new iPad app launched this week by the British Library that provides access to scanned copies of original versions of 19th century books. This app is free for now with 1,000 titles, but will soon be a paid app offering more than 60,000 titles.
The stand-out feature of the new app is that it offers full scans of original versions. While you can’t search or highlight text, take notes, or get word definitions, you do get to enjoy the real deal: aged paper, author notes in margins, embossed covers, engraved illustrations, and colored plates. I can almost smell it (I admit it, I love the smell of old books). Perusing through ‘Woods and Lakes of Maine,’ I was struck by how much context and texture is missing from straight-text digitized ebooks.
So this is an immersive way to explore old books on a modern device, but I have to admit that I’ve been spoiled by the interactivity of digital books à la Kindle and iBooks. The British Library app is almost like reading a real book, which is a great thing. But the lack of ability to draw on pages, search text, highlight passages, or define words seems like a missed opportunity to harness the platform.
Since many of these texts have already been digitized, wouldn’t it be fantastic to offer users the ability to switch (or overlay, or display side-by-side) a scanned original page in a book and its corresponding digitized text? Then we could have the best of both worlds. At a minimum, we need a way to take some notes and add multiple bookmarks. That said, this is a great app for the book junkie. It’s free for now.