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Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Books, books and more books online

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The Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer at Papa Stronsay have begun online the Golgotha Monastery Library. Like the splendid collection of scanned books at Ite ad Thomam that I mentioned recently, these are essentially page images but are quite readable.

There are, of course, lots of books by St Alphonsus. I have downloaded "Dignities and Duties of the Priest" which will be good spiritual reading for Lent. There are also a few liturgical books and some lives of the saints. I think that we can expect this library to grow steadily.

Another superb collection online is Documenta Catholica Omnia. These are mainly Latin texts. Some of them have been digitized and so are searchable, others are page images. Sadly, the site seems to have hit some restrictions since I first consulted it. In the case of Migne's patrologia you have to email the site to get permission to use the file and agree to the terms and conditions. The site is the work of the Cooperatorum Veritas Societas (Society of Co-workers of the Truth).

For those who do not read Latin, a good compendium of useful texts can be found in the "Resources" section of Catechetics Online. Some of these can be found elsewhere but the Ecumenical Councils files are very useful, giving as they do all the texts in English of all the Councils of the Church. Another one that I first found here is "The Sources of Catholic Dogma" which is an English translation of the old edition of Denzinger.

We should not forget the grandaddy of all such services, New Advent. The organisation of the English edition of the Summa Theologica is the most helpful I have seen. Most people will have found the English texts of the Fathers and the Catholic Encyclopaedia. I remember that project when it was first launched. It seemed at that time impossible that by a collaborative effort every page would be scanned or typed and corrected by volunteers.

A few other links that I currently find useful are:
Guéranger's L'Année Liturgique (in French)
Denzinger's Enchiridion with newer numbering (in Latin)
St Thomas Aquinas Opera Omnia (in Latin)

One thing that I have long craved is an electronic version of the Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique, that magnificent work of reference. I am fortunate enough to own a bound copy but it would be great to be able to put articles on the Kindle, to search for words, and (let me admit it) to bump up the font size. The original publishers Letouzey & Ané will sell you a DVD of it for 226 euro (£192 or $312) which is a rather lower price than when I last looked. I just checked around and found that Google have grabbed the text from the volumes in Harvard College Library (it is long out of copyright) and it is now at the Internet Archive. I looked at one site for downloads but that may be a scam site (see Patruus in the combox.) Will have another look later.

The availability of texts on the internet has been, for me, one of the great wonders of this medium. I understand that Google's modest aim is to digitize all the books in the world. The way things are going, that idea seems ever less ridiculous. SocInfo has an interesting article from just over a year ago discussing this and the similar project of the Internet Archive.

Of course I still love real libraries and musty old books that have been there for centuries. I enjoy it when I am able to spend some time in the Wonersh library and I have fond memories of reading books and writing essays in the Radcliffe Camera. The finest library I have had the privilege to visit is that of the Carthusians at Parkminster (pictured above). I might suggest to them that they get in touch with Google: you would be surprised to find how open the Carthusians are to sharing their heritage.

So yes, real books are great, but only a few years ago, I would have had to travel to one of these libraries or pay out vast sums of money to consult some of the books now freely available on the internet. I don't think it is a case of either real books or electronic books. One of the good things about the internet is the way that it can make otherwise inaccessible resources available to all of us easily.

Perhaps you know of some other great texts or collections that are now online. Please do put them in the comments box. (Extra Brownie points if you put the link in properly!)
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