Whether it is the parking headache in Valletta, the flight of steps of the 18th century building or lack of time that is keeping you away from the National Library in Piazza Regina, you now have no more excuses.
A digital archive of the documents at the National Library in Valletta is up and running and readers can now download a copy of the first printed books dating back to the 15th century, known as incunabula, to read them at their leisure on their mobile or computer.
There will also be no more squinting at small type as readers can zoom into the text.
While it is free to use for research and studying, publishers would need to purchase the rights from the National Library.
There are over 60,000 pages accessible online so far, but the digitisation process will be ongoing as the library is always receiving new material. So far, 700,000 pages have been captured and are going through the digitisation process. This involves a team of seven people and starts with the Reader Services department which prioritises the documents.
Creating a surrogate to preserve the original
There are three main criteria stipulating what get digitised first and this includes requests from readers.
If someone wishes to read a document that is on the library’s shelves in Valletta but not yet in its online vault, they can now ask the National Library to put that book in the queue for digitisation.
Books that are going to go through restoration are also given priority as digitising a document is part of the preservation process “creating a surrogate to preserve the original”.
Meanwhile, valuable and fragile documents such as Nostradamus’s prophecies and newspapers respectively, which are also in high demand, are also prioritised.
Throughout the process, high-quality images are saved by the library so that eventually these could be printed out for those who request a copy.
The material for this project, led by Maroma Camilleri, is then downsized to go online, watermarked and indexed.
Photos of the documents at the library started being taken some years back, however, the process to make them accessible for the public kicked off three years ago.
Asked whether going online would have an impact on the decreasing number of people who actually set foot in the library, Oliver Mamo, director at the National Bibliographic Office, said: “It is not imperative for us to see people inside here, but rather, to see people being serviced through here.
“The library is still open, and it is especially frequented by foreign visitors. However, through the online system we could also capture statistics about the number of readers that access the documents.”
Users do not need a user profile, but just go on http://digivault.maltalibraries.gov.mt/ and look up the document by creator, date range, subject and type of publication.
Is there any material you would like to see on DigiVault? Contact the library on 2123 6585, 2124 3297 or firstname.lastname@example.org