DigiStylus: A Socio-Technical Approach to Teaching and Research in Paleography
Cartelli, Antonio, Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology
Since 2001 different web sites, to be used for research in paleography, have been planned and carried out. The online information systems underpinning the web sites were used to manage bibliographical data on medieval manuscripts and implemented the processes usually adopted from researchers for the collection of information.
The systems helped scholars in better analyzing the bibliographical information they collected and produced relevant effects on research. When analyzed by the DeLone and McLean model (2003) they would probably obtain good scores for the systems evaluation, but no assessment of their quality, efficacy, user satisfaction etc. was made.
No official motivation for the lack of the systems evaluation was given (i.e., they were made to answer to special needs), but those systems were used very soon to involve students in the management of bibliographical data and for teaching paleography. The reason for the above choice was the conviction that web technologies could be used for actively involve students in learning, in a sort of reviewed application of the J. Dewey (1916) pedagogical method. To establish whether the conditions for the application of Dewey's ideas were present in the new environments and to have a snapshot of the students' engagement, a short description of the web sites is reported below.
Women and written culture in the Middle Ages (Cartelli, Miglio, & Palma, 2001) manages the data on the women who wrote manuscripts in the Middle Ages, together with the manuscripts they wrote; sometimes, they also let people see the women's handwriting styles by means of suitable images. The database can be accessed only by the authors and allowed people for the input of the bibliographical data; the information contained in the database on the contrary, can be queried by everyone.
The Open Catalogue of Manuscripts of the Malatesiana Library (Cartelli, D'Altri, Errani, Palma, & Zanfini, 2008; Cartelli & Palma, 2002, 2003) is the most complex system among the ones created until now (it derives from the more general idea of an Open Catalogue and has been made up by the staff in the Malatestiana Library). It is made of different sections (i.e., every library can activate one or more sections depending on its resources), and each section is an autonomous system managing different kinds of information: a) first, there are the documents on the library and its manuscripts (the history of the library, the people who worked at the construction of the collections of the manuscripts etc.), b) the second section reproduces the manuscripts (possibly all the folios in all the books), with a resolution high enough to let scholars and scientists obtain any visual information they could like, without being forced to physically go to the library and getting the manuscripts at hand, c) the bibliography of the texts, the journals and all printed materials on the manuscripts in the library is managed in the third section, d) special communication subsystems like forum, chat etc. to be used from people studying the manuscripts in the library follow; they all aim at creating communities of interest, study and practice and at helping people in these communities to share ideas and information, to propose suggestions etc.
BMB on line (Cartelli & Palma, 2004), is a pure bibliographical information system which manages the quotations of Beneventan manuscripts. People engaged with the collection of the quotations of those manuscripts are grouped into three categories:
1. contributors , who can access web forms by writing, modifying and deleting bibliographical data;
2. scientific administrators, who can manage all data and write, modify, and certify bibliographical materials; this last operation being done only once, because certified records cannot be reviewed (the same operation makes bibliographical records available to general users);