The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 26, Number 1
Jun 2002


Gutenberg Bible Starts Down the Digital Track

The Library of Congress owns one of the three perfect copies of the Gutenberg Bible in the world. It is kept on display for the many visitors who want to get a close look at it. However, the Library of Congress does not let them touch the 1200-page book, turn the vellum pages, or turn up the light to see it better. No one is left alone with the book.

Mark Roosa, the Library's Preservation Director, was interviewed for the Washington Times in February. He said that the 550-year-old Bible was tremendously popular. "Whenever we have to take the cases out and service them, we always get a lot of complaints. People will drive here just to see the Gutenberg Bible." About one million people visit it each year.

Its extreme popularity and value are doubtless the reason the library plans to digitize the whole thing, covers and all. Putting it on CD-ROMs would make the book much more accessible to scholars, tourists, and students around the world; but the final format has not been decided yet.

Octavo, a company in Oakland, California, is working with the Library of Congress to create a state-of-the-art digital facsimile. Some pages have already been digitized, and can be viewed at The project will probably be finished this year. But the entire Bible may not be put on the Internet, because it is so long and because of the amount of computer memory required.

Domesday Book has Made its Final Run

The Observer had a story March 3, 2002, about the short career of the digital multimedia version of the Domesday Book, a list of taxable property in England, compiled in 1086 AD.

Special computers had been developed to play the 12-inch video discs of text, photographs, maps and archive footage of early British life. The project was completed 16 years ago at a cost of 2.5 million English pounds; but it is now unreadable because the computers are obsolete.

The original Domesday Book, however, is in fine condition in the Public Record Office, Kew, according to the Observer's story, and can be accessed by anyone who can read and has the right credentials.

But it would be premature to label the Domesday Project a lost cause. Computer expert Paul Wheatley has begun work on Camileon, a program aimed at recovering the data on the Domesday discs. "We are confident we will eventually be able to read all their images, maps and text," he said. "Unfortunately, we don't know what we will do after that." They may store the data on desktop computers, or find a way to emulate the data. Emulation is their preferred solution, even though Jeff Rothenberg of the Rand Corporation does not really expect it to be attainable: "There is currently no demonstrably viable technical solution to this problem; yet if it is not solved, our increasingly digital heritage is in grave risk of being lost."

NISO's Draft Digital Image Standard Released

The National Information Standards Organization (NISO) has released for trial use a draft of Z39.87, the Data Dictionary for Technical Metadata for Digital Still Images. The trial period for this national standard is June 1, 2002 through December 31, 2003. In developing the standard, NISO collaborated with the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM).

There are two goals for this data dictionary: to identify the data elements that would be used by applications to control transformations of images against states metrics for meaningful quality attributes, i.e. detail, tone, color, size, etc.; and to propose elements that would be used by digital depository managers, curators, or imaging specialists to assess the current aesthetic and functional values of a given image or collection of images. The ultimate purpose of this data dictionary is to define a standard set of metadata elements for digital images.

Standardizing the information should allow users to develop, exchange, and interpret digital image files.

To obtain a document of the proposed national standard, visit for a free download. Any other additional information may be obtained from NISO Headquarters by phone at 301/654-2512 or by e-mail at

Consortium to Rebuild Giant Buddha

In March 2001, the Taliban destroyed two immense statues of Buddha, carved into the face of a cliff and dating from the second to the fourth century. Shortly thereafter, an international consortium was formed under Unesco for the purpose of reconstructing the larger of the two statues (53.4 meters tall), as soon as the political climate permits it.

Accurate reconstruction will be facilitated with the aid of "geometric measuring photographs" made in 1970 by Prof. Robert Koska from the University of Graz, and leadership will be provided by the "Internet-Gesellschaft zur Bewahrung des Weltkuturerbes 'New Seven Wonders Foundation'" and the Afghanistan Institute and Museum in Switzerland. A scanning system will also be used (Vexcel Imaging, Graz).

More information on this project can be found in the German-language report on p. 155-156 of the March 2002 Restauro. It is heartening to learn that the Buddhas can be reconstructed, and that an international cooperative effort will make it happen.

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