Wednesday, March 04, 2009

From Chained Books to Global Access through Digitization

Imagine yourself as a student or scholar visiting a monastic library in the 16th century. The book you want to study is Nicolaus Perottus’ Cornucopiae ad Lectorum, a Latin Lexicon printed in 1506. Not only do you have to examine the book in an area lit only by candles or sunlight coming through small slits in the walls, the book is chained to a reading table. This catenati, an archaic Italian word for chained book, is an example of the value placed on books from the 15ththrough the 18th centuries, especially in the early days of printing when books were still uncommon. Ball State students and others can see this particular book, along with other examples of early and rare books, in the Archives and Special Collections unit at Bracken Library.

When I use these rare books in instructional sessions for a variety of classes, the students see how books, libraries, and knowledge have been transformed from limited access for only a privileged few to a world where information is available instantly and globally to everyone. From Johann Gutenberg’s invention of the movable type printing press in the 1450s, to the iPod, or the next great digital device, libraries have played a crucial role in making educational, informational, and even recreational content accessible to everyone. Access to a 16th century chained book alongside diverse digital resources ranging from video to photographs to scholarly publications illustrate the broad and transformative educational experience available for students through the University Libraries’ rich and diverse resources and services.

For example, a student coming to the Archives and Special Collections unit has the opportunity to examine actual illuminated manuscripts from the 14th century. The student can view a video and an online exhibit on his or her laptop from the Archive’s Web pages about the history of illuminated manuscripts and printing. The student can compare 14thcentury illumination with examples of recent digital art available in the Libraries’ Digital Media Repository,

The University Libraries are in the business of “unchaining” knowledge by expanding accessibility to resources. This is the place where the past, present, and future meet. Students can hold a 200-year old book in their hands and then access new digital materials instantly on a portable hand-held wireless device. The educational possibilities are unlimited.

For more information on the University Libraries’collection of rare books and manuscripts, view In the Archives: Rare Books and Manuscripts online video, featuring a discussion about rare books by Dr. Frank A. Felsenstein, the Reed D. Voran Distinguished Professor in the Humanities, and an online exhibit about rare books

For more information, contact John B. Straw, Assistant Dean for Digital Initiatives and Special Collections,, 765-285-5078.

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