Folger digital image collections, part 1


So, speaking of techonology, the Library has recently opened up a very cool new tool: you can now search the Folger’s digital image collection from the luxury of your own computer! It’s fun for playing and fun for research–although, really, is there a difference?


Our whole collection isn’t digitized, of course. But there are some real gems in there. All the images that I use in this blog, for instance, are in the digital collection. Things end up in our digital collection via a couple of different routes. Sometimes a researcher requests specific images for use in a project: our photography department, headed by Julie Ainsworth, takes photos, and those get placed in the collection. Sometimes Library staff requests images for our publications, including our website and online exhibitions. Works also get digitized for use in the classroom, for instance for use in the undergraduate seminars and the Folger Institute’s paleography classes.


There are also some larger initiatives to digitize parts of the collection. Most recently, and spectacularly, the Library digitized all pre-1640 Shakespeare quartos in our collection (with the exception of the few that weren’t in condition to be photographed). I should repeat that: all pre-1640 quartos. Not one copy of each imprint, but all. How excellent is that? Really, extraordinarily excellent. And I’m not just saying that.

To find out more about accessing the digital image collection, either via the Folger’s website or by installing Luna Insight software, see our information page. Once you’re in the collection, you can browse, you can search for specific authors or works, or you can search by keywords. It can take a bit of playing to find things (the keyword searches are matched to the catalogue entries, and not necessarily to what is in the image). But I love what I find, even when I’m looking for something else. And when you do find something you want to work with, you can even download it!

(You’ll see that you have the option of accessing Insight via your browser or by installing client software. It’s definitely worthwhile installing the software–there is lots of stuff that you can do with the software that you can’t from the browser, like accessing only the Shakespeare Quarto project. There are more options for downloading, too, like exporting a raw html page. More on those toys next time.)


So what’s the image above? It’s something I found while browsing the collection and it seemed apropros for this post. It’s a detail from a 1700 edition of Johann Comenius’s Orbis sensualium pictus, a book best described by the continuation of its title in English: Comenius’s Visible world. Or, a picture and nomenclature of all the chief things that are in the world; and of mens employments therein . . . for the use of young Latine scholars. This particular picture is a detail showing a scholar at work in his study. What are the numbers in the picture? They’re keyed to the English and Latin vocabulary words that are illustrated! I’ll show more from this book in a future post. But for now, you can find information about the book in our online catalogue. And you can find the picture itself by doing a data field search for it in Luna Insight with the image root file number 7988; you can see the full page in image root file 1386.


The beauty of the digital image collection and the public’s access to it are the results of the hard work of some key Folger staff: Julie Ainsworth, Head of Photography; and Jim Kuhn, Head of Collection Information Services. Kudos and thanks to both of them, and the many others, who made this happen.


And to all of you, happy playing!

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