This article was originally published in Penn News, 05/01/2015. It can be viewed here in its original form

Elina Tonkova & Jeanne Leong

Some rare books and manuscripts from Penn Libraries can now be accessed online through the new OPenn digital resources website, openn.library.upenn.edu.

The site provides digitized cultural heritage materials available as free cultural works that are accessible for use by anyone. The launch of OPenn is a major step in the Libraries’ strategic initiative to embrace open data and democratize access to information.

“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 “This website makes a tremendous difference in access to important historical documents by bringing information and knowledge to all interested individuals.”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 by alumnus Lawrence J. Schoenberg and his wife, Barbara Brizdle. The Schoenberg Collection features manuscripts from all over the world, from the dawn of writing through the 19th century, with a focus on works of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Images from items such as a 16th-century Portolan Atlas and a unique book of Ciphers made for Pope Calixtus III in the 15th century are available on OPenn.

Materials on OPenn are available at full resolution, with derivatives also provided for easy re-use on the Web. Downloading can be accomplished by following instructions or recipes posted on OPenn. 

More datasets, including manuscripts from Penn’s own holdings and items from other institutions, will be added in the near future. Historic diaries from a variety of Institutions belonging to the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries 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.

”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,” said Will Noel, director of Penn Libraries’ Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.

OPenn can be used to make viewing manuscripts easier, through e-books or through page-turning platforms that stream the data from OPenn.

The OPenn platform also enables rigorous study and scholarly discovery by significantly increasing ease of study for researchers interested in these manuscripts. 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.