ScriptSource attempts to include information on all the world’s scripts, characters and languages, not just the well-known ones. However each year some lesser-known languages die out, and there is a danger that the documentation of those languages dies out too, unless steps are taken to preserve it. Even well-known languages can lose valuable historical records and archives unless steps are taken to preserve them.

The  Endangered Archives Programme, administered by the British Library, was set up 10 years ago “to contribute to the preservation of archival material that is in danger of destruction, neglect or physical deterioration world-wide”. Their online collections now contain over three million images, including some beautiful illustrations of the world’s scripts.

A recent project was the digitisation of thousands of Tangut manuscripts, dating from the 12th and early 13th centuries, housed in the St Petersburg collection, the largest collection of Tangut manuscripts in the world.

Tangut manuscript: Maha praj napara mita sutra [10th century-13th century], Tang.334/201


The high-quality colour images of these manuscripts make it possible to appreciate the variety of writing styles and book formats used in the Tangut kingdom. Book forms include concertina manuscripts and scrolls.

By way of contrast, in 2009 a project was undertaken to digitise part of a manuscript collection at the Situs Kabuyutan Ciburuy, a scriptorium and centre for religious and literary education in Indonesia. These manuscripts, dating from the 14th to 17th centuries, are written in Sundanese. The collection includes lontar manuscripts made out of dried palm leaves.

Detail from Sundanese manuscript: Lontar, Kropak24


In this project, as well as documenting and photographing the collection, advice was given to the custodians of the original manuscripts on how to preserve and care for them.

Digitising manuscript collections provides a great service to script and language researchers. Whilst ScriptSource provides a breadth of information on the world’s scripts and languages, an online archive can enable a particular script, language or period of history to be researched in depth. It also ensures that valuable information from the past is preserved for the future.

Read more about the Endangered Archives programme at