Napier University. the Book: A CD-ROM History

Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

Napier University. the Book: A CD-ROM History


Edinburgh: Scottish Centre for the Book, 2001; 20.00 [pounds sterling] (Mac/PC CD-ROM). ISBN 1-84278-035-2.

This so-called multimedia essay claims to provide a general introduction to the history of the book. It was produced by the Scottish Centre for the Book at Napier University in Edinburgh and supported by funds from the British National Lottery and the Scottish Cultural Resources Access Network. More than 350,000,000 [pounds sterling] of lottery money was spent on 1,500 projects in 2000 and you have to wonder at examples like this, at the public money used in this way, and at the scholarly time invested in it. Napier University and the Scottish Centre for the Book do fine work in the history of the book but with this CD-ROM it is a case of not that the project was done well or badly but that it was done at all.

Book means printed book in this CD-ROM and is deemed to cover the period from 1500 to 2000, at which point the "triumph of electronic media" overturns it. On the evidence presented here, I doubt that. At best, it can be said that the new medium has a long way to go and that, at least in the transitional stages, it requires the support of its ancestor. What this CD-ROM needs above all is a map, preferably a paper insert in the CD box, to help you find your way around what is available. Without it you are forever turning back upon yourself, following links that lead to links that take you back to where you began. As a series of links it is excellent. What is missing is the promised essay substance to fill in the headings. The focus is Scottish, but not exclusively so. Where a Scottish example exists they use it. Otherwise they are flexible enough to look south of the border. As always, the more you know about a subject the easier it is to find errors: the 130-word entry on the Dictionary of National Biography contains three mistakes.

I began at "Starting points"--Publishing, Production, Typography, Illustration, and Bookselling. It's difficult to resist the links, that lead to links that lead to links. It all becomes a jumble in your mind: oh for pages to turn one by one in a sequence. "Publishing" led, amongst other things, to "Copyright" and a very general overview. "People" is a series of 35 sketches of individuals and links, including John Baskerville, Thomas Bewick, William Caxton, George Cruikshank, Louis Daguerre, Eric Gill, and William Morris: one of the better sections, however random the subjects. …

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