Nationaal programma voor het behoud van het papieren erfgoed

Checklist for the digitisation of manuscripts

The Checklist for the digitisation of manuscripts is a tool to support safe digitisation of manuscripts in heritage collections. The instrument aims to give guidance to conservator-restorers, librarians, collection-care and digitisation professionals. A Dutch version of this essay was first published on the Metamorfoze website in 2016. This version was translated and updated by the team of authors in 2018-2019. During this period, Ilse Korthagen worked as a junior conservator-restorer of manuscripts in the Book Heritage Lab – KU Leuven. The English version 2.0 can be downloaded. 

Medieval manuscripts represent a unique part of our cultural heritage. It comes as no surprise then that libraries are keen to make these manuscripts - including the masterpieces among them - digitally available. Often in this process, however, too little attention is devoted to the material properties of the objects and the risks to which they are exposed while the manuscripts are being digitised. The role of the conservator-restorer in this process is not always obvious, though they have command of a relevant body of knowledge.

In manuscripts, value can be attributed both to the content and to the manuscript as a material object. The value of the content is largely transferable to the digital copy, but that of the material object is much less or not at all transferable. It is the responsibility of the conservator-restorer to ensure that the value of the physical object is recognised and neither diminished nor altered during the digitisation process. With the Checklist for the digitisation of manuscripts an aid is introduced that aims to reduce the risk of damage during handling in the process of digitisation and thus preserve the value of the object as much as possible.

The essay focusses on examples in Dutch and Belgian (Flemish) collections, although the methodology can be applied to any manuscript collection in heritage repositories.

Ilse Korthagen (KU Leuven), Femke Prinsen (University of Amsterdam), Prof. Lieve Watteeuw (KU Leuven) and Bruno Vandermeulen (KU Leuven)