creating a digitized facsimile wishlist

For the last couple of years, I’ve had a bit of an obsession with finding examples of early printed books that aren’t available as open-access digital facsimiles. Why have I been thinking about this? It started off with some frustration that we have a slew of digital copies of (ahem) Shakespeare’s First Folio and of the Gutenberg Bible (25 copies!). Why do we have so many of those and none of…. of…. um…. And so I started looking.

The more time I spent looking, the more frustrated I grew about what wasn’t available. How could it be that there were no open facsimiles of Sidney’s ridiculously important sonnet sequence, Astrophel and Stella? Or Tottel’s miscellany? Or one of the most popular English plays, Mucedorus? These are foundational works in the development of their genres. In some cases, they survive in only a very small number of understandably restricted copies. Shouldn’t imaging them be an obvious choice? And what about works that could form an integral part of a canon of women’s work, or black studies, or any of the texts that exist at the margins or outside of dominant literary and cultural history?

I mentioned to a former colleague once, in a response to a question about imaging yet more First Folios, that I didn’t see the value of that project when so many important works like Sidney’s poems hadn’t been digitized even once. “Oh!” she said, “just let me know and I’ll see if I can do that.”

Institutions work in silos. There is rarely cooperation between libraries in discussing what their digitization strategies are. (There is often no digitization strategy, frankly, but according to the latest ENUMERATE survey from Europeana, that’s starting to improve.) And the more I think about this, the stranger it seems to me. Libraries and other cultural heritage organizations tout access as one of the benefits of digital collections and outreach. But you can’t access something if it isn’t there.

So what would happen if we started to keep track of what we wanted and couldn’t find? What if we pooled our requests so that we could see all that is missing from our digital cultural heritage? And what if we published these needs so that maybe librarians could look at them and say, Hey, we own that, we could image that.

I don’t know what we’d learn. I do know that some librarians have expressed a willingness to respond to such requests. And so here we are.

Do you have an early modern text that you wished you could access as a digital facsimile? Submit it through this request form (, and I’ll add it to the wishlist (

Some guidelines:

  1. Please only submit things that you have actually searched for.
  2. Please be as thorough as possible when submitting: the more detailed the citation you give for the item, the better chance of the correct text being located; the more thought-out your description of why this text matters, the better the odds that you’ll convince someone of its value.
  3. Please be patient! I vet items before adding them to the wishlist (I like things to be tidy and I don’t want sloppy research to slip through, since that will just muddle us all).

Need some help?

  1. Some suggestions on how to search for open-access digitized facsimiles
  2. A list of open-access early modern digital collections

Many thanks to the folks on twitter who responded to my call for beta-testing and an especially big thanks to those who left requests to start populating the wishlist. (I haven’t gotten to everything yet; just hang tight!)


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