All posts by Aaron Welborn

How to Build a Better Book Cart

By Aaron Welborn, Director of Communications

The most enduring technologies are often the simplest, as well as the easiest to take for granted. Consider the humble book cart. It’s basically a shelf on wheels. Yet for moving lots of books around, its efficient design would seem to offer little room for improvement. That is, unless you’ve ever tried maneuvering one across a floor of Duke stone.

For some time now, staff in the Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library have struggled with a basic design problem. The same stone that gives Duke’s campus its timeless Gothic charm turns out to make a bumpy road for books. Its hard, uneven surface transforms a routine cruise down the hall with a cart full of books into a teeth-rattling steeplechase. This is especially problematic when the books on the move are rare, fragile, and of inestimable value. And then there’s the noise. A decibel meter recently clocked a rackety Rubenstein book cart at roughly the same volume as a lawnmower. Far be it from us to shush anybody.

Rubenstein Research Services Archivist Trudi Abel (center) with members of the All-Terrain Manuscript Team (left to right): Joey Zhou, Kevin Kerner, Vineet Alaparthi, Aneesh Gupta, and Keyu Han.

So what’s a poor librarian to do? Rubenstein Research Services Archivist Trudi Abel recently turned to an unlikely source for help—Dr. Ann Saterback, director of the new “First-Year Design” course at the Pratt School of Engineering.

Each incoming class of Pratt undergrads is required to take “First Year Design.” The course divides students into teams and matches them with “clients” around campus and the local community who have real-world design problems in need of solutions. In her proposal, Abel laid out the library’s dilemma and challenged the future Duke engineers to devise a better book cart.

Happily, one group of students was up to the task. Keyu Han, Aneesh Gupta, Joey Zhou, Vineet Alaparthi, and Kevin Kerner dubbed themselves the All-Terrain Manuscript Team. After visiting the Rubenstein Library and test-driving the book carts for themselves, they began isolating the key engineering problems of vibration, load displacement, and noise. Over the course of several weeks, they researched existing design solutions—including carbon fiber loop wheels, dampers, and shock absorbers—and began the long iterative process of design, trial, error, and redesign.

The same stone that gives Duke’s campus its timeless Gothic charm turns out to make a bumpy road for books.

Their new-and-improved cart had to meet strict criteria. It needed to be easy to use, capable of bearing 500-600 pounds, no more than 32 inches wide, audible only to the person operating it, durable enough to last ten years, and affordable at under a thousand dollars. Oh, and one more thing: it should provide such a smooth ride that a book in transit wouldn’t budge more than a single inch. Easy, right?

At the end of the semester, the All-Terrain Manuscript Team unveiled their prototype. Its lightweight steel frame was mounted on a chassis with a simple suspension system and pneumatic tires, which could traverse bumpy stone and elevator-floor transitions with cushiony ease. Protective railings around the shelf area would keep priceless tomes from falling off, while a thin layer of acid-free, conservation-quality foam provided additional grip and padding. Every design requirement was neatly checked off the list. Best of all, they kept the cost to around $500, half of what they’d been permitted.

The cart made its relatively noiseless debut to resounding appreciation by Rubenstein Library staff. Although it’s too early to say whether the students’ design can be produced at scale, it was a worthwhile learning opportunity all around. Library staff were impressed with the engineering students’ elegant solution to a vexing problem, while several of the students admitted they had no idea Duke held such literary treasures. Indeed, they were surprised at the level of public access allowed. “You mean we have books worth $2 million,” one of them said, “and anyone can just ask to see them?”

Indeed they can. What’s a book but another simple technology that has endured a few bumps along the road?

Monster, Myth, or Medical Condition?

By Keegan Trofatter

The Italian Renaissance naturalist Ulisse Aldrovandi (1522-1605) was known for his systematic observations of animals, plants, and minerals. During his tenure as a professor of logic and philosophy at the University of Bologna, he was arrested for heresy, appointed by Pope Gregory XIII as inspector of drugs and pharmacies, and authored several published encyclopedias.

The rest of his written work remained unpublished until after his death. One of these volumes, the Monstrorum Historia (History of Monsters), published in 1642, was recently acquired as part of the History of Medicine Collections in the Rubenstein Library. Depicting legendary creatures, unusual congenital abnormalities, and lots of hybrid combinations, it would be easy to confuse it as a work of mythological, rather than medical, history.

The Monstrorum is part of a larger, thirteen-volume encyclopedia compiled by Aldrovandi’s students and protégés, meant to catalog the world in its entirety. Today, the work stands as an important piece of medical history as it includes some of the earliest documentation of rare medical conditions. While some parts of the book are more akin to fairytale than to fact, Aldrovandi assiduously cataloged and preserved the rare, marvelous, and imaginative prodigies of his time.

Can you spot the scientific from the supernatural? Check out some of Aldrovandi’s most marvelous of monsters.

Keegan Trofatter (T’19) is an English major and student worker in the Library Development and Communications department.

One Duke Nation, Indivisible

An immigrant’s path to Duke and how it changed his life

By Aaron Welborn, Director of Communications

Emmanuel Senga at work in the Library Service Center, 2018.

Even if you spent all your time at Duke in the library, you would probably never meet Emmanuel Senga. And even if you did, it would probably make no difference to you whether he was a Hutu or a Tutsi.

But twenty-four years ago, when the killings started, that was the one thing about Emmanuel—and every other Rwandan like him—that made the difference between life and death.

