British Library to place 250,000 books online — thanks to Google

It seems that the BL will allow Google to place 250,000 books published between 1700 and 1870 online.  See AFP article here.

All the works will be available for text search download and reading on the British Library’s website and at Google Books on

The cost of digitising all 40 million pages will be borne by Google, which has entered similar partnerships with Stanford and Harvard universities in the United States as well as in the Netherlands, Italy and Austria.

BBC article is here, BL press release here (and do read a few other announcements first, and laugh to see how many merely repeat the press release).

This is good news.  More.


The British Library — whoring the national library?

They say a leopard cannot change its spots, and too often, this is so.  Over the last few years I have documented various outrageous examples of greed and cynicism by the British Library. 

The BL is, remember, a body entirely funded by the money of others.  That money is not given freely.  It is exacted by the state under threat of imprisonment from people who (in the main) cannot use the library or its facilities.  

Now there is an argument for a national library, as a centre of learning, funded by taxes in order to benefit everyone.  In the age of the internet, it could and should act like Google Books, placing books online in PDF’s to disseminate knowledge.

But that is not what the BL does.  Instead, those who control it keep trying to use the internet to get money, rather than to serve the nation.   Unlike the internet model, where everyone gives away content, they keep trying to exploit it commercially. 

Today I read this heading:  Put a thousand books from the British Library on your iPad for free.  Well, it’s not much, really — think of — but it’s something.  Although… why an iPad?

I just love finding apps like this, and I think you’ll be excited too. The British Library has released 1000 books from its 19th Century collection into a free iPad app that includes novels, historical works, poetry, philosophy and scientific books.

The books have been scanned in high resolution and color so you can see the engraved illustrations, the beauty of the embossed covers, along with maps and even the texture of the paper the books were printed on.

You can search the collection, browse titles by subject, and even read commentary on some of the titles. The books can be downloaded for reading offline. …

The app only works in portrait mode, but some of the illustrations are oriented in landscape view. …

Yup.  It’s not a set of books.  It’s an “app”.  In other words, the books are locked inside some proprietary software.  As soon as I saw that bit, I knew.  I could smell it.  And sure enough…

Although the app is free, the British Library plans to charge for an enhanced version of 60,000 titles later this year.

You bet they do. 

Let us thank heavens for Google Books.  Thank heavens for 

And a raspberry to these loathsome little civil servants, selling what is not theirs to sell, in an age when even ordinary chaps like me give content away.

I award them the Bloodsucker award for June 2011.


A list of the new manuscripts online at the British Library site

At the British Library manuscripts blog, Julian Harrison is paying attention, and well done to him.  In response to comments like those here, he’s today posted a list of the 25 newly uploaded manuscripts.  Here it is, with extra text by me.

  • Additional MS 4949  – 12th c. four gospels
  • Additional MS 4950 – 13th c. Matthew, Mark, a summary of Luke, and a page of stuff from Eusebius on Jesus and the Evangelists “Ex Eusebio Chronicis”.   Anyone able to read any of the last?
  • Additional MS 4951 – 13th c. Luke, John, Menologion, plus a colophon.
  • Additional MS 5107  – 1159 AD.  Eusebius, letter to Carpianus, with a bit of a canon table, then the 4 gospels.
  • Additional MS 5111  – 6-12th century.  Eusebius to Carpianus, canons, plus Matthew and Mark.
  • Additional MS 5112  – 12th c.  Luke, John, and 3 leaves of a patristic florilegium.  Clearly written, this one!  But I can’t make out any names.
  • Additional MS 5117 – 1326-1457.  4 gospels, Eusebius to Carpianus, and a couple of other late things.
  • Additional MS 10057 – 14-16th c.  Euripedes!!! — 3 plays: the Hecuba, Orestes, and Phoenissae, plus scholia!
  • Additional MS 11870  – 11th c. Metaphrastes, Saints’ Lives for September.
  • Additional MS 14771  – 10th c. Gregory Nazianzen!!! — a bunch of his orations (1, 45, 44, 41, 21, 15, 38, 43, 39, 40, 11, 14, 42, 16), including the funeral oration for Basil the Great.  The ms. starts with a table of contents in red uncial.  I was once told such tables of contents were rare!  This manuscript once belonged to Niccolo Niccoli in Florence, then to the monastery of St. Mark, where Niccoli’s books went after his death.  Evidently someone stole it and sold it on.
  • Additional MS 18231 — 972 AD.  Dionysius the Areopagite, Gregory Nazianzen’s orations (again with table of contents): 2, 12, 9, 10, 11, 3, 19, 17, 16, 7, 8, 18, 6, 23, 22, 38, 39, 40, 1, 45, 44, 41, 33 against the Arians, 27 against the Eunomians, 29, 30, 31, 20, 28, 34, 14, 36, 26, 25, 24, 21, 15, 42, 43, 4 & 5 against Julian the Apostate, 37, 13, ; letters 101 and 102 and 202; a couple of Carmina; a vita of Gregory; ps.Nonnus’ Scholia mythologica (I wonder what these are).
  • Additional MS 18277 – (modern papers)
  • Additional MS 19387 – 13th c. 4 gospels.
  • Additional MS 20002 – 10th c.  Old Testament; Judges, with bits of Joshua and Ruth.  This was acquired by Tischendorff from Sinai.
  • Additional MS 20186 – (modern papers)
  • Additional MS 21030 – 13th c. Psalter.  Acquired in Maloula in Syria.
  • Additional MS 21061 – 15th c. Anastasius the Sinaite on the Hexameron, followed by ps.Caesarius, Quaestiones et Responsiones.
  • Additional MS 21165 – 15th c. Iamblichus! Life of Pythagoras, Protrepicus, De communi mathematica scientia, In Nicomachi arithmeticam introductionem.
  • Additional MS 21261 – 14th c. Gospel lectionary.
  • Additional MS 22733 – 11th c. Metaphrastes, more saints’ lives.
  • Additional MS 22750 – 14th c.  Hagiography: “Fragments of sermons and services in honour of the Archangel Michael, including that of Pantaleon the Deacon”, from a burned volume.
  • Additional MS 22909 – 1680 AD.  Some very late Byzantine writers.
  • Additional MS 23895 – 16th c. Onasander, Strategicus!
  • Additional MS 23927 – 16th c. Aristotle, Problemata.
  • Additional MS 35021 – (modern)

