British Library: Digitizing 200 Years of Early Bengali Books

In News by Dennis Abrams

From The Times of India: ‘Not available elsewhere in the world,’ the British Library’s deep collection of Indian volumes is being made available free through the ‘Two Centuries’ project.

From the British Library video ‘Digitzing Two Centuries of Indian Printed Books’

By Dennis Abrams | @DennisAbrams2

‘Every Discipline You Could Think Of’

The Times of India reports that the British Library has scanned 1,000 “old and rare printed Bengali books of the 19th century, according to project co-ordinators.”

The program is part of an international partnership to digitize rare material from the library’s South Asian printed book collection. Eventually, 4,000 early printed books in Bengali—with a total of more than 800,000 pages–are to be digitized and made available online free of charge as part of an effort called Two Centuries of Indian Print: 1713-1914.

Tom Derrick, digital curator for the project, is quoted by the Times of India, saying, “So far we scanned 1,000 books. There are books literally from every discipline you could think of. There are treatises on sciences, education, religion, missionaries coming to India, and translation of the Bible.”

The pilot project is a joint venture with the British Library, the School of Cultural Texts and Records of Jadavpur University; Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology; and the Library at SOAS University of London, involving collaborations with the National Library of India.

This is reported by the library to be the beginning of a major program designed to bring the public’s attention to the extensive selection of Indian books from the 200-year period in the British Library.

Optical character recognition is being used to transcribe the Bengali script. “We’re dealing with historical Bangla and the changes in the language,” Derrick tells the newspaper, “so the typography is unique. It’s underserved by commercial OCR whose focus is more on Western patterns.”

The library is holding a competition to find the best solutions to automatically transcribe Bengali books already digitized. “So far, Derrick says, more than “20 institutes worldwide have signed up.”

Layli Uddin, project curator, says the work lies in three parts, cataloging, digitizing, and contextualizing. “We want to reach out to a wider audience,” she says, “make the materials open and free to all, make it accessible to non-Bengali-speaking audiences as well.

“Also to contextualise and that is where the Jadavpur University experts come in. They are helping identify what is unique and rare in BL’s collections of printed materials which are not available elsewhere in the world.”

This video has been produced by the British Library to introduce its Two Centuries of Indian Print initiative.

The full article from The Times of India is here.

About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.