Scanning History

May 23rd, 2008

I was delighted to read that the John Carter Brown Library is planning to make its material available more widely than in the past ("Opening the Doors," Elms, January/February). I was fascinated by some of the materials on display in 2003 when I visited the JCB during my 45th reunion. I read exciting material about the Portuguese explorations and colonizations; particularly compelling was an account of the settlement of São Tomé, off the western equatorial coast of Africa, where my wife spent her childhood. São Tomé, now the independent island nation of São Tomé and Principe, was where Jewish "orphans" (children taken from their parents during the sixteenth-century expulsion of Jews from Portugal) were sent to meet their fate on what was then a malarial hellhole.

I think it is a pity that these exciting JCB resources have only been accessible to certified scholars in the past, and I wrote the library to ask that when I return to the campus in May for my 50th reunion, I be allowed to peruse some of these wonderful resources. They have assured me that it will be possible, and I am currently searching their online catalogue for relevant titles.

While I understand that books more than 500 years old are delicate and must be treated with care, surely there must be some way to make them more widely available. Other libraries, such as the British Museum, have scanned some of their most precious volumes and posted them on the internet. Can the same be done for at least some of these precious volumes?

William Silvert '58, '65 PhD
São Brás de Alportel Portugal


JCB Director Ted Widmer replies:

The JCB is indeed moving forward with initiatives in the rapidly changing digital landscape, with the goal of bringing more of our collections online. Our recent exhibitions have all been presented online as well as in the library. While we have to be careful about protecting these priceless books, which in many cases are one of a kind, we do make them available to researchers with legitimate needs, including alumni such as Mr. Silvert.

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May/June 2008