The British Library, which is leading an international partnership to digitise rare material from its South Asian printed book collection, has scanned 1,000 old and rare printed Bengali books of 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 digitised 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 translation of the Bible,” Tom Derrick, Digital Curator, TCIP told IANS here 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 programme 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 digitised 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, digitising and contextualising.
“We want to reach out to a wider audience, 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 printed materials which are not available elsewhere in the world,” Uddin told IANS.
Abhijit Gupta, joint director, SCTR, says the the thinner the book, the rarer they are.
“The British Library used a unique mechanisma they used 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 digitising is to access part of the landscape which we know exists but we can’t seea they are in libraries across the world.” added Gupta.