A cataloger’s farewell — Diane Biunno

SkullSmackdown contestants Diane Biunno (l.) and Erin Connelly, with array of Day-of-the-Dead themed treats.
SkullSmackdown contestants Diane Biunno (l.) and Erin Connelly, with array of Day-of-the-Dead themed treats.
The Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis catalogers have enriched the project’s social media feeds since they began their work, tweeting the finds that surprise, delight, and excite them using the hashtag #bibliophilly. One of the most prolific of these has been Diane Biunno (@dianebiunno on Twitter). Based at the Free Library of Philadelphia, she has shared manuscripts large and small, glorious miniatures, charming marginalia, bindings, stains, repairs, and other examples of the weird and wonderful ways in which these manuscripts were created and used. She found a lot of images of skulls in those manuscripts, prompting a light-hearted #skullsmackdown competition with fellow cataloger Erin Connelly. (Diane won.)


Alas, we have just lost Diane to another assignment; she has moved to the Penn Museum to work on their Tikal project. We will miss her dreadfully, but are hoping that she will share new wonders from this iconic Maya site.

Here is Diane’s farewell message to the Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis project.

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BiblioPhilly and the “Library of Stains”

CLIR postdoctoral fellow and BiblioPhilly cataloger Erin F. Connelly is known in the history of science community for her work on medieval medicine, especially #ancientbiotics, but she also has a scholarly appetite for stains. Here she is with the subject of her dissertation, The Lylye of Medicynes, and with some of the stains that grace its pages. [Click to reach her actual tweet.]

Since last fall, Connelly has  been part of The Stains Project, also known as Labeculae Vivae (Stains Alive), together with colleagues Alberto Campagnolo (CLIR fellow, Library of Congress) and Heather Wacha (CLIR fellow, University of Wisconsin – Madison). The project focuses on “dirty” old books and the stains found in them, using them as a tool for gathering scientific data that will provide clues to how previous generations used and stored their reading material. This project examines a variety of stains found on parchment, paper, and bindings from medieval manuscripts, in some cases using multispectral imaging to yield even more information.

Why stains?

Notes project co-founder Wacha, “The Library of Stains project is conceived broadly as a first foray into providing a fixed dataset for characterized stains that are commonly found on manuscripts, a sound methodology for the replication of gathering and analyzing the data, and a clear explanation for how to implement and use the database as a means to further the study of medieval manuscripts and their conservation. In so doing, the Library of Stains hopes to equip scholars with additional tools for analyzing their manuscripts vis à vis provenance, use, transmission, preservation and materiality.”

Like our own books, which are likely to carry the remains of yesterday’s lunch and other nonliterary evidence of our reading habits, the more than 400 BiblioPhilly manuscripts include many messy texts — not surprising, considering that many of them have been used regularly as working texts by teachers, students, and scientists. Working on the metadata for some of these manuscripts provides a natural hunting ground for Connelly: spills, wax drippings, fingerprints, dead bugs, and other enhancements of well-thumbed manuscripts (she also keeps an eye out for tears and repairs). Here are a few of her recent BiblioPhilly finds:

The Library of Stains  has been funded by a Postdoctoral Fellowship micro-grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), whose generous funding has also made BiblioPhilly possible. Both the Library of Stains and BiblioPhilly are made possible by funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Bonus links:

And now — the BiblioPhilly Randomizer!


When Dot Porter, co-principal investigator on the Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis project, sends you an email saying “I made a thing, ” you know it’s going to be glorious and you also know you’re about to head down the rabbit hole. Her current “thing” is a BiblioPhilly Randomizer, a sweet little script that pulls up a random image from among the tens of thousands of pages of medieval-y goodness currently on OPenn.

And oh, my, didn’t bibliophilly get lucky! The first random image to come up, pictured here, was The Temptation of Adam and Eve from Free Library of Philadelphia Lewis E123 (fol. 22v). Just feast your eyes on that! Eve is flaky, Adam needs a shave, and the serpent has breasts! (Late fifteenth-century French Book of Hours, more info at the link below.)

Randomize BiblioPhilly yourself here: http://tinyurl.com/bibliophilly-randomizer

Visit the OPenn page for Lewis E 123 and browse all the folios: http://openn.library.upenn.edu/Data/0023/html/lewis_e_123.html

Behold our one-hundredth manuscript — an amazing Dutch hybrid!

We’ve reached a major project milestone, with one hundred Western European medieval and early modern manuscripts now online in our Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis curated collection. The images and metadata are hosted by the Penn Libraries’ OPenn repository.

