Category Archives: Feature Articles

Rooting for Lilly? That’s the Ticket

Wallace Wade Stadium. Image by Nat LeDonne, Duke Athletics.

The next time you attend a Duke sporting event, check the back of your ticket. For every ticket sold to regular season home games, Duke Athletics donates one dollar to the Duke University Libraries. It’s an arrangement that has raised over $2.1 million in unrestricted revenue over the last ten years, which we’ve used to support teaching and research across the university.

Now, thanks to the leadership of Nina King, Duke’s newest Vice President and Director of Athletics, the next $1 million in ticket sale donations will be directed toward the renovation and expansion of Lilly Library.

When you show your support for the Blue Devils, you’re not just rooting for the young men and women on the field. You’re helping us make a big play for the entire Duke community and enhancing the student experience for years to come.

“The Duke Athletics Library Fund is a perfect example of the kind of innovative thinking that makes Duke a top-ranked academic institution,” said Deborah Jakubs, the Rita DiGiallonardo Holloway University Librarian and Vice Provost for Library Affairs. “We’re deeply gratified and honored that the Lilly Project has the support of Duke Athletics. It’s truly a gift to the entire Duke community.”

What Was It Like When Lilly Was Built?

Lilly Library and other East Campus buildings under construction, July 1926.

To understand why Lilly Library needs renovating, it helps to consider how old the building actually is. So let’s look back at 1927, the year the library opened its doors.

The President of the United States was Calvin Coolidge, known as “Silent Cal” for being a man of few words. (When was the last time one of those got elected?) Speaking of presidents, work had just begun on George Washington’s face, the first to be carved on Mount Rushmore.

It was the year the first transatlantic phone call was made, as well as the first transatlantic flight piloted by Charles Lindbergh in his single-engine Spirit of St. Louis. Novelist Virginia Woolf had just published her masterpiece To the Lighthouse—parts of which were possibly written at the very desk you can see today in Duke’s Rubenstein Library. Meanwhile, moviegoers flocked to see The Jazz Singer, featuring Al Jolsen in blackface, the picture that marked the end of the silent film era.

Historical and cultural touchstones of 1927: Charles Lindbergh made the first transatlantic flight in the Spirit of St. Louis; Al Jolsen appeared in blackface in “The Jazz Singer,” marking an end to the silent film era; and Virginia Woolf published her masterpiece “To the Lighthouse.”

In 1927 the world was home to just over two billion people. Some 45,000 of them lived in Durham, North Carolina—compared with 320,000 today. About 8,000 registered cars made up all the traffic there was on Durham’s streets. A pound of bread cost nine cents.

Undergraduate tuition at the fledgling Duke University was $90 per year, not including room and board. That was much cheaper than the $227 charged by Vanderbilt, not to mention the Ivy League schools in the Northeast that Duke aspired to emulate, which were in the $300-400 range. It was even a bargain compared to that other university down the road in Chapel Hill ($111).

The 1927 Duke University football team.

Higher education back then was not the big business it is today. In 1927, only 12 percent of 18-21 year-olds in America were matriculating towards an undergraduate or graduate degree—just over a million young men and women nationwide. They were overwhelmingly men, to be sure, but 1927 was also the year Duke Law School admitted its first woman, Miriam Cox.

Duke’s libraries were different, too. Or library, rather, because there was only one, and it would eventually be named Lilly. The Gothic West Campus was still being built. When it officially opened to students on March 14, 1927, the Chronicle student newspaper marveled that the new library on East Campus had the capacity to store 140,000 volumes. That was plenty of room to grow, since the total collection at that time was only 89,000 books and 2,000 volumes of newspapers—each of which was carried into the new building on the backs of “more than a score of negro workmen who were outfitted with specially constructed wooden crates.” According to University Treasury ledgers, those men earned an average of 26 cents per hour.

Needless to say, the world has changed immeasurably since 1927. But Lilly Library has not. On the whole, the aging edifice is still the same building the great-great-grandparents of today’s Duke students would recognize, only leakier and more neglected. That’s why this renovation is long overdue.

Closing the Book: University Librarian Deborah Jakubs to Retire in 2022

Deborah Jakubs arrived at Duke University Libraries in 1983. She was appointed University Librarian in 2005.

Earlier this fall, Deborah Jakubs, the Rita DiGiallonardo Holloway University Librarian and Vice Provost for Library Affairs, announced that she will retire in May 2022, following nearly four decades of service at Duke University.

Jakubs, whose career at Duke began in 1983, was named University Librarian in 2005. During the last seventeen years, she has led Duke University Libraries through significant changes in the scholarly publishing environment, new trends in teaching and research, Duke’s increased emphasis on global engagement, and a broadening of the Libraries’ roles and partnerships across campus.

“The Duke Libraries are first and foremost a community of dedicated people committed to teaching, learning, and research,” said Jakubs. “I chose to spend my career at Duke thanks to the excellence of our staff, the collaborative partnerships we enjoy with the faculty, the students who come to regard our libraries as a second home, and the strong support of alumni who recall their time here with gratitude and fondness.”

The Libraries’ physical presence on campus has changed significantly during Jakubs’ tenure, including the dedication of Bostock Library and the von der Heyden Pavilion, the renovation of Perkins and Rubenstein Libraries, the construction of The Link and The Edge, and the expansion of the Library Service Center. Planning is now underway for the renovation and expansion of Lilly Library on East Campus.

“All of us at Duke are grateful for Deborah’s extraordinary service,” said Duke President Vincent E. Price. “In her time as University Librarian, she has overseen a transformation of Duke Libraries to make them more inclusive, innovative, and responsive to the needs of our students, faculty, staff, and neighbors. We can truly be proud of the Duke Libraries she leaves behind, which are more vibrant and vital than ever.”

Under Jakubs’ leadership, the Duke University Libraries have emerged as one of the top ten private research library systems in the country, recognized nationally for addressing pressing issues in scholarly communication, new forms of publications, collaborative collection building, assessment and user experience, and diversity and equity in services and recruitment.

“Deborah has led Duke Libraries through a period of remarkable growth and evolution in the role and function of university library systems,” Provost Sally Kornbluth said. “From her early efforts to expand services and resources supporting international scholarship, and throughout her tenure as University Librarian, she has ensured that Duke’s library resources and services are responsive to both user needs and new developments in the technologies and best practices for delivering scholarly support.”

Clockwise from far left: Deborah Jakubs speaking at the re-opening of the Rubenstein Library, 2015; with Duke Trustee Paula Burger, David Ferriero, and Duke President Richard H. Brodhead, 2013; with the Rubenstein Library Renovation Team, 2013; leading a trip to Chile and Argentina with the Duke Alumni Association, 2012; with Ariel Dorfman, Angélica Malinarich, and Josefina Tiryakian, 1993.

During her tenure, the Libraries have prioritized cultivating an inclusive community as one of the organization’s five guiding principles and have established a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council (DivE-In) to provide leadership and engage staff to advance this work.

Jakubs has been a visible and active member of the Duke community in her work with various university councils and committees, including the President’s Campaign Cabinet; the Steering Committee for the Center for Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation; the Provost’s Committee on Rethinking Doctoral Education; the Humanities Writ Large Steering Committee; and numerous others.

Beyond Duke, Jakubs has also taken leading roles in organizations and consortia that have benefited researchers locally, regionally, nationally, and worldwide. She has chaired and served on the board of directors of the Association of Research Libraries, the Center for Research Libraries, the Open Library Foundation, and the Association of Southeastern Research Libraries. In her role as chair of the Open Library Environment (OLE) Board of Directors, she has contributed to the development of FOLIO, an open-source, community-based library services platform in collaboration with research libraries in the United States, Europe, and China. She has also served on numerous external review committees at other universities.

Jakubs in 1995 with Richard Ekman of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (left) and Peter Lange (center), Professor of Political Science and Duke University Provost (1999-2014).

“Deborah has been the perfect leader for a library system in a rapidly changing world,” said Ann Q. Curry, Chairman and Chief Client Strategist at Coxe Curry and Associates and chair of the Duke Library Advisory Board. “She is both nimble and thoughtful; a builder of beautiful library spaces and a change agent for the space the library occupies in the university. She has constructed a strong, diverse staff, raising the library’s reputation nationally. And, along with all these scholarly accomplishments, she is, speaking as someone who traveled to Colombia with her, just plain fun.”

Jakubs earned her B.A. from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in 1973; her M.A. from Stanford University in 1975; her M.L.I.S. from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1981; and her Ph.D. in Latin American History from Stanford in 1986.

Her first position at Duke in 1983 was as a General Bibliographer. She was named Librarian for Latin America and Iberia in 1986 and Head of Collection Development in 1990. In 1991, in response to an international turn in teaching and research at Duke, Jakubs created the Libraries’ International and Area Studies Department. She served as head of that department for eight years before being promoted to Associate University Librarian for Collections Services in 1998, then University Librarian and Vice Provost for Library Affairs in 2005.

As her retirement approaches, the Office of the Provost and a faculty-led search committee are overseeing the search for a new University Librarian. In the meantime, Jakubs is focusing her energies on finalizing plans and fundraising for the Lilly Project, which will cap off a long chapter of expansion and renewal in the history of the Duke University Libraries for which she will be remembered.

$10M Grant Brings Lilly Library Transformation Closer

Lilly Library, Fall 2020. Photo by Bill Snead/University Communications.

For first-year students living on Duke University’s East Campus, Lilly Library may be their first foray into academic research. The library and its staff help them understand how to make their way through the resources available to them and prepare them for the rest of their time at Duke. But, as a vital piece of Duke for almost a century, it’s beginning to show its age.

