METAscripta is a large-scale digital humanities project of the Knights of Columbus Vatican Film Library (VFL) in the Department of Special Collections of Pius XII Memorial Library. The METAscripta team includes library faculty, staff, graduate fellows, and undergraduate student workers from the VFL and the Archives Digitization Center, with essential support from IT/Library Systems and the Center for Digital Humanities. The immediate goal of the project is to digitize 37,000 pre-modern manuscripts originally photographed at the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (BAV) in the 1950’s.
Since then the approximately 10,000 master negative rolls have been stored in a vault in the basement of Pius XII Library, while the working positive films have been available for study in the VFL. After two years of planning, testing, writing grant applications, purchasing equipment, and organizing the documentation, data processing, and workflow for the project, the first box of 18 rolls, comprising 78 manuscripts, was finally digitized right before semester break of December 2016. The team celebrated by gift-wrapping the first box of microfilms like a Christmas present.
The METAscripta project will ultimately produce a crowd-sourcing website where registered users will be able to add metadata to the records for BAV manuscripts, many of which are unstudied and lack basic catalog descriptions, even in the catalogs of the Vatican Library. More than just a digitization effort, the METAscripta project applies innovative cataloging methods to improve access to Vatican manuscripts, including indexing by language, century, and country of origin. This discovery metadata will allow users to search for manuscripts as historical artifacts without the traditional library access points of author/title, which for many of these ancient manuscripts remain unidentified. Then controlled vocabulary crowd-sourcing will further enable scholars to add to this information by contributing metadata about manuscripts in their area of expertise. The website will allow users to see all data input for any given record and decide for themselves which data is most accurate.
With enthusiastic support from the Vatican Library, METAscripta will help provide new opportunities for scholarship about pre-modern manuscripts and create a sustainable resource for interactive scholarship. We are very grateful to all members of the Pius XII faculty and staff who have helped us develop this project and hope that in a few years we will have an exciting digital humanities product for international use.