All posts by Paolo Mangiafico

New exhibits in Perkins Library

Photo by Mary WalterIf you’ve walked through the lobby of Perkins Library in the past few days you’ve surely noticed the beautiful new exhibit cases that were installed there last week. The other morning on my way in I saw Mary Walter, the Assistant Director of Development for the library, taking photos of the new cases and the shimmering reflections from the lights above them. It reminded me a little bit of the Georges Rousse Bending Space project in downtown Durham a couple of years ago, and I asked Mary if I could post a photo here (see one of them here on the right).

The new exhibit cases are now full, with materials from an exhibit titled Pivotal Books / Personal Reflections, which explores the personal nature of books and the relationships that exist between reader and written word. We hope you’ll visit the exhibit in the lobby, and also the exhibit web site, where we invite you to submit your own reflections on books that were pivotal to you and see what other visitors to the exhibit have already sent in.

Olive Pierce photographJust around the corner from the Perkins lobby, in the hallway between the Rare Book Room and the Special Collections Reading Room, is another new exhibit, featuring photographs by Olive Pierce, documenting life in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Maine fishing communities, and Iraq. This exhibit will be up through December 2008.

Both of these exhibits, as well as other library exhibits from the past, are available on the exhibits page on library web site.

LibX updated – bug fixes and new search options

If you’re a user of the Duke LibX browser plugin for Firefox, you should soon be getting prompted by Firefox to update the plugin. If you want it right away, go to the Tools / Add-ons menu and click “Find Updates” in the Extensions tab.

The new version is 1.2.8, and includes a couple of changes.

One is that the embedded “cues” stopped working in Amazon pages a while back, and this new version applies a fix that makes them work again. When you’re viewing a book page in Amazon, you should see the Duke Library icon next to the book’s title (looks like this: Reading Blue Devil icon – it’s a silhouette of the Reading Blue Devil weathervane on top of the von der Heyden Pavilion). If you click on the icon, it will start a search in the Duke Library Catalog to see if Duke has the book for you to check out.

The other change is the addition of the option to search the new Search TRLN system via the LibX browser bar and right-click menu. The menu item (labeled “Search Triangle Research Libraries”) will search the catalogs of Duke, NCCU, NCSU, and UNC-CH and show you results from all for universities. There’s more information on Search TRLN in this earlier post.

Places you can search using the Duke LibX browser add-on

And you can read more about all of the other things LibX can do in this earlier post about Duke LibX or on the Duke LibX download page.

If you’re a Duke LibX user, please tell us in the comments section what you like or don’t like about it, and if there are things you’d like to see changed added to it. If you’re not already using it, try it out!

Iron Maiden in the library

No, not this kind of iron maiden. The other kind.

Playing Rock Band in the library - photo by Cristin M. R. PaulLast night about 50 students took a study break and came down to the computer classroom in the basement of Bostock Library to play video games. If was the first of what we hope will become a series of game nights in the library.

Our friends in ISIS and the Dean of Students Office brought over a couple of XBox 360 consoles, a Wii, a Playstation2, and a Playstation3, along with some high end desktop computers for gaming. Most importantly, though, they also brought a complete set of instruments for the game Rock Band. We rearranged some of the tables in the classroom, projected the game consoles onto big screens, turned up the volume, and transformed the room into a concert hall and gaming room for one night.

Boxing on Wii SportsStudents “rocked the ‘stock” for about 3 hours to the tunes of Iron Maiden, R.E.M., Soundgarden, Boston, Bang Camaro, and more. Others played Halo3, FIFA 06, Atari Anthology, Brawl, Wii Sports, and other video games, while snacking on pizza and soft drinks courtesy of the game night’s three sponsors, the ISIS Program, Duke Libraries, and the Dean of Students Office.

Check out these photo sets in Flickr and a set of short videos in YouTube for a better taste of the evening.

We hope you’ll come out and join the fun too next time…

Do serif fonts get you better grades?

Last week I saw a documentary called Helvetica, which explored the history and culture of typefaces, and the sans-serif Helvetica font in particular. It got me thinking more about the almost sub-conscious power of the fonts used in the writing all around us, and the ones I use myself. (It’s a fun and elegant documentary by the way, and not at all as boring or geeky as it might sound.)

Coincidentally, a couple of days later I came across a blog posting called The Secret Lives of Fonts, in which the author reviewed 52 papers he wrote for university courses and found that on average he got better grades on the ones where he used serif fonts than on the ones where he used sans-serif fonts. He writes:

Well, would you believe it? My essays written in Georgia did the best overall. This got me thinking as to why that might be: maybe fonts speak a lot louder than we think they do. Especially to a professor who has to wade through a collection of them; Times seems to be the norm, so it really doesn’t set off any subconcious triggers. Georgia is enough like Times to retain its academic feel, and is different enough to be something of a relief for the grader. Trebuchet seems to set off a negative trigger, maybe just based on the fact that it’s not as easy to read in print, maybe on the fact that it looks like something off a blog rather than an academic journal. Who knows.

