Virtual Manuscript Room

Welcome to the Virtual Manuscript Room

This site is the first phase of The Virtual Manuscript Room (VMR) project. In this phase, we present full digitized manuscripts from The Mingana Collection of Middle Eastern Manuscripts held at Special Collections in the University of Birmingham. This collection, previously unavailable on the web, has been designated as of national and international importance. As well as high-resolution images of each page, the VMR provides descriptions from the printed catalogue and from Special Collections' own records.

The next phase of the VMR will provide a framework to bring together digital resources related to manuscript materials (digital images, descriptions and other metadata, transcripts) in an environment which will permit libraries to add images, scholars to add and edit metadata and transcripts online, and users to access material. Two other groups of content, amounting to over 50,000 digital images of manuscripts, 500 manuscript descriptions and around 1000 pages of transcripts, will be added in the next phase of the VMR: materials relating to the New Testament and to medieval vernacular texts (Dante, Chaucer, and others).

The Birmingham VMR will integrate with a parallel VMR already under construction at the University of Münster, Germany, with the aim that users may access material seamlessly from either VMR, as if the two were one. In addition, a key aim is that others may be able to extend the VMR by providing further resources, metadata and links.

This integration will be built on agreed naming systems for resources, and agreed Web 2.0 service protocols for requesting and supplying resources from each server, thus permitting users to draw together ('mash-up') materials seamlessly as required. The VMR will also be linked through to the online archive catalogue and to the Birmingham University Institutional Repository.

The Virtual Manuscript Room is being created in Birmingham by the Institute of Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing (ITSEE), with funding from the Joint Information Systems Committee, in partnership with the Institute for New Testament Textual Research, Münster, Germany.

The VMR has several crucial differences from other initiatives in the world of digital resource creation and enrichment:

  • It is designed entirely around metadata, operating to a granularity not common in digital libraries. Thus, in the VMR we do not provide metadata records just for whole manuscripts: we provide records for each page image, and for each transcription of text on the page, and for specificying exactly what text is on each page.
  • The metadata states the exact resource type associated with the URL specified in each record: the resolution and colour depth of each image, the file format; for text files, whether it is XML and the document schema, and if it is a transcription, what type of transcription.
  • The VMR is designed so that it makes optimal use of standard institutional structures. All records may be accessed via the university OPAC, and long-term maintenance of VMR materials and metadata will be offered though the university Institutional Repository.
  • The VMR is open, not just to access, but to reuse. Because all metadata created by the VMR will be syndicated on an RSS feed, others may create their own search systems and their own interfaces to VMR data. Most immediately, this permits the two initial VMR partners, Munster and Birmingham, to share data, so that users can access data on both system through a single interface. More interestingly, this will permit others to add material on their own (or indeed on anyone's) server to the VMR: all they need do is create a metadata record for the resource following VMR protocols and add the record to a RSS feed read by any VMR partner.

Taken together, these features will enable any scholar with access to computer and basic computing skills to create high-quality scholarly materials over the web, and have it found and used by others.