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Vol. LVII, No. 12
June 17, 2005

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NLM's 'Turning the Pages' Goes Online

On the front page...

Have you ever come across a beautiful old book locked away in a glass case in a library and wanted to leaf through it? Now, you can — virtually — from anywhere in the world, using a computer and web browser.

Using the new, free, online version of “Turning the Pages” (, viewers can flip through three treasured books from the 16th century with a click of their computer mouse.

Actually, the National Library of Medicine is taking a page — pun intended — from its successful program that allows viewers to turn the pages of rare books virtually, via a touchscreen monitor, at kiosks at its Bldg. 38 headquarters.


The high-tech and historical worlds intersect in the "Turning the Pages" technology, which was pioneered by the British Library in 1998, came to NLM in 2001 and was subsequently re-engineered. In addition to looking at the high-quality digital images, the reader can use the zoom feature to magnify any portion of the page for more detail. An audioclip provides information about each page and that narrative, by NLM historians, can also be viewed as text.

The three works are:

These two prosthetic hands from the Paré text are so complex and precise that one wonders whether they were ever made or used. The lower one is equipped with a special quill holder, for writing.  
  • Konrad Gesner's (1516-1565) Historiae Animalium (Studies on Animals) This is a compendium of colorful zoological hand-colored woodcuts. Although it includes descriptions of such creatures as satyrs and unicorns, this masterpiece was the first attempt to describe many of the world's animals accurately.

  • Ambroise Paré (1510-1590), the author of the second book, Oeuvres (Collected Works), was a French surgeon from humble beginnings who revolutionized how surgeons treat wounds. His book features surgical instruments and prosthetic devices from the 16th century.

  • Andreas Vesalius's (1514-1564), De Humani Corporis Fabrica (On the Fabric of the Human Body) features detailed engravings by artists from the workshop of Titian. Vesalius created the modern science of anatomy and produced one of the most influential works in the history of medicine.

"We plan to continue adding to the online bookshelf of 'Turning the Pages,'" said TTP project director Dr. George Thoma. "For historians, students and just about anyone, this program is a hit. It makes learning fun and it gives us a chance to show NLM volumes to people who might never have a chance to visit us." Thoma is chief of the Communications Engineering Branch of NLM's Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications.

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