The Rare Book Department of the Free Library of Philadelphia holds 255 medieval and Renaissance manuscript codices, 2,000 leaves and fragments with decoration or illumination, and 1,000 leaves with text only. Yet, the Free Library's collection has for many years been relatively little known, mostly due to the unavailability of precise and detailed information about its contents in scholarly publications or on the World Wide Web.
As a public institution, the Free Library is committed to providing access to its collections for the broadest possible audience. In 2004, the Free Library of Philadelphia received a generous grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to create 3,055 digital images from 1,400 historically and artistically significant medieval manuscripts in our extensive Rare Books collection. The goal was to dramatically increase awareness of, and access to, its significant collection of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, for both the scholarly community and a global audience of Web users. We also sought to create a replicable management model for other public libraries, providing guidance for expanding access to special collections through digitization. The project's technical design incorporates industry standards and best practices for image capture, storage, and metadata, as well as emerging digitization tools for the highest possible quality, sustainability, and adaptability well into the future. The Free Library would like to thank IMLS for their support, without which this project would not have been possible.