Omnis enim res, quae dando non deficit, dum habetur et non datur, nondum habetur, quomodo habenda est.

For if a thing is not diminished by being shared with others, it is not rightly owned if it is only owned and not shared.


A guide to the Handschriftenportal

The Handschriftenportal (Manuscripts Portal) is intended as a high-performance work tool for gathering information on manuscripts preserved in German institutions. It is to be especially efficient in identifying even the slightest details in digital copies. This will be achieved through the integration of IIIF-compatible digital images and Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). The IIIF viewer Mirador 3 has been developed for exactly this purpose; it includes a powerful zoom function and enables the user to view resources from multiple repositories side-by-side. Therefore, extensive palaeographic, philological and art historical research will be possible using a variety of digital devices (PC, tablet, mobile, etc.).

Learn more about the latest state of development

Preliminary evaluation of the Mirador viewer, focusing on accessibility (PDF, German only)

Quick loading times, simple navigation through the catalogue and intuitive search functions are requirements which the Handschriftenportal as a modern online service wishes to accommodate.

For this purpose use cases were developed, which anticipate the users’ navigation through the Handschriftenportal. Usability experts such as the Geneva-based research group led by Prof. René Schneider as well as the service provider Outermedia are assisting the project. Outermedia, winner of the 2019 iF Design Award, is helping to create the user experience (UX) design. The goal is to develop an effective tool which appeals to all target groups.

Metadata from the database of the Manuscripta Mediaevalia (ManuMed) online catalogue provide the basis of the Handschriftenportal. However, in ManuMed, the core information contained in the descriptions often lacks a consistent standardisation.

As a result, one of the project aims is to carry out a ‘data quality approach’. This means adding missing digital full texts from printed catalogues via OCR (Optical Character Recognition), standardising structures and linking core metadata with the controlled vocabularies provided by the Gemeinsame Normdatei (German Integrated Authority File, GND). Each manuscript is represented by a so-called Kulturobjektdokument (culture-object document, KOD/COD), which is assigned a unique identifier. The COD serves as the central reference point for all available descriptions and digital copies. In a later project phase, these identifiers will be transferred to the GND in order to ensure the persistent linking of information via authority data sets for manuscripts, the so-called ‘written heritage’ documents. This means that the Handschriftenportal will not only adhere to standards to ensure clear referencing, but also set standards itself.

The new web-based interfaces will enable libraries, archives and other institutions holding manuscript collections to add new information about their manuscripts – both descriptive texts and digital copies – to the Handschriftenportal. Clear standards must be developed and followed in order to guarantee a consistently high quality of the data available on the Handschriftenportal. Equally important is a validation of the data prior to uploading on to the Handschriftenportal.

Learn more about the data quality approach (German only)

There are numerous ways to use the metadata provided by the Handschriftenportal: Standardised interfaces will enable libraries, archives and museums to reuse information for their own projects, e.g. for generating metadata in digitisation projects. The portal will also create research opportunities in the field of digital humanities, such as in the analysis of social networking or provenance research.

The Handschriftenportal will enable the reuse of data via web-based interfaces following a liberal Creative-Commons licensing model. In this way the data can be reused by individuals, in local presentations and other online portals.

‘Sustainability’ in a digital context primarily means that resources are to remain usable in the long term. This goal is linked to infrastructural considerations: are regular updates guaranteed? Will the individual components be compatible with each other in the future? Is the long-term use of resources legally ensured?

In order to meet these requirements, the Handschriftenportal project relies mainly on open source solutions. For example, the IIIF-compliant viewer Mirador which has been developed further by the Universitätsbibliothek Leipzig (Leipzig University Library) in cooperation with Stanford University, offers an open and transparent source code. Furthermore, the source codes produced by the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin (Berlin State Library) will be available to the public as open source software after the project ends. Another significant aspect is the use of independent system modules known as microservices. These are developed and installed independently from one another. This allows for more technological flexibility, faster customisation options and independent scalability for individual microservices.

The Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin (Berlin State Library) concerns itself with the project’s technical infrastructure. They are responsible for protecting the Handschriftenportal against cyberattacks and ensuring online privacy. This is why virtual servers are used within the computer network of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin. Firewalls together with carefully selected and developed software as well as efficient security updates ensure the best possible protection against unauthorised access.

Interest in manuscripts stems from a multitude of disciplines. Depending on whether a mediaevalist, a librarian, a student or an art historian studies the manuscript significantly influences the way in which it is used and approached. Does the focus lie more on the texts and script or rather the illuminations? Are watermarks the centre of research or does the interest lie in the writers’ networks?

The Handschriftenportal aims to accommodate to the practices of a variety of users and at the same time offer features that have so far been missing in virtual libraries. In order to discover the different user practices, surveys (German only) workshops und Usability-Tests (German only) are being conducted simultaneously to the development of the Handschriftenportal. An active dialogue with the target groups will help to determine the needs and wishes of users and test whether the initial concepts are suitable or not.

Learn more about target group 1 | Scholars of diverse disciplines (German only)

Learn more about target group 2 | Libraries, archives, related referencing systems (German only)

Learn more about communication strategy (German only)

Users’ previous experiences with virtual libraries are as varied as the users’ personal interests. Therefore, the Handschriftenportal will offer diverse training possibilities. Workshops will be organised; instructions and best practices will be implemented on the website to help overcome any barriers or access issues. Details on upcoming events will be published in the newsletter, on the news webpage (German only) and on Twitter.