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Detail from a Glossed Psalter, Laon, France, ca. 1100  (image via  UPenn Libraries)Who would have thought that the University of Pennsylvania's PennApps competition would produce an app beneficial to the rare book world?

PennApps is touted as the "premiere college hackathon" and it brings together 1,000 university students from more than 100 institutions across the globe for a 48-hour competition to create hacks and apps for web or mobile platforms.

This year three students from the University of Swarthmore—Amy Jin, Sam Zhang, and Zachary Lockett-Streiff—were awarded first place in the Data Visualization category for an app that tracks the provenance of rare manuscripts in the Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts.

The concept came to the team in a serendipitous manner. On the way to their work space, the team rode the elevator with a few of UPenn's librarians and chatted about the Schoenberg database. The librarians mentioned that the Van Pelt Library was working to improve and expand the database, and off the cuff asked the students if they were interested in making an app for the database. Jin, Zhang, and Lockett-Streiff jumped at the idea and created an application that tracks the provenance of the manuscripts in the database. The data is presented visually so that scholars can spot patterns in the manuscripts' movement.

"Our goal was to try and visualize the data.. mak it sexy," Zhang said. "It's kind of our attempt to give…a new perspective on all this old data that's been collecting over the years," said Jin.

I would love to take a look at the app! This sort of technological development has great potential for those involved in rare books and manuscripts. Although it was developed specifically for the Schoenberg Database, the app presents a template for tracking provenance that could be applied to other databases.


Swatties' Manuscript-Tracking App Takes Prize at UPenn Hackathon