Cataloging Ethiopian Materials

The prospects for cataloging materials in Ge’ez, Amharic, Tigre, and Tigrinya have greatly improved since the introduction of a system font, Nyala, on Microsoft Windows beginning with the Vista operating system released in 2007.  In 2009, I was able to start producing bibliographic metadata using the Ethiopic script directly, while still on a Windows XP machine in Yale University Library’s Technical Services.  The script came through as empty boxes, if not question marks, on the integrated library system, Voyager, but would show up correctly in certain browsers if a font was loaded to support it.  It would still be another four years before Connexion from OCLC (the Online Computer Library Center, based in Ohio) began to support records exchanged in Ethiopic script, but an alternative mechanism was available called OAI-PMH (Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting).  With the help of Yale colleague Kalee Sprague, as well as Daniel Yacob and the late Michael Kaplan of Microsoft, I sent the record out on this and let my cousin at Emory University know, and this became the first bibliographic record using Ethiopic script exchanged between institutions.  It can be found at:

In 2013, OCLC expanded its support to include Ethiopic script, as well as Armenian and Syriac, adding to its earlier repertoire that had introduced Tamil, Thai, Devanagari, and Bengali support in 2006.  Because of the variation in romanization systems, supporting Ethiopic script directly was a priority for users of Ethiopian and Eritrean material.  The system approved by the American Library Association and the Library of Congress avoids the use of schwas and umlauts, while transcription found in language learning materials and some published bibliographies makes use of both of these elements (Leslau 1967, Obolensky et al. 1964).

As of this writing, the authority records produced by the Program on Cooperative Cataloging (PCC) and maintained by the Library of Congress do not yet allow inclusion of the Ethiopic script.  Progress toward Optical Character Recognition (OCR) for the script has been moving ahead, however, in other quarters (

MSS28 Detail

Fig. 1.  Detail of Ethiopic MSS 28, Ethiopian scroll of spiritual healing,

held in the Beinecke Library at Yale University.

In 2018, with the assistance of Steven Delamarter of George Fox University and His Grace Ewostateos Gebre Kristos, Yale was able to enhance the metadata in its records for upwards of thirty Ethiopian manuscripts held in the Beinecke Library, using Ethiopic script directly.  One sample is available here:, with images of the scroll linked to from here:


Leslau, Wolf.  1967.  Amharic textbook.  (Wiesbaden:  Harrassowitz).

Obolensky, Serge, Debebow Zelelie, and Mulugeta Andualem.  1964.  Amharic:  Basic Course.  (Washington, DC:  Foreign Service Institute).

Riley, Charles L.  “Newly cataloged Ethiopic MSS at Yale’s Beinecke Library.”  2018.  Cataloging Africana (, viewed December 9, 2019.

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