eBookNewser wants to point your attention to a rather extraordinary little column in yesterday’s Guardian. Book columnist Robert McCrum takes his readers on a tour of the Bodleian library’s archive of rare manuscripts, where papers from major world writers from Locke to Larkin are housed, and where many of Kafka’s manuscripts also live. McCrum goes in skeptical about the potential of digitization to bring these papers to a wider audience, but comes out enthralled with the idea of Kafka’s manuscripts going digital.
Who wouldn’t want a chance to see evidence of the fact that “Kafka’s handwriting is spidery, intense and completely legible, with barely a line blotted,” in a scan of original notebook pages? That’s why McCrum is ultimately psyched that “the Bodleian has been in the forefront of the ‘Google initiative,’ the digitisation of its collection.” (The above picture is cropped from a scan of Kafka’s manuscripts available at www.kafka.org; you don’t need to read German to get excited about Kafka while looking at it.)
This topic came up at last week’s eBook Summit too: Jane Friendman told the audience that Open Road Media plans to mine libraries digital archives to add value to eBooks by packaging them with access to scans of authors’ papers.
In the last graph of his column, McCrum asks, “Would a digital version be a match for the actual manuscript?” No, perhaps not, but it’s certainly more exciting than seeing nothing at all. Giving everyone with an Internet connection access to authors’ archives–whether for free or for profit–is one of the major upsides of the digital revamping of the book biz.