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Adam Zurek, Head of the Department of Scientific Documentation of Cultural Heritage, Wroclaw University Library, Wroclaw, Poland

Adam Zurek, Head of the Department of Scientific Documentation of Cultural Heritage, Wroclaw University Library, Wroclaw, Poland

By Adam Zurek

Digitizing and indexing hard-copy documents, transcripts and images in the name of preservation and greater accessibility is not new. However, when the Wroclaw University Library in Poland set out on a digitization project for its swelling library of invaluable original works – some of which date back more than half a millennium – the issue for me was both professional and personal.

I manage the Department of Scientific Documentation of Cultural Heritage in the university’s library, which is responsible for realizing and coordinating projects that create databases for digitized historic resources. And the resources at the Library, which has been collecting manuscripts, old prints and graphics – many of inestimable value – since its founding in 1811, are considerable.

"The Great Missal," from the Church of Mary Magdalene in Wroclaw, Poland, circa 1470; part of the Wroclaw University Library archives being digitized and made available online for the first time with IBM technology.

“The Great Missal,” from the Church of Mary Magdalene in Wroclaw, Poland, circa 1470; part of the Wroclaw University Library archives being digitized and made available online for the first time with IBM technology.

 

One of its most treasured works is an original version of the Statutes Elyan, a set of synod-based resolutions and prayers that were convened by the bishops in the XV century. This collection, which contains Catholic prayers such as the Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary and Apostles’ Creed, was published in Wroclaw in 1475, and is the oldest printed Polish text in the country. As time moves forward unabated, we began to realize that it was no friend to texts such as these – texts that hold meaning for our people and our culture. We also knew that wider understanding and awareness of the documents we housed would only serve to educate, feed and strengthen those who viewed them.

Wroclaw University Library Archives, Wroclaw, Poland.

Wroclaw University Library Archives, Wroclaw, Poland.

So ours was a mission, rather than a business process. Officially called the “European and Regional Heritage” project, the goal was to preserve, yes, but also educate our people and the world about our heritage through greater accessibility to our “cimelia” (translation: treasured) archives.

As can be expected, the process was painstaking, yet thoughtful. To be sure, when scanning original editions of Cervantes and Martin Luther, or first-edition works of the Portolan Atlas by Agnese, one must use care. For this reason it was also important to have secured storing of digitizers as well as to ensure the originals were again safe following the process. We were pleased to have partners in IBM and ProSystems SA who viewed the project with as much care as the university.

All told, the project created about 300 terabytes of space for digitized versions of manuscripts, old prints, maps, graphics and music collections – documents that, up to now, were viewable only by researchers upon special permission or in the frame of special showcases for small groups. That’s Big Data.

Wroclaw University Library researchers digitizing archival texts, Wroclaw, Poland.

Gloved researchers at Wroclaw University Library take care in digitizing cultural texts from the library’s archives. Wroclaw, Poland.

Today, these texts are alive online and free of charge for all to view, read and digest. But the work to manage this precious collection continues. To do it, the university relies on an advanced management system solution based on IBM System x servers and IBM Storwize smarter storage systems which serve to process images and feed them to viewers online.

By all accounts, the project has proven to be a major success. We have preserved our ancient texts and have made our culture and heritage more accessible to people around the world.

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Check out our flickr page slideshow for more great photos of the Wroclaw University Library’s archived works and this Big Data project.

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