The Digital Scriptorium (DS) is an educational consortium of American libraries with collections of pre-modern manuscripts, or manuscripts made in the tradition of books before printing. The DS database represents these manuscript collections in a web-based union catalog for teaching and scholarly research in medieval and Renaissance studies. It provides access to illuminated and textual manuscripts through online cataloging records, supported by high resolution digital images, retrievable by various topic searches. The DS database is an open access resource that enables users to study rare and valuable materials of academic, research, and public libraries. It makes available collections that are often restricted from public access and includes not only famous masterpieces of book illumination but also understudied manuscripts that have been previously overlooked for publication or study.
Background and membership
Funded by grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, DS at its inception in 1997 was a joint project of the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley (under Prof. Charles Faulhaber) and the Rare Book & Manuscript Library of Columbia University (under Dr. Consuelo W. Dutschke). The plan was to digitize and make available on the World Wide Web catalog records and selected images from the two universities' medieval and early Renaissance manuscript collections. The decision in favor of sample images rather than the complete imaging of manuscripts was originally practical, but today DS includes some records with sample and some with complete imaging. Records with sample images offer various pathways of entrance to the growing corpus of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts now available online. Because of patterns of collecting in the 19th and early 20th century, moreover, many manuscripts in American collections comprise partial texts or detached single leaves. Cataloging as many of these fragmentary works as possible increases the chance that some manuscripts could be reconstituted, if only virtually. Thus as a philosophical principle, DS includes large and small collections, complete bound books and single leaves.
Between 1999 and 2002, additional holdings from Huntington Library, the University of Texas, Austin, and the New York Public Library were incorporated, along with those of a number of smaller collections. The database has continued to grow and represents the collections of over thirty member institutions, including not only those with substantial repositories, such as Harvard University's Houghton Library, Yale University's Beinecke Library, and the University of Pennsylvania, but also libraries with few but rare works such as the Providence Public Library, which owns an unusual 15th century Bible (Wetmore Ms 1) in rebus format. As of September 2015 DS counts catalog records for 8,390 manuscripts and 47,624 digitized images.
Library Community Resource
The Digital Scriptorium database enables public viewing of non-circulating materials normally available only to specialists with restricted access. As a visual catalog, DS allows scholars to verify cataloguing information about places and dates of origin, scripts, artists, and quality. Special emphasis is placed on touchstone materials such as manuscripts signed and dated by scribes, thus beginning the American contribution to the goal established in 1953 by the Comité international de paléographie latine (International Committee of Latin Paleography): to document photographically the proportionately small number of codices of certain origin that will serve stylistically to localize and date the vast quantities of unsigned manuscripts. DS publishes not only manuscripts of firm attribution but also ones that need the attention of further scholarship that traditionally would have been unlikely candidates for reproduction. Because it is web-based, it also allows for updates and corrections, and as a matter of form individual records in DS acknowledge contributions from outside scholars. Because the DS consortium consists of academic, public, and rare book libraries, it encourages a broad audience that benefits from a reciprocally beneficial body of knowledge. While attending to the needs of community of specialists: medievalists, classicists, musicologists, paleographers, diplomatists, literary scholars and art historians, DS also recognizes a public user community that values rare and unique works of historical, literary and artistic significance.
Bibliographic Cataloging Standard
Working together the DS consortium has expanded the resources of libraries to manage collections of rare materials by providing a digital cataloging standard for pre-modern manuscripts. A DS record includes extensive and granular descriptive metadata supported by high resolution digital images. Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts are best served by format-specific cataloging that is sensitive to their complexity as hand-made books and historical artifacts. They differ from modern manuscripts, such as letters or personal records, because although they are unique objects, they are usually not unique texts. They may be written, bound, and decorated by hand but most pre-modern manuscripts are books. The text of a fourteenth-century missal, for example, can be identified using an early twentieth-century printed version of the same text. Or several collections may own more than one manuscript of St. Augustine’s De Civitate Dei (The City of God). A DS search by title in fact retrieves fourteen copies of this work, all unique manuscripts dating from the 12th to the 15th centuries, owned by eight different libraries. The potential for relationships among manuscripts means that item-level, bibliographic cataloging rather than collection-based, archival cataloging best identifies and describes the content of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts. But these works also have historical and artifactual significance, so catalog records for medieval and Renaissance manuscripts need to describe not only their contents but also the complete provenance (chain of ownership), binding (which may be from a later period than the rest of the book), marks of ownership (such as coats-of-arms), physical condition, material support (usually parchment), foliation and construction of the book, layout of the text, attribution of script, date (often estimated), style and localization of decoration and painted illustration, and names, not just of authors, but craftsmen, scribes, artists and owners.
Some scholars of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts are less interested in the text of the manuscript than in some other aspect of its production. The field of art history offers the most striking example; a scholar studying the art of the illuminator Mariano del Buono will care equally for the Harvard manuscript (a copy of Plato) and for the manuscript held by New York Public Library (a copy of Livy). DS records factor for such interests and allow for searching on physical features only, whether by artist name (such as in the above example) or by place and date of origin ("Italy," and "1450-1499" would produce the same result).
