If you’re at all interested in book history, you’ve probably already heard about the Polonsky Foundation Digitization Project, which is currently digitizing and making available 1.5 million pages from the Vatican Library.
…and the Bodleian Library, but that’s not nearly as exciting.
Sure, it’s a little annoying that the Project won’t digitize everything, but at least the materials being digitized have been carefully selected. As explained on the “About” page of the official website:
Portions of the Bodleian and Vatican Libraries’ collections of Hebrew manuscripts, Greek manuscripts, and incunabula have been selected for digitization by a team of scholars and curators from around the world. The selection process has been informed by a balance of scholarly and practical concerns; conservation staff at the Bodleian and Vatican Libraries have worked with curators to assess not only the significance of the content, but the physical condition of the items, prioritizing items that are robust enough to withstand being transported to the imaging studio and handled by the photographers.
Suckishly, the materials that we really want digitized are probably the ones that aren’t “robust enough to withstand being transported.” Whatever. I’ll take what I can get.
Something kind of neat about this project is that the Vatican Library is typically thought of as Catholic and the Bodleian as Protestant. While these libraries certainly have their roots in those denominations, the Vatican and the Bodleian both hold a diverse range of texts, many of which don’t adhere to their founders’ traditional beliefs. Don’t believe me? Let my boyfriend, Christopher de Hamel, tell you how it is:
My favourite part of the work that’s been done so far is definitely the “Browse” page of the site. Most of the time, upon selecting a book on this page you’ll be presented with a brief summary of the book, as well as the book’s catalogue information (which will tell you how many leaves it has, what it’s made of, etc). It’s the summaries I love, though – they’re easy to read, but not in a condescending way. The summaries are your friends. More specifically, the summaries are those friends that you go to art galleries with, who tell you why you should care about each piece. They’re good to have around.
If you want to know how these books are being digitized, pay a visit to the Project’s blog. If you just want to go straight to poking around the Project’s official website, get to it! There are tons of essays, videos, and pictures to check out in addition to the digitized books themselves.