The Penn Libraries and the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies are thrilled to announce the launch of OPenn: Primary Resources Available to Everyone (http://openn.library.upenn.edu), a new website that makes digitized cultural heritage material freely available and accessible to the public. OPenn is a major step in the Libraries’ strategic initiative to embrace open data, with all images and metadata on this site available as free cultural works to be freely studied, applied, copied, or modified by anyone, for any purpose. It is crucial to the mission of SIMS and the Penn Libraries to make these materials of great interest and research value easy to access and reuse. The OPenn team at SIMS has been working towards launching the website for the past year. Director Will Noel’s original idea to make our Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts open to all has grown into a space where the Libraries can collaborate with other institutions who want to open their data to the world.
OPenn launches with the entire corpus of manuscripts donated to the Penn Libraries in 2011 by SIMS founder Lawrence J. Schoenberg and his wife Barbara Brizdle Schoenberg. The Schoenberg Collection features manuscripts from all over the world, with a focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. To interest the public in the visual splendor of materials on OPenn we have uploaded some images from the Schoenberg Collection onto Flickr at http://tinyurl.com/mm84j7s, with links in the records to OPenn.
More datasets, including manuscripts from the University of Pennsylvania’s own holdings and items from other institutions, will be added to the site in the near future, so stay tuned. Historic diaries from a variety of institutions belonging to the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL) are next in line for inclusion on OPenn. Many of these documents are unknown while others are celebrated, such as the Union League’s Tanner manuscript: a firsthand account of the events surrounding the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
Images of the manuscripts are currently available on OPenn at full resolution, with derivatives also provided for easy reuse on the web. Downloading, whether several select images or the entire dataset, is easily accomplished by following instructions or recipes posted in the Technical Read Me on OPenn. The website is designed to be machine-readable, but easy for individuals to use, too.
SIMS’ very own Dot Porter has already used the dataset to create e-books from the images and metadata on OPenn. You can download the e-books in the free and open epub format at Penn Libraries’ Scholarly Commons. She has also used the Internet Archive BookReader, an open source online page-turning book reader, to generate online versions of each manuscript. An example using LJS 225, Litterarum simulationis liber, can be seen at: http://dorpdev.library.upenn.edu/BookReaders/ljs225/#page/4/mode/2up . You can search and browse manuscripts in OPenn (along with digitized manuscripts from The Digital Walters) here: http://viewshare.org/views/leoba/openn-and-digital-walters/. These formats serve as excellent tools for raising awareness of manuscript culture and for showcasing manuscripts’ unique graphics and aesthetic appeal. OPenn also enables rigorous study and scholarly discovery by increasing ease of study for researchers interested in these manuscripts. For instance, images of individual pages can be manipulated to re-create the order in which the pages were written, as opposed to the order in which they were collated for binding, providing leeway in exploration that researchers might not have otherwise.
These are just a few ways the data can be manipulated, but we anticipate surprises once scholars and researchers begin using data on OPenn. We hope you are inspired to reuse OPenn data and to share your project with the world. If you have any questions or comments, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.