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The BBC's Christine McGourty
"Every page has been scanned into a computer"
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Wednesday, 22 November, 2000, 10:28 GMT
Gutenberg Bible goes online
Only a handful of Gutenberg Bibles still exist
By BBC technology correspondent Christine McGourty

The Gutenberg Bible, the first book ever printed is set to go on the internet in full for the first time.

The British Library has collaborated with researchers from Keio University in Japan to provide electronic versions of two of the 15th Century bibles to improve access to scholars around the world. It will result in less wear and tear on the originals.

The library has two complete copies of the Gutenberg Bible - one printed on paper, the other on vellum - and putting them online will make it easier for scholars to compare the two.

The electronic copies of the books were posted on the British Library's website on Wednesday.

Fine detail

Kristian Jensen, curator of early printed books at the British Library, said: The books are actually quite strong, but the only thing that can destroy them is being handled too much.

The British Library's Kristian Jensen
The British Library wants to ensure the bibles last another 500 years
"If we can give access to them while preventing that, it will ensure they'll be with us 500 years from now.

"Of course, if you really need to look at the originals, you will get permission to do that, but a lot of the images are of such good quality that you'll be better off looking at them on the internet.

"We've been able to magnify them to such an extent that you can see details that it's very difficult to see with the naked eye."

Spy satellite technology

Ten researchers and technical experts from Tokyo's Keio University and from Japanese telecoms company NTT spent two weeks in the British Library to digitise the pages. They used technology originally designed for spy satellites.

Monks at St Michael's Abbey in Farnborough
Benedictine monks welcome wider access to the Gutenberg Bible
Keio University also has part of the bible available on its website.

Dom Cuthbert Brogan, prior of St Michael's Abbey in Farnborough, Hampshire - a Benedictine monastery - said it was fitting that the book should now join the internet revolution.

"The great thing about the Gutenberg Bible coming together with the internet is that there's a great turning point in technology there," he said.

Digital library

"With printing, we had the increase in literacy and the possibility of lots of people having a copy of the Bible, not just people who had the money to commission printed volumes.

"Now we have the internet doing the same thing again. We have the possibility of information not being kept to a few, but spread across the world by the web.

"It's wonderful that the British Library should choose the Gutenberg Bible to mark that transition.

The project is one of many digitisation projects underway at the library to aid conservation and widen access. The library recently announced a 25m deal with Digital Library Systems and IBM to "build" a national digital library.

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