Schoenberg Database of Mss.

The Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts makes available data on medieval manuscript books of five or more folios produced before 1600. It’s purpose is to facilitate research for scholars, collectors, and others interested in manuscript studies and the provenance of those unique works. All of the manuscripts found on this website are made available in the University of Pennsylvania Libraries.

This database offers a wide variety of authors and principal investigators.  A number of librarians, university presidents, and various scholars have joined the project as staff, i.e. managers and advisors.  Researchers from different areas of the UPenn community have been pulled to contribute their efforts to the Schoenberg Database over the years.

The Database is intended to be used by people who have either a scholarly or personal interest in medieval manuscripts.  The site lists its uses as a search tool for finding who, when, where for specific manuscripts, searching for data on a specific manuscript from only a reference, and researching specific authors.

The Schoenberg Database was originally created by Penn Libraries Overseer Lawrence J. Schoenberg in 1997. Since then the University of Pennsylvania and Penn Libraries have been providing the staff that has been updating and adding to the collection. Schoenberg and his wife Barbara continue to provide financial support and participate in all aspects of the site.

This website provides scholars a single database in which they can locate, compare, and track the ownership of medieval works through 35 searchable fields, including title, author, topic, place, language, etc. The Schoenberg Database is extremely useful for researching medieval texts. Instead of the manuscripts being tucked away in a library in Philadelphia, unable to be perused by scholars in different cities, states, or countries, information on them is now available to the public. This provides a greater ability to learn about the medieval culture to students and scholars all over the world.

Schoenberg’s Database provides a number of digital innovations to make accessing the utilizing the site less complicated. It includes mutiple search options including an extensive advanced search method. Also, a site guide is provided to help navigate the webpage as well as a help page in which you can strike up a chat with subject experts and other library employees. The help page also contains a section in which users can suggest purchases that could be made by the library. On the front page they end their intro by acknowledging that they are a work in progress, stating,  “To this end, we welcome the input of users regarding all aspects of the database.” This gives users the knowledge that the page can be constantly edited and improved.

The Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts homepage has a great toolbar that allows a person to search for medieval works in various ways. However, there are still a good amount of problems with it. The layout in the background is not very eye catching. More colors, example works, or at least an update in the text design could really help the homepage draw more attention to the website.

One of the biggest problems that exists with the Schoenberg Database is navigation. All the tabs allow for an easy way to locate information on the different works, but if you leave the database it becomes difficult to navigate back to the homepage. The Schoenberg Database is a part of Penn Libraries and as such it incorporates much of the library’s resources. Unfortunately, there is no tab or easy method to navigate to the Schoenberg Database from the homepage. This could easily be fixed by having a tab or subject field that would allow you to visit any previously visited page without having to search for it again.

A third problem with the database is that it does not actually provide digital copies of the works. Though it is able to find lengthier descriptions of the works (through tedious searching of the website), what is provided are simply physical descriptions of the actual manuscript, and short summaries, which serve little use to scholars. Only 65 of the provided 500 manuscripts have online facsimiles, most of which are nearly impossible to read. The only real, usable purpose for this database is to list information about the books. Even summaries are hard to come by. If translated and better original copies of the works were made readily available (or even charge a small cost for each copy) this database would be much more helpful.

Also…under the Ask Us/Get Help tab, there is the option to get Instant Help through the use of IM or LiveChat. A little further down is the option to ask a subject expert, where you can “make an appointment with a librarian for help with your research needs.” While they are available for chats for about 12 hours per day, they are offline at 10pm every day but Friday (when they go offline at 5pm!). What about the overwhelming number of overwhelmed students/scholars doing frenzied late-night research?

To remedy this, we thought that a redesigned website for the manuscript database could include a social network-like functionality with individual usernames. Instead of giving out personal info, users would provide their areas of both interest and expertise. With users possibly spanning a number of time zones (and sleep patterns), the window for assistance would be flung wide open. If Erik needed help with his research on the various translations of the Bible at 2am, he might just find John, an expert on St. Jerome, online and ready to chat.

Overall, though the Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts provides a number of useful tools, such as search options and contact information, to researching medieval manuscripts, it seems as if it is a weak example of digital humanities. With some improvements, the site could reach that level, but as of right now, it seems as if it is simply an online card catalog for the Penn Libraries.

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