In a recent feature on their blog, our colleagues at NCSU Libraries posted some photographs of dogs from their collections. Being a person generally interested in dogs and old photographs, I became curious where dogs show up in Duke’s Digital Collections. Using very unsophisticated methods, I searched digital collections for “dogs” and thought I’d share what I found.
Of the 60 or so collections in Digital Collections 19 contain references to dogs. The table below lists the collections in which dogs or references to dogs appear most frequently.
After reviewing the analytics and Google Scholar data Sean wrote about, our working group realized we needed more information. Our goal in this entire assessment process has been to pull together scholarly use data which will inform our digitization decisions, priorities, technological choices (features on the digital collections platform), and to help us gain an understanding of if and how we are meeting the needs of researcher communities. Analytics gave us clues, but we still didn’t some of the fundamental facts about our patrons. After a fervent discussion with many whiteboard notes, the group decided creating a survey would get us more of the data we were looking for. The resulting survey focuses on the elemental questions we have about our patrons: who are they, why are they visiting Duke Digital Collections, and what are they going to do with what they find here.
Creating the survey itself was no small task, but after an almost endless process of writing, rewriting, and consultations with our assessment coordinator we settled on 6 questions (a truely miniature survey). We considered the first three questions (who, why, what) to be most important, and we intended the last three to provide us with additional information such as Duke affiliation and allow a space for general feedback. None of the questions were considered “required” so respondents could answer or skip whatever they wanted; we also included space for respondents to write-in further details especially when choosing the “other” option.
The survey launched on April 30 and remains accessible by hovering over a “feedback” link on every single Digital Collection webpage. Event tracking analytics show that 0.29% of the patrons that hover over our feedback link click through to the survey. An even smaller number have actually submitted responses. This has worked out to 56 responses at an average rate of around 1 per day. Despite that low click through rate, we have been really pleased with the number of responses we have had so far. The response rate remains steady, and we have already learned a lot from even this small sample of visitor data. We are not advertising the survey or promoting it, because our target respondents are patrons who find us in the course of their research or general Internet browsing.
Before I start discussing our results, please note that what I’m sharing here is based on initial responses and my own observations. No one in digital collections has thoroughly reviewed or analyzed this data. Additionally, this information is drawn from responses submitted between April 30 – July 8, 2015. We plan to keep the survey online into the academic year to see if our responses change when classes are in session.
With that disclaimer now behind us, let’s review results by question.
Questions 1 and 4: Who are you?
Since we are concerned with scholarly oriented use more than other types in this exercise, the first question is intended to sort respondents primarily by academic status. In question 4, respondents are given the chance to further categorized their academic affiliation.
Question 1 Answers
# of Responses
Librarian, Archivist or Museum Staff
Of the respondents who categorized themselves as “other” in question 1, 11 clarified their otherness by writing their identities in the space provided. Of this 11, 4 associated themselves with music oriented professions or hobbies, and 2 with fine arts (photographer and filmmaker). The remaining 5 could not be grouped easily into categories.
As a follow up later in the survey, question 4 asks respondents to categorize their academic affiliation (if they had one). The results showed that 3 respondents are affiliated with Duke, 12 with other colleges or universities and 9 with a K-12 school. Of the write-in responses, 3 listed names of universities abroad, and 1 listed a school whose level has not been identified.
Question 2: Why are you here?
We can tell from our analytics how people get to us (if they were referred to us via a link or sought us out directly), but this information does not address why visitors come to the site. Enter question 2.
Question 2 Answers
# of Responses
Followed a link
The survey asks that those who select academic research, personal research, and other to write-in their research topic or purpose. Academic research topics submitted so far primarily revolve around various historical research topics. Personal research topics reflect a high interest in music (specific songs or types of music), advertising, and other various personal projects. It is interesting to note that local history related topics have been submitted under all three categories (academic, personal and other). Additionally, non-academic researchers seem to be more willing to share sharing their specific topics; 19 of 24 respondents listed their topics as compared to 7 out of 15 academic researchers.
