If you should ever come across a copy of Audubon’s Birds of America in a second hand shop, you should consider buying it.
It would be hard to miss: as a double elephant folio, this enormous 100x67cm publication, with hand-coloured life-size engravings of its subjects, will probably stand out. Even by today’s standards, the vivid illustrations are impressive but when it was originally published in the 1830s it was extraordinary. Despite its size, though, a copy may be hard to track down. All but 13 of the 120 remaining copies are held in museums, libraries and universities around the world. The University of Michigan has a copy, the University of Pittsburgh has a copy, Sheikh Saud Al-Thani of Qatar has a copy, having paid $8.8 million for it at Christie’s in 2000.
Any ornithologists local to our North-West HQ might be interested to discover that Liverpool Central Library also has a copy. Given its value and rarity, however, the library weren’t just going to keep this volume in their standard racking. The question they posed to us was how to allow visitors to experience these unique images without damaging the pages?
As the book itself is kept in a glass climate controlled case, with a new page unveiled each Monday morning only the truly dedicated are likely to get to view the whole thing. You could view it online, but you might lose the sense of scale and experience. Our solution was a free-standing touch screen kiosk with a large screen able to display scans of each page real size in the dramatic setting of the beautifully restored Oak Room. As part of the £55m refurbishment of the Central Library, it was important that our kiosk reflect both the substantial feel of the venue and the combination of technology and history shared by the rest of the building.
With 425 plates to view, including 6 of now-extinct birds, we think the book and the kiosk are well worth a visit to Liverpool Central Library, and while you’re there you can take in the views from the rooftop terrace and the famous Picton reading rooms.