Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts

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NEH Grant to create the New Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts:

A Research Tool for Tracking the Current and Historic Locations of Manuscripts

The SDBM has received a $300,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to support a 3-year project to develop the SDBM into an online, user-built, community driven collaborative tool for researching the historic and current locations of the world's pre-modern manuscripts. These new features will allow institutions, librarians, scholars, curators, and students to contribute information about these books and their movements through time and place. By June 2017, the New SDBM will be a robust, interactive resource for finding, indexing, and researching the world's manuscripts.

At the end of the project, the New SDBM will feature the following outcomes:

  • A mobile, open access, user-built, community-driven research tool for the history of manuscript transmission from production to present
  • A tool that will allow users and institutions to contribute data on the world's manuscripts
  • A foundation for an international network of collaborations with institutional, regional, national, and international cataloguing projects
  • An active and contributing user-community
  • Publicly available authority lists of booksellers, auction houses, and collectors
  • An example of the successful application of gaming technologies to develop user participation and contribution
  • Sets of data analyses providing insight into use, value, collection building, collection dispersals, etc.

To help us reach our goals, we have assembled an Advisory Committee to provide strategic direction throughout the project.

We thank the following members for their participation:

Advisory Council

  • Toby Burrows, Marie Curie International Incoming Fellow, Kings College London
  • Melissa Conway, Director, Special Collections, University of California, Riverside
  • Lisa Fagin Davis, Executive Director, Medieval Academy of America
  • Matthew Driscoll, Director, The Arnamagnaean Institute, University of Copenhagen
  • Christoph Flüeler, Director, e-codices, University of Fribourg
  • Seth van Hooland, Digital Information Chair, Université Libre de Bruxelles
  • Peter Kidd, Independent Scholar
  • William Stoneman, Curator of Manuscripts, Houghton Library, Harvard University
  • Joshua Westgard, Systems Librarian, University of Maryland Libraries
  • Hanno Wijsman, Ingenieur d'étude, Institut de recherche et d'histoire des textes (IRHT-CNRS) & Bibale

Ex-officio members

  • Doug Emery, Programmer, Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books & Manuscripts, Penn Libraries
  • Mitch Fraas, Curator, Digital Research Services, Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books & Manuscripts, Penn Libraries
  • Michael Gibney, Senior Developer, iTadd, Penn Libraries
  • David McKnight, Director, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books & Manuscripts, Penn Libraries
  • Will Noel, Director, Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books & Manuscripts, and Founding Director of the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies, Penn Libraries
  • John Mark Ockerbloom, Digital Library Architect and Planner, iTadd, Penn Libraries
  • Dot Porter, Curator, Digital Research Services, Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books & Manuscripts, Penn Libraries
  • Joe Zucca, Acting Director, iTaDD, Penn Libraries

3-Year Work Plan: Outline of Major Activities and Milestones

Year One: Development of Tools (July 1, 2014–June 30, 2015)

  • Data-cleaning and reconciliation using OpenRefine
  • Create "Read Me" files to explain issues related to data and to standardize record citation requirements for researcher use and publication
  • Create new data model featuring a unique identification method for each manuscript represented to improve processing of linked entries
  • Develop a method to identify and label different transaction types (e.g. commercial sales, private sale or donation, institutional catalogue entry, inventory, etc.)
  • Develop gaming strategies for building the user-community

Year Two: Alpha Release (July 1, 2015–June 30, 2016)

  • Alpha release of the New SDBM for three months to our existing user-community for testing
  • Present New SDBM at 2015 Schoenberg Symposium on Manuscript Studies in the Digital Age and at other professional meetings
  • Develop partner projects

Year Three: Full Implementation and Outreach (July 1, 2016–June 30, 2017)

  • Beta release of the New SDBM in August 2016
  • Review results and public response in order to prepare for a full launch
  • Full launch of the New SDBM in spring 2017

Questions or comments about the project? Feel free to contact us at We will continue to update our users on our progress via this website, so stay tuned!