We’re digitising 25,000 19th-century medical books!

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By | Digital Developments

At the end of last year we started a three-year project with Internet Archive to digitise some of our 19th-century medical books. The first fruits of this are now online as part of Internet Archive’s Medical Heritage Library collection, building on 50,000 or so books that US and Canadian libraries have already digitised.

This week, we’ve announced that our project will go much further than we planned. Thanks to the Higher Education Funding Council for England and Jisc, the charity that champions the use of digital technologies in UK education and research, we will expand the project to include other research libraries across the UK. In total we hope to add over 25,000 books – ten million pages – to the Medical Heritage Library. The Wellcome Library will also be making the collection available from its web site, while Jisc will take the lead in developing educational resources and as well as hosting content on their platforms.

To help us shape and deliver the project Jisc and the Wellcome Library will work with other partners, including Research Libraries UK (a body that represents 34 of the leading research libraries in the UK and Ireland) and an academic advisory panel. The digitisation will be undertaken by a team from Internet Archive who are being hosted at the Wellcome Library. We may also look at setting up scanning centres elsewhere in the UK as the project develops.

As with the Wellcome Library’s own collections we are interpreting ‘medicine’ quite broadly, to include related sciences, consumer health, sport and fitness and food and nutrition, as well as kinds of medical practice – mesmerism, phrenology and hydrotherapy, for example – that have since fallen out of favour, but which were important in their time.

We aren’t planning to include journals (we have a separate plan in place for them, details of which will follow soon) but will look at including collections of tracts and pamphlets. Unlike some of our previous digitisation projects there won’t be a ‘grand reveal’ – the digitised books will go online at Internet Archive as they are processed, and will be added to the Wellcome Library soon after this. Where possible, all of the content will be made freely available under a public domain licence so that it can be re-used by anyone, anywhere.

You can read more in the press release from Jisc. A call for expressions of interest, together with details about how we think the project will work, will go out to UK research libraries in the next week or so.

Author: Dr Simon Chaplin is Head of the Wellcome Library.

Simon Chaplin

Simon Chaplin is Director of Culture & Society at the Wellcome Library.

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