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Review of ‘British Library 19th Century Collection’ for the iPad

The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and the repository of more than 150 million items. This app, which is free, offers approximately 100 titles from its collection. For a modest monthly fee, subscribers have access to thousands of additional books in the public domain. While students will be fascinated by the range of the collection and the look of these early editions, the app will be especially appreciated by antiquarian book lovers.

Title: British Library 19th Century Collection
Developed by:
British Library and BiblioLabs, LLC
iOS 4.0 or greater; iPad exclusive
Version: 1.1
Free, or by monthly subscription $2.99

Gr 10 Up-If your library supports AP, IB, or college-level courses, this collection may be useful. It features scanned classic and lesser-known books from the British Library, complete with full-color illustrations and maps. 19th Century is organized by subjects: geography, geology, history, fiction, poetry, and drama are included. There is also a collection of titles written in Italian (Libri Italiani). The free version allows for access to approximately four items in each category. Titles are downloaded individually and can be shared via email. The full (subscription) collection is massive; the latest version added 26,000 titles to the original 30,000 and includes material in a number of languages.

The books have no interactive features; they can be scrolled with a slide bar, but there are no other links (think: Google Books). Regardless, the historical manuscripts are fascinating. Daniel DeFoe’s The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe is one of the titles that’s available for free, and its margin notes and library stamp give viewers the feel of the original text in-hand.

The app’s iPad-only availability is a limitation. Other issues are technicalities; books do not rotate with the direction of the tablet. Additionally, there is no copy/paste feature, and in the free version, a search could only sort through book titles. However, these are minor problems; the app is definitely worth sampling. By exploring the scope of the collection, individual libraries will be able to decide if it’s for them. –Pamela Schembri, Newburgh Enlarged City Schools, Newburgh, NY


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