To that end, it is using a unique piece of software called Turning the Pages, designed to allow readers to look at rare books in a natural way. With Turning the Pages, users can read the books in their original format, almost exactly as they were intended to be read by their original audience.
So far, the library has been able to digitize and transfer around 20 books into Turning the Pages, although the program could eventually encompass millions of books. The interface presents the books as if they were physically present on the screen, with controls for moving through the book as though the pages were being turned.
The example above shows the handwritten dedication page from Alice's Adventures Under Ground, the original title of Alice in Wonderland. Charles Dodgson (also known as Lewis Carroll) wrote the book at the request of the daughter of one of his friends.
"The Mouse's Tale" is a familiar feature of Alice in Wonderland as we see it today, but, in Alice's Adventures Under Ground, the words written by Dodgson are quite different. These differences between the original and finished versions of a book pique the interest of those who want to know the full story.
"It gives you the look and feel of turning the pages," said Stephen Lilgert, head of infrastructure strategy and development at the British Library. "At the launch of Vista, Bill Gates did one of the events here at the library itself. The codex was digitized and made available to people running Vista, and it will work with (Windows) XP as well. With the Vista version, you can make notes on it."
Versions are available for Adobe Shockwave on the PC and Mac, but a more detailed version is limited to Microsoft's Silverlight platform. No Linux version is available.
"We are moving the Shockwave version onto Microsoft's Silverlight technology," said Lilgert, noting similar Silverlight effort at the U.S. Library of Congress. The Shockwave one is OK, but it is still not the same level of zooming that you get with Silverlight."
The project has moved on with the close co-operation of Microsoft. "What (Microsoft) got out of it was a whole load of book content as they try to play catch-up with Google," Lilgert told ZDNet.co.uk.
"So they approached us--because we have a very good relationship with Microsoft on a whole host of things--about digitizing a whole load of books. So what we got was someone who was going to help us with the funding of a large digitization project and we were getting more experience on actually digitizing the material in the first place," Lilgert said.