Rare Book Image Bank Goes Live

With the launch of the Rare Book Image Bank, a long-held ambition of the Rare Books division of Special Collections is finally realized: the undertaking of a mass digitization project designed to make material in the collection available at high resolution to scholars around the world for free.

The initial area of focus for digitization will be illustrations, particularly from older Jesuit material. Our holdings in Jesuitica are extensive, containing thousands of illustrations related to the missionary activities of Jesuits around the globe, often dramatically depicting cultural interaction and conflict in the early modern period. Jesuit studies are on the upswing and Rare Books has received numerous requests even for the few digital images previously posted in online exhibitions. The Rare Book Image Bank will make images from these materials easily available for anyone who wishes to browse our collection.

In order for the Image Bank’s contents to be discoverable online, descriptions of individual images must be robust. Using metadata that describes subject matter, genre, format, and graphic content of the material, the Image Bank offers extensive vocabulary for searching. Perhaps you are pursuing a certain genre, such as engravings, maps, or even speech scrolls. Or you may be exploring the great variety of graphic content, from quotidian things (clothing and dress, furnishings, books), to places (cities and towns, churches, prisons), to natural phenomena (lightning, stars), to animals (birds, dogs, dragons, elephants, horses), to people (mothers, children, religious figures, missionaries, saints), to human activities (reading, writing, eating and drinking, whipping, drowning, decapitations, death), to occupations and trades (bookbinding, shoemaking, laundry, maple sugar industry), to concepts (love, solitude, cultural relations, ethnic stereotypes), to religious themes and motifs (angels, heaven, hell, communion, exorcism, prayer). These are just a few examples from hundreds; a drop-down menu of subject terms is available on the left side of the screen.

The Image Bank also takes advantage of the power of the University Libraries’ online catalog by linking each image with its source record. Researchers who begin their searches in the library catalog will find works with digitized content traced as a local collection and linked to the Image Bank.

In time, the Image Bank will expand its focus beyond Jesuitica to include other strengths of the Rare Book Collection, such as emblems and polar exploration. And, although the focus of the Image Bank is illustration, it also includes some important full-text works with authors’ annotations – see in particular Walter Ong’s Ramus and Talon Inventory and two works by Peter Ramus. It is designed to accommodate various objects and formats and will grow over time to include features of the Rare Book Collection such as bindings, endpapers, and provenance evidence.

Full-scale digitization efforts began over the summer, and the Image Bank continues to grow. It now contains 2,308 illustrations and 994 page images from full-text works. Come browse and see what you can find in our rare book collection!

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