400 digitized rare books
March 12, 2007 8:21 AM   Subscribe

The Rare Book Room presents about 400 of the world's greatest books from a variety of libraries in high resolution format. For some samples, check out: Apianus (Astronomicum Caesareum); Blake (Songs of Innocence and Experience); Braccelli (Bizzarie di Varie Figure); Catesby (The Natural History of Carolina...); Dürer (De Symmetria...); Colonna (Hypnerotomachia Poliphili). And on and on. The interface is great (use arrow far left at top for larger page image) but there's a slight browser resize in FFox. A couple of author names are placeholders for future uploads it seems. [via]
posted by peacay (25 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite

 
Note: The (relative) downside is that this is a browsing site and the segmented file arrangement of the larger images mean you can't download them, at least directly. I believe all of these books are accessible from other sites, many (not sure how many) particularly from Octavo - the company responsible for digitizing these works; but otherwise the library of origin is indicated.
posted by peacay at 8:31 AM on March 12, 2007


This is awesome!
posted by caddis at 8:39 AM on March 12, 2007


Some really beautiful stuff. Thanks!
posted by miss lynnster at 8:40 AM on March 12, 2007


This is absolutely fantastic. Thank you.
posted by Ohdemah at 8:53 AM on March 12, 2007


Sweeeeet! Excellent stuff, thanks for the post!
posted by sidereal at 8:58 AM on March 12, 2007


There's something so much more enjoyable in seeing the scans of the actual books, instead of just the images. Thanks, peacay!
posted by mediareport at 9:03 AM on March 12, 2007


I lost an hour or so browsing through this site. Thanks, peacay!
posted by boo_radley at 9:17 AM on March 12, 2007


Color me addicted. Good-bye, productive Monday afternoon!
posted by Mister_A at 9:25 AM on March 12, 2007


Braccelli (Bizzarie di Varie Figure);

A gorgeous, gorgeous book. Thanks peacay!
posted by vacapinta at 9:53 AM on March 12, 2007


I don't want to be the one to burst the pustulent bubble of slap-backing that seems to be welling up like a nest of warts in this thread, but is a collection of rare books really a good idea at all?

As Borges notes, in ancient times a person could have read all the famous books then in existence, and thus claim for themselves the golden epithet of "smartness". Similarly, our forefather Adam was the best-read man of his time, there being no standard works to precede him. Yet nowadays the number of books continually being published far outweighs the capacity of any reader - hence, we're all becoming more and more ignorant.

In that context, saving and displaying rare books - books which would otherwise be consigned to the dust-heap or the bonfire - is simply increasing the net stupidity of every person on Earth.

So let's stop this foolishness and instead construct a large, wicker librarian, in which we ritually immolate all the world's books and some librarians. Only when the last volume is burned will we gain the wisdom to realise where we've been going wrong all these years.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 10:00 AM on March 12, 2007 [3 favorites]


The quidnunc kid reminded me of this piece by Umberto Eco referenced by Eddie Campbell this morning. Eco also argues for a drop in the number of books published, though not exactly for the same reasons as the kid.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 10:13 AM on March 12, 2007


I'm sorry, but as nice an idea as it is, the jpeg artifacting is really pretty glaring. I like that they're doing this, but their idea of hi-res is not the same as mine. (Even 2 notches to the right on the ol' quality slider would've helped) That, & I'm totally illiterate.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:29 AM on March 12, 2007


I really like this format. When I clicked on the Durer link, I could almost smell the musty leather of the cover. It sent a small chill up my spine.

Thanks!
posted by oneirodynia at 10:49 AM on March 12, 2007


Very, very, cool! Bookmarked!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:03 AM on March 12, 2007


I’ve often been intrigued by the titles digitised by Octavo over the years, so am very happy to see them made so freely accessible here. I hope this is just the beginning of an on-going project, and that this rare book room grows & grows: better-quality JPEGS would be nice, but this is very good, even so.
posted by misteraitch at 11:34 AM on March 12, 2007


I puzzled out how to download a scan in one fell swoop. I guess I could be violating some unspoken intention of the site -- is it meant to be a fantastic peek into literary history? to encourage us to buy the CDs from Octavo? -- but since the originals you can buy are even higher-resolution (I believe), I figured it would be okay to show the method for getting these somewhat compressed, not-quite-as-high-res images.

Proof of concept:
http://www.rarebookroom.org/Octavo/eucgeo/LargePhotos/015eucgeo21.jpg

The 3 digits "015" denote the scan number; I don't really know what the "21" stands for.

I couldn't figure out a foolproof shorthand way of making it work for every single book in the collection, but here's a "longhand" method: Go to the book, e.g., Shakespeare's Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies (Hamlet).

View the HTML source for the page and look for the second occurrence of the string "var clist =". Under that, there will be a list of image names, e.g.,
[['385shaf1b21.jpg',2000,1452],
['386shaf1b21.jpg',2000,1452],
['387shaf1b21.jpg',2000,1453],
etc.

Let's take "385shaf1b21.jpg". The project name for the book is what's between the scan number and that last 21, so "shaf1b" in this case. That's what goes between "Octavo" and "LargePhotos" in the final link. At the end of the link goes the scan you want, here "385shaf1b21.jpg". This yields:
http://www.rarebookroom.org/Octavo/shaf1b/LargePhotos/385shaf1b21.jpg
posted by sappidus at 12:02 PM on March 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


Unfortunately, no copies of the Necronomicon. Bummer.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:33 PM on March 12, 2007


I purchased a book on CD-ROM from Octavio when they first started but with the flood of choices from Archive.org and Google Books I forgot about them, now I can better appreciate the quality of scans they produce in comparison.

This does appear to be a medium resolution version made freely available of their complete catalog of over 400 books.

Thanks sappidus for the method.
posted by stbalbach at 12:46 PM on March 12, 2007


Sappidus: Assuming you're using firefox, an easier way would be to go to Tools, Page Info, Media, then scroll all the way down to the last picture. Copy the URL, and replace MediumPhotos with LargePhotos. That's what I did, at least.

A bit easier, IMHO.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 3:19 PM on March 12, 2007 [2 favorites]


I don't want to be the one to burst the pustulent bubble of slap-backing that seems to be welling up like a nest of warts in this thread, but is a collection of rare books really a good idea at all?

Nicely done. I was right on the verge of a boiling rage before I started laughing.
posted by loquacious at 3:20 PM on March 12, 2007


CitrusFreak12: Aha! Good catch; I always forget about that option in browsers. I actually use Safari, but a similar method will work if you select "Window > Activity" and poke around in the "about: blank" things for a while for the right URL form.
posted by sappidus at 5:40 PM on March 12, 2007


Truly awesome. Thank you.
posted by nickyskye at 6:45 PM on March 12, 2007


Great stuff, apart from the spelling of digitised.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:39 PM on March 12, 2007


So let's stop this foolishness and instead construct a large, wicker librarian, in which we ritually immolate all the world's books and some librarians. Only when the last volume is burned will we gain the wisdom to realise where we've been going wrong all these years.

Sounds like Logan's Run. All knowledge older than one generation is destroyed to make room for the new. People devote themselves to writing "the sum of all knowledge" (Wikipedia), then occasionally wipe it clean and start over. "Sanctuary" is the Library of Congress where old books are rumored to exist.
posted by stbalbach at 8:14 PM on March 12, 2007


You are awesome.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 4:31 PM on March 13, 2007


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