ProQuest Completes Digitization of Rare Books at Wellcome Library

ProQuest’s renowned Early European Books (EEB) program now includes nearly 10,000 digitized titles and more than 4 million pages from the Wellcome Library, the pre-eminent collection in Europe devoted to the history of medicine and related topics.

In collaboration during the past five years with its scanning vendor, Numen, and the Wellcome Library, ProQuest has now completed the digitization and indexing of books from the Wellcome Library printed before 1701, including books from its unique incunabula collection (before 1501).  This project is part of ProQuest’s European-wide program, EEB, making available early printed books from five major European libraries to date.

Many volumes from the Wellcome Library are extremely rare, sometimes with only one other copy known to exist. These materials also include one of the most important collections of medical incunabula in the world, with copies of more than 350 books printed before 1501 included in the online collection, featuring fine woodcut illustrations showing human anatomy, plants and animals, and more unusual subjects, such as conjoined twins.

Digitization dramatically expands discovery and access to these materials, enabling researchers around the world to explore the books’ rich content without the need to physically visit the location of the collections.

“The Wellcome Library was delighted to collaborate with ProQuest to contribute content to Early European Books,” said Dr. Richard Aspin, Head of Research at the Wellcome Library. “The collaboration enabled us to provide access to high quality digital surrogates from our Rare Books collection much sooner than would otherwise have occurred, in view of other in-house digitization commitments.”

He added, “Contributing our content to a larger corpus of related and complementary material makes it more useful to scholars and researchers, who are typically less interested in the library where an individual book can be found than in the text itself or the identity of the past owner of a particular volume.”

ProQuest’s EEB program encompasses unique European printed material from the early modern period, 1450-1700, a period of profound societal and religious change and considered by many historians as the foundation of modern intellectual western thought. To date, materials have been sourced from key collections at major repositories, including the Danish Royal Library (KBDK), the National Central Library in Florence (BNCF), the National Library of the Netherlands (KBNL), the National Library of France (BnF), and the Wellcome Library in London.

ProQuest’s program now exceeds more than 45,000 titles with 14.5 million pages of rich content, and continues to expand.  Over time, ProQuest will add additional content and enhanced meta data to its EEB program.

“We continue to develop our Early European Books collections with authoritative libraries from across Europe and our collaboration with the Wellcome Library has been incredibly valuable in this effort,” said Susan Bokern, ProQuest Vice President, Product Management. “Through this collaboration with the Wellcome Library we have been able to make this unique historical primary source content from the early modern period available to researchers online for the first time.”

ProQuest is committed to adding value to these materials, to make them more discoverable and accessible by researchers.  Through its partnership with the USTC team of scholars at St. Andrew’s University, ProQuest is adding an additional discovery layer of 38 subject classifications, from Agriculture to Witchcraft, across all the diverse content in EEB, which will dramatically improve the search experience. ProQuest is adding interactive “scatter map” software as a way to visualize the content.  In addition to searching by the standardized subject classifications, researchers will be able to search by source library, place of printing, language, year/date range, region of printing.

The Wellcome Library’s collection of Rare Books is the pre-eminent collection in Europe devoted to the history of medicine and related topics. Just under ten thousand titles have been contributed to Early European Books, including over three hundred works dating from the later 15th century – the dawn of printing in Europe. These comprised all works held by the Library that fell within the scope of Early European Books, apart from volumes deemed too fragile to scan.

The collection is rich in early anatomical texts, including of course the works of Andreas Vesalius but also pre-Vesalian texts such as the Fasciculus medicinae attributed to Johannes de Ketham and the works of Berengario da Carpi. The scientific advances of the seventeenth century are well represented, by such as William Harvey’s Exercitatio anatomica de motu cordis et sanguinis in animalibus (Frankfurt, 1628), the first edition of his account of his discovery of blood circulation. Other subjects extensively represented include alchemy and astrology, cookery (for example La Varenne’s Le cuisinier françois, edition of 1669) and diet, demonology and magic, and ethnography and travel, such as editions from the 1550s of Italian geographer Giovanni Battista Ramusio’s Navigatione et viaggi, a compendium of explorers’ first-hand accounts of their navigations and travels, the first of its kind.