From tweet to resource

This is the story of how a tweet can grow into an amazing scholarly resource. (And it ends with a plea for you to help!)

Just over a year ago, in January 2013, I was looking through the Folger’s collection of Greek texts so that I could find works for a course assignment on describing books. (My intent was to drum into them the necessity of looking at books as an activity that is separate from reading them—and what better way to do that than to ensure that they’re in a language they cannot read?) As part of that browsing, I pulled up a 1517 Aldine edition of Homer’s works, and was blown away by the abundance of annotations in the first part of the book. And so I did what I often do when I see something exciting in the reading room, thanks to the Folger’s policy permitting reader photography: I snapped a picture and tweeted it out.

a heavily annotated opening from the Folger's 1517 Aldine Homer
a heavily annotated opening from the Folger’s 1517 Aldine Homer

And then I continued on my merry way. In the meantime, a reader at the Library saw the tweet and came to chat with me about it. Rachel Stevenson, then an MA student at Columbia and a participant in a Folger Institute program, was working as an intern in Columbia University Library’s digital center where she was exploring Columbia’s copy of this same book. Columbia’s copy is astounding not in the sheer abundance of its marginalia but in its provenance: their copy was a gift from the Greek scholar Phillip Melanchthon to Martin Luther, as inscribed on its title page and final leaf. Rachel had been tasked with finding ways to make Columbia’s digital copy of the book more visible to scholars; as part of her research, she’d come across Annotated Books Online and was working on having their Aldine included in that collection. So when I tweeted my images of our 1517 Aldine Homer, Rachel was immediately interested. She took a look at the Folger’s copy on her next trip to the Library and then came to chat with me about possibly getting it digitized so that it could be compared with the Columbia copy. Thanks to her conversations with our curators, and their sense that this was a book worth imaging, the Folger’s copy was fully cataloged and digitized.

The Folger's much better image of the same opening that I tweeted. (fol. 2v-3r)
The Folger’s much better image of the same opening that I tweeted. (fol. 2v-3r)

In the meantime, I was continuing carrying on my merry way until this past February, when I was again going through books for this semester’s class. And when I pulled out this one to review, I again exclaimed over its wonderfulness and I again (because I was so excited I forgot I’d already done this) tweeted it out:

And because I love the Aldine anchor, as does my friend Adam, whose blog Anchora is named after it, I tweeted out the printer’s device to him:

At this point, thanks to the chattiness of twitter, the folks at Annotated Books Online jumped in to exclaim over the book and to inquire about it:

2014-03-18 20_45_30-Twitter _ wynkenhimself_ Hi @adamghooks wish you were ...

After a bit more back and forth, the Folger was able to provide images of the book to ABO to be included in their collection.

It’s delightful to see this come full circle: I tweeted it, Rachel found it, Rachel urged us to digitize it since she’d been working with Columbia’s copy, I tweeted it again, Annotated Books Online found it, and now it lives next to Columbia’s copy in ABO’s interface.1 If you know Greek, it would also be delightful to see some of the annotations transcribed and translated, so hie thee to Annotated Books Online!

While this makes a nice story about one particular object, it’s also a nice story about the importance of sharing and collaboration and opening collections to digital access. Without the Folger’s policy of allowing users to take and share their own photos of collection items, without my thinking it’s fun to share work I’m doing, without other scholars being willing to collaborate on their projects, none of this would have happened.

How can you help people find the cool stuff we have here? Share the pictures you take of Folger collection items! You can share them on your blog, on twitter, in your teaching, and in your presentations. (And if you ping @FolgerResearch, I’ll give a shout-out to your work.) You can add your photos to our Flickr group, Folger Collection by Folger Readers, and browse through what others have turned up. Like the sixteenth-century humanists who shared their studies and worked together, we can all go further when we let our discoveries build off each other.


  1. It’s also a nice touch that Rachel is a former student of Adam Hooks’s and a current colleague at the Folger, where she’s the Curatorial Assistant before heading off to her PhD program this fall. []