Free British Library App Brings Beautiful, Old Books to the iPad

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Page through high-resolution scans of more than 1,000 19th-century English treasures in an app that's only a teaser for what's to come

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The British Library released more than 1,000 rare books in the form of a single app for the iPad last week. The titles of the books are searchable, but the individual items are viewed as high-resolution scans. The works are drawn from the library's 19th-century collection and load individually from the network when you touch one to read it.

The Institution joins a host of other libraries that are getting into the app game. In recent months, the New York Public Library released Biblion, an app for exploring the institution's fascinating 1939 World Fair collection, and the Dallas Public Library, which has made its catalog available in app form.

While the British Library will continue to put out a free app, they plan to offer a paid subscription app with 60,000 books to generate revenue for more digitization. It could be an interesting hybrid model, depending on the books and features the enhanced app adds. The current version is wonderful because it's free and provides access to rare books, but the viewer is about as flat as an app gets. It is built for reading and reading only, and doesn't even support landscape viewing. One would think a paid product would have to have a few more bells, if not whistles.

Via Alice Bell.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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