When I was a kid, one of my favorite things to do while visiting my grandparents was browsing through their collections of old National Geographic and Smithsonian magazines. I was more interested in the advertisements than the content of the articles. Most of the magazines were dated from the 1950s through the 1980s and they provided me with a glimpse into the world of my parents and grandparents from a time in the twentieth century I had missed.
I also had a fairly obsessive interest in air-cooled Volkswagen Beetles, which had ceased being sold in the US shortly before I was born. They were still a common sight in the 1980s and something about their odd shape and the distinct beat of their air-cooled boxer engine captured my young imagination. I was therefore delighted when an older cousin who had studied graphic design gave to me a collection of several hundred Volkswagen print advertisements that he had clipped from 1960s era Life magazines for a class project. Hinting at my future profession, I placed each sheet in a protective plastic sleeve, gave each one an accession number, and catalogued them in a spreadsheet.
I think that part of the reason I find old advertisements so interesting is what they can reveal about our cultural past. Because advertisements are designed specifically to sell things, they can reveal the collective desires, values, fears, and anxieties of a culture.
All of this to say, I love browsing the advertising collections at Duke Libraries. I’m especially fond of the outdoor advertising collections: the OAAA Archives, the OAAA Slide Library, and the John E. Brennan Outdoor Advertising Survey Reports. Because most of the items in these collections are photographs or slides of billboards they often capture candid street scenes, providing even more of a sense of the time and place where the advertisements were displayed.
I’ve picked out a few to share that I found interesting or funny for one reason or another. Some of the ads I’ve picked use language that sounds dated now, or display ideas or values that are out-moded. Others just show how things have changed. A few happen to have an old VW in them.
Part of my job as Digital Collections Program Manager is to manage our various projects from idea to proposal to implementation and finally to publication. It can be a long and complicated process with many different people taking part along the way. When we (we being the Digital Collections Implementation Team or DCIT) launch a project online, there are special blog posts, announcements and media attention. Everyone feels great about a successful project implementation, however as the excitement of the launch subsides the project team is not quite done. The last step in a digital collections project at Duke is the post project review.
Post project reviews are part of project management best practices for effectively closing and assessing the outcomes of projects. There are a lot of resources for project management available online, but as usual Wikipedia provides a good summary of project post-mortems as well as the different types and phases of project management in general. Also if you Google “project post-mortem,” you will get more links then you know what to do with.
As we finish up projects we conduct what we call a “post-mortem,” and it is essentially a post project review. The name evokes autopsies, and what we do is not dissimilar but thankfully there are no bodies involved (except when we closed up the recent Anatomical Fugitive Sheets digital collection – eh? see what I did there? wink wink). The goals of our post mortem process are for the project team to do the following:
Reflect on the project’s outcomes both positive and negative
Document any unique decisions or methods employed during the project
Document resources put into the project.
In practice, this means that I ask the project team to send me comments about what they thought went well and what was challenging about the project in question. Sometimes we meet in person to do this, but often we send comments through email or our project management tool. I also meet in person with each project champion as a project wraps up. Project champions are the people that propose and conceive a project. I ask everyone the same general questions: what worked about the project and what was challenging. With champions, this conversation is also an opportunity to discuss any future plans for promotion as well as think of any related projects that may come up in the future.
Once I have all the comments from the team and champion I put these into my post-mortem template (see right – click to expand). I also pull together project stats such as the number of items published, and the hours spent on the project. Everyone in the core project team is asked to track and submit the hours they spend on projects, which makes pulling stats an easy process. I designed the template I use as a word document. Its structured enough to be organized but unstructured enough for me to add new categories on the fly as needed (for example, we worked with a design contractor on a recent project so I added a “working with contractor” section).
Seems like a simple enough process right? It is, assuming you can have two ingredients. First, you need to have a high degree of trust in your core team and good relationships with project stakeholders. The ability to speak honestly (really really honestly) about a project is a necessity for the information you gather to be useful. Secondly, you do actually have to conduct the review. My team gets pulled so quickly from project to project, its really easy to NOT make time for this process. What helps my team, is that post mortems are a formal part of our project checklists. Also, I worked with my team to set up our information gathering process, so we all own it and its relevant and easy for them.
The impacts these documents have on our work are very positive. First there is short term benefit just by having the core team communicate what they thought worked and didn’t work. Since we instituted this in the last year, we have used these lessons learns to make small but important changes to our process.
This process also gives the project team direct feedback from our project champions. This is something I get a lot through my informal interactions with various stakeholders in my role as project manager, however the core team doesn’t always get exposed to direct feedback both positive and negative.
The long term benefit is using the data in these reports to make predictions about resources needed for future projects, track project outcomes at a program level, and for other uses we haven’t considered yet.
All in all, I cannot recommend a post project review process to anyone and everyone who is managing projects enough. If you are not convinced by my template (which is very simple), there are lots of examples out there. Google “project post-mortem templates” (or similar terminology) to see a huge variety.
There are also a few library and digital collections project related resources you may find useful as well:
“Nobody likes you. Everybody hates you. You’re going to lose. Smile, you f*#~.”
Joe Hallenbeck, The Last Boy Scout
While I’m glad not to be living in a Tony Scott movie, on occasion I feel like Bruce Willis’ character near the beginning of “The Last Boy Scout.” Just look at some of the things they say about us.
