Libraries Colloquium Event “Unscattered Leaves” Caps Year-Long Medieval Manuscript Digitization Project

Event Summary

On April 19, 2018, the Special Collections Seminar Room in the Melville Library was standing-room-only when Stony Brook University Libraries welcomed students, faculty, staff, and community members to “Unscattered Leaves: Digitization of the Otto F. Ege Manuscripts.” The event, a special edition of the Libraries’ monthly Colloquium Series, was the culmination of the project and marked the official public launch of the new digital collection “Otto F. Ege: Fifty Original Leaves From Medieval Manuscripts.”




Library faculty and staff described the project plan from concept to publication, highlighted the outcomes, and discussed the challenges and lessons learned from the experience. Leading the event was Director of Special Collections and University Archivist Kristen Nyitray who began with providing background information on Ege and his controversial legacy, followed by a description of the medieval manuscript leaves and the genesis of the digitization effort. Next up were Digital Projects Librarian Victoria Pilato and Multimedia Specialist Chris Sauerwald from the libraries’ Digital Initiatives team who outlined the technical and organizational processes involved — from archival photographic techniques and material handling to the deployment of the Omeka web content management system. Finally, Cataloging and Metadata Librarian Anastasia Chiu recounted her work in describing items in the digital collection, so researchers can find and identify leaves, and to inform structure and design in future digital collections. After the talk, attendees visited the Special Collections to view the original manuscript leaves.


Collection History

Special Collections and University Archives owns one of forty rare limited-edition portfolios of manuscript leaves assembled by self-described “biblioclast” Otto F. Ege. Titled “Fifty Original Leaves from Medieval Manuscripts, Western Europe, XII-XVI Century,” the department’s “Number 19” portfolio contains fifty original medieval manuscript specimens taken from works that Ege himself disbound. Ege rationalized that disbinding volumes provided the masses with opportunities to study and to have tangible experiences with authentic medieval manuscripts. As a result, modestly funded libraries and smaller institutions were able to acquire manuscript specimens at a reasonable cost. While we do not know exactly how SBU came into possession of the portfolio, Kristen Nyitray and archives assistant Lynn Toscano discovered an original shelf list card indicating SBU paid $750 for the item in 1965. Of the original forty portfolios created, only twenty-nine have been located worldwide. The whereabouts of the other sets are unknown and remain a mystery to this day.


Project Overview

While the University Libraries is responsive to research requests about the manuscript pages, it sought to make its entire collection accessible online and contribute to wider efforts of virtually reconstructing the scattered leaves. Starting in 2016, SBU Libraries embarked on a digitization project joining several other academic research libraries including Denison University and UMass Amherst in creating a digital collection of the Ege leaves. The collection web site features high resolution photographs of Stony Brook’s complete portfolio and descriptive information about each leaf it contains.  The rectos and versos of each leaf, context cards, and housing have been photographed in accordance with Technical Guidelines for Digitizing Cultural Heritage Materials: Creation of Raster Image Files and described using Dublin Core and VRA Core metadata structures and standards.

Future Endeavors

The complexities of describing, photographing, and publishing the collection spurred new workflows to utilize expertise across library departments. Our intent is that this project can serve as a useful template not only for future projects within our own library but for other cultural heritage institutions, particularly those who may have limited resources. With the launch of the collection online and subsequent interest and excitement surrounding it from faculty members here at SBU and beyond we hope to provide additional online tools for scholars in history and art history, literature, digital humanities, etc., to aid research and instruction. Look for a blog post detailing how the online collection can be used coming soon on the SBU Libraries news section.


Project Publicity and Information


Behind The Scenes Video




Post contributed by Chris Sauerwald, Kristen Nyitray, Victoria Pilato and Anastasia Chiu, May 2018.

Jamie Saragossi

Jamie Saragossi

Interim Associate Dean, Collection Strategy & Management at Stony Brook University Libraries
Jamie is the Interim Associate Dean, Collection Strategy & Management.
Jamie Saragossi
Posted in Digital Collections, Digital Humanities, Discovery and Digital Initiatives, History, Manuscripts, Preservation, Research, Special Collections & University Archives Tagged with: