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The British Library has just unveiled a new iPad application that allows users to peruse more than 60,000 19th century books.  All of the titles are in the public domain and, unlike e-books, are scanned versions of the original texts and include maps and original illustrations. The British Library partnered with Bibliolabs to create the app.  Bibliolabs is a development company that specializes in the digital distribution of antique and rare books.  Mitchell Davis, the company's founder, commented that the "iPad allows for a level of intimacy with these antiquarian books that evokes a sense of engagement and curiosity that is not possible in a browser based experience." Many have been wringing their hands over the future of the rare book trade in the age of e-books and digitalization, but I think this project exemplifies that the two are not mutually exclusive.  In my opinion, this app is so exciting because it expands the audience of rare book enthusiasts; it allows those who are interested but may be intimidated to handle the materials to have a closer look at the original texts (I currently fall under this category!), and it has the potential to be a great marketing tool for booksellers (I am thinking virtual, interactive catalogues).  There is no question that holding an iPad, even when loaded with images of rare texts, does not compare to seeing and holding the actual book.  It may, however, prompt people to want to see, hold or possess the actual text—the best of both worlds.  I'd love to hear what you think in the comments section. The full app will be available sometime this summer for a fee. Until then, roughly one thousand titles can be browsed for free.  

British Library launch classic book reading app