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Treasures: Beautiful and Surprising Finds from the Digitization Project at Yale


A new exhibit on view near the Sterling Memorial Library's Starr Main Reference Room displays some of the beautiful, charming, and surprising finds from the Library's digitization project. In September 2007, Yale University Library began a large-scale project to digitize 100,000 books from its collections. This was Yale's first mass digitization initiative and was initially sponsored by Microsoft Corporation. The books selected had to meet a specific set of criteria: they had to be in English, printed before 1923 (and thus in the public domain), in good condition, and from specific subject areas, such as Art, Art History, History and Religion. The books were sent to Kirtas Technologies in Wallingford, Connecticut for digitization.

When selecting books, digitization project staff inspected each item to make sure it could withstand scanning. During this inspection process, each book was opened and carefully examined, and sometimes surprises awaited. Staff soon realized that readers stashed all sorts of little treasures in books, from cross-stitch samples to photographs to dried flowers. Leftover paging slips and circulation notices provide information about Yale University Library history. Staff even found a four-leaf clover. (Unfortunately it was too fragile to display.)

Besides items left in books, digitization project staff found many treasures on the pages of the books themselves. Beautiful cover art, illustrations, amusing dedications, and reproductions can be found in many of the books, and they will soon be accessible online and available to any researcher with an Internet connection.

Even though Microsoft withdrew its support from the project in May 2008, the large-scale digitization project will have digitized 35,000 books by June 2009. Currently, staff are selecting books held at the Seeley G. Mudd Library (now closed to readers) and have expanded selection criteria to include other languages and collections, such as the Divinity Collections at Mudd. The Latin American collection at Mudd is particularly rich with treasures and fascinating foldout maps, historically important works, and interesting but inaccessible books are being digitized and will be linked to Yale's online catalog.

The exhibit is free and open to the public and is on view Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m.-5:45 p.m.; Saturday, 10:00 a.m.-4:45 p.m., and Sunday 12 noon-5:45 p.m. Sterling Memorial Library is located at 120 High Street, New Haven.