A Tale of Two Internets

July 1, 2008

Several days ago I was trying to figure out the elevation of an elevation marker near my apartment. I couldn’t read it off the marker itself, so I scoured the Internet to see if I could find a topographical map of Manhattan. No matter what I searched for, or where I searched, I couldn’t find a map that displayed what I was looking for. I got tons of topographical maps for sale, but that really wasn’t what I wanted. After trying for what seemed like days (in actuality, it was 63 minutes), I broke down and asked my father if he had any idea on where to look, or even if he could look next time he was in or near the library. Less than a day later, he e-mailed me back with an answer to my question. He had gone to the NY Public Library and found the answer to my query in a matter of minutes using nothing more than the map room and a verbal question (thanks Dad).

In contrast, the first published collection of the plays of one William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon is generally known as the “First Folio”. It was published in 1623 and of the roughly 1,000 copies produced, about 230 are known to be in existence. In 2001, Christie’s auctioned one of the two still in private collections for over $6 million. Next to the Gutenberg Bible, it’s probably the most famous printed book in history. The NY Public Library has a copy, but access to it is limited to researchers “who demonstrate a need to use this irreplaceable material”, which is why I would probably never be able to see it. However, thanks to the University of Victoria, a scanned copy of a First Folio can be browsed online, in all it’s glory; and unlike the printed facsimiles available in bookstores, the resolution of the web copy at the large size is very, very good, and you certainly can’t beat the price.