Digitization and cataloguing of the alba amicorum at Uppsala University Library
The project Digitization and cataloguing of the alba amicorum at Uppsala University Library started in January 2015 and its purpose was to digitize and catalogue the collection of alba amicorum at Uppsala University Library (UUB). The digitization and cataloguing was to be done according to international standards. The aim was to make the catalogue available both on the Internet and as a printed book, which would enable new national and international research on this material. The aim was also to make the digital catalogue searchable and freely available on the Internet in Alvin, a platform for digital collections and digitized cultural heritage, and that the catalogue information would be linked to the digitized pictures.
At the outset there were 140 alba amicorum in the collections at the UUB, but after three alba coming into the collections in the early phase of the project and an inventory of the uncatalogued collections in the stacks was made the number of alba amicorum to process rose to 156.
All of these 156 alba have been digitized according to international standard in the process of the project and 155 of them are freely available in Alvin. The pictures from the last album cannot be published in Alvin because of copyright issues.
The cataloguing of alba amicorum consists according to international standards of two levels, a general level and a so-called leaf cataloguing, where all the inscriptions in the album are catalogued separately. In a leaf cataloguing the name of the person who wrote the inscription, the date and place and the language(s) in the inscription are identified. All 156 alba amicorum were catalogued on a general level and these catalogue records have been published in Alvin. The general catalogue level is necessary for researchers when they want to work with the digitized material. Concerning the leaf cataloguing 55 alba are fully catalogued and published in Alvin. This means that 2728 inscriptions have been catalogued in all within the project. The reason why we didn’t manage to leaf catalogue all alba amicorum within the time frame of the project is that different tasks related to the digitization and cataloguing took more time than what we had expected when writing the research proposal. As we realized that we wouldn’t manage to leaf catalogue all the alba, we chose to concentrate on the oldest and most relevant for the research community.
The biggest deviation from the original research plan is that we didn’t manage to leaf catalogue all the alba. The reason for this is some unforeseen technical and methodological problems. One is that it took longer than planned to accomplish a functioning digitization process and to digitize the alba. The digitization meant a lot more work than planned for the project manager. While his main task should have been to catalogue the alba, he now had to spend a considerable amount of time on the digitization.
Another problem that arose early in the project was that Alvin wasn’t as adapted to cataloguing alba amicorum as we thought. In the beginning of the project Alvin was a fairly new tool and the album amicorum project became a kind of pilot project for Alvin concerning both externally funded grants and this type of material. During the project’s first year adjustments had to be done in Alvin to adapt it to the cataloguing of alba amicorum. This led to a certain delay in the work process. The positive side of this is that it has become obvious that Alvin is a system that has a great deal of flexibility and can be adapted to a complex material such as alba amicorum.
Another problem was that Alvin turned out to be a significantly slower cataloguing tool than the German tool, which we had in mind when we calculated the time needed to catalogue, and especially leaf catalogue the alba. But Alvin has great advantages to other systems when it comes to visualizing the digital photos and to link these to the catalogue records. Leading researchers on alba amicorum familiar with both systems have emphasized this as a great advantage for Alvin. We assessed at an early point that the advantages in using Alvin exceeded the disadvantages. To fasten the cataloguing process some technical solutions were made concerning the input of metadata in Alvin. That some parts of the leaf cataloguing took more time than estimated was, however, inevitable.
Another deviation from the original plan is that there won’t be a printed catalogue. The digitized one is seen to suffice. At half time we instead decided to concentrate on leaf catalogueing as many alba as possible. Another measure in managing this was to lower the level of ambition concerning the biographical descriptions of a small part of the album holders in the authority records in Alvin. Furthermore the conference on alba amicorum, which was planned to take place at the UUB in 2018 had to be cancelled due to lack of time.
It is hard to say exactly how the digital catalogue of the alba amicorum is used for research except for the research, which has been undertaken within the project itself. What we can observe is that researchers from Stockholm University, Umeå University, the Institute for Language and Folklore in Uppsala, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg and University of Szeged have used the material in their research. We also observe that questions regarding the collection of alba amicorum reach us from researchers all over the world and that many of them state that their research has been facilitated as the collection is now digitized and catalogued.
The project has had an international character. One of the project participants work and live in Germany. We have also cooperated with researchers of alba amicorum and heraldry in first and foremost in Germany and Hungary, but also in France, Great Britain and the Netherlands.
We (and one album from the UUB) have also participated in an exhibition of alba amicorum at the Bibliothèque nationale et universitaire in Strasbourg. The album was divided, probably in the 19th century, and the leafs are now in three different libraries: Württembergische Landesbibliothek in Stuttgart, Koninklijke Bibliotheek in the Hague and the UUB. Before the exhibition there was cooperation between members of staff at these three libraries.
The project manager also undertook two trips in the year 2016 to different institutions in Germany holding important collections of alba amicorum. During this trip important connections were made and the possibility was given to discuss how these institutions work with their collections of alba amicorum and how they reflect upon the digitization and cataloguing of them. The following institutions were visited: Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Museum Europäischer Kulturen (Berlin), Deutsches historisches Museum (Berlin), Universitätsbibliothek Leipzig, Sächsische Landesbibliothek – Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Dresden, Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek (Halle), Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek (Weimar), Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Munich), Germanisches Nationalmuseum (Nuremberg), Stadtarchiv och Stadtbibliothek (both in Nuremberg), Stadtarchiv och Universitätsbibliothek (both in Erlangen) and Staatsbibliothek Bamberg.
The project has been situated in the Cultural Heritage Division of the UUB and it has been fully integrated in the UUB. The alba amicorum have been catalogued in Alvin operated by the UUB. Alvin grants a long-term maintenance and preservation of the catalogue records. Alvin is open for everyone to use and free of charge. The UUB has created a homepage with information about its collection of alba amicorum and the RJ-founded project (http://www.ub.uu.se/finding-your-way-in-the-collections/selections-of-special-items-and-collections/autograph-albums-alba-amicorum/). The homepage will remain also after the termination of the project. On the homepage, there is a direct link to the digital catalogue of the alba amicorum.
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