Question 3: What will you do with the images and/or resources you find on this site?
To me, this question has the potential to provide some of the most illuminating information from our patrons. Knowing how they use the material helps us determine how to enhance access to the digitized objects and what kinds of technology we should be investing in. This can also shed light on our digitization process itself. For example, maybe the full text version of an item will provide more benefit to more researchers than an illustrated or hand-written version of the same item (of course we would prefer to offer both, but I think you see where I am going with this).
In designing this question, the group decided it would be valuable to offer options for the those who share items due to their visual or subject appeal (for example, the Pinterest user), the publication minded researcher, and a range of patron types in between.
Question 3 Answers
# of Responses
Use for an academic publication
Share on social media
Use them for homework
Use them as a teaching tool in my classes
Use for my job
The 10 “other” respondents all entered subsequent details; they planned to share items with friends and family (in some way other than on social media), they also wanted to use the items they found as a reference, or were working on an academic pursuit that in their mind didn’t fit the listed categories.
As I said above, these survey results are cursory as we plan to leave the survey up for several more months. But so far the data reveals that Duke Digital collections serves a wide audience of academic and non-academic users for a range of purposes. For example, one respondent uses the outdoor advertising collections to get a glimpse of how their community has changed over time. Another is concerned with US History in the 1930s, and another is focused on music from the 1900s.
The next phase of the the assessment group’s activities is to meet with researchers and instructors in person and talk with them about their experiences using digital collections (not just Duke’s) for scholarly research or instruction. We have also been collecting examples of instructors who have used digital collections in their classes. We plan to create a webpage with these examples with the goal of encouraging other instructors to do the same. The goal of both of these efforts is to increase academic use of the digital collections (whether that be at the K-12 or collegiate level).
Of course, another next step is to keep collecting this survey data and analyze it further. All in all, it has been truly exciting to see the results thus far. As we study the data in more depth this Fall, we plan to work with the Duke University Library Digital Collections Advisory Team to implement any new technical or policy oriented decisions based on our conclusions. Our minds are already spinning with the possibilities.
Children are smoking in two of my favorite images from our digital collections.
One of them comes from the eleven days in 1964 that William Gedney spent with the Cornett family in Eastern Kentucky. A boy, crusted in dirt, clutching a bent-up Prince Albert can, draws on a cigarette. It’s a miniature of mawkish masculinity that echoes and lightly mocks the numerous shots Gedney took of the Cornett men, often shirtless and sitting on or standing around cars, smoking.
At some point in the now-distant past, while developing and testing our digital collections platform, I stumbled on “smoking dirt boy” as a phrase to use in testing for cases when a search returns only a single result. We kind of adopted him as an unofficial mascot of the digital collections program. He was a mini-meme, one we used within our team to draw chuckles, and added into conference presentations to get some laughs. Everyone loves smoking dirt boy.
It was probably 3-4 years ago that I stopped using the image to elicit guffaws, and started to interrogate my own attitude toward it. It’s not one of Gedney’s most powerful photographs, but it provokes a response, and I had become wary of that response. There’s a very complicated history of photography and American poverty that informs it.
While preparing this post, I did some research into the Cornett family, and came across the item from a discussion thread on a genealogy site, shown here in a screen cap. “My Mother would not let anyone photograph our family,” it reads. “We were all poor, most of us were clean, the Cornetts were another story.” It captures the attitudes that intertwine in that complicated history. The resentment toward the camera’s cold eye on Appalachia is apparent, as is the disdain for the family that implicitly wasn’t “clean,” and let the photographer shoot. These attitudes came to bear in an incident just this last spring, in which a group in West Virginia confronted traveling photographers whom they claimed photographed children without permission.
Gedney’s photographs have taken on a life as a digital collection since they were published on the Duke University Libraries’ web site in 1999. It has become a high-use collection for the Rubenstein Library; that use has driven a recent project we have undertaken in the library to re-process the collection and digitize the entire corpus of finished prints, proof prints, and contact sheets. We expect the work to take more than a year and produce more than 20,000 images (compared to the roughly 5000 available now), but when it’s complete, it should add whole new dimensions to the understanding of Gedney’s work.