I was a bit afraid after the opening section that it would all be gospel mss.!  But thankfully not — there are some gems in there.  But what does smack you in the face is the need for a course in Greek paleography in order to make much of them.

Do add that blog to your RSS feeder.  They don’t post that often, but all the posts are interesting and useful, and usually illustrated with some precious page image.


British Library to digitise all its Greek manuscripts

An announcement on the British Library manuscripts blog here tells us:

Phase two of the British Library’s project to digitise all of its ca. 1,000 Greek manuscripts is now well under way. This phase — also generously funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation) — will digitise and make publicly available a further 250 manuscripts, adding to the 284 manuscripts digitised in phase one. We are currently about half way through this second phase and plan to publish the digitised manuscripts in batches during the rest of this year on our Digitised Manuscripts viewer.

A new batch of manuscripts has now been published online, and contains 24 manuscripts ranging in date from the tenth to the nineteenth centuries.

Most of us would rather have PDF’s, of course, than this awkward “viewer”.

But it is excellent news indeed that the BL has decided to digitise all its Greek manuscripts, and SNF deserve considerable thanks for making it possible.

There doesn’t seem to be a list of the new mss available, tho.

Another interesting announcement of the same kind is that medieval and early modern “scientific” mss will be digitised:

… the British Library has embarked on a project to digitise some of its most prestigious medieval and early modern scientific manuscripts. Funded by a generous private donation, the project will supply complete coverage of selected items from the Harley collection, augmented by revised catalogue records for the books in question.

Medieval and early modern manuscripts are vital for transmitting ancient scientific thought to the modern world.

Evidently not by the same donor, but this too is welcome.  For many ancient technical works remain unpublished and inaccessible.  This may help quite a bit.


A 12th century trilingual Arabic, Greek and Latin psalter

A correspondent tells me about this post at Arab Orthodoxy:

On the website of the British Library they’ve posted images of a Psalter dated to 1153 written in parallel Greek, Latin, and Arabic. The Arabic translation of the Psalms is that of Abdallah ibn al-Fadl al-Antaki, the famous 11th century deacon and translator from Antioch. You can turn to all the pages and zoom in. Take a look, it’s beautiful.


In St. Petersburg they’ve recently published a two-volume facsimile and study of a 17th century illuminated Arabic Psalter based on Abdallah ibn al-Fadl’s translation. I’ll get around to writing a review of that at some point…..

I wonder where on earth that was written.  My guess, considering that it dates to the crusader period, is in Syria.  Just before the crusades the Byzantines had conquered the area, bringing Greek; then the crusaders come in, with Latin; and the local Christians speaking Arabic.  Where else would you have this kind of tri-lingualism?

What a wonderful thing to have online!


