August 24, 2002
9:50 PM   Subscribe

The British Museum has put together a beautiful interactive display system they call "Turning the Pages" for some of the rarest books in their collection, including the Sherborne Missal. The technology has been developed to realistically replicate the physical act of turning the pages of each individual book.
posted by anathema (14 comments total)
i thoroughly do not understand this. i followed the link that the article had to actually 'turn a page', and, well, i like clicking on something to get the next page in the blink of an eye. when you turn the page, true, the page turns as one would in reading a physical book, but the content is still displayed on the bottom, since you can't actually read the page you are turning.

my question is, what is the point of it? is it supposed to facilitate some process or show something new? it neither augments the appreciation of the content or the rare books.

it seems like more 'hey, look what new worthless thing i made' type hype, and makes me want to force the creators to pick up a real page to turnin a book if they're that hard up for something to do.
posted by uberchick at 10:17 PM on August 24, 2002

My take on this is that the "Turning the Pages" tech is probably more interesting/worthwhile at the actual museum. I'm basing that on the image at the bottom of this page, where it appears someone is sliding their fingers across a touch screen to turn the page of a virtual book. Probably much more compelling at the kiosk than via their Flash demo.
posted by kokogiak at 11:36 PM on August 24, 2002

Having often used it at the library, I have to say Kokogiak is right: the "page-turning" effect only works -- and works quite well -- as a touch-screen exhibit. True, the page-turning doesn't add anything informational, but it certainly enhances the pleasure of being able to seemingly interact with an impossibly precious, rare book. I agree there is no point in replicating this interaction on-line.

The only thing I find disappointing is the library's seeming disinterest (or incredibly slow pace) in expanding this wonderful resource. It started in 1998 (when I first used it) with, I think, 5 books, and they've apparently added only one since. (The website's "news" page features a single entry over a year old.) I thought this project had a real chance of making the Library's treasures accessible, but it seems forever stuck as a demonstration of "potential".
posted by snarfois at 2:33 AM on August 25, 2002

I have to correct myself: according to the website, the collection has grown from the original 5 to 8 currently. Perhaps I should go by the museum again. When I was there last (probably about a year ago), they still had only the 5 original books in "Turning the pages".

The quality of the scans, incidentally, is excellent, and the interface works very well. But note that only a small selection of pages, and not a whole book, is digitised (or accessible, at least.)
posted by snarfois at 2:40 AM on August 25, 2002

Yeah, it looks like the actual museum touchscreen display is a good use of this Shockwave technology. But on the web I'd much rather have a page of thumbnails leading to a html page of a big juicy jpegs of the missal page, with explanatory text. Though it does load quickly, this Shockwave interface is more gimmick than asset here.

I'm in the beginning stages of a project to display my NYC street art photos. I'm leaning towards using Flash, as I plan to add music, narration and guided visual emphasis to the photos. Otherwise a good ol' html display would do the trick.
posted by gametone at 3:39 AM on August 25, 2002

To be fair, I think the web site is just trying to show an example of what the library's "Turning the Pages" facility looks like, rather than accurately re-create the experience online.
posted by chill at 5:08 AM on August 25, 2002

This is probably much more effective at the museum itself. The post should have focused on the illuminations themselves and not the tech.
posted by anathema at 5:31 AM on August 25, 2002

Although this isn't a museum, the Princeton Dante site is great for it's use of audio, images, and commentary and amounts to a scholarly place to go to experience the Renaissance master of Catholic ethics. Here's a place that does it right (except for requiring registration). Maybe the British Museum could learn from these folks. Registration is free.
posted by tellio at 5:42 AM on August 25, 2002

hmmm, i suppose i'll defer to the consensus in that it works better as an interactive exhibit. but wouldn't you still rather them allow you to turn the actual pages of the rare books than pretend you are on a screen?
posted by uberchick at 7:49 AM on August 25, 2002

hmmm, i suppose i'll defer to the consensus in that it works better as an interactive exhibit. but wouldn't you still rather them allow you to turn the actual pages of the rare books than pretend you are on a screen?

No, because the books would fall apart.
posted by redfoxtail at 8:32 AM on August 25, 2002

To clarify what redfoxtail said: first, the turning itself has the potential to damage the pages, because they are fragile; second, the touching of the paper will, in the long run, deteriorate the paper through the introduction of contaminants (oil and sweat); third, the rarest documents of all, presumably including this collection, are generally kept in climate-controlled storage.

I have had the dubious pleasure of turning the pages of a medieval illuminated manuscript in private hands. I was very surprised there were no cloth finger-gloves for the purpose. That's the difference, I suppose, between an archivist and a collector.

I've also had the disappointment of watching a 19th-century city directory fall apart over years of almost daily use by "gentle" genealogists. It wasn't the only copy, but it was still horrible to see the binding fall to pieces and enormous brittle patches break off the edges.
posted by dhartung at 9:28 AM on August 25, 2002

Dan: Why do you say "dubious pleasure"? Old manuscripts and books (pre-19th-century) are actually quite robust and, if they're well kept (basically the old "cool, dark, dry, away from dust" place that applies to almost everything) and in private hands, there's no need to use gloves - just clean hands, a book cradle and a special paperweight. Gloves are sometimes required in public libraries (by no means always) but if you've used them, you'll know how much they detract from the experience. Experts never use them, as they need to feel the texture of the paper and the relief of the ink. But the tactile contact with the pages is certainly a big part of the pleasure and even the most finicky collectors, apart from the obvious precautions (turning from lower right-hand corner, no stretching, etc.),
won't insist on gloves.

Gloves are usually gauze or cotton; sometimes latex in lesser libraries. They get dirty very quickly and are more abrasive than human skin. In big libraries, people use them to protect their hands, rather than the books.

People lucky enough to live in New York can now visit the Thaw Conservation Center of the Morgan Library, which is reputedly state-of-the-art. Drool!

Oh and cheers, anathema, for a great link!
posted by MiguelCardoso at 10:19 AM on August 25, 2002


the morgan library is one of the best places on earth. i actually did go in february when the thaw conservation center opened. it's worth a visit to the city. it's too cool for words, though i'm still itching to turn the page, to the horror of most conservationists, i'm sure, of an original gutenburg bible.
posted by uberchick at 11:48 AM on August 25, 2002

I've always been taught that one ought to use cotton gloves with fragile material. It seems to me, however, that the lack of precision the gloves introduce to one's movements, which often necessitates several tried to get a grip on the corner of the page, plus the higher abrasiveness that Miguel mentions, would be worse for the books than the much-decried skin oils.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 5:51 PM on August 25, 2002

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