Cambridge University Library offers Isaac Newton papers online

The Cambridge University Library has begun offering digitized versions of Isaac Newton’s scientific works online.  Anyone can now view over 4,000 pages of Newton material at the Cambridge Digital Library website.

The University Library is home to the largest collection of Newton’s works and soon everyone will be able to see almost all of that collection online.  The 4,000 pages is only a part of the Newton collection.  Cambridge hopes to add thousands of additional pages as they are digitized in the coming months.

The University Library also houses “some of the greatest books in existence” according to Cambridge University librarian Anne Jarvis.  Among the collections are works from James Clerk Maxwell and Stephen Hawking as well as significant religious texts dating back to the 8th century.

This is another example of why we need a national digital library.  It’s absolutely incredible that Cambridge University Library has begun offering digital versions of their collections to the world.  But it’s currently only available through the Cambridge Digital Library site.  One has to either know it’s there or has to have a search engine that is good enough to find it.  Hopefully, Cambridge digitized the works using a format that is compatible with Europe’s digital library, Europeana.  If they did, then anyone looking for digital collections of Isaac Newton has a dedicated site they could go to to search all digital collections in Europe.

If we had a National Digital Public Library of America, it would be compatible with Europeana.  So anyone could perform a search at the national digital library site and have access to any digital collection in the world.  If we continue with no such national digital library, local libraries and museums will continue to digitize their collections but they will only be available on their individual sites.  This means that many of us will not know that those amazing collections even exist.  That would be incredibly sad given how much effort places like Cambridge are going through to put their collections online.

It’s so amazing that anyone with internet access can now view the papers and research of Isaac Newton.  This is truly an amazing development that just scratches the surface of what will be possible with digital collections.