By CATHARINE MORRIS
Two pieces in the TLS this year – one by A. S. G Edwards and the other by William Proctor Williams – have warned of the dangers associated with the digitization of books and manuscripts. But a recent exhibition at Senate House, organized by Cynthia Johnston of the Institute for English Studies, provided some striking examples (see some of them above and below) of the sorts of items that can languish unnoticed without its help.
Little attention has so far been paid to the fabulous collection of manuscripts, incunables and early printed books bequeathed in 1946 by R. E. Hart (a member of a philanthropic rope-manufacturing dynasty) to Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery – for the simple reason that few people are aware of its existence. When Johnston visited recently she was told that there had been three academic visitors in five years.
Johnston has called the Hart collection “just one example, although a rather fine one, of underfunded collections marooned by the gap between digital access and vanished funding”; she hopes that the money will, at some stage, be raised to get all Hart’s books online. How else can the museum stimulate international interest in a resource deemed by Johnston to be of “major importance to the study of bibliography, art and social history”?