Before digitization, most records of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts were excluded from library public access catalogs but instead were published in printed books written by scholar-specialists for a similarly trained audience. Compared to these DS records are similar to library cataloging records in that they are simplified, standardized and concise. Specialists may notice that a DS record omits some information (such as collation) available in scholarly catalogs, in order to avoid descriptions that would take too much time and discourage library catalogers from attempting the task. In agreement with Green and Meisner, the goal has been "more product, less process," or as the Spanish proverb goes, "lo mejor es enemigo de lo bueno." A DS record is thus not intended to serve as the ideal and thorough description of a manuscript, but rather a practical surrogate that still provides a better representation of it than a typical content-based OPAC (online public access catalog) record.
Compared to MARC (MARC standards are the bibliographic standards used by most American libraries), DS is better designed to describe not only the content but also the historical context and physical characteristics, while using sample images to support these descriptions. The sample images contain inherently descriptive information, and most DS records include digital images, although there are some exceptions. Although DS records can be adapted to MARC formats, DS better captures the complexity of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts than MARC. For example, DS nests the sections of descriptive metadata in order to catalog a manuscript with multiple texts of multiple origins all in one binding, while MARC provides a flat file that can only deal with a coterminous text + physical unit. DS also indexes specific information pertinent to this format, with a separate field for "Artist," for example, rather than one for "personal names." DS also creates more focused records compared to archival cataloging based on EAD (Encoded Archival Description), because the latter is collections-based and not designed to be descriptive and searched at the item level. Thus the DS cataloging method has become the unofficial library standard for the online cataloging of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts in the United States.
Digital Preservation and Access
The University of California, Berkeley provided the first home to the DS database, both in terms of managing the project and devising its initial technology. For an interim period of time (2003–2011) DS was hosted at Columbia University but is now returned to its original home at Berkeley. The technical innovations produced by the teams of both originating universities created a digital product based on a progressive, standards-based digitization policy. Originally using Microsoft Access to serve as a cross-institutional data collection tool, the DS database used SGML and later XML to aggregate and query the combined information. The present platform managed by U.C. Berkeley depends upon software known as WebGenDB. WebGenDB is a non-proprietary, web-based interface for the underlying control database GenDB. GenDB houses the descriptive, structural and administrative metadata for the materials being digitized for web presentation, and outputs the metadata using the Metadata Encoding and Transmission Standard (METS) format. METS provides an XML schema-based specification for encoding "hub" documents for materials whose content is digital. A "hub" document draws together potentially dispersed but related files and data. METS uses XML to provide a flexible vocabulary and syntax for identifying the digital components that together comprise a digital object, for specifying the location of these components, and for expressing their structural relationships. The digital components comprising a digital object could include the content files, the descriptive metadata, and the administrative metadata. METS can be used for the transfer, dissemination and/or archiving of digital objects, all in compliance with the OAIS (Open Archival Information System) reference model developed at OCLC. The DS reliance on OAIS (ISO 14721: 2003) promises secure digital preservation policy, supported by the California Digital Library digital curation services and the CDL "Merritt" digital archive.
- R. Clemens and T. Graham. (2007). Introduction to manuscript studies. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press; C. DeHamel. (2006). A history of illuminated manuscripts. New York: Phaidon Press.
- Digital Scriptorium
- S. Hindman et al. (2001). Manuscript Illumination in the Modern Age. Evanston, IL: Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University.
- For a complete list of participating institutions see the DS website
- See the Comité website for the list of catalogues of dated and datable manuscripts published to date. 
- G. A. Pass. (2003). AMREMM: Descriptive cataloging of ancient, medieval, Renaissance, and early modern manuscripts. Chicago: American Library Association, p. xi-xiii.
- A DS Browse by artist, "Mariano del Buono," will retrieve four manuscripts: Cambridge, Harvard University, Houghton Library, MS Typ 0178; New York, New York Public Library, NYPL Spencer 027 and NYPL Spencer 050; New Haven, Yale University, Beinecke Library, Beinecke MS 284.
- See for example the book catalogs by C.W. Dutschke (Huntington Library), Laura Light (Houghton Library), Lilian Randall (Walters Art Museum), Paul Saenger (Newberry Library), Savato Schutzner (Library of Congress), and Barbara Shailor (Beinecke Library).
- M. Green and D. Meissner. (2005). More product, less process: Revamping traditional archival processing. American Archivist, 68, no. 2 (Fall-Winter), 208-263. Retrieved from: 
- C.W. Dutschke, Digital scriptorium: Ten years young, and working on survival. Storicamente tecnostoria. Retrieved from: 
- The technical development staff at Columbia included: Terry Catapano, Joanna Dipasquale, Dmitri Laury, Stuart Marquis, Leslie Myrick and Dave Ortiz; at Berkeley the technical staff includes (or included): Mary Elings, John Hassan, Giulia Hill, Lynne Grigsby, Alvin Pollock and Merrilee Proffitt.
- WebGenDB best practices. (2007). UC Berkeley Library Digital Collections. Retrieved from: 
- METS: Metadata encoding and transmission standard. (4 March 2011). Library of Congress. Retrieved from: 
- B.F. Lavoie. (2004). The open archival information system reference model: Introductory guide. Dublin, OH: OCLC. Retrieved from: 
- Merritt. (24 March 2011). California Digital Library. Retrieved from: