From my diary

Cambridge University Library is going to put Codex Bezae online, or so I read in a Daily Telegraph story.   Better still, they’re preparing to put all their books online, and make them freely available.  That’s what we want to hear.

Anne Jarvis, the university Librarian, said that the exciting new plans would open up priceless collections to students worldwide.

She said: “Our library contains evidence of some of the greatest ideas and discoveries over two millennia.

“We want to make it accessible to anyone, anywhere in the world with an internet connection and a thirst for knowledge.

Good for them!  Codex Bezae will be in the first tranche, as — at little pointlessly — will be a Gutenberg bible. 

I hope they attract lots of funding.  This will be the first UK library to take mass free access seriously, and if they do it, will probably guarantee the existence of the library into the digital age.

Dan Wallace and the chaps at CSNTM who photograph manuscripts of the bible were in Cambridge trying to negotiate access.  I suspect their efforts — seemingly fruitless at the time — probably helped change minds and create expectations at CUL.

I’m increasingly impressed with what Anne Jarvis is doing.  I’ve just discovered that even people like me — readers not part of the university — can use the library Wifi network if we get a ‘Lapwing ticket’, valid for a limited period.  It doesn’t look as if they charge, either, which is as it should be.  Lack of access to electronic resources is a real pain for the occasional visitor, and they have addressed it.

I have also received my copy of Croke and Harries, Religious conflict in fourth century Rome, and started to read it.  Lots of excellent texts in translation. 

But it’s much too sunny today to be sat in doors, so I went off to Norwich today instead.


11 thoughts on “From my diary

  1. I’ve quite extensively quoted you Roger. Hope that’s OK, let me know if not, or if I’ve got any details wrong, or if you wish to add anything of course….

  2. Roger – I came across this post via a routine Google search I’ve set up on Cambridge University Library. I’m managing the new digital library project for CUL so thought it useful to provide a bit of clarification. Our intention is not to put our complete holdings of millions of books online – this would require a vast amount of funding and we wouldn’t want to duplicate material freely available elsewhere (e.g. via Google or the Internet Archive). Instead we’re concentrating our efforts and limited resources on our special collections – mostly on MSS material and initially, as the Telegraph article describes, in two areas the library collections are especially strong in: ‘faith’ (i.e. Jewish, Christian and Islamic texts) and early modern ‘science’ (chiefly Newton and his contemporaries). The development of a substantial, world-class digital library is a long-held ambition of CUL but one we are only now able to implement given the generous seed funding from Dr Polonsky. You’re quite right in saying that the library is committed to making the treasures it digitises as openly accessable as possible and we will be undertaking further fundraising to enable us to extend this programme. I should add, however, that it will be some while before the manuscripts are available online as we will be concentrating on building the technical infrastructure over the next 18 months. If you wish to know more, please feel free to drop me an email. Best wishes, Grant Young (Digitisation and Digital Preservation Specialist, Cambridge University Library,

  3. Thanks for the note!

    The clarification is helpful to know. Mind you, just digitising the special collections is a thoroughly good idea. I do hope they will be placed online in a format that is actually optimised for usability, rather than the opposite (often laughingly called “security” — i.e. unusability). We have too many sites engaged in spending vast sums, when all researchers really need is a PDF.

    The concentration on Jewish and Islamic material is a little surprising. Both are fringe interests, surely? But I imagine funding could be easier to come by for Islamic texts, tho, in which case go for it. I suppose people might be interested in biblical mss as well, and therefore willing to help out – again, why not?

    I’d like to know more about the infrastructure design. I’ll drop you a line.

  4. Hi Roger. Alongside its important Christian collections, Cambridge has some very significant collections of Islamic and Jewish manuscripts accumulated over the centuries. These command a lot of scholarly interest, so are far from margional for us. Thanks for your note about infrastructure – which we’re certainly intending to be as usable (in good sense) as we can achieve. I’ll try to reply in a couple of days with a bit more detail about this. Best wishes, Grant

  5. One thought has just struck me. I don’t know whether the *catalogues* of these collections are online (if only as PDF’s of page images, as the Bibliotheque National Francais do with their oriental collections). If not, that ought to be scooped up in this, I think. The special collections are not in Newton, as far as I recall?

  6. Thanks Roger

    Some of our manuscripts are included in Newton; some in Janus (archives catalogue); but many are not yet electronically catalogued. We have, like the BNF, scanned some of printed catalogues – see and we currently have projects aimed at improving electronic access to the Hebrew and Arabic manuscripts. The project we annoucned will build on some of these initiatives.

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