I like Gallica. I really do. I’ve found lots of good things on the BN’s digital repository – many books, including some that aren’t even in Google Books.

But they still haven’t figured out exactly how the digital age works, and that confuses me. The particular problem that vexes me stems from their recent (within the past few years) inclusion of archival documents on their website. Downloadable. For free. That’s great. But then you find this:

Gallica archive

Gallica archive

What? A little too small you say? OK, let me just zoom it in, say 300% so it’s nice and big.

Gallica zoomed in at 300%

Gallica zoomed in at 300%

You can click the image to see a larger version. Yes. That’s what it actually looks like at full resolution. They’ve scanned thousands of volumes of archival documents (presumably from microfilm), and you can barely read them.



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4 responses to “Really?”

  1. jostwald says :

    I should add, that you can see a better quality image if you browse many of the documents on their website, using the zoom feature.
    So why bother with the down-sampled PDF download? Storage? Bandwidth?

  2. Susan Johnson says :

    I understand that if you don’t learn to write cursive, you can’t read cursive either. So we are probably the last generation to be able to decypher these wonderful documents, not matter how big the zoom or how clear the PDF. We had better get to work transcribing ASAP!

  3. Erik Lund says :

    Stephen Straker used to tell a story about his first days in graduate school. One of his fellow students was challenged to read something in Akkadian cuneiform, and replied that he didn’t know how to read Assyrian, and was told, “You’re in graduate school now. Learn it.”

    Which is a bit grand for graduate school as I experienced it, but there is a Journal of Cuneiform Studies ongoing, and it’s not because the anonymous reviewers have taken 2500 years to get back to the editor.. Even if it seems that way.

  4. jostwald says :

    FWIW, as of late 2018 it looks like Gallica has OCRed its texts, which you can download as OCRed text. They also provide an accuracy estimate.

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