We use a number of different strategies to increase the number of available offerings beyond those physically held at Villanova University including individual Digital Donations and contributions from Partners, like the American Catholic Historical Society. On the other hand, in selecting which materials to digitize from the Villanova University collections and the order and priority of digitization of these materials the needs of readers and researchers must be weighed heavily in calculating what and when to scan. While many scholars have a need to physically touch and manipulate a rare book or artifact to hunt out an elusive watermark or other textual evidence, others may be quite satisfied with a digital surrogate of a work. Distance can stand in the way as a hurdle to scholarship in this matter and sending rare books and manuscript materials via Interlibrary Loan presents significant difficulties in maintaining appropriate care and custody of the ofttimes fragile and monetarily valuable works. A way around this conundrum is to digitize materials that scholars request and to do so as immediately as practicable so as to provide the greatest access possible. We use demand driven digitization as a way to provide remote access to unique Villanova University materials, materials that have been collected through the years and which serve as a physical treasure chest of our collective wisdom and community heritage. Note the earlier article by Bente Polites on the Digital Library’s first request for remote access to a manuscript.
With the publication in 2007 of William Mahon’s Catalogue of Irish manuscripts in Villanova University, Pennsylvania new scholarly attention was focused on the Irish language materials held at Villanova University. Over the last year, 5 different scholars all working at colleges or universities in Ireland, have requested either entire or partial access to 7 of these manuscripts. Just a few years ago that would have meant expensive flights to Philadelphia; today we are able to provide the high level of access demanded by textual scholars by digitization at high resolution. And not only for access by one scholar, all can share in looking at these works, which can be viewed in the Digital Library Manuscript Collection.
One noteworthy requested item is the interesting Tri Biorghaoithe an Bhais or the Three Shafts of Death.
Written in the Irish language in 1630 by Geoffrey Keating (known in the Irish tongue as Seathrún Céitinn), the manuscript copy at Villanova was scribed by Diarmuid O’Connail in 1824 and so serves as a witness to the continued literacy and written tradition of the Irish language in this period. The work itself is a series of three meditations on death. Drawing on the Fathers of the Church including St. Jerome and St. Augustine, Keating held forth that there were 3 forms of death: bodily death, spiritual death, and eternal death. In describing death eternal he provided a tour of the hell of eternal suffering.