Part 2: The Rules of a Puritan Library
In the remaining weeks we will be spending a lot of time discussing how to efficiently use the Puritans. In this and the next post, I want to take some time to define what a solid Puritan library looks like. Today we lay the ground rules for what follows.
It is my view that the most useful Puritan Study (or Library) will be well-indexed and use both printed volumes and electronic files.
E-books vs. Print books
Open this question, and memories of Ali vs. Frazier or Tyson vs. Holyfield come to mind. Debate whether the Puritans will endure in e-books or print books, and the two sides strap on the gloves and enter the ring for a showdown.
Let’s step back from the debate and make some clarifications.
No question, the computer has changed the way we pass words around. More and more Puritan books are being scanned into .pdf format for use on a computer, and many of these are being converted into text files for easy searching.
Here’s a little more info about the two types of electronic Puritan books commonly available today.
PDF picture files. Some electronic publishers take the Puritan texts and scan them into a computer as a picture file. The pictures can be seen on your computer and are an identical copy of the book page. Usually these are not text-recognized so you cannot conduct a text search or copy and paste. These files are very common with the Puritans but they also make for large and cumbersome files. (My powerful Apple PowerBook G4 can hardly keep up with a 100 MB file off the hard drive.) So unless you have the most powerful computer on the market, it is hard to efficiently use these large .pdf files.
Text files. These are more rare because they demand careful editing of the raw text. The raw text is generated by a computer deciphering words from the printed page through a scan of the page. Because many Puritan books are old editions, the computer doesn’t perfectly transcribe the words and so time-consuming editing is critical. This text file makes for much smaller and convenient file. But even better, they are searchable. There is a growing collection of these files freely available at www.CCEL.org . The Puritans are in the public domain so anyone can scan and distribute the texts freely. More about that later.
Back to the ring. Who is going to win the fight? The old dusty volume or the energetic young e-book? If we look at e-books and print books honestly, we see that they are more compatible than at first glance. In fact, I would argue that e-books and print books make a better matrimonial match than a boxing match.
For example, print books travel easily. A volume travels in the airport and across the country, without plugs or electricity. You can underline in it and write marginal notes. On the other side, the e-book text can be searched in seconds. But who spends hours at their computer reading through a Puritan e-book? (Ouch, my eyes water at the thought.) Print books are much easier to read. Print books usually include very helpful indexes at the end and since e-books are often repaginated, those indexes become worthless in text files. With e-books, I can keep hundreds of volumes on my laptop when I’m out of town.
My point: We need both e-books and printed books. Let them live in peace.
Probably the best example I can give you is my use of the 2-volume Works of Jonathan Edwards. (No preacher should be without them, Martyn Lloyd-Jones said.) And no preacher should be without the free text files either.
The two work beautifully together. The text file is easy to search and the print volume is nice to read.
Let’s say we are preaching through Ephesians chapter 2, and we want to see what Edwards had to say. We open the text file to the first volume. And since the text file uses Roman numerals we do a quick search on “Eph. ii.”. We see there are 35 references to Ephesians 2 in the first volume of Edwards’ Works in about 3 seconds.
The reference you see on the screen shot looks like an interesting one. Notice this text file (from the CCEL) includes the printed page number in the left column. I open the Banner of Truth volumes in my library to page 628. Where was this reference by Edwards? A sermon? A book? What was Edward’s main point in using Ephesians 2 here? These questions are more easily answered by reading the printed book.
Wasn’t that easy?
Now here is the shocker: I personally believe e-books actually make the printed books MORE valuable! They certainly make the printed volumes more useful. [One idea: Puritan publishers should consider bundling their printed volumes with a free CD of electronic volumes.]
Remember Thomas Edison who invented the phonograph (‘sound’ + ‘writing’) in 1876? Well Edison proudly predicted that by the year 2000 audio books would eliminate the need for printed books. He was wrong. Printed books, like diamonds, are forever.
Q: Should I pay for Puritan CD-Roms?
Generally speaking I say “No,” don’t buy Puritan CD-Roms. As you will see there are exceptions to this rule but most Puritans are going online at an amazing rate. Just look at the files available on Puritan John Owen from CCEL (here). And all these are free.
Because almost all of the Puritans (including Spurgeon) are public domain, nobody has the rights to the text itself. Anyone can take the text and publish them as they wish. And that is what people are doing online.
Wait patiently. Pretty much all the important Puritan files you see on these expensive CD-Roms sets will be available for free (and in searchable text form) in the coming years. So if you own the CD-Roms already consider unloading them on Ebay while they still have value. Invest your money in printed books.
Indexes are the key to the Puritan Study I am laying out before you. I don’t have the time to sift through 100,000 pages of Puritan literature to create my own index (and I’m certain you don’t either). So the best Puritan Study will be built from the indexes currently available.
The following two indexes are especially valuable. (Ironically, one is electronic and one printed.)
1. A free online index. This index lists the Puritan sermons by sermon text. It’s especially valuable because it includes an index to the sermons of Charles Spurgeon. There is no topical index. Later in the series I’ll show you how to get around this hitch.
2. A Guide to the Puritans by Robert P. Martin (Banner of Truth, 0851517137). This volume comprises two indexes (by text and by topic). Like the free resource above, this book is a handy textual reference to the Puritan sermons (minus Spurgeon). But what makes this especially valuable is the topical index of the sermons. You can look up any topic – like ‘Christ > Pre-incarnation existence of’ – and see that both Flavel and Manton preached sermons on the subject. No true Puritan researcher should be without this volume.
So these are the ground rules for my Puritan Study. I value both the e-books and printed volumes. And a good index is critical.
Tomorrow we will look specifically at the most useful (and best indexed) of the Puritans.
Next time … Part 3: The People of a Puritan Library