Books–Virtual and Real

27 01 2010

A wonderful site for viewing rare books is the British Library’s Online Gallery and the section labeled “Virtual Books.” This gallery provides an eclectic collection of digitized rare and historically significant books.  Of particular interest for biblical studies are the Lisbon Hebrew Bible (15th century), a Bible from Ethiopia (1700s) and the Lindisfarne Gospels.  However, several other interesting works are also available.  I spend thirty or forty minutes going through William Blake’s fascinating notebook that he jotted ideas and images in for over thirty years.  The website allows one to turn the pages of the books and also magnify the images.  It also provides excellent background information on each page of the book under view.  This background is provided either via audio or a written description.  I enjoyed listening to the wonderful British voice describe each page I perused.

On the other end of the spectrum from virtual books is the very real crisis in Haiti.  While the loss of life and pain is overwhelming, I was struck by an article in the New York Times that dealt with the rescue of books in Haiti.  Below are the pertinent paragraphs from the article.  The last quote is particularly profound.

“Patrick Vilaire, a sculptor, met on Thursday night with others concerned about saving some of the country’s legacy from looters or further building collapses. They put at the top of their agenda preserving the book collections at two private homes, a cache of irreplaceable history, political and economic texts from the 19th and 20th centuries.

Asked how he could focus on old books after such a catastrophic event, Mr. Vilaire said, ‘The dead are dead, we know that. But if you don’t have the memory of the past, the rest of us can’t continue living.’”