|HMML: Frequently Asked Questions|
What is the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library?
The Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML), located at Saint John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota, has created the world's largest archive of manuscript photographs. HMML staff travel the world to identify important manuscript libraries that need photographic preservation. HMML's archives now contain more than 115,000 complete manuscripts, totaling more than 40,000,000 manuscript pages.
When was HMML founded and why?
HMML was founded in 1965 to microfilm Benedictine libraries in Austria and Germany. With memories of World War II still vivid, and fearing the outbreak of nuclear war in Europe, the monks of Saint John's Abbey were worried that Benedictine patrimony would be destroyed. The project quickly spread beyond Benedictine and religious libraries, however, and eventually beyond Europe. A major project began in Ethiopia in the 1970s, and since 2003, HMML has been working also in the Middle East and India.
What is HMML's current mission?
The primary mission of HMML is to preserve the contents of endangered manuscripts through high-quality digital photography. HMML also photographs remote or inaccessible manuscript collections to provide scholarly access. By cataloging its holdings and making copies of the manuscripts available to scholars, HMML encourages research on manuscripts and the cultures that produced them. HMML's collections of rare and reference works, prints and art objects, including the folios of The Saint John's Bible [[hyperlink]], support study of the book arts, traditional and modern religious art, and related fields.
Is HMML conducting imaging work now?
HMML is currently carrying out preservation projects in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa. See http://www.hmml.org/preservation/Projects.htm.
I've heard stories of HMML's staff spending years in Europe photographing manuscripts. Is this still going on?
HMML now hires and trains local technicians to carry out manuscript digitization. With modern means of communication, HMML can maintain close contact with each field project. HMML also has local field directors who provide closer supervision where needed. HMML staff travel regularly throughout Europe, the Middle East, Ethiopia, and India to monitor progress and locate new collections for digitization.
How does HMML decide which manuscripts to preserve?
HMML applies the following criteria when deciding to pursue a specific project:
How does HMML support itself?
HMML is a non-governmental, not-for-profit organization. Our mission is to rescue and preserve historic handwritten cultural materials. HMML is supported by the generosity of foundations and individual donors who support its mission. Service fees charged to scholars for copies of manuscripts constitute about 1% of HMML's annual revenue.
What do you mean by 'manuscript'?
Normally this means a handwritten text, or collection of texts, bound into book form. Printed books exist in multiple copies, but each manuscript is a unique creation. Even if it contains a frequently-copied text, the manuscript will often bear information about its owners, about its scribe, about important events in the places associated with it. The binding itself says much about the culture which produced it.
Preserve manuscripts from what?
Most historic manuscripts have not survived. Fire, war, persecution, political upheaval, technological change, and neglect have been the principal threats. Manuscripts have always been favorite targets for theft and illegal export, encouraged today by the thriving market for rare books in economically developed countries.
Why preserve photographs of manuscripts?
In the past, western museums, libraries, and private collectors acquired manuscripts from the Middle East, Ethiopia, and other regions by means that would be illegal or at least unethical today. As a result, entire collections were alienated from their original communities. HMML believes that manuscripts should remain in their communities and countries of origin. High-quality digital imaging ensures that the contents of manuscripts, including even minor details, will be preserved for centuries to come and readily available for research.
Who owns the publication rights for the manuscript images?
HMML signs a contract with each owning library reserving permission for publication of images to the owners of the manuscripts. Scholars may consult all images at HMML, and HMML may also make copies of manuscripts for scholars, who must agree to conditions of use reserving the publication rights to the owners. HMML may also place sample images on its website as a complement to other information in OLIVER, HMML's online manuscript catalog. If scholars wish to publish images, HMML will facilitate contact with the owning library.
Is HMML still using microfilm?
HMML began its work in 1965 using bi-tonal microfilm, and made the transition to color digital imaging in 2003. Digital imaging offers greater cost-efficiency and images that are higher-resolution than microfilm. Digital images also allow for easier access by scholars all over the world.
Will HMML digitize its microfilm collection?
HMML digitizes microfilms on demand for scholars but has no plans for a comprehensive digitization campaign for the microfilm collection.
How long will the digital images last?
For all of its advantages, digital imaging does pose the challenge of long-term archiving and retrieval. Storage media change (floppy disks to diskettes to CDs to DVDs to flash drives to….). HMML has a long-term archiving plan, and regularly refreshes its digital data, backing it up in multiple media stored in several locations both on- and off-site.
Can researchers get copies of the manuscripts in HMML's collection?
Yes. Scholars can order copies of manuscripts from HMML in a resolution suitable for close study of the manuscript. Copies of highest-resolution images or permission to publish images can be obtained only with the permission of the owning library.
Is HMML a religious institution?
HMML is part of Saint John's University, a liberal arts institution sponsored by the Benedictine monks of Saint John's Abbey. HMML itself is a non-profit research institution supported by generous individuals and foundations. HMML's holdings are related primarily to various Christian cultures, but HMML always photographs all manuscripts found in a particular collection, whether they are on religious subjects or not, and whether they are specifically Christian or not. HMML's holdings are rich in materials on history, philosophy, grammar, science, music and the other fields of human endeavor preserved in handwritten form. Much of HMML's work has been in places of historic cultural interaction or conflict, and its holdings have abundant material on relations between Christianity and Islam (in Spain, Malta, the Middle East, Ethiopia) or Christianity and Hinduism (India).
We have a manuscript collection that we'd like HMML to photograph for preservation purposes. How do we pursue that possibility?
Your manuscript collection is a suitable candidate for HMML to preserve if: