Parker Library on the Web
This significant collection of medieval manuscripts accumulated by Archbishop Matthew Parker and housed in the library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, has been digitized in a joint project between the College, Cambridge University, and Stanford University, completed in 2009. The database is maintained by Stanford and distributed exclusively through Otto Harrassowitz GmbH & Co.
This review is in progress. CRL is working to gather more information and critical assessment. We encourage our community to submit comments on their experiences with the database.
Sources for this review include information publicly posted or obtained directly from the publisher, data collected by CRL staff and members, and examination of the digital collection when possible. Other sources are noted where cited.
Matthew Parker (1504–75) was in a unique position to acquire a significant collection of primarily early English manuscripts, since he served as royal chaplain and later as Master of Corpus Christi College and Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge during the turbulent period of the founding of the Church of England and dissolution of monasteries. His collection, donated to the college in 1574, is said to contain approximately one-fourth of all extant Anglo-Saxon manuscripts (Parker sought precedents for an early English church established independent of the Vatican). In addition to Gospel texts, the manuscripts forming the Parker Library collection date from the sixth to the sixteenth centuries and cover topics including history, music, travel, classical and medieval literature, theology, philosophy, law, medicine, and alchemy. A number of the manuscripts are richly illuminated. Of the 559 manuscripts described in this database, 538 were noted in M.R. James’ catalog published in 1912. The database also references more than 6,000 secondary sources in 23,000 citations linked from the manuscripts.
The project to create high-resolution color imaging of the manuscripts and enhanced metadata resulted from the collaboration of Corpus Christi College, Stanford University Libraries, and Cambridge University Library, and was funded with grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation. Digitization was executed on site by staff from the Cambridge University Library, and the files have been processed and archived in the Stanford Digital Repository.
Each entry from the 1912 published catalog has been rekeyed and tagged for multiple index points, including the manuscript number, text title, date, language, and other detailed facets of manuscript cataloging. Many texts have been freshly identified and given standardized titles. PDF page facsimiles of the original published catalog entries by M.R. James are also presented.
Technical platform and interface
The image quality is impressive, with full-color images adhering to archival standards, including uncompressed master TIFF files and JPEG2000 derivative files (presented as JPEGs on the website). All leaves and bindings are presented in views that appear very faithful to the original artifacts. The project’s background notes mention which manuscripts were not able to be scanned completely because of page damage or extremely fragile bindings (21 in total). The page navigation is fairly intuitive and flexible to use, supporting zooming and rotation, page turning with an “animation” flip option (which thankfully can be turned off), and selection of specific pages.
The interface assumes a specialized knowledge of medieval manuscripts, allowing keyword searching or browsing by standard manuscript description points, including lists of such special features as rubrics, incipits (first words of the texts), and decorative features. Annotations in the catalog entries serve to expand the physical descriptions, provide additional textual identifications, or reference secondary source commentaries. Summaries contain more information on the contents, provenance, and significance of the documents, citing modern scholarship. The texts themselves are not fully transcribed or text searchable.
An additional interface is provided for searching entries in the annotated bibliography of secondary sources.
The site also provides several detailed tutorials, including helpful notes on how to interpret standard manuscript descriptions (“A medieval codex, like a modern hardcover book, is made up of many small booklets bound together. Such booklets, known as quires, and individual folios in quires, could be added, subtracted, moved from one book to another, or rearranged. A collation statement describes the quires within the volume.”)
An open access or “basic” version of the database displays both the catalog descriptions and page images for the primary sources (no secondary sources). This open version is only browsable by known manuscript number or title, and page images cannot be zoom-magnified.
Stanford University maintains the database and provides semi-annual updates and corrections to the interface and files, with the most recent version (1.3) mounted in April 2011. Another release, scheduled for November 2011, will include corrections to metadata and more than 500 rescanned or corrected images.
Stanford is investigating efforts that may help with further discovery of these manuscripts and comparison in relationship to other manuscript collections. Currently the UCLA Catalog of Digitized Medieval Manuscripts contains descriptive information and links to each of the Parker manuscripts. This exposure is responsible for the highest current usage of the collection. The University of Sheffield is building a similar cross-institutional database of medieval manuscripts.
Also, value-added tools for comparison and analysis of the manuscripts may be available by 2014 or before, as an outcome of a multi-institutional research project “to define and build a prototype environment that enables real-time interoperation between digital repositories and user-controlled tools like DM (for annotation) and T-PEN (for transcription).”
Strengths and weaknesses
The Parker Library database represents a very valuable collection of primarily English medieval manuscripts. It has been digitized according to high standards, and archival maintenance of the files is documented. Other strong points include a fairly straightforward interface and numerous supporting tutorials and comments to assist the first-time user.
One potential weakness is that the collection is designed primarily for a specialist user; it lacks extensive subject indexing, text transcription, or collateral material to enhance undergraduate use of the content. Also, it would be helpful to support broader discovery of these resources in relation to other medieval manuscripts. Some of the efforts underway at Stanford (described above) should help address this.
Direct from Publisher
|Subjects covered||Religion, history, music, travel, maps, law, classical and medieval literature|
|Geographic coverage||Primarily England; also Europe|
|Chronological coverage||6th to 16th centuries|
|Content types||Manuscript texts|
|P||Source formats||Vellum codices|
|P||Total titles||559; (plus citations to 6000 secondary sources)|
|P||Total pages||over 200,000 page images|
|Digital collection launch date||2005|
|Update frequency||Semi-annual interface updates and some file replacements and additions|
|P||Major languages||Latin; Old English, Middle English; Medieval French; Greek|
|Browser compatibility||IE 8; Safari 5; Firefox 3.6 (for both Windows and Mac)|
|Authentication options||IP/IP range only|
|P||Archiving solution – master files||Uncompressed TIFFs and cropped derivative TIFFs are stored in the Stanford Digital Repository for long-term preservation|
|P||Archiving solution – derivative files||JPEG2000 images are also stored in the Stanford Digital Repository for long-term preservation in Stanford repository? Generated on the fly?|
|Availability in web discovery tools||N|
|P||Open URL target||N|
|P||Federated searching, z39.50||N|
|P||Local host option||Y|
|P||Usage statistics||Y (please contact HARRASSOWITZ at service@harrassowitz)|
|Parker Manuscripts||Parker Bibliography|
|P||Full text displayed||NA||NA|
|P||Color images||Y (100%)||NA|
|P||Search full text||N (search catalog descriptions only)||NA|
|P||Advanced search||Y (catalog descriptions)||Y|
|P||Search within results||N||N|
|P||Limit results by dates and/or document types||Y (drop down menu for date search)||Y|
|P||Display highlighted search terms||NA||N|
|P||Display snippet -- search term in context||Y||NA|
|P||Print full document||Y||NA|
|P||Restrictions on use||Y (scholarly use allowed; see http://parkerweb.stanford.edu/parker/actions/page?forward=copyright)|
|Publisher / Distributor||OTTO HARRASSOWITZ GmbH & Co. KG|
|Address||Kreuzberger Ring 7 b-d, 65205 Wiesbaden, Germany|
|Contact||www.harrassowitz.ed; www.parkerweb.stanford.edu; firstname.lastname@example.org|
|P||Multiple year payments option||N|
|Hosting charges||Y (annual maintenance fee)|
|P||List of purchasers available||N|
|Sample license available||Y (http://www.harrassowitz.de/Parker_Library_on_the_Web/Parker_Library_on_the_Web_Licensing_Agreement.pdf)|
|MARC records purchase fee||NA|
|Price tier basis||NA|