Now, in support of the first significant renovation of the library since it was built, the Duke University Libraries have received a $10 million grant from The Duke Endowment, a private foundation based in Charlotte, N.C.

“This much-needed renovation, which is currently in the design phase, will allow us to improve the student experience at Duke for generations, while preserving the charm and character that so many Blue Devils have always loved about Lilly Library,” said Duke University President Vincent E. Price. “We are so grateful for this generous award.”

Construction on the project was originally slated to begin in summer 2020 but was delayed by the spread of COVID-19. Library staff had already begun relocating materials, services and personnel when the pandemic forced Duke to close campus and move classes online in spring 2020.

Now that in-person classes have resumed, the need to renovate the aging structure remains as pressing as before.

“Lilly Library has been remarkably well-preserved since the Great Depression, and that’s part of the problem” said Deborah Jakubs, the Rita DiGiallonardo Holloway University Librarian and Vice Provost for Library Affairs. “Lilly lacks most of the elements of a modern research library. Many of the library services and spaces today’s students need to succeed are available in Perkins, Bostock and Rubenstein Libraries on West Campus, but not on East.”

Scene from the first day of classes (FDOC) in Lilly Library’s Thomas Reading Room on Duke’s East Campus, Fall 2021.

Lilly Library opened in 1927 as Duke University’s first library on East Campus while West Campus was being constructed. For more than four decades it served as the Woman’s College Library, but, when the Woman’s College merged with Trinity College of Arts & Sciences in 1972, the library was renamed the East Campus Library.

In 1993, a partial renovation upgraded computing facilities and increased the book stacks capacity, and the building was renamed Lilly Library in recognition of a gift from Ruth Lilly, the philanthropist and great-grandchild of pharmaceutical magnate Eli Lilly. Since then, Lilly has served as the primary library for first-year students at Duke and as their gateway to the full range of library collections and services.

The proposed renovation and expansion will increase the building’s footprint. It will have significantly more seating and offer more collaborative study spaces, an assembly space for events, a makerspace, a writing studio where students can work with tutors on their assignments, an outdoor terrace, and a warmly furnished Booklover’s Room — a modern take on a much-loved part of the historical Woman’s College Library.

Rendering of Booklover's Room
A rendering of the Booklover’s Room, a comfy spot for casual reading.

The planned renovation will also update facility needs — including the heating and cooling systems, lighting, technology infrastructure, and furnishings — to meet today’s standards of safety, accessibility, usability and service.

Proposed updates will also extend to the elegant Thomas, Few, and Carpenter reading rooms. The charm and character of these iconic spaces will be preserved, but their finishes, furnishings, lighting, and technology infrastructure will be enhanced.

The Duke Endowment award brings the total funds raised to date to $27.4 million. This includes a prior $10 million combined gift from Ruth Lilly’s nieces and their families – Virginia “Ginny” Lilly Nicholas and Peter Nicholas and Irene “Renie” Lilly McCutchen and William McCutchen – as well as the Lilly Endowment, a private philanthropic foundation based in Indianapolis. Additional fundraising is required before the project can be approved for construction.

“Through his early philanthropy, we know our founder believed that libraries held a vital role in enriching campus life and helping students flourish,” said Minor Shaw, Chair of The Duke Endowment’s Board of Trustees. “Supporting this project continues an important aspect of James B. Duke’s legacy and we are proud to be part of Lilly Library’s transformation.”

Endnote: Before/After

Gothic Reading Room Before the Pandemic and After
The Gothic Reading Room in Rubenstein Library in normal times (left), and on March 18, 2020 (right).

Jorge Luis Borges famously said, “I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library.”

In that case, a library in quarantine—locked down, devoid of people, utterly silent and inaccessible—well, that’s the opposite of paradise. But that’s how the libraries of Duke looked for much of this spring and summer.

True, we have a rich and substantial online library, including millions of e-books, e-journals, databases, streaming videos, and digitized collections. And it has been inspiring to see how much our incredible staff have been able to do, and assistance they have been able to offer, during this extended period of working from home. But there’s nothing quite like the simple pleasure of walking into a library and wandering around, wherever your curiosity may lead you.

The following pictures were taken on March 18, the day we bid farewell to our last library visitors in the spring. We have paired them with images of the same spaces taken during “normal” times, as a reminder of what a library is supposed to look like—and what we will look like again one day—a hub of activity and engagement, as well as a refuge and place of inspiration. Looking at such pictures today, it feels a lot more like paradise lost.

As Duke gears up to welcome students and faculty back to campus in the fall, we are excited to see them in the Libraries again, albeit in a more limited way, safely distanced and masked. And our entire staff looks forward to the day when it’s safe to throw the doors wide open again and welcome everyone back to paradise.


Von der Heyden Pavilion Before and After
The cafe inside the von der Heyden Pavilion at Perkins Library.

