U. of Cambridge Library Will Digitize Rare Books

June 07, 2010

The Cambridge University Library plans to digitize some of the most significant rare books and manuscripts in its vast collection thanks to a gift of more than $2.1-million from a British philanthropist.

The institution said it wants to become a "digital library to the world" by allowing students and scholars Internet access to valuable items in its seven-million-volume collection.

"Our library contains evidence of some of the greatest ideas and discoveries over two millennia," said Anne Jarvis, the university's librarian, in a written statement. "We want to make it accessible to anyone, anywhere in the world with an Internet connection and thirst for knowledge."

The digitization effort will start with two collections: the Foundations of Science and the Foundations of Faith. They include some of the oldest Korans in existence, as well as centuries-old Christian and Jewish texts, and papers by well-known scientific thinkers like Isaac Newton and Edmond Halley.

The donation, from Leonard S. Polonsky, will pay for the initial infrastructure costs of the ambitious project. Mr. Polonsky, executive chairman of Hansard Global, a financial-services company, said he hopes other donors will join him in the digitization project. He also said he is supporting a similar effort at the University of Oxford, which he says has yet to be announced.

Matthew Kalman contributed to this report.