Thursday, March 5, 2009

Digital Scriptorium

Digital Scriptorium: Another Columbia University Digitization Effort

The Digital Scriptorium (DS) is one of many digitization efforts hosted by Columbia University. It is an attempt that brings together a number of medieval and renaissance manuscripts digitally that hail from a variety of institutions - including Harvard, the Huntington Library, and even the University of Texas' Harry Ransom Center. And while there is no explicitly stated collection development policy that this author was able to locate on DS's website, it may be safe to assume that a collection development policy can be inferred from the following statement:

"Special emphasis is placed on the touchstone materials: manuscripts signed and dated by their scribes. DS records manuscripts that traditionally would have been unlikely candidates for reproduction. It fosters public viewing of materials otherwise available only within libraries."

Furthermore, in its Mission Statement , DS makes clear its aim to:

"enhance knowledge and appreciation of [that] material through images that expand descriptions and correct their errors; through searches that provide answers and provoke questions; [and] through descriptions that share the demands and expertise of the library, the academic and the cultural communities."

Thus, one might be able to suggest that DS hopes to attract not only a wide audience of users, but also as wide, if not a wider, audience of participating institutions - currently there are 27 such institutions - which hold touchstone materials in the hope that DS becomes the resource to which any potential user - scholar, student, the curious, etc. - immediately turns.

This author was unable to discover any specific metadata schema to which DS subscribes. However, a wealth of information accompanies each record and image. It should be noted here that entire manuscripts are not digitized, due possibly either to time and staffing constraints or to an understanding of what over-handling can do to a manuscript. Rather, it seems representative portions are digitized. So it is that there are, more or less, two systems of metadata at work: one for the manuscript and one for the images. The metadata for each manuscript is exhaustive, including fields such as Assigned Date, Inscribed Date, Dated by Scribe, Figurative Decoration, and Cardinal Point along with more run-of-the-mill fields - Country, Description, Alphabet, etc. The metadata for images typically centers upon a mixture of six fields - Author, Title, Incipit, Explicit, Language, and Notes - along with a description and page reference for each image. As stated previously, this author was unable to locate any documentation regarding a specific metadata schema that DS chooses to follow. This is not to definitively say DS does not follow a metadata schema. Rather, it is to say DS does not seem to have any explicit documentation of such decisions.

Each image is accessible in a variety of sizes - thumbnail, small, medium, and large. Both the medium and large sizes allow for zooming by clicking once upon the image. However, there is no use of 'markers' (this may not be the correct term) to let a user know how physically large a document is when viewing its digitized image. This information is, if this author has assumed correctly, displayed on the document's record page, but accompanied by no unit of measurement - i.e. 255 X 70. Each document does appear to have a unique identifier. For instance, one manuscript from the New York Public Library's Manuscripts and Archives Division has the identifier NYPL MA 091. Another from the Harry Ransom Center has the identifier HRC 037. Lastly, with regards to each image, DS asks its participating institutions to provide four derivative JPEG files - 2048 x 3072 for large images; 1024 x 1536 for medium images; 512 x 768 for small images; and 128 x 192 for thumbnail images.

DS makes no bones with respect to its intended audience. It states that its aim is to become "international tool for teaching and scholarly research." More specifically, DS declares that it "looks to the needs of a very diverse community of medievalists, classicists, musicologists, paleographers, diplomatists and art historians." Such statements have left this author with little guesswork to do when it comes to the intended audience of DS.

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