Monday, April 4, 2011

Arabic manuscripts online - Fihrist launch

Fihrist, an online catalogue for Islamic manuscripts held at the Bodleian and Cambridge University Library (CUL), was launched on 28 March. Developed by the the OCIMCO (Oxford & Cambridge Islamic Manuscripts Catalogue Online) project, the catalogue uses the TEI/XML schema created as part of the WAMCP (Wellcome Arabic Manuscript Cataloguing Partnership) project to structure the descriptions and to provide for future enhancement of those records.

Fihrist contains around 10,000 catalogue entries, retroconverted from hard copy lists and card catalogues at the Bodleian and CUL, providing an integrated online search tool for these large collections. Searching for a manuscript or a work shows you a list of works contained in the relevent manuscript, with separate descriptions provided for each work. The catalogue records are currently very brief, but the OCIMCO project "will eventually provide detailed manuscript descriptions that will include digital representations of the manuscripts themselves. The TEI/XML schema provides an extensible framework that will allow for these future enhancements" (About us).

The project recieved funding from the JISC’s Digital Resources for Islamic Studies programme - a scheme that also part-funded the WAMCP project.

At the Fihrist launch at Clare College, Cambridge, a series of presentations from the OCIMCO project managers and staff provided further details of the collections and the technical implementation of the project; a presentation from the JISC on the Islamic Studies programme provided background to the funding scheme; a joint presentation was given by Richard Aspin and Nikolai Serikoff of the Wellcome Library, and Gerhard Brey of King's College London on the WAMCP project; and we heard about the like-minded Yale/SOAS Islamic Manuscript Gallery.

The day then turned to a follow up project that Oxford is carrying out over the summer to create a union catalogue of Islamic manuscript catalogues (the Islamic Studies Gateway). This project was recently awarded JISC funding, and will seek to develop Fihrist further to "provide cross searching of existing online manuscript resources ... that at present do not have a significant internet presence."

"In addition to creating the gateway itself, the aim of the Fihrist is to create a sustainable user community of Islamic manuscript metadata standards and cataloguing tools to ensure a long term commitment by stakeholders to supporting and developing the Fihrist beyond the lifetime of the project."

The WAMCP partnership (comprising the Wellcome Library, Bibliotheca Alexandrina, and King's College London) will collaborate on this project by providing open access to metadata for 500 manuscripts. This metadata, with digitised manuscripts, is expected to be publically available online via the WAMCP website from Summer 2011.