Another collection given life by its digitization is the Sidney Gamble Photographs. The nitrate negatives are so flammable that the library must store them off site, making access impossible without some form of reproduction. Digitization has made it possible for anyone in the world to experience Gamble’s remarkable documentation of China in the early 20th Century. Since its digitization, this collection has been the subject of a traveling exhibit, and will be featured in the Photography Gallery of the Rubenstein Library’s new space when it opens in August.
The photograph of the two boys in the congee distribution line is another favorite of mine. Again, a child is seen smoking in a context that speaks of poverty. There’s plenty to read in the picture, including the expressions on the faces of the different boys, and the way they press their bowls to their chests. But there are two details that make this image rich with implicit narrative – the cigarette in the taller boy’s mouth, and the protective way he drapes his arm over the shorter one. They have similar, close-cropped haircuts, which are also different from the other boys, suggesting they came from the same place. It’s an immediate assumption that the boys are brothers, and the older one has taken on the care and protection of the younger.
Still, I don’t know the full story, and exploring my assumptions about the congee line boys might lead me to ask probing questions about my own attitudes and “visual definition” of the world. This process is one of the aspects of working with images that makes my work rewarding. Smoking dirt boy and the congee line boys are always there to teach me more.
We’re continually walking through doorways or passing them by, but how often do we linger to witness the life that unfolds nearby? Let the photographs below be your doorway, connecting you with lives lived in other places and times.
We’ve written many posts on this blog that describe (in detail) how we build our digital collections at Duke, how we describe them, and how we make them accessible to researchers.
At a Rubenstein Library staff meeting this morning one of my colleagues–Sarah Carrier–gave an interesting report on how some of our researchers are actually using our digital collections. Sarah’s report focused specifically on permission-to-publish requests, that is, cases where researchers requested permission from the library to publish reproductions of materials in our collection in scholarly monographs, journal articles, exhibits, websites, documentaries, and any number of other creative works. To be clear, Sarah examined all of these requests, not just those involving digital collections. Below is a chart showing the distribution of the types of publication uses.
What I found especially interesting about Sarah’s report, though, is that nearly 76% of permission-to-publish requests did involve materials from the Rubenstein that have been digitized and are available in Duke Digital Collections. The chart below shows the Rubenstein collections that generate the highest percentage of requests. Notice that three of these in Duke Digital Collections were responsible for 40% of all permission-to-publish requests:
So, even though we’ve only digitized a small fraction of the Rubenstein’s holdings (probably less than 1%), it is this 1% that generates the overwhelming majority of permission-to-publish requests.
I find this stat both encouraging and discouraging at the same time. On one hand, it’s great to see that folks are finding our digital collections and using them in their publications or other creative output. On the other hand, it’s frightening to think that the remainder of our amazing but yet-to-be digitized collections are rarely if ever used in publications, exhibits, and websites.
I’m not suggesting that researchers aren’t using un-digitized materials. They certainly are, in record numbers. More patrons are visiting our reading room than ever before. So how do we explain these numbers? Perhaps research and publication are really two separate processes. Imagine you’ve just written a 400 page monograph on the evolution of popular song in America, you probably just want to sit down at your computer, fire up your web browser, and do a Google Image Search for “historic sheet music” to find some cool images to illustrate your book. Maybe I’m wrong, but if I’m not, we’ve got you covered. After it’s published, send us a hard copy. We’ll add it to the collection and maybe we’ll even digitize it someday.
[Data analysis and charts provided by Sarah Carrier – thanks Sarah!]
We try to keep our posts pretty focussed on the important work at hand here at Bitstreams central, but sometimes even we get distracted (speaking of, did you know that you can listen to the Go-Gos for hours and hours on Spotify?). With most of our colleagues in the library leaving for or returning from vacation, it can be difficult to think about anything but exotic locations and what to do with all the time we are not spending in meetings. So this week, dear reader, we give you a few snapshots of vacation adventures told through Duke Digital Collections.