What fonts do you use, and have you noticed patterns like these? Professors and TAs, do you have typeface preferences for the papers you need to grade? Is there something to this?

Myself, I like Verdana, but I’m mostly reading my own words on screens now. Maybe I should think again and change the font just before I print it out…

LibX browser add-on – take the library with you

Last summer we posted the first version of the Duke Libraries LibX browser add-on. A new version is out now, with some fixes, updates, and new functionality. If you already have LibX, Firefox should have notified you that there was an update available (if not, in Firefox go to Tools -> Add-ons and click “Find Updates”). If you haven’t heard about it yet, please read on.

What is LibX? It’s an add-on (or extension) to your web browser that puts library services wherever you go on the web. It has a toolbar (which you can choose to show or hide as needed) that lets you do several different kinds of library searches (catalog, journals, databases, Google Scholar, etc.) directly from your browser. There are also quick links to frequently used library services (My Account, Ask a Librarian, and more) and a Scholar “magic button” – drag and drop text on it, and it will search for that text in Google Scholar.

LibX toolbar

But some of the coolest functionality is what’s hidden behind the scenes, and only shows up when appropriate. Go to Amazon or Google or other places where a book’s unique ISBN number is encoded (including many book reviews) and a Duke Libraries icon (the “reading Blue Devil”: Reading Blue Devil icon) will appear as a cue that there’s a library connection there. Click on the icon, and it will link you to a search of the item in Duke’s library catalog. The same thing works for many journal articles – look for the embedded Get It @ Duke cue Get it @ Duke logo in Google Scholar, CiteULike, and elsewhere. Clicking the link will take you to it via Duke Library’s subscription.

LibX cue

More hidden functionality is revealed when you right click on a web page. If you’re off-campus and a site that requires a Duke subscription doesn’t recognize you as being from Duke, right click and look for the item that reads “Reload [name of web site] via Duke University EZProxy”. Clicking on this will send you through the library’s EZProxy system, which will authenticate you as a member of the Duke community and then direct you back to the page you were on. Not all sites work with this, but many do, and it might save you a trip to the library catalog or VPN.

LibX right-click

The right-click menu also gives you lots of search options if you highlight some text before right-clicking. Highlight a word or phrase, and the right-click menu will give you lots of places where you can search on that word or phrase. For the “Author” field, it will even flip the terms, so if you highlighted Joe Smith it will turn your Author search into Smith Joe, which the library catalog likes better.

Give it a try – it’s available for Firefox (Windows, Mac, and Linux – yes Linux users, we love you too) and for Internet Explorer on Windows. Note that while the Firefox version is stable and well-tested, the IE version is still in beta, and requires recent versions of the browser and .Net framework.

See Duke Library’s LibX page for download links and instructions, and please let us know what you think.

Literary Style by the Numbers

Have you ever noticed the link on’s book record pages called “Text Stats“? (it’s in the “Inside this Book” section – you have to scroll down a bit). Since Amazon has the full text of many books in electronic format, they can tally up some fun (and revealing) statistics about each book. Stuff like the number of characters, words, and sentences in the book, the complexity and readability of the text (using various metrics, like average words per sentence and syllables per word), and even words per dollar and words per ounce!

Author Steven Berlin Johnson (The Ghost Map, Everything Bad is Good For You, etc.) blogged recently about exploring this feature, comparing the statistics on his books with those of other authors, including Duke professor Fredric Jameson, and plotting them on a graph.

Read Johnson’s blog post for his observations on what these statistics reveal about different authors’ literary styles, and the comments below his blog post for other interpretations of this data, as well as how you can get these statistics on your own writing using word processing software.

Real-time info on workstation availability in the libraries

Want to know whether there are computer workstations available in the library before you head over? Check out our new Computer Workstations web page, which links to live data about how many workstations are in use or available in various libraries around campus (like in the chart shown here). Some of them even include floor plans that show you which particular computers are available right now, so you can find them easily when you get there.

See the Computers, Copies, & More web page for more information on technology available in the libraries and how to set up your own laptop to connect to library resources when you’re in a library building, or how to access library resources online when you’re off campus.

Browser toolbar for medical library resources

If you use the Medical Center Library a lot, you’ll like this. The library has recently released a browser toolbar that lets you search the library catalog, PubMed, the Medical Center Library website and more right from your browser. It also includes links to frequently used resources and a quick way to get help with your research. Read more and download the toolbar (for both Firefox and Internet Explorer) on the Medical Center Library’s web site.

If medical research is not your thing, check out the Duke LibX add-on for Firefox (announced in LibraryHacks over the summer) that provides quick access to Duke University Libraries resources and services wherever you are on the web, through a browser toolbar and embedded “cues” on sites like Amazon. It’s currently only available for Firefox, but a version for Internet Explorer will be available soon (we’ll announce it on LibraryHacks when it’s ready).

