KU Leuven partners with Google to digitise its libraries

KU Leuven has partnered with Google to digitise its libraries, the university announced on Tuesday. Over the next two years, more than 70,000 books with more than 20 million pages will be digitised and made available to the public. The first batch of 5,000 books was sent to Google on Tuesday.

The books, all more than 125 years old, come from four major collections at the university: the Special Collections, the Maurits Sabbe Library, the Artes Library and the Arenberg Campus Library. Some of the highlights of the selection include the collectio academica antiqua, or old academic collection, and the heritage and research collections of the Jesuits from Flanders and the Netherlands.

"If we wanted to carry out this project independently, it would take more than 99 years"

The books are first examined for minor damage. If a book is in good enough condition to be digitised, it is transported to a warehouse at KU Leuven. There, two staff members take care of the metadata so the books can be found quickly later. Google then takes the books to be scanned. For security reasons, the scanning location is not disclosed. The books are then returned to their original location.

"The Google Books digitisation project is a monumental step forward in opening up our collections. If we wanted to carry out this project independently, it would take more than 99 years," said Hilde Van Kiel, director of the KU Leuven Libraries.

"In addition, this collaboration enriches our collections with OCR [Optical Character Recognition] data, which converts images into textual, searchable data. That's a great advantage for researchers."

Global audience

At the same time, the works will be made available to the public. "By making our digitised collections available on the Google Books platform, we are also extending our reach to a global audience," said Van Kiel. "Researchers who don't have the means to physically visit the works in Leuven, for example, can do so thanks to this project."

A new delivery of around 5,000 books will follow every six to eight weeks. The books will be made available to the public via the Google Books platform. The files themselves will remain in the hands of KU Leuven and can be consulted via the university's LIMO library catalogue.


#FlandersNewsService | Former rector of KU Leuven Rik Torfs delivers a speech at the university library © BELGA PHOTO SISKA GREMMELPREZ

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