The Penn Libraries is delighted to announce the launch of OPenn: Primary Digital Resources Available to Everyone (http://openn.library.upenn.edu), a new website that provides digitized cultural heritage materials of great interest and research value. OPenn is a major step in the Libraries’ strategic initiative to embrace open data and democratize access to information, with all images and metadata on this site available as free cultural works, making them accessible to be freely studied, applied, copied, or modified by anyone, for any purpose.
“OPenn is part of the Penn Libraries’ answer to growing demand for open data in the humanities,” said Carton Rogers, Vice Provost and Director of Libraries. “This website makes a tremendous difference in access to important historical documents by bringing information and knowledge to all interested individuals.”
OPenn launched with the entire corpus of manuscripts donated to the Penn Libraries in 2011 by Lawrence J. Schoenberg, C’53, WG’57, and his wife Barbara Brizdle, a $20 million collection. The Schoenberg Collection features manuscripts from all over the world, from the dawn of writing through the nineteenth century, with a focus on works of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Highlights include such treasures as a sixteenth century Portolan Atlas and a unique book of Ciphers made for Pope Calixtus III in the middle of the fifteenth century.
Images of the manuscripts are currently available on OPenn at full resolution, with derivatives also provided for easy re-use on the web. Downloading, whether it is several select images or the entire dataset, is easily accomplished by following instructions, or recipes, posted on OPenn. The website – which serves as a toolbox for visitors to grab information from – is designed to be easy for individuals to use, as well as machine-readable.
More datasets, including manuscripts from the University of Pennsylvania’s own holdings and items from other institutions, will be added to the site in the near future. Historic diaries from a variety of Institutions belonging to the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL) are next in line for inclusion on OPenn. Many of these documents are unknown while others are celebrated, such as the Union League of Philadelphia’s Tanner manuscript: a unique firsthand account of the events surrounding the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
OPenn can be used to make viewing manuscripts easier, through e-books or through page-turning platforms that stream the data from OPenn; these formats serve as excellent tools for introducing or raising awareness of manuscript culture and for showcasing manuscripts’ unique graphics and aesthetic appeal. OPenn also enables rigorous study and scholarly discovery by significantly increasing ease of study for researchers interested in these manuscripts. For instance, images of individual pages can be manipulated to re-create the order in which the pages were written, as opposed to the order in which they were collated for binding, providing leeway in exploration that researchers might not have otherwise.
“It’s possible to make some predictions about how the data might be used, but we also anticipate being surprised by what people come up with,” said Will Noel, Director of the Kislak Center. “That is one of the virtues of OPenn. Allowing all those who wish to use data from the site to do so, in whatever way they desire and without requiring them to ask for permission, creates boundless possibility and an exciting unpredictability surrounding the outcomes.”