The BASIRA team has passed another milestone, one we’ve been working to reach for almost two years. The new web-based platform for our data and image management is now operational; only minor revisions are yet to be completed. While this is a transition worthy of celebrating, merriment has to wait, because there are over 500 legacy records to update with our vastly expanded data model — work that requires careful attention, diligence, and above all, patience.
Plowing through hours of data entry has brought me to reflections on a word play: tedium and te deum. The Latin hymn, Te Deum Laudamus, I read, was traditionally sung on occasions of public rejoicing. Before we can properly celebrate, however, we must first complete hours and hours and hours of filling in new record fields — fields that describe a book’s binding, any text on their pages, the figures holding books, the artists who created the images, etcetera. Although the work is often repetitive, it also requires careful attention. I try to imagine the atmosphere in a medieval scriptorium, where a mental lapse could yield a dropped word or line. Thinking about the correlation between faithful tedium and work for the greater good helps keep me going. We hope that the result will be fruitful — that, sometime later this fall a useful database will be ready for public view. On that glad day, perhaps those of you interested in this exploration of books in art will join us in a heartfelt rendition of “Te Deum Laudamus.”
B. Williams Ellertson, August 2021