NYPL’s Biblion: Frankenstein — it’s a Monster App

The New York Public Library‘s Biblion: The Boundless Library returns to the App Store with Frankenstein: The Afterlife of Shelley’s Circles. Biblion’s first offering, World’s Fair for iPad, stood apart from the pack of app store releases when it debuted last year, and curious readers everywhere welcomed Biblion’s second release with excitement and anticipation.

Although Frankenstein is a popular and successful subject for iPad apps, NYPL goes beyond retelling Mary Shelley’s classic horror story. Sure, Frankenstein appears in its entirety, but Biblion also includes Shelley’s original handwritten draft of the first 1818 edition which users can overly with a transcript of the 1831 edition, staged readings of excerpts from the novel, and much, much more.

As the full title suggests Biblion: Frankenstein attempts to go broad and deep by covering the life of Shelley and her renowned family and friends, the many famous adaptations of her novel to stage and screen, and to give a 21st century spin to the novel’s themes. The app even includes a portal for readers to post questions and comments about its content.

If Biblion: Frankenstein sounds ambitious, well, that’s because it is. This app has a serious case of chutzpah. Is it time to insert a joke about the developers creating a “monster” of their own? Surely Biblion: Frankenstein isn’t as uncontrolled as Dr. Frankenstein’s Creature, but it should come with a warning label. This app is not for the impatient, the harried, or the drowsy. Use the app’s included help section if and when you can find it. While its content is unparalleled, and its essays are well-written, the app’s UI crosses the line from complexity and verges on chaos.

I spent several hours exploring the app, and have not come close to exhausting its content; however, I still can’t figure out how to navigate easily, or quickly locate the articles that I bookmarked. In portrait (or book mode) the user can choose from a variety of main themes: Frankenstein, Outsiders, Shelley’s Ghost, and Creation and Remix. (After entering book mode one also finds the help section and the app’s introduction.) If, however, the reader turns the iPad to landscape mode, primary source material appears the screen. The inclusion of so many primary sources (over 750 pages!) makes the app feel substantial and authentic, but the structure is confusing.

A tremendous amount of work went in to creating Biblion: Frankenstein, but I fear readers may grow frustrated trying to navigate through the maze of content.

Download Biblion: Frankenstein for free from the App Store.

What I liked: Biblion: Frankenstein offers readers thought provoking content that is not otherwise found in the App Store or beyond (though NYC residents can still view a related exhibition through June 24, 2012). The app demonstrates the power of ideas, both transitional and enduring, to change a reader. Some ideas change us permanently, while others pass away like a forgotten viral video. Biblion: Frankenstein allows readers to follow the evolution of the Frankenstein story over time, and in various disciplines. The app’s social reading features make it easier to join Biblion’s conversation or share parts of the app via Facebook and Twitter.

What I didn’t like: The app’s confusing interface detracted from its singular content.

To buy or not to buy: Biblion: Frankenstein is free, though the NYPL would welcome your donation. The app will take up 1 GB, however, so make sure there is enough room before installing it. Readers who commit to learning the app’s interface will be rewarded for their efforts. Highly recommended, with reservations.

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About Emily: Emily is a freelance writer who loves discovering new apps whenever she can pry the iPad away from her children or husband. You can contact her via Twitter: @whatwentwrite