Many of Duke’s librarians (myself included) head directly East for a few days of R/R at the one of many beautiful North Carolina beaches. Who can blame them? It seems like everyone loves the beach including William Gedney, Deena Stryker, Paul Kwilecki and even Sydney Gamble. Lucky for North Carolina, the beach is only a short trip away, but of course there are essentials that you must not forget even on such a short journey.
Of course many colleagues have ventured even farther afield to West Virginia, Minnesota, Oregon, Maine and even Africa!! Wherever our colleagues are, we hope they are enjoying some well deserved time-off. For those of us who have already had our time away or are looking forward to next time, we will just have to live vicariously through our colleagues’ and our collections’ adventures.
The era in which libraries have digitized their collections and published them on the Internet is less than two decades old. As an observer and participant during this time, I’ve seen some great projects come online. For me, one stands out for its impact and importance – the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives, which is Library of Congress’ collection of 175,000 photographs taken by employees of the US government in the 1930s and 40s.
The FSA photographers produced some of the most iconic images of the past century. In the decades following the program, they became known via those who journeyed to D.C. to select, reproduce, and publish in monographs, or display in exhibits. But the entire collection, funded by the federal government, was as public as public domain gets. When the LoC took on the digitization of the collection, it became available in mass. All those years, it had been waiting for the Internet.
The FSA photographers covered the US. This wonderful site built by a team from Yale can help you determine whether they passed through your hometown. Between 1939 and 1940, Dorothea Lange, Marion Post Wolcott, and Jack Delano traveled through the town and the county where I live, and some 73 of their photos are now online. I’ve studied them, and also witnessed the wonderment of my friends and neighbors when they happen upon the pictures. The director of the FSA program, Roy Stryker, was one of the visionaries of the Twentieth Century, but it took the digital collection to make the scope and reach of his vision apparent.
Photography has been an emphasis of our own digital collections program over the years. At the same time that the FSA traveled to rural Chatham County on their mission of “introducing America to Americans,” anonymous photographers employed by the RC Maxwell Company shot their outdoor advertising installations in places like Atlantic City, New Jersey and Richmond, Virginia. Maybe they were merely “introducing advertising to advertisers,” but I like to think of them as our own mini-Langes and mini-Wolcotts, freezing scenes that others cruised past in their Studebakers.
Certainly the most important traveling photographer we’ve published has been Sidney Gamble, an American who visited Asia, particularly China, on four occasions between 1908 and 1932. As with the FSA photos, I’ve spent time studying the scenes of places known to me. I’ve never been to China or Siberia, but I did live in Japan for a while some years ago, and come back to photos of a few places I visited – or maybe didn’t – while I was there.
The first place is the Great Buddha at Kamakura. It’s a popular tourist site south of Tokyo; I visited with some friends in 1990. Our collection has four photographs by Gamble of the Daibutsu. I don’t find anything particular of interest in Gamble’s shots, just the unmistakable calm and grandeur of the same scene I saw 60+ years later.
More intriguing for me, however, is the photo that Gamble took of the YMCA* in Yokohama, probably in 1917. For a while during my stay in Japan, I lived a few train stops from Yokohama, and got involved in a weekly game of pickup basketball at the Y there. I don’t remember much about the exterior of the building, but I recall the interior as somewhat funky, with lots of polished wood and a sweet wooden court. It was very distinctive for Tokyo and environs – a city where most of the architecture is best described as transient and flimsy, designed to have minimum impact when flattened by massive forces like earthquakes or bombers. I’ve always wondered if the building in Gamble’s photo was the same that I visited.
So I began to construct a response to this question based entirely on my own fading memories, some superficial research, and a fractional comprehension of a series of youtube videos on the history of the YMCA in Yokohama. To begin with, a screenshot of Google street view of the Yokohama YMCA in 2011 shows a building quite different from the original.
