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Cambridge Digital Library

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Introducing the Cambridge Digital Library

Cambridge University Library contains evidence of some of the greatest ideas and discoveries over two millennia. We want to make our collections accessible to anyone, anywhere in the world with an internet connection and a thirst for knowledge." —Anne Jarvis, University Librarian



Anne Jarvis

Over the course of six centuries Cambridge University Library's collections have grown from a few dozen volumes into one of the world's great libraries, with an extraordinary accumulation of books, maps, manuscripts and journals. These cover every conceivable aspect of human endeavour, spanning most of the world's cultural traditions. While parts of the Library's manuscript collections have already been published in print, microfilm and digital formats, we are now building a substantial online resource so that our collections can be much more accessible to students, researchers and the wider public.

The first phase of our work on the Cambridge Digital Library, which ran from 2010 to 2014 was made possible through a lead gift of £1.5m from Dr Leonard Polonsky. This generous support has enabled the Library to develop its technical infrastructure and create significant content, particularly in the areas of faith and science - two areas of strength within our collections. It has also enabled us to attract funding from other sources, including the AHRC, NSF, NEH, JISC and other private donors.

The Foundations of Faith strand of content includes important works from many religious traditions, particularly Judaism, Islam, Christianity and Buddhism. In its initial phase, the Digital Library has made available some of the earliest Qur'anic fragments on parchment, important manuscripts in Hebrew, including one of the earliest known copies of the Ten Commandments - the second- century BCE Nash Papyrus, and a large selection of manuscripts from the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Collection, considered by many to be a collection as significant as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Our online Christian holdings include the Codex Bezae Cantabrigiensis - one of the most interesting of all New Testament manuscripts, and the remarkable Book of Deer. The end of this first phase is also marked by the release of more than 500 manuscripts from the Library's extensive Sanskrit collection, including some of the earliest surviving Buddhist manuscripts.

The Foundations of Science content draws on the very strong collections the Library holds relating to the History of Science. We began with the papers of Isaac Newton and by the end of this phase have launched the first part of a major release of Darwin's manuscripts - the papers and drafts that led to The Origin of Species. We have also released the Papers of the Board of Longitude, a fascinating and substantial archive charting scientific and technological endeavors in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Wherever possible we are seeking to enhance our digital collections by aligning them with scholarly research. The Newton Papers and Darwin Manuscripts are good examples. Collaborations with the Newton Project at Sussex and the Darwin Manuscripts Project at the American Museum of Natural History have enabled us to provide transcriptions alongside our facsimile images. Outputs from the Library's own research units, the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit and the Darwin Correspondence Project are also incorporated in the Genizah Collections and Darwin correspondence and manuscripts collections. Our Sanskrit Collection, Spanish Chapbooks collection and Board of Longitude collection have all been significantly enriched through major AHRC research projects.

Another goal is to make content from the Digital Library freely available for use within teaching and research. Copyright and licensing will not always permit this, but where it does we are providing good quality images and texts for download and reuse. During the next phase of the programme we will be doing work to enable us to more easily distribute the content using automated tools - so that it can effortlessly be embedded within other websites and presentations. So while the Cambridge Digital Library will continue to provide a focus for our collections, we look forward to encountering our content in many other parts of the online world.

Much more content and further functionality is planned for 2015 and 2016, but hope you will find the collections we've already included stimulating and the website easy to use. If you have any questions or suggestions, please let us know.