Give the Medieval Manuscript a “Like”!

By Giulio Menna

Giulio is an intern on the ‘Turning Over a New Leaf’ project, and a current student on the Book and Digital Media Studies MA program at the University of Leiden

Since I have been introduced to the beauty of these witnesses of the ancient past, I have been thinking about how to spread interest in manuscripts through the use of social media, photography, and any possible digital tool.

Some days ago, while on the hunt for tips to improve my personal blogs, I stumbled upon a great blog post by Shareaholic entitled ’20 Amazing Social Media and Blogging Stats of 2012′. Obviously, I started thinking about how it could be possible to apply this data to the subject of medieval manuscripts and the internet.

First things first, the most interesting article linked to by Shareaholic was, for me, that by Andrew Careaga, Director of Communications at Missouri University of Science and Technology. The article gives facts about how people react to websites. Relevant for me, because of my past in design studies, was the fact that in order to attract attention a website should be visually captivating and carefully designed. The same, of course, would apply to a website dedicated to manuscript studies.

The second most interesting aspect, in my opinion, is the impact of social media. It’s everywhere and it has to be considered. In the end, if the main aim is to spread the love for manuscripts, it has to be done where the people are: on Facebook and Twitter. Clearly, it’s important to reach out to the audience, but the article by Sharemetrics shows another important element: pages that are ‘liked’ on Facebook receive a boost in search engine ranking. While it’s difficult to do, making manuscripts posts go viral on Facebook could be a tactic to attract visitors to a manuscript-related website.

The impact of Facebook ‘likes’ lead to the next logical question: “How to do Social Media?” Erik Kwakkel has shown in his previous post on this blog, and a recent article on the University of Leiden website, how twitter can be effectively used to spread the word in academic fields, but as research shows “tweeting” and “facebooking” about our area of interest is something that responds to its own rules and strategies. Most interesting is the fact that statuses or tweets with images drive the highest engagement among users. So, we need manuscript images! Manuscript images everywhere! In fact, some libraries have turned to Flickr photostreams as a way to promote their collections, notably the Walters Art Museum and Balliol College Library, Oxford.

BL Royal 12Cxix, c.1200 © The British Library
The circulation of striking images like this on Twitter may be a way to promote medieval manuscripts.

Finally, what is the impact of ‘going mobile’? Research by Pew Internet and, most importantly, Google’s own statistics show that more and more internet browsing is being done on mobile platforms. If we want a website dedicated to medieval manuscripts to be popular not only now, but also into the future, this is a factor that cannot be ignored. From experience I know that creating a website that is optimized for both desktop and mobile browsing is difficult and, most importantly, expensive. Both the British Library (Royal Manuscripts app) and the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Famous Books app) have, however, recently created mobile browsing platforms that could provide a precedent in this field.

So, what does all this data tell us? Well, to begin with, it shows that promoting manuscripts in the digital wonderland can be tricky and requires a lot of time and technical knowledge. Even when a successful website has been created, it takes dedication to make sure that an appropriate audience is reached. It’s difficult but for the love of medieval manuscripts it should be done!

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