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Digital Scholarship Profile: Duke University

The Edge: The Ruppert Commons for Research, Technology, and Collaboration

Established in 2015

Staff: 14 dedicated

people using whiteboard and tables

The Edge, image CC-BY-NC-SA by Duke University Libraries

In 1995, Duke University Libraries launched its Digital Collections Program, establishing the Digital Scriptorium, the forerunner of the Digital Production Center. Early projects provided worldwide access to some of the libraries’ unique holdings, such as the Duke Papyrus Archive, comprised of over 1,400 papyri from ancient Egypt. It soon became clear that these digitization activities would be a growth area that would move beyond manuscripts and rare books to embrace other formats and modalities. The Duke University Libraries’ data services also emerged in the late 1990s, as data and GIS tools became more predominant, and a Digital Scholarship Services department was formed in 2012. But it wasn’t until 2015 that Duke University Libraries established The Edge (formally known as the Ruppert Commons for Research, Technology, and Collaboration) in response to a research commons exploratory committee recommendation to create a physical space that would bring digital activities together in a centralized way. Planning of the space was initiated with a visioning workshop that included faculty, students, administrators, and library staff.

ARL spoke with Robert Byrd, associate university librarian, Collections and User Services, and Tim McGeary, associate university librarian, Information Technology Services, to learn more about how digital scholarship support has evolved at Duke University Libraries. While describing the emergence of an array of digital initiatives across the libraries, Byrd and McGeary emphasized the deliberate decision taken at the outset to adopt an integrated approach to the delivery of these services, rather than creating a separate, “siloed” entity. Consequently, digital scholarship advocacy and work takes place alongside other key functional areas, such as research and instruction, scholarly communication, and so on. As a result, Byrd and McGeary calculate that, while there are 14 dedicated library staff members who focus on digital scholarship support per se, in fact, the number of individuals who are involved even tangentially is higher, likely in the range of 20% of library staff overall. In addition to full- and part-time staff contributions, the library makes use of graduate student internships and currently hosts two Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) fellows.

The Edge

The Edge, image CC-BY-NC-SA by Duke University Libraries

is 14,100 square feet of newly renovated space located on the main floor of the Bostock Library, made possible by generous funding from donors to the Duke Forward Campaign. The Edge serves as the hub from which most digital support programming is offered. Recognizing the increasingly interdisciplinary and collaborative nature of research conducted at Duke, The Edge is a space that provides tools and workspaces for project teams as well as training opportunities aimed to build capacity for digitally reliant scholarship. Researchers at any level of study across all disciplines can confer with staff from Digital Scholarship Services (DSS) and/or Data and Visualization Services (DVS), both located in The Edge, for technical assistance with data management planning, data analysis, digital tools, visualization, project consulting, project management advice, as well as guidance on best practices.

people around conference table

Murthy Digital Studio, The Edge, image © Amanda Starling Gould

Programming offered by the Digital Scholarship Services department is framed within three lenses: consult, learn, and partner. Researchers can find opportunities to explore all three of these aspects within the Murthy Digital Studio, an informal, light-filled space located within The Edge. Here, researchers can obtain assistance with defining their project and identifying appropriate tools and methodologies for analyzing, organizing, and publishing their digital research project.

While disciplines supported by the DSS tend to focus on the humanities and interpretive social sciences, Byrd pointed out that, by virtue of liaison librarian outreach, the potential scope of activity can and does branch into other disciplines as well. This deep engagement with faculty and the ensuing connections have led to several instances in which a librarian is invited to serve as an integral member of the research team. Examples include Project Vox and MorphoSource (see below).

group of three people using laptops and a whiteboard

Project room, The Edge, image CC-BY-NC-SA by Duke University Libraries

The Brandaleone Lab for Data and Visualization Services, also located in The Edge, offers a suite of computing resources, including Bloomberg Terminals, in support of data-driven research projects. Focusing on data visualization, digital mapping, data management, and/or data analysis, researchers have access not just to the array of tools available but also to expertise, consulting, and training opportunities from the Data and Visualization Services department staff and graduate student interns. Roughly 20 workshops open to the general public are offered per semester on data visualization, mapping/GIS, text mining, and statistical tools, in addition to weekly community gatherings on data visualization.

