A BBC News item caught my eye.
One of the most important collections of Anglo-Saxon manuscripts – for centuries kept at Corpus Christi College in Cambridge – has been entirely digitised, and is now available on the internet.
The college’s Parker Library holds more than 550 documents – including the 6th Century St Augustine Gospels, and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the earliest history written in English.
Sounds exciting, hey?
Well, it isn’t. True, the manuscripts have been photographed. True the images are web-connected. But no, you can’t see them. All you can see is low-resoltution images where the text is too fuzzy to read. All the indexes, list of contents, are all locked.
Why not? Well, just guess. That’s right — money money money. They want to be paid.
Corpus Christi College consumes substantial quantities of public money each year. It is, in theory, a private institution. In practice it is almost entirely reliant on the tax payer. There is something a little distasteful about a body so hugely privileged for centuries, indeed from the time of Henry VIII on, engaged in trying to charge the man in the street for access.
Whether what they are doing is immoral I do not know. But it does compare very unfavourably with Google books, Google streetview, Google mail, with the GPS satellite navigation… the list of US-based generosity could go on indefinitely. If those items had been UK-based, they would all be charging for access.
I don’t want to pillory those involved. But I feel sadness all the same. It feels so small-minded, so ignoble, to prevent the ordinary man from reading the pages. It’s not as if anyone but institutions will ever subscribe anyway.
The gentlemen of Corpus of a previous generation would have considered such money-grabbing ungentlemanly. It is a pity that Corpus today, for whatever reason, does not feel the same.
The website is here, for all the use it is.