The Free Library of Philadelphia received a $500,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), an independent federal agency, to fund a project to make the Library's medieval manuscripts available over the World Wide Web. The project will create bibliographic records and digital images of the Free Library's extensive John Frederick Lewis and Joseph E. Widener manuscript collections. More than 3,000 digital photographs and detailed descriptions will serve to greatly expand access to more than 2,000 historically and artistically significant manuscripts, both on the Library’s website and through the Digital Scriptorium, an international database of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts.
The Free Library's collection, located in the Rare Book Department at the Central Library, contains 255 medieval and Renaissance manuscript codices, and 2,000 leaves or pages and fragments with decoration or illumination. Some of the leaves date from as early as the 9th Century, the earliest bound volumes are from the 11th Century, and the main body of the collection dates from the 14th and 15th Centuries. Many of the manuscripts have appeared in European and American exhibitions and have been studied by scholars. When the project concludes in three years, the public at large and scholars around the world will have access to this significant collection. William Lang, Head of the Free Library's Rare Book Department and Project Manager, commented, "IMLS has made an extraordinary commitment to medieval manuscript scholarship through this grant, allowing us to digitize about seventy-five percent of the Lewis and Widener collections. Eventually we hope to complete our entire collection."
The Medieval & Renaissance Manuscripts of the Free Library of Philadelphia: An Illustrated Digital Catalog will be the Free Library's fourth collection to be digitized. Also available in digital format on the Free Library's website (www.freelibrary.org) are The United States Centennial Exhibition Digital Collection, The Central Library 75th Anniversary Collection, and Historical Images of Philadelphia.
IMLS fosters leadership, innovation and a lifetime of learning through grants to libraries and museums, and has supported other initiatives at the Free Library, including a program to recruit and educate new librarians. IMLS also awarded the Free Library of Philadelphia a National Leadership Award this year, in recognition of the Library’s outstanding service to the public.