Current online interfaces to primary source materials do not fully meet the needs of even experienced researchers. (DeRidder and Matheny)
The criticism, it cuts deep. But at least they were trying to be gentle, unlike this author:
[I]n use, more often than not, digital library users and digital libraries are in an adversarial position. (Saracevic, p. 9)
That’s gonna leave a mark. Still, it’s the little shots they take, the sidelong jabs, that hurt the most:
The anxiety over “missing something” was quite common across interviews, and historians often attributed this to the lack of comprehensive search tools for primary sources. (Rumer and Schonfeld, p. 16)
I’m fond of saying that the youtube developers have it easy. They support one content type – and until recently, it was Flash, for pete’s sake – minimal metadata, and then what? Comments? Links to some other videos? Wow, that’s complicated.
I think the problem set of developing tools for digitized primary sources is one of the most interesting areas in the field of librarianship, and for the digital collections team, it’s one of our favorite areas of work. However, the quotes that open this post (the ones not delivered by Bruce Willis, anyway) are part of a literature that finds significant disparity between the needs of the researchers who form our primary audience and the tools that we – collectively speaking, in the field of digital libraries – have built.
Our team has just begun work on our next-generation platform for digital collections, which we call Tripod3. It will be built on the Fedora/Hydra framework that our Digital Repository Services team is using to develop the Duke Digital Repository. As the project manager, I’m trying to catch up on the recent literature of assessment for digital collections, and consider how we can improve on what we’ve done in the past. It’s one of the main ways we can engage with researchers, as I wrote about in a previous post.
One of the issues we need to address is the problem of archival context. It’s something that the users of digitized primary sources cite again and again in the studies I’ve read. It manifests itself in a few ways, and could be the subject of a lengthier piece, but I think Chassanoff gives a good sense of it in her study (pp. 470-1):
Overall, findings suggest that historians seem to feel most comfortable using digitized sources when an online environment replicates essential attributes found in archives. Materials should be obtained from a reputable repository, and the online finding aid should provide detailed description. Historians want to be able to access the entire collection online and obtain any needed information about an item’s provenance. Indeed, the possibility that certain materials are omitted from an online collection appears to be more of a concern than it is in person at an archives.
The idea of archival context poses what I think is the central design problem of digital collections. It’s a particular challenge because, while it’s clear that researchers want and require the ability to see an object in its archival context, they also don’t want it. By which I mean, they also want to be able to find everything in the same flat context that everything assumes with a retrieval service like Google.
Archival context implies hierarchy, using the arrangement of the physical materials to order the digital. We were supposed to have broken away from the tyranny of physical arrangement years ago. David Weinberger’s Everything is Miscellaneous trumpeted this change in 2007, and while we had already internalized what he called the “third order of order” by then, it is the unambiguous way of the world now.
With our Tripod2 platform, we built both a shallow “digital collections miscellany” interface at http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/, but later started embedding items directly in finding aids. Examples of the latter include the Jazz Loft Project Records and the Alexander Stephens Papers. What we never did was integrate these two modes of publication for digitized primary sources. Items from finding aids do not appear in search results for the main digital collections site, and items on the main site do not generally link back to the finding aid for their parent collection, and not to the series in which they’re arranged.
While I might give us a passing grade for the subject of “Providing archival context,” it wouldn’t be high enough to get us into, say, Duke. I expect this problem to be at the center of our work on the next-generation platform.
Alexandra Chassanoff, “Historians and the Use of Primary Materials in the Digital Age,” The American Archivist 76, no. 2, 458-480.
Jody L. DeRidder and Kathryn G. Matheny, “What Do Researchers Need? Feedback On Use of Online Primary Source Materials,” D-Lib Magazine 20, no. 7/8, available at http://www.dlib.org/dlib/july14/deridder/07deridder.html
Jennifer Rumer and Roger C. Schonfeld, “Supporting the Changing Research Practices of Historians: Final Report from ITHAKA S+R,” (2012), http://www.sr.ithaka.org/sites/default/files /reports/supporting-the-changing-research-practices-of-historians.pdf.
Tefko Saracevic, “How Were Digital Libraries Evaluated?”, paper first presented at the DELOS WP7 Workshop on the Evaluation of Digital Libraries (2004), available at http://www.scils.rutgers. edu/~tefko/DL_evaluation_LIDA.pdf
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.
As our long-term readers of Bitstreams will attest, the Duke Digital Collections program has an established and well-earned reputation as a trailblazer when it comes to introducing new technologies, improved user interfaces, high definition imaging, and other features that deliver digital images with a beauty and verisimilitude true to the originals held by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Thus, we are particularly proud to launch today our newest feature, Smell-O-Bit, which adds a whole new dimension to the digital collections experience.
Smell-O-Bit is a cutting-edge technology that utilizes the diffusers built into most recent model computers to emit predefined scents associated with select digital objects within the Duke Digital Collections site. While still in a test phase, the Digital Collections team has already tagged several images with scents that evoke the mood or content of key images. To experience the smells, simply select Ctl-Alt-W-Up- while viewing these test images:
Made by the Pabst brewing company while beer was off limits due to Prohibition, Pabst-ett cheese was soft, spreadable, and comfort-food delicious. We’ve selected a bold, tangy scent to highlight these comforts. The scent may make you happy enough to slap your own cheeks!
The smell of cigarette smoke, margaritas, and salt from around glass rims and chess players’ brows will make you feel as if you have front row seating at this chess match between composer John Cage and a worthy, but anonymous opponent.
You may feel yourself overwhelmed with the wafting scent of char-broiled deliciousness, but don’t forget to take a deep inhale to detect the pickles, ketchup, and mustard which makes this a savory image all around.
Perhaps you smell garbage? If so, your Garbex isn’t working! What about flies, cats, or dogs? Or, perhaps you just smell a rat. Alright, you caught us.
Happy April Fool’s Day from Duke Digital Collections!!
Post Contributed by Duke Digital Collections
Notes from the Duke University Libraries Digital Projects Team