Thursday, February 08, 2007

Medieval Manuscript of Syracuse University Library

The Department of Special Collections in the Bird library at Syracuse University has held a small amount of important medieval manuscripts on parchment. These manuscripts are of high artifactual value because of their uniqueness of content and styles. The special collection department decided to collect full descriptive information for ten selected manuscripts, digitize the images contained in these manuscripts, and make them accessible on the web in 1999. This project not only digitized the individual pages of the selected manuscripts, but also displayed detailed images of selected images from the individual pages.

This project adopts and revised the catalog descriptions developed by Digital Scriptorium, though SU does not participate in this image database of medieval and renaissance manuscripts. There are three levels of descriptions of the digitized manuscripts, including the overall manuscript, part of the manuscript, and the texts contained in the manuscripts. The Index to the Medieval Manuscript in the website leads users to the brief summary of a particular manuscript, to the sub-index that guides users to the selected images contained in that manuscript, and to the links to the descriptions of that manuscript in table format.

One of the biggest problems of this project is the organization structure of and the presentation of the images and their descriptions. First, though Index to the Medieval Manuscript may allow users to get a sense of what the collection contains, the entries were ill-designed. They are arranged according to the manuscript number assigned (i.e. MS 1, MS 2, MS 3…). The institution and the department that owns these manuscripts were stated after these identifiers and thus be repititively presented. (In this case, the heading “Syracuse University, Department of Special Collections” has been frequently occurred). We can notice that this kind of reiteration is redundant. Though it helps locate the physical items, it should be placed after the headings that are relatively more identifiable, such as the titles of the manuscripts. The user may have to quickly skim all the collection before locating the images that they want to take a look at.

In addition, the entries in the sub-index that leads to the images contained in each manuscript were also arranged according to the assigned identifiers that the user may not be able to efficiently and effectively locate what he needs. The user can only search the images contained in these manuscripts by browsing the titles of individual images. It may be helpful to install a search engine to search the images and their descriptions. Further, the numbers of the entries of the images in some of the web pages that present the image titles of a particular manuscript were so large that they may hinder navigation.

The images presented in the website were of low quality. For example, the texts in the digital images of the individual pages of the manuscripts were cut out. Though the texts may not as valuable as the borders or decorated borders, the images of them should not be ill-presented. Undesirable texts or pictures should be removed before display. The images should be corrected and edited for aesthetic and consistent presentation.

Furthermore, other important components of the website of a digitization project, such as site maps, acknowledgements, contact information, additional references, were not well-organized and systematically presented. The web pages look more like listing. Finally, the website does not have copyright statement that guides users how to legally and correctly use the digital images and the accompanied descriptions.

In summary, the website of this project was not well-constructed. The digital products of this project were not well-presented, either. The accessibility of the digital images and their metadata may be thus reduced because of the navigation difficulties. The advancement of the accessibility and the usage of the materials rely on not only the digitization of containers, but the organization and the presentation of the digital products and their descriptions.

Min-Chun Ku 古敏君 at Syracuse on Feb. 08, 2007

1 comment:

Jill Hurst-Wahl said...

I wonder if this was the first digitization project at SU? (I do not know the answer to that question.) It could have been a learning experience for them. It would be interesting to see if more recent projects were done differently.