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Project to digitize medieval manuscripts reaches halfway point

Writings on astronomy by an anonymous 15th-century Italian author

Lehigh's Special Collections is excited to share the significant progress of the Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis digitization project as we pass the midpoint of our three year plan. The project, affectionately nicknamed BiblioPhilly, is a collaborative endeavor between Lehigh and fifteen other Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL) to digitize all medieval manuscripts in eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware. Ultimately, high-resolution images and associated metadata will be available to the scholarly and larger public to access and use without restriction.

Thanks to a $499,086 grant from the Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives initiative of the Council on Library and Information Resources supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, BiblioPhilly is well on its way in digitally scanning, preserving, and sharing almost 160,000 pages from more than 400 individual volumes. As of early November, over 250 manuscripts have been photographed and cataloged, more than 230 have completed a page-level metadata check, over 100 have been proofread, and 90 are available to the public online at University of Pennsylvania Libraries’ OPenn manuscript portal.

Lehigh is contributing close to two dozen medieval manuscripts to the project, including some unique items without parallel elsewhere in the world. One such work, a fifteenth-century Italian manuscript on astronomy, was acquired by Lehigh after a generous donation in 1963. Thanks to BiblioPhilly, scholars and general observers worldwide will be able to study and appreciate the beauty of the many tables, diagrams, and other illustrations exploring topics ranging from a map of the known universe to a relationship of the four Aristotelian elements of earth, fire, water, and air. Without BiblioPhilly, access to this magnificent manuscript would remain limited to those very few who could travel to Lehigh to view it in person.

BiblioPhilly maintains a robust social media presence. Daily photographs sharing the beauty of the project's medieval manuscripts can be found through various means. The Twitter and Instagram hashtag #BiblioPhilly leads to regular updates by project staff as they progress through various stages cataloging and metadata creation. BiblioPhilly also maintains a Tumblr page with daily updates sharing interesting images and pages from the projects manuscript collection to its 2200 followers. Questions regarding BiblioPhilly or Lehigh's medieval manuscript collection can be directed to Special Collections curator Lois Black (lob206@lehigh.edu) or project associate Andrew Stahlhut (ats7@lehigh.edu).