Vintage Books: Forgotten Gems Now Discoverable in the Digital Library

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‘Mark Twain once famously said:

there was but one solitary thing about the past worth remembering, and that was the fact that it is past and can’t be restored.

Well, over recent years, The British Library, working with Microsoft has embarked on an ambitious programme to digitise its collection of 19th century books.

There are now 65,000 titles available (that’s an incredible 25 million pages) of material ranging from works by famous names such as Dickens, Trollope and Hardy as well as many forgotten literary gems, all of which can now be printed on demand and purchased right here on Amazon

I share two examples of vintage books in the Britsh Library.

The Presumption of Law by a Lawyer and a Lady is now digitised and available at Amazon. Originally published in London in 1891 by Griffith and Farran.

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A Lawyer’s Secrets – tales by Herbert Lloyd was originally Published in London 1896 by Williams Andrews & Co. and is now digitised and available on Amazon..

Simply amazing that modern technology now allows online accessibility of a wide range of cultural material via large scale digitisation of things like manuscripts, records, historical and early printed and rare books, legal and academic texts, historical newspapers, picture and photo archives and graphic collections to name a few all usually free of charge. Large scale digital access means a worldwide public can read and research far more widely from sources all over the world often downloading instantly.

From the Digitized Archives, Manuscripts and Unpublished Documents at British Library: Manuscript Cotton MS Nero A I, ff 70–177. These folios contain a series of legal texts copied in the early eleventh century (emphasis added) in the circle of Wulfstan, bishop of Worcester and archbishop of York.  Wulfstan’s own hand has been detected adding to and correcting texts, for example on f. 120r (see Ker, Catalogue (1957), p. 164). Later 12th century to 13th century additions can be found on  ….

How good is it that organisations can do this individually or through private and public sector partnerships?  How fundamentally significant is this democratisation of access to knowledge and culture through international cooperation. National Library Collections and various other Internet Archives such as Google Books and Amazon are all players in this digital process. See, for instance, the Austrian National Library and Google: Putting 600,000 Books Online: the Large-Scale Digitisation Partnership between the Austrian National Library and Google

Some examples:

UK: British Library A wealth of books and texts can be accessed for research purposes, both online and on site at the British Library, St Pancras. The diverse collections available for use include Anglo-Saxon manuscripts, Renaissance scriptures, India Office Lists, Privy Council Papers, as well as some 65,000 digitised volumes of 19th century books, including literature, historical and philosophical works. British Library – Digital Collections

France:  Gallica is one of the major digital libraries available for free via the Internet. It provides access to any type of document: printed documents (books, press and magazines) in image and text mode, manuscripts, sound and iconographic documents, maps and plans.

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Gallica is intended to all readers, whether users just having a look, book lovers, students or academics. Gallica – Bibliotheque Nationale de France – Digital Library

USA – Library of Congress: Chronicling America – Library of Congress

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Some other examples:

Archival and Historical Library Collections – Royal College of Physicians

Collection Digitisation – National Library Australia

Austrian National Library – Österreichische Nationalbibliothek

Digitising the Library’s Collection – State Library of NSW (Australia)

Project Gutenberg

Without widespread mass digitisation it would be nigh impossible to access either Presumption of Law or A Lawyer’s Secrets, both written and published over 120 years ago, without attending the British library or finding a copy of the book.

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