Finally, in addition to the studio and lab facilities, The Edge provides Duke researchers access to nine dedicated Project Rooms specifically geared for short- or longer-term group research.

The DSS and DVS departments are mindful of their mandate to also support the teaching and learning mission of the institution in tandem with its commitment to furthering research collaborations. Graduate students can gain hands-on experience with digital scholarship by means of research assistantships and curricular-credit-earning field work.

students and instructor in a classroom

Workshop room, The Edge, image CC-BY-NC-SA by Duke University Libraries

DSS and DVS also work in conjunction with other Duke departments and colleagues across the Research Triangle in offering workshops and symposia on digital scholarship methods, tools, and best practices. A case in point is the “Open” series held in The Edge, which address issues around open access, scholarship, data, software, and publishing. McGeary noted that this series on promoting openness is one of the avenues by which a rich cross-section of the university community can come together—illustrating how The Edge serves as a central hub of inquiry and knowledge generation.

Byrd and McGeary agreed that, although The Edge and its associated studio and lab facilities have been in heavy use since opening in January 2015, these spaces have really just begun to scratch the surface of potential utilization. They anticipate that, as the Duke community becomes increasingly aware of the resources available to them, demand will inevitably exceed current resources. The familiar refrain of the need to plan for sustainability is in evidence.

Featured Projects

Showcased projects below reflect the diverse and often interdisciplinary nature of the research that has emerged from the collaborative environment supported by the Duke University Libraries and The Edge.

SNCC Legacy Project


woman holding a sign that reads justice

Genora Covington of Monroe, NC, stands for justice, 1961, www.crmvet.orgDuke University and the SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) Legacy Project formed a partnership to chronicle the historic struggles for voting rights in the United States and to develop ongoing programs that contribute to a more civil and inclusive democracy in the 21st century. In a pilot initiative that is part of a longer-term collaboration, the SNCC Legacy Project, Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies, and the Duke Libraries created a new documentary website entitled One Person, One Vote: The Legacy of SNCC and the Fight for Voting Rights. This digital gateway draws in documents, photographs, and audiovisual materials found at Duke and other SNCC-related collections in repositories across the US and uses them to chronicle the struggles for voting rights that youth, converging with older community leaders, fought for and won in the 1960s. During the core of the project, SNCC organizers came to Duke as visiting activist scholars. They worked collaboratively with undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, archivists, and others to engage with SNCC’s documentary legacy and contextualize grassroots struggles for voting rights.

Project Vox



Project Vox, Duke UniversityLaunched in March 2015, Project Vox is an online resource and international research initiative that aims to restore the voices of several early modern women philosophers to whom little attention has been paid, until now. In recognition of the inherent hurdles in connecting a broad readership to these important works, Project Vox aims to rectify this by making formerly inaccessible texts more available to a broader audience (graduate students, undergraduate students, teachers) through a combination of both traditional and digital publishing efforts.

Sonic Dictionary



Sonic Dictionary, Duke UniversityWith support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Sonic Dictionary project emerged from the Audiovisualities Lab, part of Duke’s Franklin Humanities Institute. A collection of recordings curated by students from Duke and other collaborating institutions, the Sonic Dictionary was developed to fill a gap in resources for students and instructors in audio culture. “By experimenting with the form of a dictionary, we imagine how audio recordings can be used to enhance the vocabulary of sonic experience.” Users can choose from an eclectic array of sounds, such as driving through a puddle.




MorphoSource, Duke UniversityMorphoSource is a data archive of high-quality 3-D images of morphological specimens contributed by registered users. Researchers can store, organize, and share their data with colleagues. Non-registered users are free to browse collections and might encounter a typical specimen, such as the upper left, third molar of a woolly mammoth dating from the Pleistocene age.


three people working on laptops at a circular table

Jones Open Lab, The Edge, image CC-BY-NC-SA by Duke University Libraries

A key pillar of Duke University Libraries’ recently completed strategic plan underscores their intention to create platforms for scholarly engagement. As Byrd and McGeary pointed out, The Edge is one of those platforms, serving as both a physical and virtual hub where engagement of the Duke scholarly community is already taking place. Looking to the future, the libraries’ commitment to expanding those critical networks of connections with strategic partners across the campus will ensure that both the libraries and librarians are embedded and integral components of digital scholarship at Duke.

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