Published 19 Sep 2023

University of Coimbra initiates €8M project to digitize 30,000 century-old books from Joanina Library

The University of Coimbra (UC) has announced an ambitious €8 million project to digitize 30,000 century-old books from the renowned Joanina Library in Coimbra, often cited as one of the most stunning historic libraries worldwide.

The University of Coimbra (UC) launches an €8 million project to digitize 30,000 century-old books from the Joanina Library in Coimbra, partnering with the Sharjah Book Authority (SBA) and funded by Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad Al-Qasimi. Signed on February 21st, the collaboration aims to make these books accessible online by 2030. UC plans to digitize the collection over six years, with an initial focus on Middle Eastern publications. The initiative will expand global access through an open-access digital repository managed by UC, with the Biblioteca Joanina Digital collections available on Europeana. The project underscores UC’s commitment to preserving cultural heritage and promoting intellectual freedom.

The initiative aims to make these books, currently housed on the library’s main floor, freely accessible online by 2030.

This project is made possible through a partnership with the Sharjah Book Authority (SBA), with generous financing from Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad Al-Qasimi, the ruler of the Emirate of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates.

According to the University of Combria’s official statement, the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding, outlining the terms of cooperation between UC and SBA, took place on February 21st.

The goal is to digitize the approximately 30,000 books on the main floor of the Joanina Library over six years, part of UC’s General Library’s two million-book catalogue. A 12-month pilot phase will initially focus on Middle Eastern publications, designated as the ‘Sultan bin Muhammad Al-Qasimi Library’.

Access to these rare volumes will be facilitated through an open-access digital repository, expanding readership from the usual 500,000 annual visitors to the Joanina Library to a global audience of researchers and enthusiasts. The UC platform will manage digitization, cataloguing, archiving, and technological solutions, with Biblioteca Joanina Digital collections also accessible through Europeana, a digital portal which brings together books, films, and music from thousands of European cultural institutions.

The General Library of the University of Coimbra, established before 1513, is home to the iconic Joanina Library, a remarkable example of eighteenth-century library architecture. Throughout its history, the library has been committed to providing access to knowledge as a “public library” and has always valued intellectual freedom by avoiding censorship. It bears witness to the idea of free access to sources of knowledge and education, a principle which is a pillar of Europe´s democracy and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

The General Library of the University of Coimbra was awarded the European Heritage Label in 2014.