The youtube video includes a photograph of a building, clearly the same as the one in Gamble’s photograph, that was built in 1884. There are shots of people playing basketball and table tennis, and the few details of the interior look a lot like the place I remember. Could it be the same?
But then we see the building damaged from the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. That the structure was standing at all would have been remarkable. You can easily search and find images of the astonishing devastation of that event, but I’ll let these harrowing words from a correspondent of The Atlantic convey the scale of it.
Yokohama, the city of almost half a million souls, had become a vast plain of fire, of red, devouring sheets of flame which played and flickered. Here and there a remnant of a building, a few shattered walls, stood up like rocks above the expanse of flame, unrecognizable. There seemed to be nothing left to burn. It was as if the very earth were now burning.
According to my understanding of the video, the YMCA moved into another building in 1926. Based on the photos of the interior, my guess is that it was the same building where I visited in the early 1990s. The shots of basketball and table tennis from earlier might have been taken inside this building, even if the members of the Y engaged in those activities in the original.
Still, I couldn’t help but ask – would the Japanese have played basketball in the original building, between the game’s invention in 1891 and the earthquake in 1923? It seemed anachronistic to me, until I looked into it a little further.
It’s not hard to imagine Ishikawa making a beeline from the ship when it docked at Yokohama to the YMCA. If so, it makes the building that Gamble shot one of the sanctified sites of the sport, like many shrines since ruined but replaced. Sure it was impressive to gaze up at a Giant Buddha cast in bronze some 800 years prior, but what I really like to think about is how that sweet court I played on in Yokohama bears a direct line of descent from the origins of the game.
I started working on the metadata of Sidney D. Gamble photographs in January 2008 on a spreadsheet with no matching images. The nitrate negatives from the collection had just been digitized and resided in a different location. I was, however still amazed by the richness of the content as I tried very hard to figure out the locations of each picture, half of them were so challenging that I must have guessed wrong for most of them in my struggle to meet the project deadline. It was after the digital collection was published that I started to study more thoroughly these images of Chinese life more than 100 years ago. And they have since then continued to amaze me as I understand more of their content and context with the various projects I’ve done; and to puzzle me as I dig deeper into their historical backgrounds. I’ve imagined China in those times in readings, enhanced by films early and recent, yet Gamble’s photographs help me to get closer to what life really looked like and how similar or different things appeared. Recently the hand-colored lantern slides in the collection have made me feel even more so.
Lantern slides are often hand-colored glass slides, commonly used in the first half of the twentieth century to project photographs or illustrations onto walls for better visualization. We are yet to find out whether Gamble colored these slides himself or instructed the work by giving details of the description of the objects. I find the colors in these images strikingly true, suggesting that they were done by someone familiar with the scene or the culture. Whether it is a remote hillside village in a minority region in Sichuan as shown above or the famous Temple of Heaven in Beijing below, the color versions are vivid and lively as if they were taken by a recent visitor.
Gamble used these color slides in his talks introducing China to his countrymen. He included both images of Chinese scenery and those of Chinese people and their lives. The large amount of images of Chinese life in the collection is a record of his social survey work in China, the earliest of its kind ever done in China; as well as a reflection of his curiosity and sympathy in Chinese people and their culture. Funeral is one of Gamble’s favorite subjects, and I have no clue whether green was the color for people’s clothes working at funerals as I see several images with men dressed in green doing all sort of jobs, such as this man carrying the umbrella, the color is not offensive but needs to be studied.
The Lama Temple, or Yonghegong, is an imperial Tibetan Buddhist Temple. Every year in early March, masked lamas performed their annual “devil dance”, a ritual to ward off bad spirits and disasters on a Monday. I learned about this performance through Gamble’s photographs and the color images have simply added more life. A search online for images taken today brought back photos that look just similar.
