NIH News Release
NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH
National Library of Medicine

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, March 12, 2001

Contact: Robert Mehnert,
Kathleen Cravedi
(301) 496-6308
publicinfo@nlm.nih.gov

Innovative Technology Helps Public Touch Treasures:
National Library of Medicine to Launch "Turning the Pages"

(BETHESDA, MD.)— Did you ever go to a historical exhibit and see a fascinating old book locked in a museum case? It was probably carefully propped open to display just two pages. Did you wish you could actually leaf through it? Now you can.

The first U.S. site of "Turning the Pages," a remarkable program developed at the British Library, is the National Library of Medicine (NLM), in Bethesda, Maryland. On March 16, 2001, the NLM will unveil a digitally browsable Elizabeth Blackwell's Curious Herbal, published between 1737 and 1739.

"Turning the Pages" will be demonstrated to reporters on Friday, March 16, 2001, from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. There will be a live transatlantic ceremony at 1:30 p.m., featuring Donald A.B. Lindberg, M.D., Director of the NLM, in Bethesda, and Lynne Brindley, Chief Executive of the British Library, in London.

"Turning the Pages" uses computer animation, high-quality digitized images, and touch screen technology to simulate the action of turning the pages of a book. "The sensation of actually leafing through a rare volume is uncannily real," said NLM Director Donald A.B. Lindberg, M.D. "It reveals the significance and beauty of rare volumes in a way never before possible, and we are grateful to the British Library for creating the system and letting us be the first to use it in this country," he added.

Besides looking at the beautiful drawings by moving a finger across the screen and moving forward or backward in the volume, the "reader" can touch an icon on each page and zoom in on any portion of a page as desired. The U.K. Design Council voted the "Turning the Pages" system a "Millennium Product," leading to it being displayed at the Department of Trade and Industry.

The first book in the U.S. to be available this way, the Blackwell herbal has a curious history. It is notable both for its beautiful illustrations of medicinal plants and the fact that Elizabeth Blackwell undertook its creation and publication to raise money to satisfy her husband's debts and have him released from debtors prison. Color plates depict 30 plants ranging from the common dandelion, used as a diuretic, to the tomato, which was brought to Europe from the Americas and thought to be good for inflammations.

Lynne Brindley commented: "Our Library has worked closely with the National Library of Medicine since 1966 when it was the first International MEDLARS Center. The British Library was the first organization in Europe to offer MEDLINE as an online service in the mid 1970s. It gives me, therefore, particular pleasure to continue this close association through the project to digitize Elizabeth Blackwell's Herbal and to bring the Library's award-winning Turning the Pages technology to the U.S. We look forward to further digital collaborations."

This is the first of several volumes for which the NLM plans to employ this technology. The second will be Vesalius's Humani corporis fabrica ("on the construction of the human body"), which is illustrated with detailed, precise anatomical drawings made from dissections carried out personally by the author. This is the first truly modern anatomical text.

The National Library of Medicine, a part of the National Institutes of Health, is the world's largest library of the health sciences. The address of the Library is 8600 Rockville Pike in Bethesda, Maryland. The ceremony will be in Building 38A, the Lister Hill Center. The Library has an extensive Website at http://www.nlm.nih.gov that provides a great variety of information for the public and for health professionals.

Note to media: For photographs and video, get in touch with the Library's Office of Communications and Public Liaison at publicinfo@nlm.nih.gov.