• Contactless Returns and Holds Pickup Service at OPL

    30/07/2020

    OPL offers contactless returns and holds pickup service at select branches, during new hours of operation. 

    • RETURNS will be accepted only during hours of operation, no appointment necessary. Due dates for currently checked out materials have been extended and late fees suspended. 
       
    • HOLDS PICKUP: As of July 27, appointments are no longer needed to pick up holds, except at Rosemount (temporary location). You can pick up your available holds during opening hours at branches offering contactless service.    
       
    • Rosemount (temporary location) will offer curbside service starting Monday, July 27. Holds pickups are by appointment only at this location. 
       
    • UPDATE: Starting Monday, August 17, additional in-person services will be offered at select branches and new branch locations will reopen. Find out more.
       

    Masks are required to be worn inside Ottawa Public Library branches, as per the Temporary Mandatory Mask By-law. 
    For information about Library cards, virtual programs, and more, contact InfoService by phone or email. 

     

     

You are here

How to get your hands (sort of) on some really old e-books

12/01/2011

If you’re a book nut, you may or may not be an e-book nut. There are those of us who still prefer high touch to high tech, thinking a book-scented candle a more thoughtful gift than, say, a Blackberry Torch. Call us holdouts against the e-reader revolution that appears to have arrived forcefully this Christmas. If you remain unconverted – and personally I waver in an early, tentative stage of e-book faith – there is still a category of e-books that even the fustiest of traditionalists must embrace.

In the past, you had to be a bona fide scholar and willing to travel to study rare manuscripts. No longer. Recent years have seen a revolution of online access to an increasing plethora of ancient texts. All it takes is a computer and an internet connection to download a manuscript that in previous centuries may well have been chained to a desk in Florence. Now without any monastic chill you can turn one page by page and get an up-close look at someone’s margin notes from centuries ago.

Last week’s New Yorker magazine notes in an article by Daniel Mendelsohn, God’s Librarians, that the growing movement to digitize ancient books and make them available to anyone has even reached the exclusive confines of the Vatican Library. The library’s some 120 manuscripts scanned to date are not yet available online, but a little Internet hunting turns up a veritable cornucopia of bookish delights.

A casual browser of medievalia can have good luck trolling the sites of public spirited research libraries – try this compendium from UBC – or, better yet, seeking out freely available PDFs. In the latter category, Google Books and The Internet Archive (http://www.archive.org) are your best bets.

Google Books has millions of titles, but also an array of access restrictions and next-to-no information about the individual rare books in its collection. Still, it’s worth a look. To start hunting, go to the advanced book search page, choose the search filter “full view only” and try a subject search -- religion is a good bet -- with a date range of, say, 1200 to 1400. The older of the two results is a manuscript of sermons by St. Bernard, published in 1200. You can grab a PDF copy to put on your e-reader (monk’s cowl optional as you ride the bus), but the scan isn’t great, and in black and white, the detail of the illuminations has been lost.

The Internet Archive, on the other hand, has many manuscripts scanned in full colour and glorious detail. Two outstanding examples, both from libraries at the University of Toronto, are this copy of St. Augustine’s City of God, printed in 1475 by the famed printer Nicolas Jenson, and this book of sermons by the Benedictine Monk St. Heiric of Auxerre. Download the PDF of the latter and you will be looking at ink put to vellum over 1,000 years ago.

Finally, if you’re a casual or a passionate bibliophile wavering over the thought of electronic text, you’ve got to check this out: Among the electronic treasures of the British Library is its showcase site for the Gutenberg Bible. You can’t download it to your Kobo, but you can view two separate copies and compare them side by side. A generation ago, short of having a last name like Morgan or Rockefeller and the means to buy your own editions, that kind of access was barely even possible. Vive La Révolution.