284 Greek manuscripts online at the British Library

I learn from here via here that Juan Garces, the go-ahead curator of Greek manuscripts at the British Library, has got 284 manuscripts online.  It’s well worth browsing the four pages of the list.  There’s a manuscript of Zosimus New History in there, for instance.  Despite pleas from Biblical people, it’s mostly classical or patristic or bits and pieces, which is all to the good.  Synesius is well-represented too.

Note that the short list in the browse is not everything.  If you click on one of the text links you get a break down of all that the manuscript contains.  Works in the TLG are given the TLG reference too.

Turning the pages is quick and easy, thankfully, unlike early and very clunky online interfaces.  This one is almost usable!


Don’t let readers photograph rare books – let thieves steal them instead

An interesting story in the Guardian a few days ago highlights the criminal foolishness of the British Library policies.  These prohibit legitimate readers from photographing pages. 

A Cambridge graduate who stole more than £1m worth of rare books during his career as a professional book thief was today found guilty of stealing £40,000’s worth of books from a celebrated library.

William Jacques, nicknamed “Tome Raider” after stealing hundreds of rare books in the late 1990s, drew up a “thief’s shopping list”, targeting the most expensive books that he could access.

He used a false name to sign in to the Royal Horticultural Society’s Lindley library in London before hiding valuable books under his tweed jacket, Southwark Crown Court was told.

Detective Constable Paul Howitt said Jacques, the son of a farmer from Selby, North Yorkshire, was an “extremely arrogant man, a very greedy man who was obsessed by money” and was “responsible for the biggest ever raid of our leading libraries”.

The Cambridge graduate began selling stolen books at auction houses in the late 90s. The haul that led to his previous conviction, some 500 rare antiquarian books and pamphlets from the British Library, Cambridge University Library and the London Library, was one of the biggest of its kind in British legal history, and many of the works were damaged in an attempt to disguise their origins.

Jacques was jailed for four years in May 2002 by a judge at Middlesex Guildhall Crown Court for 21 counts of theft. He now faces a similar time in jail after his most recent offences.

Libraries cannot be secure unless they stop being libraries and turn into vaults.  It is of the highest importance to record the holdings of all our libraries, and especially of unique items.  Any long-established collection contains items that once belonged elsewhere.  Indeed medieval manuscripts travel more widely than all but a few of us!  They flit around like bumble-bees.

Any library that believes that preserving the collection means preventing photography is criminally negligent.  Instead it should manage such a process.


Sympathy for Hercules

An Augean day today.  I’ve received an A4 envelope containing a print-off of the translation of the 18 Coptic fragments of Eusebius Gospel Problems and Solutions (Quaestiones ad Stephanum et Marinum) with pencil revisions in the margin, plus revisions of the Coptic transcription, plus notes on the translation of De Lagarde’s Latin preface.  Also an electronic file containing a new version of the translation.  All this has to be merged together, which would anyway be arduous and is hampered by a somewhat disorganised presentation.

De Lagarde benefited from the generosity of the then owner of the Coptic manuscript.  The latter was rather more generous than the British Library of our own day with its talk of copyrights on PDFs which has prevented me seeing it.

Now, since Robert Curzon, with that mindset whereby the British nobles are ever ready to help in every fine endeavour, had promised on 1 May 1866 (after I wrote to him from Schleusingen) to grant me free access to the very valuable books he had collected, in the year 1874 I asked Robert, Lord Zouche, the son of that most magnanimous man, who had meanwhile been summoned to heaven, to honour his father’s promise (I was intending to edit the Egyptian Psalter). 

He very kindly, with truly unheard-of benevolence, entrusted to my piety and learning both the most ancient fragments of the Egyptian Psalms and the codex of which I have just been speaking, sending them to Göttingen. 

This favour was all the more gratifying, the more certain it was that neither in my own Germany were such treasures possessed—for I was born after the riches of the globe had been distributed—nor in the whole of Europe was there to be found, apart from myself, a man who had both studied theology and had acquired some acquaintance with the Egyptian language, and was willing to expend toilsome and thankless effort—and to suffer a large enough financial loss—on the task of editing this catena.

Faced with such generosity, one might hope that De Lagarde would behave similarly.  Alas, at the end of the preface we read:

All those who wish to do so may use my volume, but only with the proviso that without my permission it is not permitted to reproduce what I have edited, nor to include it in the margin of an edition of either the Egyptian New Testament or of the Fathers.

I thank Robert, Lord Zouche, to the highest extent of my abilities for sending the manuscript to me in Göttingen to use.

De Lagarde’s failure to provide a translation was a more certain guarantee that his work would remain unused than this early claim of copyright.  It was successful; the catena remains unknown and unused by scholars.

Let us mourn the passing of the aristocratic spirit, in these days of small minded officialdom, and honour the shade of Robert, Lord Zouche.


