Partners Complete First Year of CLIR Grant to Digitize Medieval Manuscripts

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Example image of a medieval text

The first year of the Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis (BiblioPhilly) medieval manuscripts digitization endeavor has established the undergirding infrastructure necessary for the project’s success as well as achieved significant headway toward achieving our goal of providing high quality, restriction-free images of these rare books to the public. A preview of the project, funded by a $499,086 grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives, will be made public early this summer.

The first step in our overall process required creation of page level metadata of each codex planned to be accessible worldwide, a complex effort on which project staff have spent countless hours. Project associates at our partner institutions, including the University of Pennsylvania and the Free Library of Philadelphia, among others, have created and utilized a standard format for metadata that ensures consistency despite input coming from many different persons and libraries. We closely examine every page of these medieval works, noting everything from formal illuminations to casual doodles, and describe them in individual spreadsheets. Thanks to ongoing metadata creation, expert digitization of our medieval manuscripts has proceeded apace.

In addition to these behind-the-scenes activities, we have also used our first year to engage the public and generate interest and excitement in the BiblioPhilly project in the crucial arena of social media. Project associates regularly utilize Twitter to “tweet” informal images of the medieval books they’re working with. While not the final product, images captured on smart phones circulate with the hashtag #bibliophilly and let the stunning medieval works advertise for us. We have also established a BiblioPhilly Tumblr account ( We post new informal photos daily and have accrued a steadily growing audience and almost 1600 followers. Social media is critical in sharing the incremental nature of our project and keeping it in the public spotlight over its three year duration. Please follow us to witness its progress!
Our first year’s progress has been facilitated by the growth of a strong inter-institutional community dedicated to the success of our shared goals. Communication and shared vision are critical aspects of a project that is spread across many different institutions. Project associates have establish strong working relationships through regular meetings in Philadelphia. Individuals from a spectrum of backgrounds, including library science, medieval literature, and history have forged the common culture needed to successfully manage a project that spans fifteen partner institutions.

In sum, our first year has laid the groundwork for successfully achieving our goals on this three year grant. We are excited at the steps BiblioPhilly has made thus far and look forward to building upon what we’ve accomplished to date. For constant updates, follow us on tumblr ( or on Twitter using #bibliophilly