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Rare, Old Bengali Books being Digitized by the British Library

Old books and manuscripts from across the subcontinent are being scanned and digitized by the British Library


Updated:July 17, 2017, 4:03 PM IST
Rare, Old Bengali Books being Digitized by the British Library
(Representative image).
The British Library, which is leading an international partnership to digitize rare material from its South Asian printed book collection, has scanned 1,000 old and rare printed Bengali books from the 19th century, according to project coordinators. As part of the 'Two Centuries of Indian Print' (TCIP) project, in total, 4,000 early printed Bengali books, amounting to more than 800,000 pages, will be digitized and made freely available online.

"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 translations of the Bible," Tom Derrick, Digital Curator, TCIP told IANS at the Jadavpur University on the sidelines of a symposium exploring the history of print in South Asia.

The TCIP pilot project is a partnership between the British Library, the School of Cultural Texts and Records (SCTR) 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.

It marks the start of a major program to share the wealth of Indian printed books held by the British Library dating from 1713 to 1914. Another aspect to the project is applying OCR (optical character recognition) to transcribe the Bengali script. OCR is the recognition of printed or written text characters by a computer.

"We are dealing with historical Bangla and the changes in the language, so the typography is unique. It is underserved by commercial OCR whose focus is more on Western patterns," explained Derrick. To overcome these challenges, the library is running a competition to find an optimal solution for automatically transcribing the Bengali books that have been digitized as part of the project. "So over 20 institutes worldwide have signed up," he said.

According to Layli Uddin, project curator (Bengali) at the British Library, the approach is three-pronged: cataloguing, digitizing and contextualizing.

Abhijit Gupta, joint director, SCTR, says the thinner the book, the rarer they are. "The British Library used a unique mechanism to bind together thin books to preserve them. One of the rare books that is part of the project is Advice for Railway Travellers which gives information on railway schedule after the advent of railways. The point of digitalizing is to access part of the landscape which we know exists but we can't see as they are in libraries across the world." added Gupta.
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