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British Library: Treasures HD – iPad App of the Week

British Library: Treasures HD – iPad App of the Week

This is a regular feature of the blog looking at various Apps available. Some of the apps will be useful for those involved in learning technologies, others will be useful in improving the way in which you work, whilst a few will be just plain fun! Some will be free, others will cost a little and one or two will be what some will think is quite expensive.

This week’s App is British Library: Treasures HD.

‘Treasures’, the British Library’s first app for iPhone and iPad, makes it possible to explore some of the Library’s rarest and most extraordinary written and printed material – from wherever you are in the world.

Created in partnership with Toura, the app includes over 100 highlights from our collections, including literary, historical, music-related and scientific documents – alongside illuminated manuscripts and sacred texts. Each is presented through high-resolution images, allowing the viewer to zoom in and explore in extraordinary detail.

Literary highlights include Charles Dickens’s handwritten draft of Nicholas Nickleby and Jane Austen’s teenage writings, while key historical documents include 2000-year-old Oracle Bones from China, an original Magna Carta of 1215, Elizabeth I’s famous Tilbury speech before the Spanish Armada, and a recording of suffragette Christabel Pankhurst’s speech after her release from prison.

The section devoted to music includes manuscript scores from some of the best-known classical composers, such as Handel, Purcell, Mozart and Schubert. A section devoted to maps showcases some of the most interesting and beautiful maps and views from the collection.

Christian texts include the Codex Sinaiticus, the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Gutenberg Bible. Other faiths are represented by the Golden Haggadah, Sultan Baybars’ Qur’an, and Buddhist, Daoist, Hindu, Sikh and Zoroastrian manuscripts.

The scientific documents, which are generally less well-known, explore fields such as astronomy, botany, zoology and medicine. They include manuscripts, notebooks and letters that reveal some of the key scientific developments of all time, including Fleming’s discovery of penicillin, and Copernicus’s and Galileo’s findings on the structure of the cosmos.

Alongside these images, the app also includes sound recordings and nearly 50 short videos. This multimedia content totals over 1.2GB and is best when viewed over a WiFi connection. Videos include interviews with British Library curators, the linguist David Crystal and explorer Ben Fogle.

The app will be regularly updated with information on British Library exhibitions, highlighting some of the star items that will be on display. Currently the app includes information on ‘Out of This World: Science Fiction but not as you know it’.

Explore over a thousand antiquarian texts from the British Library by downloading our ’19th Century Historical Collection‘ iPad app, also available in the App Store.


I have been lucky enough to visit the British Library at St Pancras, though as I was there for meetings, I didn’t have a huge amount of time to look round. This app, as you can read from the description, has a huge amount of wonderful content to peruse as and when you want to.

The interface is clear and uncluttered and browsing the images you can swipe and zoom as though they were your photographs on the iPad. It’s great for browsing, but just as easy to focus in on a particular part of the collection.

The developers of the app do say:

Please note that due to the large amount of multimedia content included in the app, a WiFi connection is recommended to watch the videos and listen to the audio.

So not really an App for browsing on the move.

There is also an iPhone version available, alas this is not an Universal App so if you want both the iPhone and the iPad version then you are going to need to buy both! Personally I think the app works best on the larger screen of the iPad, so if you a choice, go for the iPad version.

I was really impressed with the interface, the functionality and the sheer beauty of the content within the app. It was like browsing a coffee table book, or a magazine. This isn’t for the serious historian, but at £3.49 is certainly value for money in finding out about many of the treasures at the British Library and well worth a look.

Update: September 2013

Please note that as of September 2013 Treasures is no longer be available in the Apple and Android stores, as toura have now withdrawn support for the British Library Treasures and Royal Manuscripts apps. We regret the inconvenience this is causing British Library users.

However, it is still possible for you to access the app content that is held on your phone or tablet. To do this you need to disable both WiFi and Cellular Data in the phone or tablet settings. The apps should then load and function as normal, though videos and some other content elements are currently unavailable. When you have finished using the Library apps you will then need to reactivate WiFi and Cellular Data in the phone or tablet settings. We hope to be able to restore the apps to full working order in due course.

For me this is unacceptable, as I paid for the app.

Old Books Going Online

The British Library is taking over one hundred thousand books, digitising them and putting then online.

Old Book

The programme is focussed on the 19th century, alas if the author died after 1936 then it is unlikely that there books will be digitised, as their works are still in copyright.

The BBC has more on this exciting programme:

More than 100,000 old books previously unavailable to the public will go online thanks to a mass digitisation programme at the British Library.

The programme focuses on 19th Century books, many of which are unknown as few were reprinted after first editions.

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