 

Rubenstein Reading Room before and after
The Rubenstein Library Reading Room

 

Library service desk Perkins Library before and after
Perkins Library, first floor

 

Chairs outside Perkins Library before and after
Outdoor seating area, Perkins Library

 

More Perkins Library study areas before and after
Study area, Perkins Library, first floor

 

Holsti Anderson Room before and after
The Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room, Rubenstein Library

 

More study spaces in Perkins Library before and after
Study area, Perkins Library, first floor

 

Yet more study areas, Perkins Library, before and after
Study area, Perkins Library, first floor

 

Perkins Bostock bridge outside, before and after
Outside Perkins and Bostock Libraries

How To: Make a Mini-Zine

Hand holding up zine
Our Summer Bucket List Quaran-zine, a pocket-sized zine to help you get organized and excited about a summer spent primarily at home.

With so much time at home these last few months—and unknown months to come—many of us have been searching for inspiration and activities within easy reach. Allow us to recommend starting your own zine.

What’s a zine? Short for fanzine, a zine is a short homemade publication, usually printed or reproduced on a photocopier, with limited circulation and often about a specialized topic. You could think of zines as “underground” publications that tend to have a niche audience. They often serve as vehicles for ideas, personal expression, and art.

But zines are also rich primary sources that can tell us a lot about the time, place, and culture that produced them. Because they are self-published, zines allow marginalized voices to express themselves beyond the hierarchical and commodified world of mainstream media. They also let authors take control of the process of publishing.

The Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture, part of the Rubenstein Library, has been collecting zines created by women, girls, and LGBTQ authors for years. Their collection includes over 6,000 zines, most of them dating from the 1990s to the early 2000s. They are used widely by Duke instructors and visiting researchers. You could say we’ve been big zinesters for some time.

Open zine showing quotations
Print, Fold, Ponder: a zine of inspirational quotations.

In May, just as Duke students were finishing up their online classes and final papers, we put together a little zine anthology of quotations we’ve been thinking about during this difficult time. The title says it all: Print, Fold, Ponder: A Wee Zine of Wise Words We Need Now. It’s a little collection of quotes about optimism, hope, leisure—words that inspire us to look on the bright side of what we’re going through—but also about the seriousness of the situation we’re in.

Encouraged by the positive response we received, we decided to try it again. This time we offered a Summer 2020 Bucket List Quaran-zine to help people organize the things they want to read, listen to, watch, make, learn, or otherwise accomplish during this most unusual summer.

Print our Summer 2020 Bucket List Quaranzine and start checking off all those things you want to do!

Both zines are easy to make and require only a single sheet of paper. A printer is handy if you have one, but not required. You can always just hand-copy what you see on the screen and make it your own.

Download and make our mini-zine of inspirational quotations, Print, Fold, Ponder: A Wee Zine of Wise Words We Need Now.

Or download and make our Summer 2020 Bucket List Quaran-zine and start checking off your planned accomplishments for the days and months ahead.

Highlights from Our Student Survey

Here in the Libraries, we never stop trying to improve our game. To help us serve our students and faculty better, we conduct periodic surveys to understand how they view our services, spaces, and materials, and how satisfied they are with their overall library experience.

Back in January (Ah, remember January? Innocent, unquarantined January…), we sent out a brief survey to approximately 4,000 Duke students. More than half of them responded, evenly split between undergraduates and graduate students. Their answers were both gratifying (“Everyone I’ve interacted with at the Library has been absolutely wonderful”) and candid (“Improve signage to reduce the chaotic feel of navigating the library”).

Student Survey Graph
One way we measure how students feel about the library is to ask about their agreement with the statement: “For me, the library is a welcoming place.”

In a recent blog post, our Assessment and User Experience department unpacked some of the more interesting findings. Over the next few months, we will be analyzing the survey data and ultimately use it to make service enhancements, expenditures, and other library improvements. Feedback is what helps the Libraries grow, and the more input we get, the better we’ll be able to renovate, rethink, and refine our work—even during times of crisis.

Read the survey highlights and see what steps we’re already taking to improve.

FAQ: How We’re Planning to Reopen the Libraries

People wear face masks while on the Bryan Center Plaza on Duke’s West Campus. Image by Meghan Mendenhall, University Communications.

Ever since COVID-19 pandemic began, members of the Duke community have been asking us when the Libraries will reopen, to what extent, and what level of access and services we will be able to offer when we do.

If you’re reading this, you have probably seen some of the updates from President Price about the university’s plans for the upcoming fall semester. Because our work in the Libraries supports and facilitates so many aspects of teaching and learning at Duke, we wanted to share some important information about our phased plan for returning to normal operations, which was developed in conjunction with university-wide planning efforts.

We have been maintaining and updating a detailed FAQ on our website that answers many of the biggest questions. But it’s worth calling out a few of the more important points here.

First of all, the safety of library staff and patrons is our highest priority. Library staff will follow all state and university public health guidelines, including maintaining social distance, wearing masks, handwashing frequently, sanitizing and disinfecting workspaces and equipment, and self-monitoring for symptoms. In addition, we will be quarantining books and other collection materials for 48 hours between hand-offs to minimize the risk of viral spread through touched surfaces.

