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Digitisation

An overview of the Library's digitisation strategy with some current examples, including the International Dunhuang Project and Turning the Pages.

For the past two decades, the British Library has been involved in digitisation. More recently, we have entered the world of mass digitisation in partnership with external funding bodies and technology providers. Through digitisation, we are creating a valuable and enduring resource for scholars and the public alike. We estimate that this digitisation activity to date represents less than 1% of our total collection. We want to build on our achievements by maintaining and extending our digitisation programme.

Digitisation underpins the Library's corporate strategy, including our content strategy and digital library programme, and these will inform our thinking as we develop our strategy to 2020.

Aims of digitisation

By digitising our collection we will:

  • Open up access to content in the British Library’s collection for researchers
  • Create a critical mass of digitised content
  • Add value to, and open up previously unimagined areas for research
  • Support innovative methods of research
  • Facilitate the interpretation of our content by others for new audiences
  • Make it easier to discover our content
  • Make our content more visible and increase use
  • Preserve unique, rare and fragile heritage items by digital reproduction and protect vulnerable documents
  • Reveal illegible and hidden text or images and permit non-intrusive testing of materials
  • Generate income to help sustain our long-term digitisation programme

Scope

The strategy covers all materials originally produced in non-digital form (e.g. printed matter of all kinds, manuscripts, photographs, drawings, paintings, sound recordings, microforms), the digitisation of which would fulfil one or more of the aims listed above. The materials may be:

  • owned by the Library
  • deposited with the Library
  • owned by a collaborative partner of the Library
  • owned by a commercial partner of the Library

Some current examples

Current examples of digitisation include:

  • British Newspaper Archive (with brightsolid)
  • Treasures in Full series (Gutenberg, Caxton etc.)
  • Online Gallery
  • Sounds
  • Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts
  • Database of Bookbindings
  • Codex Sinaiticus

The International Dunhuang Project

 

The International Dunhuang Project (IDP) was established in 1993 following a meeting in the UK of conservators and curators from all those institutions holding major collections of manuscripts, artefacts and archives from Dunhuang and other archaeological sites of the Eastern Silk Road, excavated in the early 20th century. Its aim is to promote the study and preservation of this legacy through international co-operation, using digitisation to ensure preservation while widening access.

IDP went online in 1998. As of 2011, IDP has eight Centres in the UK, China, Japan, Korea, Russia, France and Germany with its Directorate at the British Library. The Centres host synchronised databases and local-language websites all giving free access to over 320,000 images of over 120,000 items with rich metadata. These include over 40,000 manuscripts and 15,000 photographs in the Stein Central Asian collection at the British Library. Items from over twenty other collaborating members are also available through their sites. IDP is largely externally-funded.

IDP aims to reach out to all audiences and offers scholarly and educational resources and tools. From 2012 onwards IDP is updating its system and opening up its data with APIs to give its users more functionality and to allow them to use the IDP data more flexibly.

Turning the PagesTM

Turning the pages of a medieval manuscript

Turning the pages of a medieval manuscript

Turning the PagesTM is a system that uses computer animation, high-quality digitised images and touch screen technology to simulate the action of turning the page of a book.

Turning the Pages allows visitors to the Exhibition galleries at St Pancras greater access to the Library's treasures. Traditionally, visitors to the Library's galleries have been limited to looking at books from the collection in display cases - and even then it is only possible to view one opening at a time.

Turning the Pages is also available on our website, and as a commercial service to institutions and private collectors around the world.

The example shown here is from the Sforza Hours, one of our outstanding Renaissance treasures.

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