Staff from the Digital Projects and Production Services Department – the proprietors of this blog – presented at the Library’s First Wednesday forum on March 6. Here are the slides from the four presenters.
Duke Digital Collections is excited to announce our newest digital collection: Duke Chapel Recordings!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Nothing says, be my valentine like Chicken a la King and Drip Coffee!!
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.
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!