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Old printed works and special editions in Digital Collections

Leiden University Libraries (UBL) has made approximately 2300 old printed books and special editions available online through Digital Collections. With this, a small but important part of one of the oldest and most important collections of printed works in the Netherlands is now digitally available in high resolution for research, educational purposes, and the interested public.

Digital old printed works and special editions

The now digitally available collections are very diverse and contain historic academic works and literature, as well as everyday historic printed works. The Rare Books collection, contains some of the oldest printed books in the Leiden collections, like several incunables from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, academic publications by Leiden scholars and scientists, but also colouring books published shortly after the end of the Second World War.

An important part of the Bibliotheca Thysiana, the private library of Johannes Thysius, has also been made available online. Thysius’ physical collection is still kept in the original seventeenth-century library on the Leiden Rapenburg street. The collection contains a great variety of academic printed works, remarkable since Thysius’ contemporaries mainly collected manuscripts. All titles in the physical collection are available for loan the UBL Catalogue.

The Boekenoogen collection contains some five hundred books, acquired by the Society of Dutch Literature (Maatschappij der Nederlandse Letterkunde) before the books in linguist Gerrit Jacob Boekenoogen’s (1868-1930) inheritance were put up for auction. It contains Dutch literature, with a strong focus on folk- and fairy tales. A unique collection in the Netherlands.

Valturius, Robertus (-1483), “De re militari ll. XII” (Verona, 1472), Shelfmark: THYSIA 1601.

Old printed works and special editions in Leiden

Since the founding of the Leiden University Library, the backbone of the Leiden collections has consisted of printed books. The Polyglot bible, gifted by William of Orange to Leiden University as a symbolic first book in the library’s collection, for example, was printed by master-printer Christoffel Plantijn. In the years following, manuscripts and printed books stood side by side on the library shelves, until the manuscripts got a separate place in the library in the eighteenth century. Only in the nineteenth century, the oldest and most important printed works would be transferred from the “normal” library collections to what is now known as the Special Collections. Much of the printed works now available in Digital Collections is part of the Society of Dutch Literature collection, which has on permanent loan to the UBL since 1877.

The digitisation process for books is not just time-consuming, but also quite expensive. Moreover, printed works often aren’t unique, creating the possibility that other institutions have already made titles present the UBL collections digitally available on other platforms. In that case, the UBL will not digitise such a title. This is the most important reason for the relatively limited size of the old printed works and special editions collection in the Leiden Digital Collections, certainly in comparison to the manuscript collections. Many Leiden printed books, however, are digitally available through other platforms. The UBL has provided thousands of books to digitisation projects at the Dutch National Library and Google Books, and aims to make these digitised works available through Digital Collections as soon as possible.

About Digital Collections

UBL makes digitised and born-digital materials available through Digital Collections. The Digital Collections platform provides a wide range of functionalities, like the ability to search printed works full text, to zoom-in on images and the ability to download high definition images. It is also possible to search by types of materials and refine searches, a connection to the library catalogue is readily available and one can search different collections at the same time. Every collection has its own collection page, ensuring easy access to individual collections. Every digital source record has been provided with a persistent link, making records suitable for reference on the internet and in academic publications. Many materials in Digital Collections have been published under a CC-BY license, which makes them usable and alterable for every user. UBL continues to add new materials to Digital Collections. Many of these works are accessible through the Leiden IIIF Advanced Viewer. New users can view our instruction videos to optimally utilize the functionality of Digital Collections.

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