Thursday, January 29, 2009

Advanced Papyrological Information System

Advanced Papyrological Information System

The Advanced Papyrological Information System (APIS) is an online repository geared towards digitizing and providing detailed information about papyrological materials from a number of noteworthy international institutions - London's British Museum, Cairo's Egyptian Museum, St. Petersburg's Heritage Museum - and national institutions - Columbia University, Princeton University, and Yale University.  The collection principles, though unstated in a documentary manner, seem rather straightforward and obvious in that APIS has a precise focus:  to digitize and document those papyrological materials belonging to participating institutions and to also attract non-participating institutions whose collections contain non-digitized papyrological materials.  It should also be noted that, given the rather extended lifetimes of these documents, APIS does not seem to encounter much copyright difficulty in terms of original creators.  It does, however, recommend contacting "owning" institutions with regards to rights and permissions, which would seem to suggest the institutions or private donors hold the rights to original documents.

APIS has two metadata schemas it asks its participants to follow.  The first is its own schema entitled the APIS Contribution Format.  This schema asks for both descriptive and structural metadata along with a record format.  The second metadata schema APIS recommends is the MARC-21 format.  This author must confess to not fully understanding all of the terminology used in these schemas as it does not mirror precisely the terminology found in metadata schemas such as Dublin Core.  One discrepancy this author noticed is that most metadata entries accessed begin with the two character string "cc" whereas the APIS Contribution Format and MARC-21 format recommend beginning with "dd."  It is unclear as to why this is.  It must be said, however, that APIS clearly does more than asking its participants to follow a metadata schema.  It seems APIS rather enforces this as all entries this author accessed were accompanied by a metadata entry which included entries for original institution identifiers, APIS identifiers, title, date of papyrological creation, physical description, and so on.

APIS's digitization process involves creating an archival, uncompressed, and 24-bit .TIFF image of which three recommended .JPEG derivatives are made - a 300 ppi, a 150 ppi, and a 75 ppi - for web presentation.  Beyond this, APIS has a recommended series of conventional practices for lighting, use of targets, image composition, and file naming that accompany the creation of the archival image of the original document.  All records accessed by this author included a clearly displayed unique identifier, title, an inventory identifier, a physical description, a series of notations that sometimes included a study of the handwriting, a note on custodial history, a list of subjects, an English translation, and a series of images that progressed from lower to higher resolution with each image situated on a white background with a ruler and, occasionally, a color spectrum to the side.  Moreover, APIS allows narrowing its collection by subject, language, writing material, and documentary or literary type while also permitting a range of search capabilities that appear to be wonderfully accurate.  This author also did not encounter any broken links.

It seems readily certain that APIS's intended audience is individuals within the academic field of Classics.  The majority of the digitized papyrological documents viewed were, expectedly, in ancient languages - Aramaic, Ancient Greek, Latin, Hieroglyphic Egyptian, etc.  This is not to say, however, that APIS does not make it possible for novices to appreciate their collection.  The English translations along with the occasional notes on handwriting, place of origin, and people named in the document go a long way towards making this a digital library that can be appreciated by a wider spectrum than that of its intended audience.  

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