Emmanuel works in Duke’s Library Service Center, the high-density repository five miles from campus that houses 5.5 million books, documents, and archival materials belonging to Duke and other Triangle area institutions. When a student or faculty member requests a book held off-site at the LSC, chances are it will pass through Emmanuel’s hands.

He has worked there since 2012, the year before he officially became an American citizen. Emmanuel and his family came to the U.S. as refugees and survivors of one of the worst genocides in modern history. Considering how many times he has narrowly escaped death, it seems remarkable he is here at all, safe and sound, scanning books, retrieving books, and putting them back where they belong.

His story is a powerful reminder that ours is a nation of immigrants, however the political winds may blow, and that many of the people who keep a globally minded university like Duke running come from all over the globe themselves.

Although he likes working at Duke, this wasn’t the life Emmanuel pictured for himself. “One of the most frustrating parts about moving to a country where you don’t speak the language is having to start over at the bottom,” he said. Hard-earned degrees and credentials from one country don’t necessarily count for anything in another.

Emmanuel and Jeanne on their wedding day, July 27, 1988. (All family photos courtesy of Emmanuel Senga.)

He was trained as a teacher of languages at the National University of Rwanda. For ten years, he taught French, Linguistics, and Kinyarwanda at the Minor Seminary of Ndera-Kigali, helping to prepare young men who felt called to the priesthood. Seminaries were the top private schools in the country, and their teachers were selected accordingly. For many Roman Catholic Hutus like Emmanuel, an appointment to the faculty of a seminary was a good and secure job.

His wife, Jeanne, was a nurse. A Tutsi, she was born in Rwanda but raised in neighboring Tanzania. Like thousands of other Tutsis, she was the child of refugees who had fled Rwanda in an earlier revolution that saw the abolition of a monarchy dominated by the Tutsi minority elite and the establishment of a republic ruled by the country’s Hutu majority.

They were married in 1987. The mixed marriage caused some family friction, but ethnic differences can’t stop people from loving each other. In 1989, Emmanuel and Jeanne welcomed a son, Didier. Three years later came a daughter, Anaise. A young family in the prime of life, residing in a vibrant capital city—life could be worse.

And then suddenly, it was.

Emmanuel still remembers the day, April 6, 1994, when a plane carrying the Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana and the President of Burundi, Cyprien Ntaryamira, was shot down over Kigali. The resulting crash killed everyone onboard. Emmanuel was watching soccer on TV at the seminary when he heard the explosion. It was soon followed by the sound of gunshots. “We have to hide,” a colleague said to him.

Over the next several months, the entire country was swept up in a wave of anarchy and mass killings, in which the army and Hutu militia groups known as the interahamwe played a central role. Radio broadcasts fanned the flames by encouraging Hutu civilians to kill their Tutsi neighbors. The Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) responded in kind. As Hutus sought to exterminate Tutsis, the RPF killed Hutus in a bid to reclaim control of the country. Meanwhile, the international community stood by and watched.

For ethnically mixed Hutu-Tutsi families, like Emmanuel and Jeanne, their only hope was to go into hiding.

The Rwandan genocide is said to have lasted approximately one hundred days, from April 6 to mid-July 1994. During that time, an estimated 800,000 civilians were killed, mostly Tutsis but also moderate Hutus. The exact death toll may never be known. Many of the victims died in extremely brutal ways, often at the hands of people they knew.

Emmanuel with son Didier (left) and daughter Anaise (right), 1996.

It is impossible to convey, in this brief space, what Emmanuel, Jeanne, and their children went through during that nightmarish time period. But here, in extremely abbreviated form, are a few things that happened to them, starting in the month of April.

After the president’s plane was shot down, they took refuge in the seminary where Emmanuel worked. From the surrounding area people started pouring in, seeking a place of safety. But nowhere was truly safe.

Within a few days the militias appeared and started separating Hutus from Tutsis. (In Rwanda, your ethnicity is not something you could easily hide. Everyone’s government-issued ID proclaimed it. And anyway, it was a small world. People knew each other and could be made to talk.)

One brave soul spoke up on Emmanuel’s behalf and persuaded the militias to let his family leave. But their home had been destroyed, so they hid in the house of a wealthy friend near the seminary.

In addition to their own two children, aged five and two, Emmanuel and Jeanne took in the ten-year-old daughter of a colleague when the rest of her family were killed.

Within days, the militias found out where they were hiding and demanded payment in exchange for not killing Jeanne. Emmanuel complied, but then the militias came back, wanting more money. Then they came back again.

Emmanuel and Jeanne decided she should flee and try to find a safer place to hide, bypassing the roadblocks where Tutsis were being killed on the spot. He stayed behind with the children, the youngest of whom, Anaise, was still breastfeeding.

Weeks went by with no word from his wife. On April 26, an acquaintance gave Emmanuel some bad news. Jeanne hadn’t made it. She was dead.

That was the month of April.

In May, Emmanuel decided to leave Kigali. A nephew in the military helped him and the three children get a ride to the town of Gitarama. A trip that normally takes one hour stretched into six, as they crept through roadblock after terrifying roadblock.

In Gitarama, no one wanted to take them in. Emmanuel and the children were obliged to live in primitive conditions, with no electricity, no running water, no money, and entirely dependent on the charity of others.

That was the month of May, and also the month of June.

A view of present-day Kigali.

In July, the Tutsi-led RPF arrived at Gitarama. They began killing Hutus and their relatives, as well as anyone who sheltered them.

Eventually they found Emmanuel, who was certain his time was up. But then a strange thing happened. When he told the soldiers who came for him that his wife was dead, one of them took pity on him. Turns out he was also from Tanzania, like Jeanne.

