The advent of digital technologies is revolutionizing cataloging at a time when scholars pay ever greater attention to manuscripts as physical objects worthy of study in their own right. These developments also affect the field of Arabic manuscript studies, but also pose significant challenges: what features should be captured in the catalog entries? what metadata standards should be adopted? and how can we ensure interoperability between different standards?
We offer a reflection on these issues by presenting our own recent experience, first in the ERC-funded project to study the ‘Arabic commentaries on the Hippocratic Aphorisms’ and second in a pilot project to catalog the manuscripts in Arabic script in the Baillieu Library at the University of Melbourne. In this context, we present our way of adopting the Text Encoding Initiative standard of manuscript description, whilst comparing it with other digital cataloging initiatives. We also raise awareness about a new database of paratextual materials, called Ex(-)Libris Ex Oriente (ELEO), set up by Frédéric Bauden and his team at the Université de Liège. Finally, we speculate about how the new opportunities could be used in future projects such as one to study the textual and manuscript tradition of Avicenna’s Canon of Medicine.