Bins of library books
Bins of returned library books wait in quarantine before being reshelved.

Ramping up library services for the fall semester has been a gradual process, with an initial focus on scanning and digitization for course and research support, followed by a plan to get physical items into the hands of our users.

In July, we implemented a contactless “Library Takeout Service” for books and other physical materials at Perkins Library on West Campus and Lilly Library on East Campus. To begin with, this service was only available to Duke faculty and graduate students, but it will be expanded to other groups of library users as the fall semester gets under way.

To comply with state and university public health guidance, and for the safety of library staff and patrons, we are implementing these initial services with the fewest possible library staff on-site.

Of course, while parts of our buildings remain closed for the time being, we continue to provide consulting, resources, and services online, as we have done since the present difficulties started.

We hope to continue to move forward and expand current service offerings throughout the fall and spring. We appreciate your patience and understanding as we ramp back up to a “new normal” of library services and operations, and we look forward to welcoming more patrons back into our buildings as soon as it’s safe to do so.

See the FAQ on our website about resuming library services.

Putting the “Global” Back into Global Pandemic

By Ernest Zitser, Ph.D., Librarian for Slavic, Eurasian, and East European Studies, library liaison to the International Comparative Studies Program, and Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Slavic and Eurasian Studies at Duke University.

Illustration of the Black Death in Florence from the Decameron
Illustration of the Black Death in Florence, from the Decameron. BNF Fr. 239, f. 1r.

Pandemics, by their very definition (< Greek pandēmos = pan “all” + dēmos “people”), affect everyone in the entire world.  They expose the permeability of border walls and remind us of the invented nature of all geopolitical boundaries.  They also provide us with an opportunity to learn something about the lived experience of people from around the globe, those external “others” whom it is all-too-easy to stereotype as strange, exotic, or dangerous. That is, pandemics invite us not merely to recognize the humanity of, and suffer alongside perfect “strangers,” who speak “foreign” languages and write in “squiggly” scripts, but actually to draw lessons from the way human communities in other parts of the world are dealing and/or have dealt with the same issues as us.

In order to help foster a more informed and compassionate approach to the current global health crisis, the subject specialists of Duke Libraries’ International and Area Studies Department devoted a series of blog posts this summer to the topic of plagues, epidemics, and pandemics in each of the world regions for which they collect materials and about which they offer reference and library instruction. Our goal is not to provide exhaustive coverage of the topic, but merely to suggest one or two resources—preferably those available online and in English—that each subject specialist has found particularly meaningful or useful in helping him or her to understand the role that infectious diseases have played in the countries, continents, and world areas for which s/he is responsible.

If you would like to get more information about a particular world region or recommendations for additional resources on the topic, please feel free to contact the appropriate IAS librarian.  And do let us know if you have your own recommendations!

See our recommended pandemic reads from around the globe:

  • The Great Influenza, by John M. Barry. Reviewed by Holly Ackerman, Head, International & Area Studies Dept. and Librarian for Latin American, Iberian and Latino/a Studies
  • The Decameron, by Giovanni Boccaccio. Reviewed by Heidi Madden, Librarian for Western European and Medieval Renaissance Studies

Living Through History

Libraries in Times of Crisis

By Aaron Welborn, Director of Communications

Closed due to COVID sign on gallery door
A sign outside the Biddle Exhibit Suite in Rubenstein Library.

Historians often say that history never looks like history when you’re living through it. They probably aren’t talking about years like this.

The global pandemic of 2020 turned everyone’s world upside-down, including the world of higher education. On March 10, Duke joined many other colleges and universities around the country and made the unprecedented but necessary decision to move all classes online for the rest of the spring semester. Events, athletic competitions, and large gatherings of all kinds were canceled. Residence halls and campus buildings were shuttered, including all libraries. As spring stretched into summer, one half of Duke—the health system—was mobilizing every available resource to respond to the public health crisis, while the other half resembled a ghost town.

Then, as if things couldn’t possibly get worse, we woke up to another plague in our midst, starkly symbolized by the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery—a societal sickness of longstanding racial inequities and injustices that demanded urgent action and response at the local, national, and global level.

By the time life returns to any semblance of what it was before, there will be enough books, articles, movies, and stories about the times we’re living in to fill several libraries like ours. And for those of us whose job is to collect, preserve, and share such knowledge and history, our work has never felt more vital.

From the moment classes migrated online to the university’s current plans for a safe and phased return to campus in the fall, the Libraries have played an essential role in keeping teaching and learning going at Duke. We’ve also seized this unprecedented opportunity to reimagine some library services and our responsibilities to collect and highlight the voices of underrepresented groups.

What follows are just some of the examples that demonstrate the many ways our staff pulled together in the face of an unanticipated, historic, and serious public health crisis—and the simultaneous crisis of faith in our most important civic institutions—to keep Duke moving forward.


