Preserving Ancient Manuscripts with Technology
Hill Museum & Manuscript Library
St. John’s University’s Hill Museum and Manuscript Library and SDG collaborated on a web-based application for cataloging ancient manuscripts.
Audience of global scholars
Archival quality and accuracy
Grant-based funding sources
Mobile product development
Using modern software to manage ancient documents
Since 1965, the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University (SJU) has been dedicated to the preservation of manuscripts from around the world through the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML).
Specifically, HMML’s scholars have sought out areas where historical artifacts are in danger—whether through disaster, conflict, or other circumstances. Their goal is to ensure that these texts remain intact for the future.
While printed texts can be found in various libraries and museums, manuscripts are unique, hand-written documents, whose value is immeasurable for scholars of paleography, codicology, and numerous other disciplines.
Cataloging such documents involves taking high-resolution photographs of each page and providing detailed bibliographic information for reference.
In accordance with the Benedictine tradition, SJU scholars have continually aimed to make use of the best available technologies. So as they planned how to preserve manuscripts with an audience of global scholars, they sought to incorporate such technologies into their library.
Partnering with SDG to deliver a Virtual Reading Room
HMML’s vision was a Virtual HMML Reading Room (vHMML)—a unique web application where global scholars could view manuscripts, share research, and work with local, on site staff to archive new materials from active worksites. It was essential that the new format would allow for the digital reproduction and cataloging of manuscripts before they faced destruction.
HMML partnered with SDG create this solution. The goal: to create a cloud-hosted solution that would allow HMML staff to easily update website content and provide an updated look in anticipation of increased web traffic following a featured story on CBS’s 60 Minutes.
For an institution that is completely funded by grants and donations, national media coverage of this magnitude represented a unique opportunity to expose the work HMML was doing to a massive audience of potential donors. With this in mind, one additional goal was to guarantee that the site could continue to deliver content with low latency during a flood of traffic. All of these goals had to be accomplished under a tight timeline with an unmovable deadline: the site had to be live when the 60 Minutes episode aired.
The Hill Museum & Manuscript Library virtual reading room
As of 2017, HMML is actively collecting manuscripts from Mali, Egypt, Ethiopia and a number of locations in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. At the time SDG was engaged to help with this project, the effort to create the new system had been underway for over 18 months as a collaborative effort between 3 separate teams who were struggling to produce a viable product.
HMML and SDG collaborated to achieve these goals:
- Provide a fresh look that aligned with HMML branding
- Include an interactive map & manuscript tour
- Present a stronger, more cohesive visual mission statement
- Allow for simple content management
- Remove on-premise IT dependency
- Guarantee uptime under heavy load
- Deliver content with low latency for all of HMML’s global audience
- Support any device
A full range of skills
SDG used a full complement of product skills throughout the partnership. including:
- Agile project delivery and management
- Business analysis
- Quality assurance
- UI/UX design
- Enterprise architecture and application development
- Infrastructure/DevOps support
- Documentation and training
An elegant, scalable solution
The resulting solution was a WordPress website running in the AWS Cloud on Amazon EC2, RDS, SES and CloudFront.
WordPress delivered the simple content management capability that HMML desired and AWS services provided a way to quickly implement enterprise grade solutions to the infrastructure, delivery and performance goals of the project. While using the available funds in a responsible way and managing a very aggressive timeline SDG was able to create a site with an elegant design and an architecture that could scale to meet demand.
The new solution features:
- A branded, user-centric user interface
- Cross-device compatibility
- Administrative tools and security to manage content creation
- Cloud deployment to eliminate IT dependency
- Comprehensive keyword search
- Global caching of content at edge locations around the world
- Continuous integration pipeline management
All images courtesy of Hill Museum & Manuscript Library. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.