High Road to Culture in Flanders and the Netherlands


High Road to Culture in Flanders and the Netherlands

Royal Library of Belgium and KU Leuven Libraries to Digitize Collections

Royal Library of Belgium and KU Leuven Libraries to Digitize Collections

The Royal Library of Belgium (KBR) and KU Leuven Libraries announced an agreement with Google to share a large portion of important digitized documents reflecting the rich cultural and historical heritage located in the libraries. This entails over 80.000 works, some dating back to the fifteenth century, that will be made freely accessible in the coming years via Google Books and the institutions’ library catalogues.

Highlights are the printed works by professors of the University of Leuven published before the abolishment of the Old University in 1797, recognised unique pieces such as the first work in Western literature dedicated exclusively to biographies of women, and a unique collection of 25,000 books printed in Brussels in the 17th and 18th centuries. It is the largest collection of old and rare books from the capital of the (Southern) Low Countries, with a strong emphasis on government publications in French, Dutch, Spanish and Latin.

The selection also includes the most complete collection in the world of pamphlets and leaflets from the time of the Brabant revolution that led to the independent United States of Belgium (1789-1790), comprising nearly 7.000 items, and the Corble collection: a collection of the British fencer Archibald Corble (1883-1944), one of the world's most extensive collections on the history of fencing.

The selected books have been previously scanned at the libraries and the digital versions will be sent over to Google’s data centres to be further enriched with data allowing the text to be searchable and machine-readable. After this process is complete, Google will make the digital copies available on Google Books. “The KU Leuven Libraries and KBR will also keep a copy of the enriched data which will be incorporated into their own catalogue. The books that are part of this project are no longer subject to copyright”, explains Stefano Reccia, Partner Manager at Google for the digitisation project.

Some of the scanned works are already accessible on Google Books, such as: Giovanni Boccaccio's De claris mulieribus (Leuven, 1487). This collection of biographies of mythological and historical women is the first work in Western literature dedicated exclusively to biographies of women. This edition, lavishly decorated with woodcuts, is a beautiful incunabulum (book printed before 1540) printed in Leuven.

Another scanned work that is already accessible on Google Books is Unio pro conservatione rei publice (Antwerp, 1515). This very rare book (4 copies preserved) is the eldest printed edition of polyphonic music in the Netherlands. It celebrates the visits of Emperor Maximilian of Austria and his successor Charles V to the city of Antwerpen in 1508 and 1515.

In the EU countries, Google digitises all publications that are in the public domain (generally publications older than 125 years), with the exception of everything that has already been digitised in partnership with other libraries. Google announced last year a collaboration to digitise a large portion of the collections of the Hendrik Conscience Heritage Library and the Plantin-Moretus Museum. Earlier an agreement was signed with the Ghent University Library.

Across the world, Google has digitised numerous collections, including the university libraries of Stanford, Harvard and Oxford, among others. KU Leuven and KBR can now be added to that list.

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