The Tanzanian took Emmanuel aside and told him they were going to concoct a story about Jeanne being his long-lost sister. When the other men heard the story, they believed it and stood down. Then they all drank beers together, Emmanuel and his would-be killers.

Before they left, the Tanzanian gave Emmanuel a note in Swahili, stating that he was Emmanuel’s brother-in-law and promising him safe passage. To this day, Emmanuel isn’t sure why the man did this. He thinks it has something to do with Tanzanians’ deep sense of national pride and family-like fellow feeling for their countrymen.

On July 4, the RPF seized Kigali and established military control over much of the rest of the country. Millions of Hutus fled to Congo and other neighboring countries.

By mid-July, a transitional government was sworn in. Three months after it had started, the genocide had come to an end.

Desperate for money and work, and knowing there would be a need for educated men and women in the new administration in Kigali, Emmanuel made his way there and began making inquiries.

Over the course of a few days, two separate sources told him that Jeanne was actually alive. She had made it to the north of the country, where she had waited out the violence in an RPF orphanage, caring for Tutsi orphans of the genocide.

Around the same time, word reached Jeanne that Emmanuel and the children were still alive in Gitarama. Immediately she set out to find them.

That was the month of July.

On August 4, 1994, Emmanuel, Jeanne, and their family were finally reunited, though their country remained profoundly torn apart.

The years following the genocide were not easy, but a degree of normalcy returned. Jeanne went back to work as a nurse for an ambulance service. Thanks to some contacts from his time at the seminary, Emmanuel got a job as the director of a Catholic relief agency.

Emmanuel (standing at right) at a workshop and distribution with Caritas Catholic Relief Agency in Gisenyi, 1996, two years after the genocide.

In 1998, Emmanuel was approached by a military officer who told him that the government needed educated men like himself. So many had been killed or fled the country during the violence. “It was not a suggestion,” said Emmanuel, but a warning to do his patriotic duty.

Later that year Emmanuel found himself appointed to a surprisingly high-level government post: Director of Protocol for the Rwandan Parliament. Suddenly, this former language instructor was in charge of planning, directing, and supervising a wide range of official government ceremonies and events, as well as serving as a diplomatic liaison with representatives of other states and countries. “It was a very important, always-in-the-spotlight kind of job,” Emmanuel said.

Having experienced so recently what it means to be powerless, Emmanuel unexpectedly found himself at the center of official power. But it was a center that could not hold. The events of 1994 weighed heavily on the country, which was becoming a de facto one-party state. (Since he was elected President of Rwanda in 2000, Paul Kagame has clung to power and overseen changes to the constitution that could allow him to remain in office until 2034.) Power struggles and ethnic strife always loomed, undermining real progress. “I started to witness more persecutions, killings, retributions,” Emmanuel said. The spotlight was a perilous place to be.

But it was ultimately his position as a government insider that helped Emmanuel and his family get out.

Their chance arrived in July 2004. Jeanne was invited on a whirlwind tour of the United States as part of an official program for African women who were considered opinion leaders in their fields. The six women selected were expected to bring back what they learned to their home countries. But before she left, Jeanne and Emmanuel secretly agreed: she would not be returning to Rwanda.

Emmanuel (far right) hosting visiting British parliamentarians at the Bugesera Genocide Memorial, in his official capacity as Director of Protocol for the Rwandan Parliament, 2002.

At the end of the five-state tour, Jeanne declared asylum at the U.S. embassy in Washington, D.C., and petitioned to have Emmanuel and the children join her.

Because of his high position in the Rwandan government, Emmanuel was a familiar face to foreign diplomats and their embassies around Kigali. It would not be seen as strange for him to spend an hour or two at the American embassy, under the pretense of some official business. Meanwhile he was secretly making his way through the official channels of the asylum process.

Getting out of the country was another matter altogether. “I couldn’t fly out of the airport in Kigali,” Emmanuel said. “Everyone knew me there, and I would be arrested.” He and the children would have to make it to Uganda and get a flight from there.

In the end, he was arrested—twice. First at the Ugandan border, where he was detained in a military camp, interrogated, and stripped of his passport to prevent him from leaving the country. Eventually released, he crossed the border illegally, made his way to Entebbe, and caught a flight out—only to be arrested again by Ethiopian authorities during a layover in Addis Ababa. “I was trembling, but God is always around me,” said Emmanuel. During a moment of commotion when the airport guards were distracted, Emmanuel and his son and daughter rushed onto their plane just moments before it took off.

They arrived in Washington, D.C., on December 11, 2005.

Fast-forward to today. The Sengas have been living in the U.S. for almost thirteen years. Jeanne is a Certified Nurse Assistant at the VA Hospital in Durham. Didier, now twenty-nine years old, earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette and is now a graduate student at North Carolina A&T University in Greensboro. Anaise, now twenty-six, attended East Carolina University briefly and now holds down multiple jobs. As for the ten-year-old girl Emmanuel and Jeanne rescued in 1994, she is now thirty-four, married with two children of her own, and residing in Canada.

Graduating from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, 2010.

For a long time, Emmanuel had hoped to return to teaching. In 2010 he completed a master’s degree in Francophone studies from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. But the Great Recession intervened. It was a hard time to find teaching jobs, even if you were a natural-born citizen and a native English-speaker. He was neither.

Still, unexpected opportunities presented themselves. He got to know Steve Cohn, director of Duke University Press, whose children attended the same high school as Emmanuel’s. Steve arranged a part-time job for him at the press, doing whatever odd jobs needed to be done. It wasn’t a permanent position, but it was a start.