Learning, lattes cohabit at Duke library

Laptops and lattes in the library - photo by Mark Zupan

The News & Observer has discovered Bostock.

This morning’s edition of the Raleigh-based newspaper describes Bostock Library as a place where research meshes successfully with technology, socializing and group learning. And yes, lots of coffee. The article begins like this:

Feel free to raise your voice a little in Duke’s Bostock Library. You won’t get shushed.

And that steaming cup o’ java isn’t a problem, either. Just don’t spill it on the Ralph Waldo Emerson anthology.

Bostock, a bright, airy two-year-old addition to Duke’s Perkins Library complex, is now where the cool kids hang out. It is, in a way, what you would get by crossing a traditional university library with a modern student union. Macbeth, it appears, is more easily digested when chased with a latte.

Read the rest of the article here.

[ The following was added a few days after originally posting this entry. ]

The Durham News, the N&O‘s weekly Durham-specific paper, published a longer version of this article over the weekend. This one expands on the theme, and describes the increasing emphasis on collaborative and social learning at Duke and elsewhere. The new title is “Students check out trendy library, give it an A“.

Taking notes that work

The awesome LifeHack blog has an article today with advice for students on how to take good notes. They write

Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Teachers and professors assume either that taking good notes comes naturally or that someone else must have already taught students how to take notes.

and continue

Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

The short article provides advice on how to take good notes and describes several different note-taking techniques you might want to try.

Check it out here: Advice for Students: Taking Notes that Work.

Web apps for students, researchers, and any library user

If you live your life on the net and in the library, check out these two blog posts, with descriptions and links of lots of tools that might make your life easier:

They cover note-taking tools, “mind-mappers,” collaboration tools, bibliographic software, bookmarking tools, online office software, online calendars, and more. Check them out, and let us know what you think. We’ll write up more details on your and our favorites here in the future.

Gather, collect, share, and network

A few weeks ago we wrote about Connotea, a “social bookmarking” tool for academics, and in the comments Duke Professor Gary Feng reminded us of CiteULike, a similar tool that is currently more widely used in the sciences. Around the same time, the spring issue of the UK journal Ariadne came out with an article on CiteULike, titled “Citeulike: A Researcher’s Social Bookmarking Service“. The introduction reads

This article describes Citeulike, a fusion of Web-based social bookmarking services and traditional bibliographic management tools. It discusses how Citeulike turns the linear ‘gather, collect, share’ process inherent in academic research into a circular ‘gather, collect, share and network’ process, enabling the sharing and discovery of academic literature and research papers.

The article provides a brief overview of the principles behind tools like CiteULike and Connotea, and gives examples of how these tools can be useful for academics. It explains how to use CiteULike to build networks of citations shared among colleagues, in addition to using it for managing one’s own citations. As the authors write,

The fact that two users read similar literature probably indicates that they will potentially have a professional interest in each other. The bibliographic data forms a fabric binding people together.

This fabric is a major reason why we come together in universities, so it makes sense that the digital tools we use should help to strengthen these ties, and do so even across institutions and geographical boundaries. Might tools like this eventually become the platform for a different kind of peer review? Dario Taraborelli muses on this in his blog posting “Soft peer review? Social software and distributed scientific evaluation” in the Academic Productivity blog.

Book Burro brings your local library into Amazon

Wouldn’t it be cool if while you were looking at books in Amazon’s online store you could see whether Duke Libraries have the book? Well, you can. A tool called Book Burro ( does just this.

It only works with the Firefox browser, so if you’re using Internet Explorer or other browsers you’re out of luck (there are many reasons why you should try out Firefox, but that’s another blog post). You install the browser plugin (or “add-on”, as they’re now called in Firefox 2) and configure it with your zip code and online book stores you like to use.

Then, whenever you’re looking at a book record in Amazon, you’ll see an overlay in the top left corner of your browser that looks like this:

Book Burro in Amazon

When you click on the little triangle on the left, the overlay will expand and look something like this:

Screen capture of Book Burro with Durham localization

What displays here depends on how you’ve configured BookBurro (using the tools icon near the right side of the BookBurro overlay). If you’ve put in your zip code, it will show you which libraries in the vicinity have the book – the search includes all libraries at Duke, UNC, NCCU, and many other universities in the region, as well as local public libraries.

Depending on how you’ve configured it, BookBurro will even show you how much the same item costs at other online stores. So you can quickly decide whether to head to your local library, make a request via Inter Library Loan, or order the book from an online vendor and have the book delivered directly to you.

Duke Libraries does not produce or support BookBurro, so we can’t vouch for how well it will work all the time, but so far it’s been pretty handy for me. Try it out – if you don’t like it, it’s easy to uninstall.