Supporting Teaching and Learning in a Crisis

As soon as university administrators announced that all instruction was moving online, our staff quickly mobilized to digitize as many course-related materials as possible. At the same time, our online learning experts in Duke Learning Innovation spun up a website and daily e-newsletter to walk faculty through the transition to teaching online. Our librarians also shifted their instruction and research consultations online, assisting students and faculty with finding the materials they needed to complete assignments and research projects remotely. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, we were moving quickly to license even more e-books (in addition to the 1M+ already available in our catalog) and to work with publishers, vendors, and organizations to pursue creative paths to open access for many academic resources.

For example:

  • Digital Scanner scanning a map of Duke Campus
    One of the last items digitized before our closure in March was this historical floorplan of a Duke classroom building.

    Even before our buildings closed to the public on March 18, library staff were undertaking the herculean task of scanning books, documents, and other materials. Our top priority was to digitize course materials, as well as Rubenstein Library resources that seniors needed for their theses. Meanwhile, staff in our Continuing Resource Acquisitions unit spent much of March working with faculty members to secure digital files of textbooks and other materials to support classwork. They also sorted through resources that publishers temporarily made free to assist with remote learning. From March 10, when Duke made the decision to teach all classes remotely, through the middle of this summer, usage of library e-books, e-journals, and other online resources was up 12 percent over the same period last year.

  • Throughout the semester, our librarians and other experts continued to offer consultations and instruction sessions with faculty and students via Zoom and to field online research questions via chat and email. While COVID-19 pushed them away from their customary posts at the library, many of our public services staff remained on-call with expanded hours, ready to lend aid from home.
  • Some of the unsung heroes of Duke’s spring 2020 semester were the almost thirty staff members of Duke Learning Innovation, a division of the Libraries that specializes in educational technology, innovative approaches to teaching, and online instruction. In February, when the novel coronavirus still seemed half a world away to most Americans, the DLI team dropped everything to help Duke Kunshan University in China transition 579 undergraduates and more than 100 faculty to online learning. Then, just a few weeks later, they were called upon to replicate that experiment with Duke as a whole, an effort that involved thousands more individuals and classes, scattered across many different time zones and with varying levels of internet access and other technology. The Keep Teaching website they developed offered step-by-step instructions on how to shift courses quickly online. They even put together a video montage (embedded below) celebrating how Duke faculty rose to the challenge. In preparation for the fall semester, DLI launched a new Flexible Teaching website help Duke faculty develop courses that can be successful in any mode of delivery—face-to-face, online or hybrid.

  • Meanwhile, the Duke University Archives and Duke University Medical Center Archives were hard at work documenting this unique moment in time. Together, they sent out a call inviting members of the Duke community to submit their COVID-19 stories, which will be permanently preserved for posterity so that future generations may look back on what Duke University President Vincent E. Price dubbed “the greatest experiment in our university’s history.”

Graphic inviting people to submit COVID-19 stories to Duke Archives


Celebrating Our Students, Researchers, and Staff

Students are an indispensable part of our workforce, and without them we could not be one of the top research libraries in the nation. The Libraries are one of the largest employers of students on Duke’s campus, with more than 250 undergraduates and graduate students employed in various positions throughout the year. When the pandemic hit, we were saddened to bid them goodbye, especially those who were about to graduate. But we still celebrated their accomplishments, as well as those of our researchers and library staff who continued to do exemplary work.

For example:

  • Staff in Lilly Library realized that five of our graduating student employees had worked in Lilly ever since they arrived at Duke four years ago as wide-eyed first-years. As a way of expressing their appreciation, Lilly staffers wrote profiles of the five students—Sarah, Jessica, Esha, Toni, and Noelle—on our library blog. Although Duke’s commencement this year was virtual, our regard for our student assistants is very real and enduring.
5 graduating seniors who worked for Lilly Library
Lilly Library paid tribute to five graduating student workers (left to right, Sarah, Jessica, Esha, Toni, and Noelle) who worked in Lilly all four years of their time at Duke.
  • The Rubenstein Library awarded over thirty travel grants to non-Duke researchers whose work would benefit from visiting the Rubenstein to use our archival collections. Due to widespread travel restrictions and uncertainties about when the library will fully reopen, the travel grants can be used any time through December 2021.
  • Photo of Laura Wagner
    Laura Wagner, Project Archivist for the Radio Haiti Archive

    Laura Wagner, Project Archivist for the Radio Haiti Archive in the Rubenstein Library, was awarded the Philip M. Hamer–Elizabeth Hamer Kegan Award given by the Society of American Archivists (SAA). The award recognizes individuals or institutions that have increased public awareness of archival documents. The Radio Haiti Archive documents much of twentieth-century Haitian history and amplifies the voices of ordinary Haitian people. The collection has already supported the work of many scholars, and Wagner has presented on the project in Haiti and to the Haitian community in the U.S. She has also worked to take the history of Radio Haiti back to the people to whom it belongs by sharing copies of the recordings with organizations, libraries, and archives in Haiti.


