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MICE IN A MEDIEVAL LIBRARY: REVITALIZING THE STUDY OF MANUSCRIPTS FROM THE MIDDLE AGES Columbia and U.C.-Berkeley Build the Digital Scriptorium, 700 Years of Precious and Fragile Texts Opened with a Click

Will mice devour the exquisite and irreplaceable pages from the medieval manuscripts in the Digital Scriptorium? Its creators, a group of librarians in New York and California, certainly hope so, for a mouse--a computer mouse, that is--is not only welcome but necessary to this online project's success. With the building of the Digital Scriptorium, cyberspace's first library of medieval manuscripts, librarians at Columbia University and at U.C.-Berkeley expect that easy access to sequestered documents will kindle new interest in the study of the manuscripts and ultimately of the whole epoch during which they were created, the Middle Ages. They expect, moreover, that the Digital Scriptorium's popularity will entice medieval manuscript collectors and their collections either to add their holdings to it, thereby building a single global library, or to use it as a model for building online libraries of their own. "The Digital Scriptorium is a terrific resource in itself," Consuelo Dutschke, the curator of medieval manuscripts at Columbia's Rare Book and Manuscript Library, said; "but it could be an invaluable one if it generated a viable financial model for others to copy." Dutschke and Charles Faulhaber, her counterpart at Berkeley, are the Digital Scriptorium's principal architects. To this end the Mellon Foundation gave $430,000 to Columbia and Berkeley to create the Digital Scriptorium. The universities are doing that by putting their collections of medieval and renaissance manuscripts--two of the nation's best--online and opening it for public use. When completed it will hold 10,000 color images drawn from approximately 700 codices and 2,000 documents. "The most basic but essential value of an archive such as the Digital Scriptorium is that it allows access to magnificent yet fragile materials for study and analysis outside the home institution without endangering the originals," Jean Ashton, head of Columbia's Rare Book and Manuscript Library, said. The Digital Scriptorium has already brought benefits both scholarly and financial to its users. For instance, by juxtaposing on screen a text about Alexander the Great from Berkeley's manuscript UCB 87 with calendar verses from Columbia's Plimpton MS 169, scholars ascertained that the two were once from the same book copied in the 1440s by Antonius Vicentius in the South of France. Before the Digital Scriptorium, that kind of discovery would have been very expensive, if not impossible, to make. 3/19/97 19,073