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Accessing Special Collections

The Special Collections of Leiden University Libraries contain a world-renowned and vast collection of old prints, manuscripts, archives, prints, drawings and photography. Our collections are accessible to Leiden researchers and students, as well as external researchers and other interested parties.

Visiting the Special Collections

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A valid library card is needed when visiting the Special Collections Reading Room. 

Depending on de type of material researchers can search and request items for consultation through the online catalogue or via the collection guides:

  • Online catalogue – Search the catalogue and request the material for viewing in the reading room. This subject guide provides detailed information on how to use the catalogue.  
  • Collection Guides A collection guide describes the content of a collection or archive, and informs you about its history, acquisition, other finding aids and related material. See the guide for a detailed explanation of searching and requesting material through the collection guides.

Most requests will be available for consultation within one hour after your request. However, there are exceptions, such as photographic material and items held off-site. 

No items will be distributed after 4:30 p.m.

When will my requested items be available?

How to request material from the Special Collections

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Finding aids:
Browse our finding aids and catalogues to learn more about our collections and to identify specific material.

  • Online catalogue – Select Special Collections in the drop box next to the search bar. You can search by title, author, shelfmark, and keywords. Search results can be specified by, e.g., material type, date, language, and creator. See the subject guide and the tutorial for a detailed explanation of how to use the catalogue.
  • Collectionguides.universiteitleiden.nl – Provides extensive search options and more in-depth information about, for instance, the provenance, composition, and user instructions for a specific collection. An inventory is available for a growing number of archives. See the tutorial for a detailed explanation of searching and requesting material through the collection guides.
  • Digital Collections – The Digital Collections provide access to a growing number of digital reproductions of material from our collection. Copyright licenses are provided in the description of every item. Non-copyrighted images can be freely downloaded and reused under a CC-BY license. Watch the instructional videos for information on searching, downloading, and using the IIIF Advanced Viewer.
  • Collections – The Special Collections are divided into seven domains. The web page Collections provides a description of the different domains and directs you to the relevant subject guides.
  • Subject guides – Provide a comprehensive overview of reference works, databases, websites, and collection guides within a specific area of research or topic.
  • Printed catalogues – Not all descriptions in the online catalogue are complete. You can often find more information in the many printed catalogues and inventories written about our most important collections. You can find them all in the collection guide Catalogues of the Holdings of Leiden University Libraries. 

The Special Collections contain mostly precious and fragile material. Therefore, visitors must observe the following rules and regulations:

  • Materials should only be handled with clean and dry hands. Before your visit, always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. Toilets with fountains are located in the same hall as the reading room.
  • No jackets, bags, laptop sleeves, cases, and camera bags are allowed. Lockers are available next to the entrance of the reading room.
  • No food or drink is permitted in the reading room.
  • Pens and markers are not allowed. You may use a pencil or a computer to take notes.
  • No large rings, bracelets, loose sleeves, or necklaces hanging over the object are allowed.
  • No coloured nail varnish.
  • Books must be appropriately supported using a pillow (not flat on the table).
  • It is not permitted to wear gloves when handling books, manuscripts, maps, prints, and drawings. Only use nitrile gloves when handling photographic materials and at the request of staff.
  • You must keep any touching of objects to a minimum. Use lead laces.
  • Staff will retain your library card in exchange for the issued material(s). Using the reading room without a valid library card is not allowed.​​​​​​​

The number of items that can be issued depends on the type and condition of the material.

 General guidelines:

  • Manuscripts: a maximum of 2 manuscripts at a time. 
  • Loose folios and archival material: you will receive one folder at a time. 
  • Bound material: up to 8 at a time. 
  • Maps: up to 2 at a time.
  • Drawings, prints, and photographs: up to 1 box at a time.

How to handle material from the Special Collections

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Photographs and scanning

In most cases, researchers are permitted to photograph material. After obtaining permission, you may take a maximum of 20 images per object. Please ask permission for each individual item.

The use of flash, your own scanning equipment or a tripod is not allowed. When photographing, always hold your camera (or phone) using both hands and always put down the camera before turning over a folio. Material should always remain on the table and be properly supported by a cushion (for bound material), or a foam mat (for flat material). Use the available lead laces (not your fingers) to stabilise folios while photographing. Please work in a calm and careful manner. 

A table easel can be provided for undamaged and stable flat material. 

Using images from Digital Collections

Depending on the copyright status, you will either be able to view and download the images from home, or only consult them by connecting to the University's wifi network (eduroam, Leiden University, or NUWD-Laptop) in one of the University's buildings in Leiden and The Hague. All items in the Digital Collections have a copyright statement that applies to that particular image. 

When referencing material from the Special Collections, please include: Leiden University Libraries + shelf mark.

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Leiden University Libraries has done its utmost to locate the copyright holder in order to acquire permission for publication in the Digital Collections. If you nonetheless believe copyrights are not being respected, please send an email to: specialcollections@library.leidenuniv.nl.

Leiden University Libraries assumes no responsibility for damages resulting from or connected to the reuse of images from the Digital Collections.   

notice-and-take-down procedure

Materials of the Special Collections can be digitised and reused on request for research or publication.

Ordering images:
For ordering digital images from the Special Collections, use the Digitisation Request Form. The online form is also accessible via the catalogue. Items from the Special Collections all have the ordering button with a link to the Digitisation Request Form.

Go to the Digitisation Request Form

Due to renovation and redesign of the digitisation studio, delivery of invoices and images will take longer than usual. Please allow a delivery time of at least ten weeks on existing orders.

Standard non-commercial reproductions of loose material in Tiff format cost €27,50 (excl. VAT) per image. For bound materials, the first page is €27,50 (excl.VAT), and for every succeeding page €2,50. It is also possible to request items in PDF format (€11 per image, for bound materials, add €1 per extra page).

Some items may be protected by copyright law. Without written permission from the rightful copyright holder(s), you cannot order digital images from items that are copyright protected.

If digital images cannot be provided you'll receive an email message.

Publishing images:
If you intend to publish material from our collections, please: 

  • include a proper acknowledgment of the creator(s) of the original work.
  • include a proper acknowledgment of the source of the publication: Leiden University Libraries + shelfmark.

To reuse copyrighted images, you must personally request permission from the copyright holder. Works of literature, science, and art are protected by copyright, which lasts for the life of the author up to and including 70 years following the death of the author. Copyright holders are the creator, any other collaborating creator(s), surviving relatives or entities to which the copyrights have transferred.

Reuse means all acts of publication and reproduction. Leiden University Libraries assumes no responsibility for damage resulting from or connected to the reuse of images from originals from its collections.

We would appreciate it if you provide the library with a complimentary copy of your publication. Send your copy to Leiden University Libraries, Special Collections, Witte Singel 27, 2311 BG Leiden.

The reference libraries are located on the second floor, in the Special Collections Reading Room, and on both sides of it. Here you will find the most important reference works and current periodicals in the field of eastern and western manuscripts, the printed book, cartography, prints, drawings, and photography. All books from the reference libraries are catalogued using the Library of Congress Classification.

Entrance 3 provides access to journals and reference works from the visual collections: prints, drawings, photography, maps, and atlases. 

Entrance 4 (and the door to the right) provides access to journals and reference works on text collections: western and eastern manuscripts and rare printings.

In the Reading Room you will find reference works such as printed catalogues and inventories. There are also many facsimiles, both from our own collections and elsewhere.

Opening hours:
Users can only access the reference library located in the reading room during the opening hours of the Special Collections. The reference libraries at entrances 3 and 4 close at 19h00.

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