There are nearly 600 colored slides in the collection, one can imagine the reaction of the audience when Gamble projected them on the wall in his talk about the mysterious China in the Far East. With the help of a capable intern, I was able to create an inventory last fall, matching most of them with existing black and white one in the collection. A project was proposed and approved quickly to digitize these lantern slides. The project was done quickly and a blog post by one of our digitization experts provided some interesting details. In June this year, selected color images will appear in the travelling exhibit that professor Guo-Juin Hong and I curated and started in Beijing last summer when it opens at Shanghai Archives’ museum on bund. I believe they will fascinate the Chinese audience today as much as they had when Gamble showed them to the American audience.
Post Contributed by Luo Zhou, Chinese Studies Librarian, Duke University Libraries
I have worked in the Digital Production Center since March of 2005 and I’ve seen a lot of digital collections published in my time here. I have seen so many images that sometimes it is difficult to say which collection is my favorite but the Sidney D. Gamble Photographs have always been near the top.
The Sidney D. Gamble Photographs are an amazing collection of black and white photographs of daily life in China taken between 1908 and 1932. These documentary style images of urban and rural life, public events, architecture, religious statuary, and the countryside really resonate with me for their unopposed moment in time feel. Recently the Digital Collections Implementation Team was tasked with digitizing a subset of lantern slides from this collection. What is a lantern slide you might ask?
A lantern slide is a photographic transparency which is glass-mounted and often hand-colored for projection by a “magic lantern.” The magic lantern was the earliest form of slide projector which, in its earliest incarnation, used candles to project painted slides onto a wall or cloth screen. The projectionist was often hidden from the audience making it seem more magical. By the time the 1840s rolled around photographic processes had been developed by William and Frederick Langenheim that enabled a glass plate negative to be printed onto another glass plate by a contact method creating a positive. These positives were then painted in the same fashion that the earlier slides were painted (think Kodachrome). The magic lantern predates the school slate and the chalkboard for use in a classroom.
After working with and enjoying the digitization of the nitrate negatives from the Sidney D. Gamble Photographs it has been icing on the cake to work with the lantern slides from the same collection so many years later. While the original black and white images resonate with me the lantern slides have added a whole new dimension to the experience. On one hand the black and white images lend a sense of history and times passed and on the other, the vivid colors of the lantern slides draw me into the scene as if it were the present.
I am in awe of the amount of work and the variety of skill sets required to create a collection such as this. Sidney D. Gamble, an amateur photographer, to trek across China over 4 trips spanning 24 years, photographing and processing nitrate negatives in the field without a traditional darkroom, all the while taking notes and labeling the negatives. Then to come home and create the glass plate positives and hand color over 500 of them. For being an “amateur photographer” Gamble’s images are striking. The type of camera he used takes skill and knowledge to create a reasonably correct exposure. Processing the film is technically challenging in a traditional darkroom and is made much more difficult in the field. Taking enough notes while shooting, processing and traveling so they make sense as a collection is a feat in itself. The transfer from negative film to positive glass plates on such a scale is a tedious and technical venture. Then to hand paint all of the slides takes additional skill and tools. All of this makes digitization of the material look like child’s play.
An inventory of the hand-colored slides was created before digitization began. Any hand-colored slides with existing black and white negatives were identified so they can be displayed together online. A color-balanced light box was used to illuminate the lantern slides and a Phase One P65 Reprographic camera was used in conjunction with a precision Kaiser copy stand to capture them. All of the equipment used in the Digital Production Center is color-calibrated and profiled so consistent results can be achieved from capture to capture. This removes the majority of the subjective decision making from the digitization process. Sidney D. Gamble had many variables to contend with to produce the lantern slides much like the Digital Collections Implementation Team deals with many variables when publishing a digital collection. From conservation of the physical material, digitization, metadata, interface design to the technology used to deliver the images online and the servers and network that connect everything to make it happen, there are plenty of variables. They are just different variables.
Nowadays we photograph and share the minutia of our lives. When Sidney Gamble took his photographs he had to be much more deliberate. I appreciate his deliberateness as much as I appreciate all the people involved in publishing collections. I look forward to publication of the Sidney D. Gamble lantern slides in the near future and hope you will enjoy this collection as much as I have over the years.
Post Contributed by Mike Adamo
Notes from the Duke University Libraries Digital Projects Team