In September 2020, three manuscript researchers from the Huygens Institute, Irene van Renswoude, Renée Schilling and Mariken Teeuwen, acquired a grant from the Royal Academy of Sciences to set up a prototype for a Virtual Reading Room for Medieval Manuscripts in Dutch Collections. The aim of the grant was threefold: to curate existing metadata (the Database Medieval Manuscripts in Dutch Collections), to photograph medieval manuscripts in two partner institutions (Museum Huis van het boek in The Hague and Tresoar in Leeuwarden) and to publish images and metadata in an interface that enables searching and browsing. The model chosen for the project is e-codices, the Swiss Virtual Manuscript Library, which has been a best practice since their launch in 2005.
As a prototype, eCodicesNL provides free online access to 180 medieval (ca 500 – ca 1600) manuscripts from three public collections. It provides a digital infrastructure, enabling research on these manuscripts. eCodicesNL collaborated with e-codices Switzerland (Prof Dr Christoph Flüeler, University of Fribourg) and Fragmentarium (Dr William Duba, University of Fribourg) to structure the metadata in XML-TEI P5. We also consulted text and bytes (Rafael Schwemmer), in order to be able to create a web application that is in line with that of e-codices Switzerland.
During 2021 and 2022, we photographed 69 manuscripts at Huis van het boek in The Hague and 52 books at Tresoar in Leeuwarden. The books from the Athenaeum Library in Deventer had already been photographed. The new and existing photographs were processed and renamed according to established guidelines. The descriptive data of these manuscripts were also checked, corrected and supplied. For this purpose, Rob Zeeman and Menzo Windhouwer, software engineers at the Digital Infrastructure (DI) department of KNAW – HuC, developed an editor for correction and curation of the manuscripts’ metadata. Metadata from legacy systems have been converted to XML format that can be read and edited by the editor. Based on this XML data, the metadata can be filtered using a search system also developed by DI. IIIF manifests for the manuscripts are also generated, as well as XML-TEI files for sharing the data with others.
Last but not least, a website was designed and created in collaboration with Mad Pack & Brendly to host the information about the project and about the contents of the Virtual reading room.
We are writing this at the end of our pilot, in May 2023. With this first version of eCodicesNL in May 2023, not all our wishes and features have yet been realised. The processing of the data is not yet complete (e.g. the field ‘Bibliography’ is missing) and some fields have not yet been made functional in the search interface (e.g.: ‘Category and Keyword’). Also, the XML-TEI files are not yet accessible from the website at the moment. We will continue to improve both the metadata and functionality in the near future.
But setting up this first prototype allows us to evaluate and improve the initial result. We will approach new supporters to continue building the Virtual Reading Room. New partners have already expressed interest in working with us to build a complete national collection of digitised manuscripts. The ambition of the project is to expand the set-up step by step, so that users will eventually be able to consult, browse and research all manuscript collections in the Netherlands in one interface. First steps for the future have already been taken, as can be read in eCodicesNL continues! By using international standards for images and descriptions, we also make our data findable, interoperable and reusable.