In 2012, Emmanuel applied and was hired as a full-time Library Assistant in the Library Service Center. As he says in his own words, “I am settled. I have a mortgage, I can feed my family, and I am not far from retirement. I am what I am now because of Duke.”

“Emmanuel came highly recommended from Duke Press,” said Marvin Tillman, the Head of the LSC and Emmanuel’s supervisor. “During the interview, he had a smile that lit up the room. I instantly felt like this is the kind of person I want working in our department. Since his hiring, he has been like family to everyone here. We’ve learned a lot about his culture, and he has learned a lot about ours. After learning about the things he and his family endured in Rwanda, I am amazed at how he is so happy and always smiling. Emmanuel is a hard and dependable worker, a loving family man, and most of all a friend to everyone he meets. We are fortunate to have him.”

Although he can never return to Rwanda, Emmanuel remains deeply involved in the affairs of his home country. For the past four years, he has edited and produced an online magazine and a weekly radio show dedicated to Rwandan politics. Every Sunday night, he hosts conversations with experts and commentators on Rwandan affairs. The show has thousands of regular listeners who call in, including many back home in Rwanda and fellow expatriates like Emmanuel scattered around the globe. He is proud of the show, which offers a counterpoint to official Rwandan news coverage and has had an effect on national conversations back home.

Emmanuel today with his supervisor, Marvin Tillman (right), at the Library Service Center.

Asked if he ever has mixed feelings about living in America, a country that refused to intervene during the Rwandan genocide while it was happening, Emmanuel is demure. “My time in the national parliament helped me understand that governments don’t have friends, they have interests,” he said. “That had nothing to do with the American people, but with the interests of the American government at the time.”

He has much the same outlook on the present state of American politics and the anti-immigrant rhetoric that often dominates the news. “When I see families being separated, as a father I understand what that’s like,” he said. “They came here like me, seeking a better life. I am an American, but I also remain a Rwandan. It’s complicated.”

Emmanuel at his U.S. citizenship ceremony in Durham, 2013.

Every year, Duke hosts thousands of foreign nationals who come here to work, teach, or do research. Like other institutions across the country, Duke has recently and publicly reaffirmed its commitment to the open exchange of students, scholars, and ideas from all over the world. That commitment lies at the heart of the twenty-first century research university.

And while the university doesn’t keep track of the number of employees who were born in other countries but now permanently reside in the U.S., ask any Duke employee and most will know at least one co-worker like Emmanuel who is an immigrant. With some 37,000 faculty, staff, and medical practitioners, Duke’s workforce is almost as diverse as its student body, drawn from nations and cultures around the world.

From a human resources perspective, that diversity is inarguably a strength. It’s also a source of endless learning opportunities in itself. A Duke education is the collective work of many instructive individuals, though you may only ever get to meet a few of them.

Greetings from the Library!

Early mornings in the Gothic Reading Room, late-night coffee runs to von Der Heyden, maybe even a few minutes of shut-eye somewhere on the fourth floor of Bostock between class—there’s no denying that Duke students treat the Libraries like a second home.

This year for National Library Week (April 8-14), we wanted to celebrate our students’ daily devotion to our spaces by inviting them to send a postcard to friends and family from their “home away from home,” since they pretty much live here.

Throughout the week, we set up our own personal post office outside Perkins and Lilly libraries, stocked with all the necessities for correspondence: vintage-style postcards; an assortment of fountain pens and other old-fashioned writing implements; and, most important of all, free domestic and international stamps! We even had our own mailbox and sent the letters out the very next day.

Our Dukies couldn’t resist. Crowding around our station between classes, they wrote and mailed a total of 536 postcards, sending their library love across the world to thirty-seven different states and twenty-seven foreign countries.

Inspired by the old-school designs of the cards, and with a nod to our students’ more modern forms of communication, we also produced four geo-specific Snapchat filters for Perkins, Lilly, Bostock, and Rubenstein libraries. Over the course of the week, these were used almost 2,000 times—getting over 22,000 total views.

National Library Week is sponsored by the National Library Association and has been observed by libraries around the world since 1958. This year, we turned it into a week of fun and sentiment for the Libraries’ “residents,” as well as the families and friends on the receiving end of their handwritten greetings. Do the Libraries still feel like a second home to you? Show your appreciation by sending us a little fan mail!

Students on East and West Campus celebrate National Library Week by sending postcards to friends and family from their “home away from home” at Duke—the library.

A Valedictory Address of Our Own

A longtime library mainstay steps down

By Deborah Jakubs, Rita DiGiallonardo Holloway University Librarian and Vice Provost for Library Affairs

Farewells are never easy, even if they’re of the fond variety.

This May, a good friend and colleague of mine, Robert L. Byrd, Associate University Librarian for Collections and User Services, retired from Duke after forty years of dedicated service.

Bob announced his intention to retire last November. For many of us who have long relied on his wisdom, diplomacy, and ability to get things done, it has taken a while to get used to the idea that he won’t be here anymore.

An account of Bob’s contributions to the Duke University Libraries, and to the university, would go on for pages. Most notably, he has been the force of quiet persistence behind our special collections.

It was Bob’s vision, beginning decades ago, that ultimately led to the creation of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library. He always believed that Duke deserved a named special collections library, in recognition of our broad and deep research collections, engaging programs, and strong, effective services to scholars. That vision finally became a reality in 2015, when Duke formally dedicated the Rubenstein Library, bringing the university into the company of its peers.

It turns out that Bob’s fingerprints are on just about everything in the Rubenstein Library. He assiduously acquired and curated some of our most noteworthy and distinctive collections, always seeking to build strengths that reflected the interests of Duke faculty. For example, working with Roy Weintraub from the Department of Economics, he built the Economists’ Papers Archive. In collaboration with Mack O’Barr from Cultural Anthropology, he established the Hartman Center for Sales Advertising & Marketing History. With John Hope Franklin, he launched the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture. With Sallie Bingham and Jean O’Barr, he established the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture. He worked with Alex Harris to start the Archive of Documentary Arts. He founded the Human Rights Archive. And he worked for many years to build our southern historical archives, as well as the literary archives of southern writers like Reynolds Price, William Styron, and Anne Tyler.

The list could go on and on.

Bob has also contributed much beyond the Libraries, serving on numerous university committees, focusing, for example, on Duke’s reaccreditation process as well as the launch of Duke Kunshan University. He also worked closely with the architects of the Perkins Project, the fifteen-year-long effort that saw the renovation of Perkins and Rubenstein Libraries and the construction of Bostock Library and the von der Heyden Pavilion.

There is another side of Bob that anyone who gets to know him will discover. He is a deeply spiritual person who believes that a vibrant faith goes hand-in-hand with a rich and deep life of the mind. He was instrumental in founding two local educational institutions that, like Duke, combine Christian tradition and academic excellence: the Trinity School of Durham and Chapel Hill, and the Center for Christianity and Scholarship. In recognition of the years he has spent devoting his time, energies, and considerable gifts to bringing these twin passions—faith and education—together, Duke recently recognized Bob with the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award. The annual award recognizes one graduating senior and one Duke employee who exhibit the qualities of selflessness, generosity of service, nobility of character, integrity, and depth of spirituality. It is hard to think of a more worthy honoree.

Bob Byrd and the Libraries’ Executive Group at the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award ceremony.

Over the last few months, we have been searching for a way to salute Bob’s lasting impact on the Libraries and Duke in a unique and appropriate way. I’m happy to say that we found it.

It seems only appropriate that the position of Director of the Rubenstein Library should be named for Bob. Thanks to the generosity of many of our Library Advisory Board members and numerous other friends, this spring we created an endowment fund in his honor. Through the Robert L. Byrd Endowment, Bob and his legacy will be associated in perpetuity with the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library. It is an acknowledgment of his vision and long dedication to this institution. You could also say it’s a way for us to keep him around—in spirit, if not in person—and continue to benefit from his company.

Be Part of the Recognition

If you would like to contribute to the Robert L. Byrd Endowment in honor of Bob’s lasting impact on the Libraries, please consider joining us. Gifts of any size are welcome, and pledges can be paid over five years. For more information, contact Tom Hadzor, Associate University Librarian for Development, at or 919-660-5940.

Fifty Years Later, A Silence That Still Echoes

Students camp out in the rain during the “Silent Vigil,” April 10, 1968. Images from Duke University Archives.

“I do not know if you realize the ultimate significance of what you’re doing. I haven’t seen anything like it. I’ve been involved in quite a few civil rights activities in my life, but I haven’t seen anything, anywhere, comparable to this. You would, of course, expect the victims of oppression to sacrifice, to take the hot sun, to take the rain, to sleep at night in the open and cold air, to expose their health, to do everything possible to remove the yoke of oppression and injustice. But you do not expect people born of privilege to undergo this harsh treatment. This is one of the things I think will help to redeem this country.”

– Samuel DuBois Cook, professor of political science and Duke’s first African American faculty member, addressing a crowd in front of Duke Chapel during the “Silent Vigil,” April 10, 1968

Samuel DuBois Cook had just returned from the funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to find his campus—like much of the country—in mourning and embroiled in protest.

The day after King’s assassination, students sought to memorialize the civil rights leader by bringing about changes to Duke’s policies. More than 350 of them marched on the home of President Douglas M. Knight—who was then recovering from a bout of hepatitis—and presented him with a list of demands, chief among them being higher wages for the university’s predominantly African American non-academic employees.

WDBS recording at the “Silent Vigil.”

The students occupied Knight’s residence until the following morning, when they learned he had been isolated by his doctors. At that point the protestors moved to the West Campus quad, where they remained encamped in silent support of Duke’s employees, now on strike, for the next four days. Nearly 1,500 Duke students would participate in the massive demonstration, waiting in the rain in front of Duke Chapel until their demands were eventually met.

The “Silent Vigil” was one of the most defining—and best documented—moments in Duke’s history. The student-run radio station, WDBS, was on-scene through the entire event. They were an essential source of information for students, faculty, staff, and local community members as they broadcast round-the-clock interviews, speeches, press conferences, and behind-the-scenes strategy meetings that defined the campus-wide movement. The students who made up WDBS’s news staff knew they were documenting important historical events. It is thanks to their coverage that we know what Dr. Cook said that day. The station later donated copies of the broadcasts to the Duke Libraries.

Now, fifty years later, the Silent Vigil recordings have finally been digitized and are freely available on our website. Supplemented with line-by-line transcriptions, the broadcasts bring to life the events of that tumultuous spring in a way that no other kind of historical record can. There is singing and music throughout the recordings, as well as a sense of urgency in the speeches and community gatherings. The conflict and conviction are literally audible.

Samuel DuBois Cook, 1966

Dr. Cook’s address to the protestors, which took place on the final day of the Vigil, was one of its high points. Cook had come to Duke only two years earlier, becoming the first (and, at the time, only) African American to hold a regular faculty appointment at a predominantly white southern college or university. Though relatively new to campus, he was held in considerable esteem by the Duke community.

He had been a friend of King’s. They attended Morehouse College together, where Cook became student body president and founded the campus chapter of the NAACP. Later, as chair of Atlanta University’s political science department, he had moderated forums between civil rights leaders such as King and student activists.

At Duke, Cook’s influence among faculty and staff would eventually help move the university forward in its efforts at unity and progress, even after he left to become president of Dillard University in 1974. In 1981, he was named a member of the Duke Board of Trustees and later became a trustee emeritus. Numerous enterprises across campus have been established in his honor, including an endowed professorship, a postdoctoral fellowship, the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity, and the Samuel DuBois Cook Society, which celebrates the efforts of African American students, faculty, and staff at Duke.

Students, administrators, and trustees sing “We Shall Overcome” at the Silent Vigil, April 10, 1968.

So it is fitting that the digitization of the Silent Vigil recordings, including Cook’s memorable speech, coincides with another important addition to the historical record—Cook’s papers themselves. Before he passed away last year at the age of 88, Cook arranged to have them preserved at Duke. The papers document the storied career of a political scientist, scholar, educator, author, teacher, administrator, civil rights activist, and public servant who devoted more than sixty years of his life to higher education. This April, the first installment of papers made their final voyage from Cook’s home in Atlanta to the shelves of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, where they will soon be processed and cataloged.

Whatever the next fifty years of racial progress look like in this country, they are sure to be informed by the sounds of the Silent Vigil and the life’s work of a beloved campus figure who never gave up the cause.

Solving the Mystery of Tree Number One

By Hannah Rozear, Librarian for Instructional Services

What do librarians do all day? While many imagine we spend our days squirreled away reading books, the truth is that we’re often chasing down obscure sources and helping people find the information they need—no matter how hard-to-find or esoteric. These questions may come in as instant messages, phone calls, emails, or in person at the service desk.

Occasionally, they involve tracking down trees.

Have you ever noticed the tiny numbered metal tags attached to seemingly random trees around Duke’s campus? Alexandra Gil (T‘05) and her friends were particularly intrigued by them. When they were students here, they made it their personal mission to locate the lowest numbered tree on campus. Sadly, the closest they ever came was Tree No. 3.

Fast-forward twelve years and a question lands in our general-purpose “Ask a Librarian” inbox, reviving anew the quest for Tree No. 1:

I’m writing to you in search of help… My wife (a proud alumna of the university) and I will be visiting the campus this weekend. It’ll be her first time back at Duke since her graduation, 12 years ago, and she will be reuniting with some of her alumni friends. One of the things they are excited to see again is “Tree #3”… We’ll be celebrating our 6-month anniversary this weekend, and I thought finding “Tree #1” would be a nice surprise.

Any chance you know where on campus the tree is?

— Itamar Ben Haim

Alexandra Gil and her friend Noel Bakhtian (T’05) celebrate finding Tree No. 1, at last.

Knowing nothing about the history of Duke’s trees or this tagging system, I found myself wondering (like Dr. Seuss’s Lorax), “Who speaks for the trees on Duke’s campus?” After some initial digging, I reached out to Bryan Hooks, Director of Landscape Services in Duke’s Facilities Management Department. Bryan was just the sort of expert who might help us solve the mystery of Tree No. 1. He quickly replied with a map revealing the location and also sent along information about the species, Platanus occidentalis, also known as the American sycamore.

So what’s with the tree tagging system? The tags are part of an inventory that helps landscaping staff monitor the overall health of trees on campus. They identify a sample of trees of different species in different stages of their life cycles. If problems are noted, then grounds crews can check other trees with similar characteristics to see if it’s a bigger issue.

Thanks to the map acquired by her thoughtful husband (with the help of a librarian and the Director of Landscaping Services), Alexandra and her friends were able to take a proud selfie in front of Tree No. 1. In case you’re wondering, it’s located off Science Drive, between Gross Hall and the Biological Sciences Building, just a few steps away from the enigmatic “camel statue” of legendary Duke biology professor Dr. Knut Schmidt-Nielsen. Mission accomplished!

Now where’s Tree No. 2?

Happy Anniversary to Us! Duke University Libraries Magazine at 30

Volume 1, Issue 1, Fall 1987

Thirty years ago, the first issue of this magazine rolled off the presses.

It was 1987. A gallon of gas cost 89 cents. Ronald Reagan was telling Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall,” while the Bangles were telling us to “Walk like an Egyptian.” Andy Warhol had just died, and Colin Kaepernick had just been born. The Iran-Contra affair was the political scandal du jour, and the 24-hour news cycle became part of life when “Baby Jessica” fell down a Texas well and was rescued before a TV audience of millions.

Closer to home, Duke had just hired Steve Spurrier as our new football coach. Elvis Costello played to a packed audience in Cameron Indoor Stadium. And a talented young student named Melinda Gates earned her MBA from the Fuqua School of Business.

Meanwhile, here in the library, real history was being made. The card catalog was going online!

No longer was a system of tiny drawers and meticulously organized index cards the swiftest search engine. Now you could find any book held by Duke, UNC, or NC State with a few keystrokes. (Well, any book published after 1979. It would take years before the vast majority of our holdings had electronic records.)

Automation was all the rage. We were even testing a new circulation system that would replace handwritten call slips with scannable barcodes. Would wonders never cease?

Needless to say, a lot has changed in thirty years. But a few constants remain.

