MMMONK: monastic manuscripts made accessible online

Safeguarding medieval manuscripts - real monk’s work? The MMMONK project is providing online access to digital images from no fewer than 734 medieval monastic manuscripts, and bringing them all together in a virtual library. Bruges Public Library, Ghent University Library, the Major Seminary Ten Duinen in Bruges and the Diocese of Ghent are joining forces to achieve this goal.


MMMONK stands for Medieval Monastic Manuscripts – Open – Network – Knowledge. This open digital access project coordinated by Bruges Public Library is gathering and digitising medieval manuscripts from the abbeys of Ten Duinen, Ter Doest, Saint Peter’s and Saint Bavo’s, and presenting them online.

Photo: Bruges Public Library, Ms. 108, f. 128r

Photo: Bruges Public Library, Ms. 108, f. 128r

What makes this digitisation so challenging is that manuscripts are very diverse with different spines, dimensions and maximum allowable opening angles, all made from very fragile materials.

Once the manuscripts have been digitised, the project aims to provide sustainable and open access, making them available through a virtual library and knowledge platform. The International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) will have a central role in this.

What is IIIF?

IIIF is an internationally accepted framework of APIs (application programming interfaces) that allows enriched images to be made available and accessed online. What does this mean, exactly? The Image API makes it possible to request different forms of an image via a URL (website address), zoom in on images, choose the size for displaying the image, and select which part of the image to display. No new image files are created here; actions are performed on the same image in real time. The Presentation API ensures that a heritage object is displayed correctly on screen and provided with metadata to identify it and determine its rights status. It can also be used to enrich images with annotations.

This standard makes it possible to digitally combine images from different collections. MMMONK is pioneering this process in Belgium and aiming to develop an IIIF roadmap that other Flemish heritage libraries can use as well.

Want to find out more about IIIF? Join the IIIF interest group (link in Dutch) and attend an IIIF Friday. IIIF Fridays are meetings in which various aspects of the emerging image standard are highlighted.

Our role

We have an advisory role in this project and are sharing our IIIF and digitisation expertise. We’re doing this primarily by taking part in the advisory group in the first and second phases of the project. In phase three we will start helping to create documentation on the use of IIIF for:

  • image users:

    • How can you use the IIIF APIs?

    • How can you use IIIF for images on websites?

  • and managing bodies:

    • What are the possibilities for supporting/implementing IIIF in various systems?

Finally, we will also help to organise workshops or info sessions about the principles for using (IIIF) images.


Phase 1 - March 2019 to October 2020

In the first phase, the project set up a digitisation initiative and carried out extensive digitisation processes. This phase ended in October with 198 digitised manuscripts: 122 from the Bruges Public Library and 76 from the Major Seminary Ten Duinen.

Check out how the manuscripts are digitised:

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An IIIF service was also set up to provide access to the images. We ultimately opted for Shared Canvas (link in Dutch) – a service run by Ghent University Library.

Phase 2 - November 2020 to November 2021

We soon started digitising more medieval sources again at the start of the second phase, and had already digitised 329 manuscripts by March 2021. One notable change in the process here was that we adapted the set-up to also enable the digitisation of large formats. In this phase we also worked hard on:

  • contextualising the corpus;

  • enriching the metadata;

  • setting up a project website.

Finally, we also organised a round of discussions with various target groups on how they want to use IIIF. These target groups include researchers, heritage bodies and educational institutions. The provisional conclusion based on advisory board recommendations, individual discussions and sector events (e.g. IIIF Fridays) is that many of these target groups are hesitant to start working with IIIF. This is because they cannot rely on an extensive IT infrastructure or do not have sufficient expertise in IIIF development.

Phase 3 - end of September 2022

In the third phase, MMMONK therefore wants to focus on developing or modifying standalone tools that have a large underlying infrastructure and serve a single clear purpose with as few dependencies as possible. The main focus is on large websites within the heritage sector. In particular, MMMONK is aiming to experiment in a number of specific areas:

  • searching the IIIF Manifest and the IIIF Search API;

  • presenting various annotation layers;

  • guided viewing apps for book collections;

  • re-using IIIF images.

This ensures the project is committed to raising awareness about the possibilities of IIIF and adapting existing tools to make them more user-friendly.

This third phase was approved at the start of July 2021. You can find more information here (link in Dutch).


Do you have a question?
Contact Nastasia Vanderperren
Expertise Officer
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