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Subject guide

Manuscripts, Archives and Letters: further information

A collection consists of items and parts that have been collected by one or more individuals or institutions not responsible for their formation. An archive has been created by one or more individuals or institutions.

The Overview of archives and collections offers a quick survey of individuals and institutions who collected or created the manuscripts, archives and letters now kept at Leiden University Library. It also contains links to the collection guides and finding aids.

Within this domain many series of shelfmarks or call numbers are in use. They are necessary to identify the works and request them for consultation in the Reading Room. A shelfmark consist of a letter code (mostly derived from the name of a collector or archive’s creator) and a number (sometimes in its turn followed by a one or more letters): LTK 191 — VLF 30 — BPL 14 A. In the Overview of shelfmarks you will find all lettercodes in use.

First search the online catalogue, using the Special Collections tab. You can limit search requests beforehand (or filter search results afterwards) to Manuscripts and archives or to Letters (no distinction between western and oriental documents), if desired also by language and period. The online catalogue contains:

  • descriptions of manuscripts or papers, and of letters or correspondence parts. When documents have been digitized, the online catalogue also contains separate descriptions of these digital versions, with links to the scans in Digital Special Collections.
  • descriptions of collections and archives on a general level. These collection guides (EAD’s) provide information about origination and acquisition, contents and structure, user instructions, literature, and for a growing number of archives also an inventory. When an archive has been digitized, this inventory contains links to the scans in Digital Special Collections.

Digital Special Collections is a database containing digital images of manuscripts, archives, letters and other materials (such as rare books, maps, prints, drawings and photographs).

For most special collection items the online catalogue doesn’t provide in-depth descriptions. More information can be found in printed catalogues and inventories that have been compiled in the course of time. They have been brought together in a separate collection guide: Collection Catalogues of the Holdings of Leiden University Libraries. This collection guides listst nearly 400 printed publications, divided in chapters (A-S), with links to the paper copies and digital versions.

At first the manuscripts, archives and letters were described in a series of general catalogues, together with the printed books (A 1 — A 9). Since 1852 Leiden’s manuscript holdings were described in separate catalogues and inventories (D 1 - D 31; for the loan collections see M, O, Q).

The Special Collections Reading Room (second floor, entrance 4, left) contains copies of these publications (DOUSA 80).

Not all manuscript collections and archives have been described in printed catalogues and inventories. For this reason the existing card catalogues (updated until 1995) still provide inportant information. The card catalogues are located in Room 211 (second floor, entrance 5, right). There are several indices:

  • Texts: alphabetical index of authors (and titles); subject index for anonymous texts
  • Scribes and owners: alphabetical index of personal names
  • Literature on Leiden manuscripts: alphabetical index of shelfmarks

The Special Collection Reference Library: Text at entrance 4 of the second floor (go right) contains journals, reference works, bibliographies, surveys and library catalogues pertaining to western and oriental manuscripts and rare books. The volumes are shelved according to the Library of Congress Classification. The LCC shelfmarks in the online catalogue and on the spine labels of the volumes differ from those of the Study Area (first floor), in that they begin with “II-4”. For an overview of the contents of this reference library see: Classification Outline (LCC) — Geographical Index & Subject Index (selections).