Gillian C. Boal: The Wellcome Library's Arabic manuscripts: New protocols for cataloguing and housed in the digitisation process.

The Wellcome Library houses approximately one thousand Arabic manuscripts, mainly on medical and scientific subjects, collected over the last hundred years. This collection of documents spanning eight hundred years, from the 12th and 20th centuries, is of major importance for the history of medicine and science in general, and for the history of Islamic medicine and science in particular.

To allow scholars around the world the widest access to this important patrimony, a large scale digitization programme has been designed. Prior to starting actual image capture, however, it was necessary to perform an accurate survey in order that the manuscripts could be assessed for safe handling during the process of digitization. A customized tool was developed specifically for this purpose, using the St Catherine's Project database compiled by the Ligatus Research Unit at the Camberwell College of Arts (University of the Arts, London).

This talk offers an illustrated overview of the ongoing two-year (2009-11) project to digitize the Arabic mss collection at the Wellcome Library in London. The initial survey determining the parameters and suitability (e.g. handling, safe openability, legibility of text) for digitization of the 900 bound and fragmented items is discussed, and an innovative and experimental cataloguing tool to describe the physical details of the Mss, developed in the context of the new virtual environment of collections accessed online, is described and explained. The emerging protocols involve a level of material description and imaging specifically appropriate to remote access. In this case the relevant meta-data are being gathered and entered by students from the Camberwell bookbinding programme. Finally issues and outcomes relating to the re-housing of the books, that still have their original housings, are described and discussed.