Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2010 Issue

Calling Gutenberg on Your iPhone

Treasures of the Bavarian State Library, now available on your iPhone.


By Michael Stillman

Technology advances at a dizzying pace, perhaps even a frightening one for those who grew up in the book world, where technology was virtually a constant for over five centuries. While today forces battle in a courtroom over whether Google can place more digital books on the internet, one of its partners announced a step that moves even beyond the Google Books project. The Bavarian State Library is now making a small part of its collections visible in a means even more personal and convenient than computer viewing through Google Books.

The Bavarian Library announced that it is now making a collection of 52 historic and ancient works available for viewing on your iPad or iPhone. All you have to do is download their "app," Famous Books - Treasures of the Bavarian State Library, to one of these mobile devices to begin viewing. The app is free. To download it, click here. Once you download the app, you will be able to scroll through the pages of these various works from beginning to end. You will be able to enlarge and focus in on the pages in case you find your iPhone screen a bit small for reading.

Among the items available are ancient texts from Persia and the Orient, a Babylonian Talmud, the German epic poem Nibelungenlied, and the medieval epic Parzival, by Wolfram von Eschenbach. However, the piece de resistance of the Bavarian collection is their copy of the Gutenberg Bible, the first work of printing, dating from 1455. The Gutenberg Bible is now available on your iPhone! Together at last - Johannes Gutenberg and Alexander Graham Bell, courtesy of the Bavarian Library and Steve Jobs. This is either the greatest advancement in reading technology or the ultimate insult.

While Bavaria might sound like a traditional kind of place, its library has been on the cutting edge of technology for a while. In 2007, the library announced that it would participate in Google's digitization process, opening its collection of older books for scanning by the internet giant. At the time, their Director stated that this was in keeping with the true purpose of libraries, which he described not as housing tens of thousands of printed books, but as making their knowledge discoverable by the public. Though not everyone will appreciate these developments, this is another step down that path of knowledge and discovery. Opponents continue to battle Google in the courts over its project, and while they may yet achieve some interim victories, the ending is inevitable. Progress cannot be stopped.

Meanwhile, the Bavarian Library has placed itself in the future, rather than the past. Noting surveys that indicate that by 2013 there will be more mobile devices with access to the internet than personal computers, the Library has moved to the next stage of access, even as the process of digitizing books for stage one has barely begun.

Rare Book Monthly

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