10 Interesting Digital Library Collections

The Age of Digital Books has certainly made it easier for us to see and explore old, historical books. Such as this great online collection of marginalia from Harvard which includes famous scribbles from the likes of Emerson, Keats, and Melville. I appreciated the thoughts from the Harvard library on what we can learn from that now digitally preserved marginalia :

“Marginalia provide unique records of the reader’s experience. Offering insights into how and why a reader reads, marginalia take many forms. These range from glosses on difficult words or passages and lengthier notes on the meaning of a text, to illustrations and personal marks used to denote passages of particular interest. While marginalia are often highly systematic, they are also as individualistic: every reader’s engagement with a text is unique. Marginalia shed light on the mental, emotional, and intellectual process of reading, as well as changing historical patterns of reading practice … In certain cases, the absence of marginalia may be as significant as their presence.”

Thanks to the efforts of digitization projects at many university libraries, we get the next best thing to handling these interesting artifacts. Here are, in no particular order, ten very interesting digital collections from libraries around the world:

Library of Congress Digital Collections & Services — One of the biggest and the best digital collections. A wealth of U.S. historical documents, newspapers, manuscripts, maps, and photographs. My favorite section might be the American History & Culture collection.

Mark Twain Project, UC Berkeley — Thousands of Twain’s letters, hand-written manuscripts, images, and more. The technical summary of the project is really interesting (well, interesting to me), and is also a very good primer on the nuts and bolts aspects of digital library curation.

Harvard University Libraries Digital Collections — Harvard’s digital collections are an eclectic mix, ranging from 19th century daguerrotypes of the moon, to glimpses into the historical collective consciousness on people and their money. I just love the materials they have in Reading: Views of Readers, Readership, and Reading History.

Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas, Austin — The HRC has a fun mix of digital collections, with one of the more user-friendly guides. The Gutenberg Bible is the star attraction (one of only five in the United States), also some Edgar Allan Poe, and my favorite: the David Foster Wallace collection.

Hannah Arendt Collection, Bard College — A fascinating collection of annotated books from her personal library, letters, notes, postcards.

Yale University Library Digital Collections — The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library has some good ones. Particularly cool is the American Literature collection, with Walt Whitman and William Carlos Williams

Brown University Library Center for Digital Scholarship — The Signature Collection is worth a browse to see Brown’s impressive digital Abraham Lincoln collection.

Cambridge University Digital Images Collection — Excellent quality Gutenberg Bible digital images

Indiana University Digital Library Collection — Check out the Isaac Newton collection; the page images of which looked completely indecipherable to me, but cool nevertheless.

World Digital Library — A vast, wide-reaching collection of things from all over the world. It’s not the easiest in terms of navigability — sort of the garage sale collection item on this list. But, there are some truly interesting things collected here. I’d recommend browsing by topic, with this link.

(And I didn’t know that Google was working with the Library of Congress on this. Neat).


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I run the ThinkLab at the University of Cambridge, and research digital habits, productivity, and wellbeing.

tyler shores cambridge

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