Medical libraries go online for all

The University has joined forces with one of the world’s major resources for the study of medical history as part of a project to create a comprehensive online resource.

Illustration shows a plate from Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management.

Beeton Dinner Spread

Leeds is one of nine institutions whose 19th century medical book collections will be digitised and added to the UK Medical Heritage Library (UK MHL) for the study of the history of medicine and related sciences, in conjunction with the Wellcome Library and digital education charity Jisc. 

The project's focus is on books and pamphlets from the 19th century that are on the subject of medicine or its related disciplines. This will include works relating to the medical sciences, consumer health, sport and fitness, as well as alternative forms of medical practice, such as hydrotherapy – “taking the waters”. 

Works on food and nutrition will also feature: some 1,400 books from the University’s internationally important Cookery Collection are among those lined up for digitisation. The 8,000-strong collection covers food production, medicine, gardening and household management, as well as cookery. 

Michael Emly, Head of Collection Services at Leeds University Library, said: “We are delighted to be part of this important project to convert what are often rare and precious volumes into searchable data.

“Researchers and members of the public will be able to explore every aspect of 19th century medicine – a period of unprecedented medical discovery." 

Approximately 15 million pages of books and pamphlets from all ten partners will be digitised over two years and made freely available under an open licence. By pooling their collections, the partners will create a comprehensive online library available on multiple platforms to broaden access, including the Internet Archive, the Wellcome Library and Jisc Historic Books. 

The books and pamphlets will be transported to the Wellcome Library in London for digitisation by a team from the Internet Archive. The project will build on the success of the US-based Medical Heritage Library consortium, of which the Wellcome Library is a part, which has already digitised more than 50,000 books and pamphlets.

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