October 16, 2008

Back to School Series Part II: Confluence

In an earlier post I waxed poetic about the ways in which my two courses this semester, The History of the Book (taught at the Library of Congress) and Foundations of Digital Libraries, might collide or coalesce in interesting ways. They have, although not in ways quite as obscure or dramatic as I may have imagined. In a very practical way, my expanding knowledge of these two subjects would be more than challenged by the good folks at the Semitics/ICOR Library at the Catholic University of America where papyri and ostraca are being digitized and cataloged in CONTENTdm.

The Catholic University inherited a large collection of ancient documents from Monsignor
Henri Hyvernat, who founded the Semitics Department at the University, as well as the Institute of Christian Oriental Research (ICOR). This collection forms the core of the current library, now boasting some 45,000 volumes. Scholars of Coptic Christianity and other early Christian practices in the Near East have used and added to this collection since the 1940s. Now this collection is being digitized.

In the basement of Mullen Library, down several halls and around several corners is the tiny Semitics Library. You would never know this treasure trove existed unless you were trying to find it, which my class was doing last week. Inside there are two small offices and a reading room filled with ancient treasures displayed in glass cabinets. To say it looks like something out of Indiana Jones would be spot on: Curator Monica Blanchard told us the Discovery Channel once filmed there for this very reason. Blanchard deftly handles the ostraca and papyri collection with soft white gloves as she explains the restoration and digitization process. The collections are being cataloged in CONTENTdm through a collaborative agreement with Brigham Young University, and their Advanced Papyrological Information System (APIS) is made available online through Columbia University.

No comments: