Tuesday, March 24, 2009



Vivarium is a digital library that is a project created by the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library that has a partnership with St. John's University and the College of Saint Benedict. Vivarium specializes in Christian literature from all over the world, from medieval Europe to ancient Ethiopian manuscripts. There are several collections contained within this digital library.

The Hill Museum and Manuscript Library has a strong tradition of collecting images of monastic manuscripts and books. They originally focused on western monastic manuscripts and then gradually expanded to Eastern European and African and Indian Christian documents. Their collection guidelines specifically state that they find it a real benefit when there are photographic "back ups" of original manuscripts which has caused them to be a "library of libraries," or in other words, letting museums around the world retain guardianship of the manuscripts while Hill collects images to store in their repository to allow greater access to monastic manuscripts. With this in mind, Vivarium is pretty large and does not really have a particular selection criteria to determine eligibility of digitization.

As for metadata, each item is described through the 15 Dublin Core elements; however the metadata is not very consistent from collection to collection. For instance, the Illumination Collection's metadata is very detailed with lots of attributes, whereas the Syrian Collection just has the image and a title associated with each piece. I couldn't tell if this was because this particular collection is still a work in progress and later on, there will be more descriptive factors to aid search. When searching amongst the collections, the user has an option to search by date, author (if applicable), type, collection, letter. The list goes on; the search features are pretty detailed.

The collections within Vivarium are pretty amazing. There are a lot of different types of monastic literature featured and the digitization is done in such a way that the entirety of a piece is represented. For instance, I browsed through an Ethiopian codex. The pictures were vibrant and pretty and you could "leaf" through the codex as if you were going through the book in the physical state. This is just one of the many many many objects featured in Vivarium. Another one of my favorites was the Illumination Collection, as you could search all the manuscripts by a particular letter in the alphabet.

As for the audience, I think that Vivarium is aimed at scholars. The Ethiopian collection was started, as Vivarium states, "to stimulate scholarship on Ethiopian literature." I also think that Vivarium was created as a way for Hill Musuem and Manuscript Library to continue their objective to collect as many monastic manuscript images as possible and have a public space to showcase their collection.

Regardless, the lack of information and metadata within some of these collections irks me and I wish they would be more consistent with the metadata.

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