News & Blog

Special Collections, Stepping out into a new Virtual World

Daryl Green is the Acting Rare Books Librarian for the University of St Andrews and the editor of the Special Collection’s Departmental blog Echoes from the Vault. He came to St Andrews in 2010 as a Rare Book Cataloguer and is currently organizing a large-scale retro-cataloguing project for the University’s 200,000 strong Rare Book Collection.

A wire frame model of St Andrews Cathedral, c. 12th century, developed by the Open Virtual Worlds project and designed by Sarah Kennedy.

No, this headline isn’t the plot of some low-budget 90′s science fiction film, we’re serious! Special Collections has teamed up with the Open Virtual Worlds team at St Andrews to bring our presence into the 4th dimension. For the past few years, a team of computer scientists, art historians (including Professor Richard FawcettDr Julian Luxford) and graphic designer Sarah Kennedy have been working on creating a virtual, to-scale model using an open source platform. This has resulted in the wonderful Virtual St Andrews Cathedral, which can be viewed, strolled through and interacted with using an OpenSim platform.

An early rendering of the exterior of the Cathedral, viewed from the south side, developed by the Open Virtual Worlds project and designed by Sarah Kennedy.

A behind-the-scenes shot at some of the software used to reconstruct the virtual Cathedral.

Earlier this year, the team’s co-ordinators, Alan Miller and Lisa Dow, sat down with members of Special Collections to see if and how we could get involved in this already very well developed resources. After a brief discussion, we realized that there was a great deal that we could do together, and so we developed some ideas for a short-term project:Flexible Access to Medieval Books (FAB). This project, designed for an MSc dissertation, will take a two pronged approach to integrating Special Collections into this new virtual environment: 1) we will identify what manuscripts and charters were known to have been in the Cathedral Priory in the 12th century (held both here at St Andrews and further afield), produce 3D object scans of each item, create a 3D representation of each book or charter and place them back in the Cathedral Priory’s book presses, and 2) a virtual exhibition space will be designed that will enable flexible access to Special Collections’ material, a space which will not be constrained by the same considerations of cost that a real world exhibition would.

A rendering of the cloisters of the Cathedral Priory, where it is known that the medieval book presses were located.

In order to get this new project off the ground, a collaborative project bid between Open Virtual Worlds in Computer Science, Special Collections and Art History was made to the SELF fund for technological support and guidance. We learned yesterday that the bid was successful, and so the project will be beginning very shortly! Watch this space for more information!