One of the cover models featured on Volume 1, Issue 1 of this publication was Jim Coble, then head of the Library Systems Office. Jim still works here today, now as a Digital Repository Developer. In fact, he’s one of nearly thirty library employees who have been here for thirty years or more. Commitment like that is unusual in today’s work environment. But it says something about the kind of place this is. Working in a library comes with many rewards, not least of which is an enlightened appreciation for things that last. You could even say it informs everything we do.

Jim Coble today and in 1987, when he appeared on the cover of this magazine’s first issue.

And because it’s more fun to celebrate the passage of time than to lament it, we decided to mark three decades in print with a makeover—our first redesign in ten years. It’s inspiring to flip through our past issues (all digitized now, of course) and see all the people we’ve profiled, discoveries we’ve made possible, and stories we’ve accumulated over the years.

But that’s the thing about libraries and stories. No matter how many we already have, we’re always collecting more.

Thanks for reading and being part of our story.

R.I.P. (Rest in Perkins): You Won’t Live to Read the Perfect Book for You

Over the years, Deirdre McCullough has hand-picked thousands of library books to honor the memory of deceased Duke alumni.

The small white cards arrive at irregular intervals, some weeks only a few at a time. Then suddenly she’ll get a big stack that will take her hours to plow through.

Each card represents a life. Someone’s father or mother, husband or wife, child or sibling, condensed to a few basic facts. Name of the deceased, graduation year, name and contact info of the surviving relative providing the information. And finally, the most crucial detail: subject area. If some small piece of this person could live on in a book, what kind of book would it be? Please circle your choice.

It’s not a silly question. The dearly departed are about to become part of a book—or at least perpetually associated with one. And once that happens, who knows how many hands that book will pass through? How many conversations it will start? How long it will continue to be read and remembered?

This is how the process begins. It’s not a library service many people at Duke know about, because they can’t take advantage of it until they die. Nor are they likely acquainted with the person whose job it is to choose a book that will honor their memory. She mostly works behind the scenes, as she has done for the last thirty years.

But the care she takes in matching the right book with the right person is a comfort to countless strangers on the other end of those cards—not to mention a remarkable bit of librarianship.

Deirdre McCullough (“Dee” to those who know her) wears many hats. That’s not merely a figure of speech. She’s a hat person, and you’ll often see her sporting a colorful fedora or trilby at work. It’s part of her look. But the expression applies on a more organizational level as well. Dee knows how to do a bit of everything. She has worked here a long time.

Officially her title is Collection Development Specialist, and her broad areas of responsibility include library collection budgeting and financials, gathering and analyzing data on collection usage, coordinating approval plan purchasing for various subject areas, and initiating orders for an assortment of library materials, such as lost/missing replacements and faculty rush requests.

But she also handles a variety of “other duties as assigned,” including the Deceased Alumni Bookplate Program.

Here’s how it works. Duke has over 160,000 alumni around the world. During any given month, a few dozen will pass away. That’s why Duke’s Office of Alumni and Development Records conducts automated searches of published obituaries, using keywords to seek out individuals who went to Duke. Occasionally, the university will learn of a death from a family member, friend, or former classmate. Regardless of how the notification arrives, Alumni and Development Records conducts a verification process to confirm that the deceased is (a) actually a Duke graduate, and (b) actually no longer with us.

(The process exists for a reason. Embarrassing apologies have had to be made, although it rarely happens anymore.)

The person’s alumni record is then updated, and a condolence letter is sent to the next of kin. Included with the letter is a card family members can fill out if they want their loved one honored with a book in the library.

There is no charge for this modest remembrance. Nor does it matter which school at Duke the individual graduated from. In these long and winding stacks, there is room for all. When posted, the cards come to the library development office, where they are entered in a spreadsheet. Then they go to Dee.

That’s more or less how things have worked since 1985, the year the Deceased Alumni Bookplate Program first started. The internet has made the process quicker and easier, as you might expect. And the old paper bookplates that had to be glued inside a book’s cover have been replaced by virtual ones that are entered in a book’s online catalog record and initiate a pop-up plate. (Family members can more easily search for them that way.)

But otherwise not much has changed. For her part, Dee has been the one selecting the books since 2001, the year she assumed her current position. On average, she plates about 250 books per year in memory of deceased Duke alums.

When she first started, Dee says, she would simply pick a book related to the subject area indicated on the card.

“But then I started thinking, what if I’m picking something totally antithetical to who this person was?” she says. She started slowing down and being more thoughtful about the selections. “As the years have gone by, I’ve spent more time getting to know the individual.”

She starts out with a preliminary Google search, looking for an obit or online profile, any kind of digital trail she can follow. Common names like Bill Smith can be tricky, but she has various search strategies for narrowing things down, like specifying the person’s state, town, profession, or any other distinguishing characteristics she can find in the Alumni Directory.

The easy ones might take only five or ten minutes. But sometimes she’ll spend up to thirty minutes or more if an individual is especially hard to track down—or led an especially interesting life. The more personal she can make a book selection, the more it will mean to that person’s loved ones.

“The ones I really enjoy are when the obituary mentions places the person traveled or loved,” Dee says. Take the World War II veteran (Class of 1949) who served on a U.S. Navy gun crew that sailed throughout the Atlantic and Pacific and passed through the Panama Canal ten times. For him she picked Chronology of War at Sea, 1939-1945: The Naval History of World War II (2005).

A grateful thank-you note from his spouse confirmed the appropriateness of the selection. “You must have known that my husband spent those years mostly at sea,” it read. Another note reads, “It’s like you read his mind in selecting The Palmetto State,” this one from the widow of a banking executive (Class of 1959) who devoted much of his life to improving education, race relations, and cultural life in South Carolina.

If someone dies tragically young, or while still a student here, Dee spends extra time considering them. There was the pre-med junior from Jacksonville, Florida (Class of 2018), who passed away last year. She suffered from a lifelong immune deficiency disorder and died from complications of a bone marrow transplant at Duke Hospital. She had dreamed of becoming a pediatric immunologist. For her, Dee selected Attending Children: A Doctor’s Education (2006), a poignant memoir of a physician’s journey from nervous medical intern to director of a pediatric intensive care unit.

Then there was the younger brother of Duke basketball great Shane Battier, Jeremy, himself a Duke grad, decorated member of the football team, and successful entrepreneur. His untimely and widely reported death drew attention to the nation’s ever-growing heroin epidemic. For him: Child’s Play: Sport in Kids’ Worlds (2016), a collection of essays about the role sports play in how young people view themselves and their place in society.

But even the happy stories of long lives that ended well and peacefully get a carefully considered selection. No death is unremarkable.

Does it ever get to her, all these daily reminders of mortality?

“I’ve been known to shed a few tears over the more poignant obituaries,” Dee says. “But actually it’s given me a deeper outlook on Duke and the people who come through here.”

There’s the story of Duke we all know. The one-room schoolhouse that grew into a Gothic Wonderland, home to world-renowned researchers and Cameron Crazies. And then there’s all the individual stories of everyone who’s ever been a student here. Each one had their own particular Duke experience, which was just a chapter in their larger life story.

Few people have a more wide-ranging perspective of those stories than Dee, a Duke alumna herself.

A double-major in English and Anthropology, she graduated in 1987. As a student, she barely set foot inside the library, an irony she laughs about now. Three days after she earned her diploma, she started working here. Her first assignment was working as a Cataloging Data Input Clerk, transcribing paper bibliographic records submitted by catalogers on a computer in the Terminal Room. “They didn’t call it terminal for nothing,” Dee jokes.

Later she became part of the Cataloging and Searching Support Team, and she even spent a year as a copy cataloger before landing in her current position.

When she was first handed the bookplating assignment, she had to fuss with the three-by-four-inch bookplates on a manual typewriter. She doesn’tmiss those days. Now she can simply key in everything on the computer, and it becomes a virtual part of the book instantaneously.

She doesn’t have to keep the little white cards when she’s done with them. But because she works in a library, she has a hard time throwing records away. So they stack up in boxes and piles around her work area like little memento mori.

She also knows that, one of these days, her own name will show up on one of those cards (Class of 1987). Then it will be someone else’s turn to choose a book for her. But what do you select for the ultimate selector? What kind of book would be just right?

Perhaps something about the kindness of strangers. There can never be enough written about that.

Why They Give: FOCUS Friends Preserve Collections in Honor of “Transformative” Experience

When John Mishler (T’09) signed up for the “Changing Faces of Russia” FOCUS Program cluster in the summer of 2004, he had no way of knowing how big an impact that choice would have. In his first semester at Duke, the jumble of first-years Mishler met in his FOCUS seminar courses would develop into a tight-knit group of friends, sticking together across all four years of college and keeping in touch even now—over seven years after graduation.

John Mishler (T’09)

Today, these grateful alums are giving back.

As a tribute to the common academic experience that brought them together, Mishler and his FOCUS cluster friends recently made a gift through the Libraries’ Adopt a Digital Collection program to sponsor a striking collection of Soviet-era Russian propaganda posters. By offsetting the storage costs of long-term digital preservation, the program allows library supporters like Mishler and his friends to keep digitized collections like this one forever free and accessible for everyone.

An image from the Russian Posters collection that Mishler and his FOCUS friends adopted in honor of the academic experience that brought them together.

Why do they do it?

“My time at Duke was definitely a transformative experience,” Mishler explained. As a practicing attorney in Houston, Texas, and a national member of Duke’s Young Alumni Development Council, he feels he owes a lot to the university and the Libraries in particular. When they heard how much a difference a donation like this could make, Mishler said, he and his FOCUS cluster knew their alma mater was due for some support.

“It was a great experience, and I’d like to see more people participate in it,” Mishler said. “You know the Libraries, they make it so easy—you just click a button!”

An image from the Paul Kwilecki Photographs collection, adopted by Mishler in honor of a friend.

Mishler, in fact, has been something of a habitual collection adopter in recent years. When three of his friends recently turned thirty, he decided to sponsor a different digital collection in honor of each of them, based on their particular interests. The collections include a set of letters by the “father of criminology” Cesare Lombroso, a selection of manuscripts and woodcuts by members of the celebrated Bloomsbury Group of English artists and writers, and the black-and-white photographs of self-taught documentarian Paul Kwilecki.Mishler seemed excited by the idea of other people following his example—although, he noted, “It doesn’t have to be just for a birthday. You can always find a reason to give back.”

For people like Mishler, there’s no excuse for not getting involved in preserving some of the Libraries’ most valuable scholarly and cultural resources. “There’s such a huge variety of collections,” he said. “It’s easy to find something that catches your interest.”

About the Adopt a Digital Collection Program

Every year, the Duke University Libraries digitize thousands of items in our collections. These digital assets must be carefully managed to preserve them for generations of students and researchers to come. This work requires storage space, the specialized expertise of our talented staff, and you!

We need your help expanding our capacity to preserve Duke’s digital collections. Learn more about how you can support the long-term preservation of these important resources.