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Making our collections accessible through cataloguing

Our Collections are of international significance.  However, many have not been fully catalogued, making it difficult for researchers to find, explore and understand our unique material. Many existing catalogues are outdated and inadequate for the needs of modern scholarship. Partial cataloguing also prevents us from being able to present the collection to our local communities through exhibitions in our public galleries and our ever-expanding public programmes.

Our vision is to enable research of the highest calibre into our Collections. In order to begin an exciting journey of discovery through the knowledge contained within them we first need to comprehensively catalogue them. As many of the contents of our world-renowned Collections are specialised; they require informed cataloguing by experts with subject specific and technical understanding.

Donor support is crucial in allowing us to accelerate our progress with cataloguing our entire Collection. With your support we can develop a programme of cataloguing projects so that more of our Collections are ready for researchers to work on.

We are enormously grateful to The Robert Gavron Trust, for helping us catalogue the Library’s Guardian newspaper archive; to the Wellcome Trust for funding a scoping project on our Medical Collections and to Dr David Shreeve – who is very generously funding the cataloguing of our Medical Manuscripts alongside a two year Research Fellowship in the History of Medicine. We are also indebted to an anonymous Jewish foundation for funding a substantial project to catalogue our Hebrew Collections.

Providing free global access through digitisation

Our world-renowned Collections are increasingly accessed digitally by researchers and the general public. Digitisation means researchers can work without risking damage to original items.  It also makes items from our Collections more accessible and available to researchers all over the world in electronic format.

We are proud to provide free access to over 50,000 images which were viewed by 30,687 unique users in 2014. We aim to increase the usage of online resources to honour the founder of Library's, Enriqueta Rylands’, commitment that our Collections: “shall be of use in the widest sense of the word,for young students as well as for advanced scholars”. 

The digitisation projects we have completed have already led to great discoveries.  For example, the digitisation of our Genizah fragments has allowed scholars across the globe to reunite the scattered collection of fragments virtually and stitch them together digitally to make the complete fragments available to be viewed anywhere in the world. 

The Library’s photography team are using new advances in spectral imaging to allow researchers to uncover previously unseen texts, hidden under palimpsests for example. Spectral imaging recently enabled the Library’s resident Papyrologist, Dr Roberta Mazza, to discover a Christian magical amulet on the back of a receipt that had faded away, with citations from the Old and New Testaments.

Future Cataloguing and Digitisation Projects

At present we have only been able to digitise a small selection of the fascinating items held in our Collections. There are many areas which are in urgent need of digitisation, however, we have identified the following collections as our priorities for cataloguing and digitisation: 

  • Persian Collections
  • Chinese Collections
  • Jewish Collections
  • Science and Medicine