Reviewed October 2019
Jocelyn Karlan, Acquisitions Librarian, Biblioteca Berenson
I Tatti, The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies
Facendo Il Libro is a free online exhibit from the library of the New York Academy of Medicine. It features the digital version of five editions of an important Early Modern medical text, the Fasciculus Medicinae. The Fasciculus was produced as a printed book in Venice in 1491, unique for containing early printed illustrations of anatomy, although the designs and information contained within had already circulated in manuscript formats in Europe.
This online exhibit consists of two main elements: academic essays and digitized printed books. The essays, written by Drs. Taylor McCall and Natalie Lussey Seale, contextualize the volume. While the introductory essay summarizes the history of the production of the text, the essay on the history of Venetian printing also contains subsections of biographical sketches of important printing families of the Venice lagoon. These contributions are certainly strong points of the exhibit, being concise, academically proficient, and containing rich bibliographies.
The exhibit was created using Islandora software, a free and open-access Drupal based platform. The layout is clear and accessible, with standard fonts and a pleasing aesthetic. The books are displayed as relative thumbnails in the right-hand column. This location is fixed throughout the different webpages-when viewing in a standard non-mobile browser-and one click opens the text in the viewer, wherein the book can be manipulated in several ways, including full-screen view, easy page navigation, and sharing a link. A search box is present for keyword searching, but as is common for OCR with early printed books, does not function perfectly, as it returns some words present in the text, but not others. Another downside is the lack of an easily identifiable download option for each title and loss of features in the viewer when using a mobile device.
Below the viewer, bibliographic information is presented in a “Details” window. There is a link to the catalog record of the institution in the notes section of this box. An advantage of this resource is the copy-specific information contained in the records. One of the best features of the exhibit, which utilizes the flexibility of the media, is to unite the illustrations of the editions into easily accessible groupings, i.e. one point of access for the differing images of the “Zodiac Man”. These groupings grant the user the ability to quickly compare the evolution of the images, an aspect which is not easily achievable with physical copies, especially if a library does not have all editions. Regarding the completeness of the collection, it should be noted that this institution lacks the first edition of 1491 and the subsequent of 1493. This absence is felt when viewing the exhibit, as it requires a shift outside the site to other digital copies or consultation of physical volumes. This could be rectified through the inclusion of links to outside digital copies.
Students, librarians, and scholars of the history of printing and medicine can benefit from this resource. The informative essays illuminate the digitized books, and there are hyperlinks in these texts to the digital copies. These links provide a transition between academic content and image. The content fits the audience, and the exhibit serves to highlight the collections of the library and to present information in a way that expands beyond the limits of traditional exhibits. The goal of the exhibit is stated in the ‘About’ section, being a ‘colophon’ which also provides necessary information about the platform, the process, and the staff involved in its creation. While focusing on only one title, the exhibit succeeds in meeting the stated mission, and contextualizes the content of one important book in the history of medicine in Early Modern Europe.