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Walters Art Museum Digitizes, Posts Medieval Books Online

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BALTIMORE (WJZ)– Putting history online. That’s what the Walters Art Museum is doing thanks to nearly a million dollars in grants.

Andrea Fujii has the story.

Handling 15th century jewel-encrusted books requires precision.

“You do always have a little voice in the back of your head saying, ‘Don’t drop it!’” said Diane Bockrath, a digitization specialist at the Walters Art Museum.

Bockrath has helped to digitize 79,000 pages of medieval Islamic and Christian Orthodox books, thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. And all the images are online for free.

“We are, in a way, as free on the Internet as we are at the front door,” Gary Vikan, Walters Art Museum director, said.

Now, the museum has received another $265,000 grant to digitize Flemish manuscripts, including prayer books from Northern France.

“This particular grant will add another 43,000 pages and these are available to anybody in high resolution for virtually any purpose they want,” Vikan said.

It’s a pretty simple process. Behind each page is a mini vacuum that flattens the page. The operator presses “Scan” and it’s digitized.

They can process up to 200 pages a day sharing history with the world.

“When a book is displayed in a case you can only open it up one page at a time,” Bockrath said. “And this way the public can flip through and see every beautiful page.”

About 200,000 people a year visit the Walters Art Museum in person. But with these grants, now 2 million are visiting them online.

The Walters will start digitizing their next project in January. For a link to some of the images digitized by the museum, click here.

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