Magazine article Information Today

British Library Initiatives: Turning the Pages

Magazine article Information Today

British Library Initiatives: Turning the Pages

Article excerpt

In a flurry of announcements, The British Library (BL) has released details of four projects that make material from the library and other collections available to researchers and users around the world.

Anyone who visits The British Library Exhibition Galleries at the new St. Pancras headquarters in London will surely be impressed by the technology and images presented in the Turning the Pages project. This unique exhibit makes images of some of the world's great treasures available to the public with technology that allows visitors to turn the pages of a digital document on a touch-screen display.

In April, this technology was brought to a worldwide audience with the online launch of Turning the Pages. Web users can turn pages with the mouse, zoom in on images with a magnifying glass, read descriptive information, or listen to audio descriptions for selected pages from the documents.

Ten manuscripts are featured in the collection. The oldest is the Lindisfarne Gospels, a work that dates to the early eighth century. Other Christian manuscripts include the Luttrell Psalter, Sforza Hours, and Sherbourne Missal. Other world faiths are represented by the Diamond Sutra (Buddhism), Sultan Baybars' Qur'an (Islam), and the Golden Haggadah (Judaism). Three scientific works are also included: Leonardo da Vinci's Notebook; a 16th-century anatomical treatise; and Blackwell's Herbal, an 18th-century botanical text. More manuscripts will be released later this year.

The collection is available to the public at http://www.bl.uk/collections/treasures/ digitisation6.html and requires Macromedia Shockwave version 8.5. BL is also making the technology available to other institutions, with versions for kiosk, Internet, or CD-ROM platforms. Prices range from $179 per page for a one-off Turning the Pages 3-D kiosk application (for a 500-page book) to $1,800 per page for a shorter VirtualBook application that includes voice-over and commentary. In June, the National Library of Ireland is planning to use the technology for an exhibition on James Joyce.

Archives Program

On April 7, BL announced the Endangered Archives Programme, an $18 million project to preserve threatened records around the world. In conjunction with the Lisbet Rausing Charitable Trust and a team of international experts, a BL archives team will attempt to identify endangered archives and assist in the relocation to their cultural home. The program starts this fall and will run for around 8 years. The first grants are expected to be awarded in early 2005.

The program hopes to counter threats to historical and cultural records from wars, natural disasters, ignorance, and neglect. To avoid having the relocated collections suffer similar threats in the future, copies will be made and retained at The British Library, which will distribute further copies throughout the world.

The Lisbet Rausing Charitable Trust was founded by the family that created the Tetra Pak food-packaging company. It's one of Britain's newest trusts from its most wealthy family. The Endangered Archives Programme follows a $36 million Endangered Languages Project that the trust set up last year at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies.

Donors Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin said: "In many parts of the world, important cultural archives are under serious threat of extinction. We believe it is vital that these vulnerable cultural records are preserved to enable current and future generations to learn from the past. We must do it in a way that allows everyone access to the archival record, and we are delighted that The British Library--one of the world's leading archives--has agreed to be part of this important cultural project."

Captain Cook

A new Web site was launched in April that charts the life and voyages of Captain James Cook (http://www.captcook-ne .co.uk). It displays material from The British Library, the Captain Cook Birthplace Museum in Middlesbrough, and other archives in England's North East. …

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