Reckoning with Racism, and Extolling Black Excellence

Like many others, we were angered and heartbroken this summer by the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Rayshard Brooks, as well as the numerous other abuses of power against Black Americans that led to widespread protests and calls to action. The Duke University Libraries are committed to answering that call, and to taking action to confront the longstanding impact of institutional racism within our organization and in our community. Libraries occupy a natural and essential space to seek understanding, have challenging conversations, and together determine what we can do to be a civic-minded and just society. With that in mind, we have already identified a number of actions we will take over the coming months and years, and we will continue to identify others.

For example:

  • In the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, the Duke University Libraries issued a statement of our commitment to reckoning with racial injustice. The statement outlines specific actions we will take to expand our cultural competence and combat racism, such as dismantling white privilege in our collections and services, diversifying our staff, and renewing our commitment to documenting and sharing Duke’s complex institutional history. We also appointed a Racial Justice Next Steps Strategic Task Force, with broad representation from across the Libraries, to recommend more ways we can actively contribute as a community to a more just and equitable future for Duke, especially for our Black students, staff, and faculty.
  • In-depth focus groups with Black students revealed insights about their experience of using the Libraries.

    In the fall of 2019, long before the events of this summer captured the world’s attention, our Assessment and User Experience department conducted several in-depth focus groups with Black students at Duke. We wanted to explore their experience of using the Libraries, whether they viewed us as an inclusive space, and what changes we could make to our spaces, services, and programs to make them feel more supported and included. We shared and published our findings online in March 2020, and we have been analyzing them for steps we can take to improve. This work builds on previous user studies with under-represented student groups that report lower feelings of safety and welcome at Duke, including first-generation college students. A future study is planned in the coming years that will focus on the experiences of international students as well.

  • While working remotely, staff in the Rubenstein Library have been blogging and sharing stories from our collections that underscore the long documentary trail of racial injustices against Black people, such as an 1852 diary of a slave trader in the Congo, or the architectural maps of Durham’s urban renewal projects of the 1960s and 1970s that ultimately led to the destruction of the historically black Hayti District. They have also unearthed stories of Black excellence and resilience in the archives, such as a fascinating collection of letters by W. E. B. DuBois in the Charles N. Hunter Papers.
Antiracism books displayed on shelves
A selection of books on antiracism from our online resource guide compiled by Heather Martin, Librarian for African and African American Studies
  • In response to the Duke community’s call for education as a prelude to action, Heather Martin, Librarian for African and African American Studies, put together an excellent resource guide on anti-racism and Black liberation. It focuses on books, videos, and other resources available through the Duke Libraries. Meanwhile, Danette Pachtner, Librarian for Film, Video, & Digital Media and Women’s Studies compiled a curated list of movies to stream for Juneteenth. And Arianne Hartsell-Gundy, Librarian for Literature and Theater Studies, offered a list of recommended e-books and audiobooks highlighting the Black experience and Black excellence.

Moving Programs Online

Every semester, the Libraries offer a variety of public programs and workshops, ranging from author talks and exhibit openings to tutorials on data visualization and publishing digital projects. Although our physical spaces were closed, we continued to organize and offer a number of programs remotely throughout the spring and summer.

For example:

  • In the month after campus shut down, our Center for Data and Visualization Sciences saw a nearly 400 percent spike in viewership of their recorded workshops. The workshops, several years’ worth of which are available on our website, cover everything from making infographics in PowerPoint to managing sensitive data and making scientific research more reproducible.
  • Photo of Rachel Lance
    Duke biomedical engineer Rachel Lance, author of “In the Waves”

    On April 9, we hosted a virtual book talk with Duke biomedical engineer and blast-injury specialist Rachel Lance, author of In the Waves: My Quest to Solve the Mystery of a Civil War Submarine.In the new book, Lance brings readers inside her incredible three-year investigation into the mysterious fate of the HL Hunley, which took her from Duke’s Hyperbaric Medicine facility to the archives and museums around the country. Lance’s research has been featured in SmithsonianNature, CNN, and other news outlets, and the book has been named a Scientific American “Recommended Book” and an Amazon “Best Book of the Month” for history.

  • Our popular Low Maintenance Book Club, which normally focuses on quick reads for busy Duke students and researchers, shifted into classic novel mode to satisfy the community’s desire for escape reading. Over the course of three monthly meetings, they read and discussed Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, in anticipation of the upcoming feature film adaptation of the book starring Dev Patel.

Expanding Access to Digitized Content and Collections

Even before the pandemic, we already offered a substantial online library, including millions of e-books, e-journals, databases, streaming videos, and digitized collections, all discoverable through our website. When the university shifted to remote learning, our staff worked quickly with academic publishers to expand access to materials that would support Duke classes, ensuring that students and faculty could utilize digital files of textbooks and other materials they needed.

For example:

  • We applied for and received the HathiTrust’s Emergency Temporary Access Service, which offers provisional access to in-copyright titles that match Duke’s print holdings. As a result, Duke students, faculty, and staff could access approximately 40 percent of our print collection online, which they would normally not be able to do. This is in addition to the 6 million public domain and Creative Commons-licensed works that are normally accessible through HathiTrust.
  • Capping off a year of planning and six months of development work, we launched a new and completely redesigned discovery and access interface for our special collections in the Rubenstein Library. The site offers information about the contents of nearly 80,000 boxes of material held in the Rubenstein, including manuscripts, letters, diaries, organizational records, photographs, audio visual recordings, oral histories, objects, zines, digital materials, and much more.
Image of new ArcLight finding aids
Our newly redesigned discovery and access interface for special collections offers many improvements over the old finding aids.

This Is Working from Home

At the time of this writing, plans are being finalized for a safe and phased re-opening of the Libraries as Duke resumes classes with students on campus this fall. Although a limited number of essential staff will return to working in our buildings—with masks, daily symptom monitoring, lots of social distance, and frequent handwashing—most of our workforce will continue to work remotely, as we have been doing since mid-March. Running a world-class research library from home—make that 267 individual homes, with all the children and extended family they come with—is no easy feat. But throughout this difficult time, all of us have found new ways to stay connected with and serve the communities that depend on us, even as we stay physically apart to keep everyone healthy and safe. We have also found new ways of keeping our spirits up, pitching in, and reminding ourselves that we’re all in this together.

For example:

  • Plants temporarily located at Library Service Center
    Library plants in their temporary home at the Library Service Center, where Marvin Tillman dropped by to water them a couple of times each week during the shutdown.

    On March 18, the last day our physical buildings were open to the public, some of our staff noticed that dozens of plants around the library were in danger of being left behind. Members of our Shipping and Receiving department gathered up some 40 plants large and small, loaded them into a truck, and drove them out to the Library Service Center (LSC), our offsite collections repository. Marvin Tillman, Head of the LSC, has been dropping by to water the plants each week ever since. A few weeks ago, as a small number of library staff began reporting back to work on campus, the plants returned too, none the worse for their long vacation.

  • Photo of working mom with two young children
    The author’s three “co-workers” help to manage the strange new normal of working from home.

    Throughout the spring and summer, our Staff Recognition Committee held a regular “Co-worker of the Week” contest, inviting library employees to submit photos of their pets, children, significant others, roommates, and other “co-workers” who had helped them manage the strange new reality of working from home.

  • Even during a global pandemic, ordinary accidents still happen. Case in point: In April, a water pipe burst in the History Department’s building on East Campus, leaking all over books in empty faculty offices, including some library books. A month later, a leaking sprinkler head in the Library Service Center soaked over 250 books before anyone noticed. Luckily, staff in our Conservation Services department rushed to the scene and, with considerable effort, were able to restore all of the books to usable condition. While ill-timed, both accidents offered useful practice in responding to disasters when everyone else is at home.
Books drying under a fume hood in conservation lab
Library books drying under a fume hood in our Conservation Lab, after a water pipe burst in the History Department’s building on East Campus.
  • Date crisps
    Date crisps, from the Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen

    While not everyone has been culturing a perfect sourdough starter, many of our staff have found solace in cooking and crafting and sharing the results. Our Stacks Manager in the Rubenstein Library found a 1925 cookbook we had digitized and recreated some nearly century-old recipes for date muffins, date crisps, and date meringues as part of our Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen blog series. Meanwhile, one of our Conservation Specialists took a break from Zoom meetings to practice her hand at creating woven and interlocking books, with handy instructions that are easy for anyone to follow at home.

  • By this point, it’s easy to take Zoom for granted. But the technology that helps us endure a pandemic has been over a century in the making. Our digitization experts in the Digital Production Center spent part of their time in quarantine digging into the fascinating history of videotelephony. Meanwhile, we pulled together a virtual background gallery of everyone’s favorite library spaces to help our students and faculty feel like they were back where they belonged.

One of the saddest parts of working remotely is being unable to celebrate major milestones together. This summer five of our outstanding long-time library staff members retired, with over 150 combined years of service among them: Winston Atkins, Preservation Officer (20 years); Beverly Dowdy, Government Documents Processing Coordinator (12 years); Ros Raeford, Head of Resource Description (43 years); Kris Troost, Japanese Studies Librarian and Head, East Asian Collection (30 years); and Sheila Webb, Accounting Invoice Specialist (46 years). Although we were unable to gather together to celebrate them in proper fashion, we wish them the best and appreciate their years of dedication and hard work. 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 appreciation for things that last, through good times and bad.

Photo montage of 5 recently retired library staff
Five longtime library staff who retired this spring and summer (left to right): Winston Atkins, Beverly Dowdy, Ros Raeford, Kris Troost, and Sheila Webb.