Tag Archives: behindtheveil

‘Tis the Season for New Beginnings

New Additions

Brief summaries of articles pulled from a future digitized issue published by The Chronicle, as part of the 1990s Duke Chronicle Digitization Project

The time has come for the temperature to drop, decadent smells to waft through the air, and eyes become tired and bloodshot. Yep, it’s exam week here at Duke! As students fill up every room, desk and floor within the libraries, the Digital Collections team is working diligently to process important projects.

One such project is the 1990s decade of The Duke Chronicle. By next week, we can look forward to the year 1991 being completely scanned. Although there are many steps involved before we can make this collection available to the public, it is nice to know that this momentous year is on its way to being accessible for all. While scanning several issues today, I noticed the last issue for the fall semester of 1991. It was the Exam Break Issue, and I was interested in the type of reading content published 26 years ago. What were the students of Duke browsing through before they scurried back home on December 16, 1991, you may ask…

  • There were several stories about students’ worst nightmares coming true, including one Physical Therapy graduate student who lost her research to a Greyhound bus, and an undergraduate dumpster diving to find an accidentally thrown away notebook, which encompassed his final paper.
  • A junior lamented whether it was worth it to drive 12 hours to his home in Florida, or take a plane after a previous debacle in the air; he drove home with no regrets.
  • In a satirical column, advice was given on how to survive exams. Two excellent gems suggested using an air horn instead of screaming and staking out a study carrel, in order to sell it to the highest bidder.

This is merely a sprinkling of hilarious yet simultaneously horrifying anecdotes from that time-period.

Updates to Existing Collections

Digital collections, originally located on the old Digital Collections website, now have new pages on the Repository website with a direct link to the content on the old website.

In addition to The Chronicle, Emma Goldman Papers, and other new projects, there is a continued push to make already digitized collections accessible on the Repository platform. Collections like Behind the Veil, Duke Papyrus Archive, and AdViews were originally placed on our old Digital Collections platform. However, the need to provide access is just as relevant today as when they were originally digitized.

As amazing as our current collections in the Repository are, we have some treasures from the past that must be brought forward. Accordingly, many of these older digital collections now possess new records in the Repository! As of now, the new Repository pages will not have the collections’ content, but they will provide a link to enable direct access.

New Page:


Old Page:

The new pages will facilitate exposure to new researchers, while permitting previous researchers to use the same features previously allowed on the old platform. There are brief descriptions, direct links to the collections, and access to any applicable finding aids on the Repository landing pages.

Now that the semester has wound down to a semi-quiet lull of fattening foods, awkward but friendly functions, and mental recuperation, I urge everyone to take a moment to not just look at what was done, but all the good work you are planning to do.

Based on what I’ve observed so far, I’m looking forward to the new projects that Digital Collections will be bringing to the table for the Duke community next year.




Kueber, G. (1991). Beginning of exams signals end of a Monday, Monday era. The Duke Chronicle, p. 26.

Robbins, M. (1991). Driving or crying: is air travel during the holidays worth it? The Duke Chronicle, p. 13.

The Duke Chronicle. (1991). The Ultimate Academic Nightmares – and you thought you were going to have a bad week! pp. 4-5.

Digitization Details: Re-Formatting Audio Cassettes

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.
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.


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!