General Library University of Coimbra

The EHL Site

The University of Coimbra is one of the oldest universities in Europe, created in 1290. The first library was probably created in Coimbra around 1308 but the oldest written evidence of its existence dates only from 1503. Since the 16th century it was to be open to the University community and also the public in general, in fact it is the oldest public library in Portugal, the second in size and the largest among university libraries. In over 500 years of existence the library knew 8 different buildings, only Joanina (1717-1728) and the «new building» (1942-1956) still survive today. The baroque library offers no reading room facilities anymore, but its old books can be used in the new building, and in fact around 600 of them are read every year.

European dimension

The General Library of the University of Coimbra was the first library to be awarded with the EHL. Not for the beauty of the baroque library (one of the first of its kind) or the European importance of its holdings but for being the oldest public library in Portuguese-speaking countries and a permanent beacon for the best of European values: granting free access to information, no «forbidden books» existed, censorship attempts were never tolerated and items from the so-called «clandestine presses» were actively collected. The library was also very relevant for librarianship studies and the development of the profession in Portugal. It created the first subject catalogue (1743?), developed its own Classification system (1900), created the first professional journal (1963), and issued the oldest computer-printed bibliographic list (1979) among all libraries in Portugal. Additionally, its users are now a very international community, with around 25% of non-Portuguese readers.

The organization

The library provides the services any public library should have and offers a regular programme of activities for promoting reading and the knowledge of books. Being a «General Library» it performs a supplementary role to the specialized Faculty and Department libraries within the University, focusing mainly (but not exclusively) on Heritage. The Library maintains the book collections, receives national publications through Legal Deposit, assures the availability of the collective catalogues and the common digital libraries but does not manage the tourist visits to the Joanina Library, which is the task of a special Unit of the University.