From my diary

Very busy this week with work-related stuff; too much so, to do anything useful! 

The fragments of Philip of Side are coming along nicely. The translator is doing his usual excellent job and ferreting out a lot of useful related information buried in articles in languages none of us know.  The publication — which will be free and online — will be an excellent one.

One interesting issue arose concerning the text to translate of the fragments contained in the Religionsgesprach text — a 6th century fictional dialogue at the court of the Sassanids.  This was printed by Bratke, but a critical edition does exist, in a thesis form, by Pauline Bringel.  The two texts are rather different, even aside from the fact that Bringel identified two recensions of the text.  We’re going to use Bratke, tho, and footnote differences.  Bratke is accessible.  Bringel will not be publishing her thesis any time soon, I learn, although the Sources Chretiennes would publish it, because of pressure of teaching duties.  There would be little point in doing a translation from a text that none have access to.

This weekend is deadline time for contributors to the Eusebius project.  There is more that could be done to the Coptic materials — but there has to be a limit some time!  The translator is sending me hard-copy of proof-changes, which I hope will arrive tomorrow.  I’m afraid it looks as if I may have to learn the Coptic alphabet to do some work on it, which is a nuisance, but there we are.  However I shall do the minimum possible!  With luck I can put the Coptic fragments to bed this weekend.  I still need to resolve issues with fonts, tho.  I’m still awaiting the transcription of the Syriac fragments, but I am told this will be ready on time, but not before.  The Latin fragments I revised last night and are now — thankfully — done.  An index of fragments and publications that I commissioned is in Excel, and needs more work and to be turned into a Word document.

The translator of the Origen Homilies on Ezechiel has found some more materials that probably derive from Origen’s Scholia on Ezechiel; these will be added in.  I have admonished him to remember to take a summer holiday!

On a quite different subject, I had to rebuild the installer of QuickLatin, the tool that I sell ($29) to help people with Latin.  My local anti-virus wailed about “unsigned code”, and I have been trying to work out how to sign a .exe file.  Apparently no-one wants to make it too easy, although why anyone would want to make a security measure hard to implement I can’t imagine.  I tried to f ind out this afternoon and failed.  Oh well.  It can go unsigned a while longer. 

I’m still thinking about going to the UK patristics conference at Durham in September.  I may yet go.  But I’ll wait until July at least, because I don’t quite know what will happen to me in my current freelance job.  I may need to find a new contract in a month, although I suspect that I shall end up with time off this summer!  And I shall take some time off too. 

I’ve also had a lot of correspondance this week, much of it very interesting.  One chap who is interested in Coptic turns out to have a PDF of the British Library manuscript containing De Lagarde’s catena.  This is the catena which I am publishing the Coptic from.  He declined to give me a copy of it, because of fears about copyright — not entirely unreasonable, considering that today there was an announcement about more enforcement measures by the regulator, OFCOM.  But he did let me see a  page with the first Eusebius entry on it.  The Coptic text was extremely clear, and interestingly there was a difference from De Lagarde’s printed version.  De Lagarde runs the text together, and the names of the authors of each bit appear inline.  But in the ms. the “Eusebius” was actually on a separate line!  I’d show you, but apparently the British Library don’t want you to see it unless we pay them money. 

It did leave me wondering what the point of running a public collection of manuscripts is, when circulation of images is prohibited!  But I think I’ve asked that question before.


Really Important: tell the British Library which manuscripts you want to see online

Juan Garces is inviting suggestions for manuscripts to be digitised here.

The obvious answer to this question is: all of them! We all want access to free digital resources, but creating them is tempered by a series of practical considerations. How can we best deliver digitised manuscripts to your desktops? One answer is to secure funding for independent digitisation projects with achievable goals. Such a series of projects has to be placed squarely within a vision and strategy. At the start of each one we have to ask ourselves: which manuscripts should we digitise next? …

It is, however, crucial that we also engage you. Here’s how. Contact me to answer the following question: which particular Greek manuscripts held by the British Library would you like to see digitised and why? I cannot promise that your favourite manuscript will be in the next phase, but I can assure you that your feedback will inform our decision.

Basically Juan has to go out and bid for money.  So if you have an idea for some manageable-size “project” that would attract funding easily, tell him.  If you have a bunch of manuscripts in mind, tell him.

I notice that the Stavros Niarchus Foundation is funding the first tranche.  We have, perhaps, overlooked the “wealthy Greek shipowner” angle on all this.  The manuscripts — the physical books — are the remains of Greek culture as it was in the middle ages, and record that culture from still earlier stages.  Why shouldn’t this Greek culture be online?