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Collaboration with HarvardX Creates Lasting Impact

By Kaitlin Buckley, Communications Officer, Harvard Library.

Medieval manuscript page

HarvardX’s free online course “The Book: Histories Across Time and Space” is the result of a dynamic partnership with Harvard Library. The massive open online coursealso known as a MOOCmakes Harvard’s most unique and fragile books, scrolls, and manuscripts digitally accessible to anyone with an internet connection, anywhere in the world, free of cost. The nine self-paced modules examine everything from how to interpret the meaning of rare and beautiful medieval manuscripts to the rise of the reading public in the 19th century. The course is available via edX for six months.

Library Technology Services (LTS) was instrumental in the planning, development, and implementation of the course’s revolutionary page delivery service, Mirador. “From the conception of this project, the Harvard Library has worked towards leveraging this work beyond the realm of the online course, in order to provide a new page delivery service,” said Randy Stern, director of systems development for the Harvard Library’s LTS team. In early 2012, Stern met with developers and architects from Stanford, Princeton, Cornell, Yale, Oxford, and other universities to in order to define a standard for how to make digital image resources conform to the International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF), which makes them available for reuse among participating libraries

Mirador, now available in beta, is a multi-window image viewing platform that is able to display, zoom, annotate, and compare text and images from other compatible sources at Harvard as well as internationally; it will be the default page viewer going forward. The project has also provided the opportunity to create synergy among faculty, librarians, HUIT academic technologists, HarvardX, and the Harvard Art Museums. “The most exciting part of the IIIF and Mirador collaboration has been the opportunity to work closely both with colleagues at peer institutions around the world, and with senior faculty members and staff within Harvard,” Stern said.

Harvard Library's Preservation and Digital Imaging Services team worked to get much of the material used in the course modules digitized and deposited into the library's Digital Repository Service. Some segments of the online course show the team in the Weissman Preservation Center at work, preparing treatment for medieval manuscripts and scrolls. In addition to these materials, rare Korean and Japanese books were also digitized. There were many rewarding aspects to involvement in this project, such as “the collaboration with the facultybeing able to prepare the materials so they could be used in 'The Book,' and being able to showcase the skills of our staff at work,” said Franziska Frey, head of Preservation and Digital Imaging Services.

The dedication of the Harvard Library staff working on this project is a prime example of how University-wide collaboration is key to the dissemination of new, vibrant ways of researching, teaching, and learning through Harvard Library’s collections. An October 2015 article in the Harvard Gazette explored the work of coders and librarians to launch the course. Working largely behind the scenes, librarians at Houghton helped select materials to be highlighted, engaged in dialogue with faculty on and off camera, and assisted in the staging of filming sessions, many of which utilize Houghton spaces. Due to the creativity and skill shown across multiple departments with specialized skillsets, an improved service is now available to all patrons of the Harvard Library.

Article written by Kaitlin Buckley.
Article published November 12, 2015.