The Poems of Celia Thaxter, Digital Versus Physical

Colby College’s copy of The Poems of Celia Thaxter is full of textual and physical evidence of its social history, but it is not nearly as accessible as the United States Library of Congress’ digital copy. The fragility, tight binding and location of Colby’s copy makes the book more difficult to use than the online copy, which is accessible to anyone with an internet connection. While Colby’s Copy does allow for the reader to track the book’s history of previous owners through its marginalia, the digital facsimile contains just as much information stamped in the front few pages of the book. The detailed record keeping of the Library of Congress enables readers to understand the book’s history much quicker than the copy owned by Colby.

When comparing the digital facsimile of The Poems of Celia Thaxter with the copy held in Colby College’s collection, the first thing that we notice is the cleanliness of the cover. While Colby’s copy is stained with mold and water damage as well as faded to an olive-green, the copy held in the United States Library of Congress is a brighter green with just a few marks across its cover. The vignette on the cover of Colby’s copy is faded and cracked in a few places where the darker cloth shows through, while the digital copy’s vignette is still a bright gold color. A major difference between the the two copies of The Poems of Celia Thaxter is in the binding. Because it was scanned page by page, the digital copy does not have a binding of any kind, whereas Colby’s book has been rebound with white cloth, to protect the more fragile original binding. Neither copy of the book allows us to see what the binding looked like when it was first published. Paging through the digital facsimile does not give me the sense of caution that Colby’s copy does, because of its sturdy digital state. I do not have to worry about breaking the book, like I do when I handle the physical copy.

Inside the two copies of The Poems of Celia Thaxter we can see that Colby’s version has been marked up much more than the book owned by the Library of Congress. While there is marginalia on most of the pages of the hard copy of the book, the digital facsimile has little to no annotating in it at all. The marginalia and signatures in Colby’s copy led me to the discovery of a previous owner of the book, and allowed me to track the history of the book’s location. The lack of marginalia in the digital facsimile doesn’t show much of the book’s use before it was collected. This might not be important, due to the fact that the Library of Congress most likely keeps records of their books’ history.

On the front endpaper of the digital facsimile of The Poems of Celia Thaxter there is a bookplate reading, “Library of Congress, Chap. 3N0, Shelf A2, 1899, United States of America.” This is much more detailed than the bookplate in Colby’s copy of the book that simply reads, “From the Library of Miss Rosamond Thaxter.” We know both where the Library of Congress keeps the book, which could help to find what other books it sits near, as well as when the Library of Congress was gifted the book. This book is in such good quality, because it was given to the Library the same year that it was published. On the copyright page, there is a stamp that reads, “Two Copies Received, Library of Congress, Office of the Register of Copyright.” This shows that the book was given as a pairto the library, which tells us that it was given as a collectors item and not as a book for reading. If the Library wanted the book for its contents they would not bother buying two of the same copy.

The digital facsimile of The Poems of Celia Thaxter is displayed on a platform that allows one to page through the book at any speed that they desire. It allows one to move through the book quickly, moving forward 100 pages at a time, or go page by page, without loading times for either method. It is much easier to use than the physical copy of the book in the Colby library, because it is not fragile, and does not require gentle handling. Becausethe digital facsimile is online, many more readers can access and use the book. It is free to use and easy to operate, showing that digital facsimiles, if done correctly, are just as useful, if not more, than physical copies of books.