Oxford’s Bodleian library is putting its rarely seen archive of treasures online for all to enjoy. It’s a brilliant democratic move.
One way libraries are opening their secret worlds to everyone is by putting some of their most curious or majestic items online. Oxford’s Bodleian – one of Europe’s greatest and oldest libraries – is the latest to do so with digital.bodleian giving users unprecedented opportunities to browse precious volumes and their wondrous illustrations from our armchairs – anyone still has armchairs – or cafe stool or even in a punt (it’s Oxford after all).
You can do all the online things people love to do online from assembling your own collection of favourites to taking a selfie with Cicero (except the latter) but the most intriguing aspect of this and other digital rarity collections is that it changes the nature of research.
Instead of an arduous activity undertaken by determined scholars visiting the digital Bodleian is a pleasant browse through the virtual past that all of us can undertake.
It is like something out of a story by the librarian and fabulist Jorge Luis Borges in which all the great books and philosophies of the world have become one walk-through art gallery – their strange languages fusing into brilliant illuminations. That is to say this way of consulting a library replaces reading with seeing.