How the Djenné Library is Digitizing Ancient Manuscripts

Adjacent to the Great Mosque is the Djenné Manuscript Library, where books are being uploaded to the digital world

4d Heritage

The Library Garba4d Heritage

In 2009 an ambitious programme of digitisation began at this library, sponsored by the Endangered Archives Programme of the British Library.

Manuscripts Sandals of the Prophet4d Heritage

The Malian manuscripts have transformed the way we see African history. They bear witness to a highly developed medieval Sub-Saharan culture. Many of the manuscripts are copies of the Qur’an, which sometimes have beautiful calligraphy and decorations.

The Library The Manuscript Collections4d Heritage

The library houses 10,000 manuscripts, each one still owned by 130 different Djenné families, which the Library stores in this room for safe-keeping.

Manuscripts In a Koran School4d Heritage

Manuscripts are for pupils ('talibés') in the Koran schools to learn by heart and recite passages of the Koran under the guidance of a teacher ('marabout'). Only after several years of recitation are they deemed to be worthy of understanding what they have learned.

Manuscripts In the Home4d Heritage

When not in use, manuscripts are usually stored in chests in private homes. Such storage leaves the manuscripts at risk from being gnawed by termites or ants, along with rotting in the humid air or flood water of the rainy season.

Manuscripts Annotated Manuscripts4d Heritage

Often the calligrapher that copied the manuscript from an earlier one had his own ideas of what the contents meant, resulting in extensive annotations. Here we have a scientific manuscript by the renowned Ahmad Baba of Timbuktu, with plenty of observation in the margins from the scholar who copied it.

Manuscripts Magic Manuscripts4d Heritage

Many Djenné manuscripts deal with magic incantations; they describe spells to make someone fall in love, gain riches or be protected from evil. They often have grids, involving numbers or writing taken from the Qur’an.

Manuscripts Trees4d Heritage

Every now and then manuscripts contain diagrams, as in this botanical manuscript.

Manuscripts Golden Manuscripts4d Heritage

Djenné's proximity to the gold trade means it was used to adorn up-market manuscripts. This copy of the Koran uses gold leaf to denote a new chapter, with gold triangles separating each verse.

Manuscripts Imru'al-Qais4d Heritage

The library contains numerous surprising documents, such as manuscripts written in Hebrew, and erotic verses of seduction by Imru'al-Qais, a pre-Islamic poet. Here Qais writes how a new lover is proving hard to get, which is keeping him awake at night!

The Library Digitisation4d Heritage

In this room manuscripts are photographed and uploaded onto the internet in accordance with internationally recognised archival rules of practice. In this manner almost half a million images have been saved for scholars and historians who will be able to consult the library’s treasures online.

The Library Cataloguing and Conservation4d Heritage

In an adjacent room, manuscripts are prepared for storage and to be digitally catalogued.

The Library Box Making4d Heritage

Manuscripts are placed in special acid-free boxes, so as to protect them from insects and humidity.

The Library Studying the Manuscripts4d Heritage

Librarians study the manuscripts and write up a description of their contents. The public and scholars are encouraged to consult the digitised manuscripts on screen in the digitising room. If they need to see the actual manuscript, this is brought to them from the Manuscript Room.

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