The Library of Rural and Agricultural Literature

Agricultural or rural history – call it what you may – has been slow to take advantage of the digital age. We all know that there is a wealth of historical literature we would like to access, but it is locked in libraries. Even inveterate book-users have to admit that digitised texts are often easier to use and their infinite seachability is capable of revealing information that indexes or speed-reading cannot. So searches on ‘carrot fly’ or ‘harvest home’ or ‘maids’ can produce dividends.

But isn’t all this already out there?

The Core Historical Literature of Agriculture based at the Charles Mann Library, Cornell University, is well established but it concentrates on American literature. There have been plans for similar initiatives in Britain, but even good intentions to digitise the General Views – surely entry-level stuff – have come to nothing. Whilst this talking has gone on, a great deal of the older literature – including most of the General Views – have been made available on the Internet by American University libraries who have been busy digitising their older collections. But a systematic search proved that finding what you want can be tricky, coverage is patchy and scattered, and some volumes cannot be downloaded and must be read online. It may be a long time before comprehensive coverage is achieved.

The LIBrary of Rural and Agricultural Literature (LIBRAL) is, in the first instance at least, a public, open-access resource, including publications through to about 1950, after which copyright issues become more difficult to negotiate.

Version 1.0 was a first step to creating this resource for rural historians: a catalogue of 18th- and 19th-century literature on agricultural topics that had already been digitised and were available on a variety of Web sites. This was done in 2014.

Version 2.0 appeared in 2017 and included 200 titles all uploaded to a single site with its own search facility. We found Version 2.0 was difficult to maintain and decided to work with TannerRitchie Publishing using their MEMSOshell platform to provide a better service (faster download times and better search, among other features). This was referred to LIBRAL/MEMSO or LIBRAL Version 3.0.

Since 2017 we have added many further digitised volumes and we still have much more to make available, including many from the former library of the Royal Agricultural Society of England. In 2020 we added the LIBRAL Gateway, to provide better access to its contents.

Can you help?

Do you have materials in your collection which we could scan and digitise? Don’t send us anything yet but do let us know what you may be able to lend. Scanning is not a destructive process: modern scanning software does not even require the page to be flat as it can correct for a degree of curvature (as well as automatically remove fingers and weights from images!)

What literature do you want to see digitised?

Should we concentrate on county materials, or farming encyclopedias, or the farming press? Are there particular things that you would like to use in teaching that we could usefully prioritise? Do let us know.

Please send us your comments, suggestions and offers of help.