This represents a little less than 25% of the 450-plus manuscripts that will eventually be digitized and placed on OPenn. Currently more than half of the manuscripts have been imaged, with cataloging undergoing refinement and quality control.

All the BiblioPhilly images are free for the downloading in glorious high resolution or leisurely leafing through with a page-turning interface on the  PACSCL / Penn Libraries’ BiblioPhilly interface.   

Free Library of Philadelphia Lewis MS E 257, Book of Hours.
Free Library of Philadelphia Lewis MS E 257, Book of Hours.

The actual one-hundredth manuscript, Free Library of Philadelphia Lewis E 257, is remarkable in a number of ways. Let us count them:

First, it’s written in Middle Dutch — unlike many of the Latin or French Books of Hours collected in Philadelphia-area institutions.

But wait — there’s lots more! It was displayed as part of PACSCL’s 2001 exhibition, “Leaves of Gold.” Curator and catalog editor James R. Tanis [1] explained the many other ways this manuscript is special:

“Uncommon in several respects, this Dutch Book of Hours begins with the Hours of the Trinity, which, like the more common Hours of the Eternal Wisdom, are almost exclusively found in manuscripts from the northern Netherlands. Three different mediums meet in this unusual opening. On the right is a traditional, fully illuminated opening initial in the so-called aubergine style, with accompanying border decoration. In the upper right corner of this page a colorful bird looks down on a monkey riding a dog in the lower margin. On the facing page a very simply drawn and colored GnadenstuhlI (Throne-of-Grace) Trinity is surrounded by a metal-cut border. The popular monkey appears in the lower border, with a deer to the left of the miniature and a bird to the right.

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The Lighter Side of BiblioPhilly: SkullSmackdown!

It all started about this time last year, when Bibliophilly cataloger Erin Connelly began tweeting out gloomy images from the Office of the Dead sections of Books of Hours during Advent. (PACSCL amanuensis objected vehemently when so many lovely Nativity images could have been used instead.)

Fast forward to late summer this year, and BiblioPhilly cataloger Diane Biunno also posted some images of the dead. Someone suggested a scorekeeping contest — and #skullsmackdown was on.

Lewis E 206, f. 89r -- Erin Connelly's favorite skull. Now online in high resolution here: http://openn.library.upenn.edu/Data/0023/html/lewis_e_206.html
Lewis E 206, f. 89r — Erin Connelly’s favorite skull. Now online in high resolution here: http://openn.library.upenn.edu/Data/0023/html/lewis_e_206.html

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Want to digitize glorious manuscripts? Apply here!

Bryn Mawr College MS 24 (Lawrence Hours), fol. 21. Book of Hours for Cambrai Use, Flanders, 1440s, vellum, 7-7/8 x 5-9/16 inches (200 x 142 mm).
Bryn Mawr College MS 24 (Lawrence Hours), fol. 21. Book of Hours for Cambrai Use, Flanders, 1440s, vellum, 7-7/8 x 5-9/16 inches (200 x 142 mm).
Position: Digitization Assistant, Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis (BiblioPhilly)

Position Available
Special Collections Department
Library & Information Technology Services (LITS)
Bryn Mawr College


Hours: 15 – 20 hours per week, with hours to be worked during the Special Collections Department open hours (9:00 – 4:30, M-F). This is a grant-funded position that is tied to the completion of the work on the Bryn Mawr and Haverford medieval manuscripts. The duration of the project will depend on the number of hours worked per week, but we anticipate that the position will last between six and nine months.

Pay Rate: $17/hour

Position Description: The Bryn Mawr College Special Collections Department seeks applicants for a part-time, temporary position assisting with the digitization of medieval manuscripts for the Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis (BiblioPhilly) project. Working with medieval manuscripts from Bryn Mawr College as well as Haverford College, the work will involve digitization, post-processing, and quality control as well as assistance with submitting content to OPenn, the project’s manuscript portal. The Project Assistant reports to the Digital Collections Librarian, and works with the Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts and the Director of Special Collections. This is an excellent opportunity to work closely with a large number of medieval manuscripts, and may be of particular interest to those considering a special collections career.


Required: Bachelor’s degree; experience working with special collections found within libraries, archives and/or museums; ability to work with close attention to detail; familiarity with Adobe Photoshop; good manual dexterity with the ability to concentrate on tasks that require careful handling of delicate materials; and the ability to stand for prolonged periods using an overhead book scanner.

Preferred: Currently enrolled in, or recent graduate of, Masters program in Library and/or Information Science; familiarity with digital imaging of special collections and digitization software (including Adobe Bridge) as well as overhead book scanners; experience handling special collections; an interest in medieval manuscripts.

To apply, submit cover letter, resume, and names and contact information for three references to: