The last CERL meeting where all CERL members could meet in person was in October 2019, when we met at the Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek in Göttingen. In our Newsletter of December 2019, we reported on elections and other outcomes of that meeting, and the slides presented at the seminar are available on the CERL website. In this Newsletter we highlight CERL activities in the first months of 2020.
In the course of March 2020, CERL staff and most of our colleagues in member institutions and other organisations with which we collaborate, were instructed to work from home. Not much later, it became evident that CERL would have to cancel the meetings of the Executive Committee and the Board of Directors, as well as the CERL Seminar that had been scheduled to take place in May 2020 at the Koninklijke Bibliotheek in Brussels. We had received a warm invitation to hold our meetings in Brussels, to coincide with the opening of their new Museum. In the Nassau Chapel and surrounding rooms there will be a wonderful display focusing on the manuscript collection amassed some 600 years ago by the powerful Dukes of Burgundy. The manuscripts feature some of the finest examples of Flemish Primitive art, painted by illuminators that were contemporaries of Jan van Eyk and Rogier van de Weyden, and often their equals in terms of craftmanship. The official opening of the Museum has been postponed to 18 September, but you can already browse 213 manuscripts from this unique collection. Zoom in on amazing miniatures, in full detail.
The CERL meetings of the Board and the Executive Commitee (EC) were moved to an online environment. In the Board meeting, the Directors signed of the Annual Report for the year ending September 2019, and gave their input on a first draft of the new Strategic Plan. A day later, the EC also spoke about the draft Strategic Plan and discussed with the Secretariat which further meetings should be planned. In the days and weeks that followed, we organised two general meetings, where members of the Board and the Executive Committee could talk with Cristina Dondi and Marian Lefferts about any and all of the reports that were prepared, as well as meetings for the Incunabula Working Group, the Promotion Working Group, the Collection Security Working Group and the new Digital Humanities Working Group. In two separate sessions, Andreas Walker (Data Conversion Group, Göttingen) presented CERL’s activities around Linked Open Data and our plans for preparing a integrated environment for the Patrimonit and Mat-Med databases (and further databases as more research projects are added). Finally, meetings were organised for the Board of the Manuscript Experts Working Group, a CERL-VZG bilateral on the hosting of the HPB database and CERL mailing lists, and a meeting with Greg Prickman about collaborating with the Atlas of Early Printing.
Organising individual sessions for each important topic of interest meant that members of the EC and the Board could choose which session(s) to attend and the sessions were short and focused. Scheduling them at the end of the afternoon (CEST) meant that colleagues from the US could also comfortably participate. But most importantly, it meant that we could include staff at member libraries that do not normally attend the physical meetings. This way we could benefit from their input and CERL was able to highlight its activities to staff for whom this was most relevant. We plan to continue to apply this format to organise more regular Working Group meetings and online sessions – open to staff at CERL member libraries, including colleagues from North America. Follow-up meetings for the Incunabula Working Group and the (renamed) Engagement and Promotion Working Group are already planned.
In the mean time, the CERL Book Bindings Working Group published its first newsletter with news of the WG’s plans, the horn binding of the Bamberg Psalter (see also this display on Google Art), events on Polish book bindings organised by our colleagues in Toruń, and tips for tracing watermarks.
During the October 2019, it was decided to create the CERL Digital Humanities Working Group. In their first meeting, the participants in the Working Group explored what colleagues in CERL member libraries would need in order to fulfill their role of working with DH researchers, and, importantly, what CERL could do to help them. Many of the suggestions centered around advocacy: ensure that curators see the benefit of engaging with DH, ensure that they have the right skills to do so successfully, ensure that DH researchers know about our data (and know how to interpret the data), and promote the use of standards and protocols, so that, ultimately, we can optimise search and retrieval, as well as interlinking.
During the online CERL meetings held in May and June of this year, we also spoke of our plans for the Annual Meeting, which was scheduled to take place in Vilnius in mid-October 2020, to coincide with the 450th anniversary of the country’s largest and oldest university library, first established by the Jesuits. You are invited to listen to the speech of Director General of Vilnius University Library, Irena Krivienė:
After consultation with the colleagues in Vilnius, it was decided to organise the Annual General meeting 2020 as a online event. We will have a general session for all members, to speak about the CERL Strategy for the coming years, to highlight 2020 achievements, and to have elections for the Board of Directors. Additionally, we will organise an event (one longer session or a series of shorter sessions, to be decided) to take the place of the annual Seminar. This event will focus on how data hosted by CERL can be reused and what CERL does to encourage and support such reuse.
Likewise, the annual Collection Security Summer School which was scheduled to take place at the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek in Vienna on 2 – 4 September 2020, has been cancelled. Instead, the colleagues of the Security Network Working Group and the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek are working together to prepare an online event, planned for November 2020. We are planning a workshop on the Quick Audit Tool, which allows libraries and archives to assess the state of their collection security and to use it as a tool for monitoring progress over time. We will certainly also come to talk about the circumstance where our buildings and collections were left without substantial staff presence for an extended period of time, and what impact that had on collection security planning. Lastly, we will revisit colleagues’ valuable contributions to the previous three editions of the summer school (in The Hague, Rome and Tartu) and hope to bring these online, so that they can be viewed by a wider audience.
A first draft of the Strategic Plan for the coming years had been completed by February 2020, and then COVID-19 happened. In addition to the fact that the pandemic changed our daily lives almost beyond recognition, it also had a profound impact on the cultural sector. The sector garnered much respect for quickly adapting to the new situation and for being able to give convenient access to so much high quality digital material. The pandemic gave an impetus to a trend that had already been evident for some time, but seeing (more) ‘customers’ enthusiastically engaging with digital content, online seminars and online tours, and creators of digital materials sensing a greater urgency to ‘get stuff out’ and to make the best use of all available tools to achieve that goal.
In our CERL Strategic Plan today’s events are reflected in that it puts a greater emphasis on inclusivity by ensuring that our programme of meetings and seminars is supported by recorded sessions, an online programme of events, and instruction videos. Our goal to link data that is hosted by CERL (internally, connecting CERL-held data, as well as externally by linking to data sets maintained by others) stands. Additionally, we plan to increase our efforts to alert the end user community to the existence of this data and our willingness to support reuse. Finally, we aim to harness the great expertise that is present in the CERL community, so that we may learn from one another and to organise ourselves as a professional network that offers education and consultation.
Of course, while we worked to refine the draft Strategic Plan, the work did not stop and most recently, in line with our programme to establish as many connections between datasets as we can, we were very happy to report that provenance information recorded in MEI is now shown alongside records in the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue. It was great to see that the enthusiastic tweet by @BLPrintHeritage was met with equal enthusiasm from the community.
In terms of linking to external databases, a file contribution from e-rara, the platform for digitised rare books from Swiss institutions, was offered for inclusion in the Heritage of the Printed Book (HPB) database. This means that soon records in the HPB will link out to he 79,604 titles that are currently available in e-rara.
Finally, CERL and its activities feature in a number of recent publications and recorded presentations:
Marieke van Delft, Researching Provenance with Two New Tools Developed by the Consortium of European Research Libraries (CERL). In: Quaerendo 50 (2020), pp. 194–206
Cristina Dondi, Webinar for the Bibliographical Society of America: Material Evidence in Incunabula (MEI) in the USA
Claudia Fabian, Structure and Semantics, Coherence and Networks – the Living Bibliographic Universe. Reflections of a Catalogue Lover in Honour of Mirna Willer, a Data Scientist. In: Mirna Willer. Festschrift (2020)
Lucrezia Signorello, ‘Il Provenance Digital Archive del CERL: il nuovo censimento online delle provenienze librarie’. In DigItalia, 1 (2020), pp. 133-134.
Andreas Walker at the LIBER Linked Open Data Workshop (23 June 2020). CERL Resources as Linked Open Data‘ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=No28uqy8elQ (from 1:06:53).
Marian Lefferts, CERL Executive Manager