In an announcement made on Tuesday, KU Leuven revealed its partnership with Google to digitize its vast library collection. Over the next couple of years, the initiative aims to digitize more

than 70,000 books, containing over 20 million pages, offering public access to this wealth of knowledge. The first set of 5,000 books was dispatched to Google on the same day.

These books, all surpassing the age of 125 years, originate from four primary collections within the university: the Special Collections, the Maurits Sabbe Library, the Artes Library, and the Arenberg Campus Library. Noteworthy among these collections are the ancient academic collection known as the collectio academica antiqua and the valuable heritage and research compilations associated with the Jesuits from Flanders and the Netherlands.

Efficiency and Collaboration

To facilitate this ambitious project, the books undergo a meticulous examination for minor damages. Those deemed fit for digitization are then transported to a dedicated warehouse at KU Leuven. Here, meticulous metadata work is undertaken by a team of two, ensuring swift retrieval of books for future reference. Google takes charge of the scanning process, although the specific location for security reasons remains undisclosed. Once scanned, the books are returned to their original location.

Hilde Van Kiel, Director of the KU Leuven Libraries, expressed the magnitude of this collaborative effort, highlighting that independently undertaking such an endeavor would stretch over a staggering 99 years. Furthermore, this collaboration not only amplifies accessibility but also enhances collections with Optical Character Recognition (OCR) data, facilitating textual searches and significantly aiding researchers in their pursuits.

Wider Access and Future Plans

Van Kiel emphasized the global outreach this project affords, as digitized collections will be accessible through the Google Books platform, extending the university's academic reach to a broader audience worldwide. This endeavor particularly benefits researchers who may lack the means to physically access works in Leuven, providing unprecedented access courtesy of this collaborative effort.

The project plans to deliver around 5,000 books every six to eight weeks, ensuring a steady and consistent release of digitized materials. While accessible via the Google Books platform, the files themselves remain under the custodianship of KU Leuven and can be accessed through the university's LIMO library catalogue, maintaining a direct link to the institution's resources. Photo by Wentao Jiang, Wikimedia commons.