectiveness, provide an ongoing basis to improve resources and services, and support data-informed management and decision making.

On the most unexpected trip I ever took, I was living in Germany as an exchange student in April 2005. A friend and I found cheap tickets to Rome and decided to take a vacation. The day after we bought our tickets Pope John Paul II passed away. We ended up in Rome during the Pope’s funeral, along with tens of thousands of pilgrims from all over the world. It was a really unexpected and interesting experience!

If I could take a month to intensively learn one new thing it would be wilderness survival skills, just in case (zombie apocalypse, etc.).

What I am currently reading for pleasure: The Broken Eye, by Brent Weeks and Our Separate Ways: Women and the Black Freedom Movement in Durham, North Carolina, by Christina Greene.

Thomas Crichlow

Thomas Crichlow

Position: Assessment and User Experience Project Manager

Length of time at Duke: a little over ten years, depending on how you count.

What I do at the Library:

  • I plan and manage projects to create and renovate websites at Duke University Libraries.
  • I lead project teams and also work as a web developer.
  • I participate in assessments of how our community uses our websites, paying special attention to places where our patrons encounter difficulty in using our sites.
  • As a member of our Web Experience Team (WebX), I foster discussions about our vision, strategy and priorities for meeting patron needs through our online presence.

I think Assessment and User Experience matters in the life of the Duke community because we are well positioned to take a collaborative approach in identifying and eliminating pain points that hinder our research community’s ability to use the many tools and services provided through Duke Libraries.

On the most unexpected trip I ever took, I walked a dog from Germany to France, but there and back again only took 45 minutes. I was a high school exchange student in Germany, and the family I stayed with lived near the border with France, which was only two farm fields away from their house. When we got to the border, one of the men staffing the border crossing filled a bowl of water for the dog whom they already seemed to be well acquainted with.

If I could take a month to intensively learn one new thing it would be something hands-on and creative like painting or drawing.

Something memorable that I never expected to see at Duke was a little cabin high-up within the bell tower at Duke Chapel from which Sam Hammond plays the carillon, a manually operated, 50-bell instrument. I worked at the Chapel at that time and had access to parts of it that aren’t normally open to the public. I appreciated Sam’s graciousness in letting me take a peek at this rarely viewed, but oft heard part of our University. A recent Duke Chronicle article provides a further glimpse via an interview with Mr. Hammond and a photo gallery. There is also a recording of “God rest ye merry, gentlemen” played on the carillon.

What I am currently reading for pleasure: Guards! Guards! which is part of the satire-filled Discworld series by Terry Pratchett.

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

Hardware

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.

Software

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!

Notes from the Duke University Libraries Digital Projects Team