University of Coimbra advances with eight million euro project to digitize 30,000 century-old books from the Joanina Library

The University of Coimbra (UC) will begin the project to digitize the historical collection of the Joanina Library in March.

The construction of the Joanina Digital Library – which, by 2030, should integrate the approximately 30,000 century-old works stored on the library’s main floor – will advance within the scope of a partnership with the Sharjah Literary Authority (Sharjah Book Authority – SBA), which will finance the project with close to eight million euros (in an action highly sponsored by the head of State of Sharjah, Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad Al-Qasimi, distinguished in 2018 as Doctor Honoris Causa by the University of Coimbra).

The memorandum of understanding, which establishes the terms of the cooperation and collaboration project between the UC and the SBA, was signed this Wednesday, 21st, by the Rector of the UC, Amílcar Falcão, and the President of the SBA, Ahmed Bin Rakkad Al Ameri, in a ceremony held precisely at the Joanina Library. Surrounding them, on the library shelves, were books from the four corners of the world, mostly published between the beginning of the 16th century and the end of the 18th century, which are the main object of this partnership.

The objective is to progress progressively, over six years, with the digitization of the approximately 30 thousand books on the main floor of the Joanina Library (which are part of the catalogue of two million works of the General Library of the University of Coimbra) – starting, in a phase -pilot, in the first 12 months, for the collection of publications about the Middle East, which will be designated as “Sultan bin Muhammad Al-Qasimi Library”.

All these books – a collection of incalculable value, including renowned European works (such as De humani corporis fabrica, by Vesalius, or Astronomia nova, by Kepler) and many of them unpublished in digital format (such as Atlante Veneto, an atlas recorded by Coronelli, or the first Portuguese translation of Isaac Newton’s Theory of Tides) – will be available in a digital repository, in open access (free of charge). Thus, in addition to being accessible, just a click away, to the 500,000 people who, on average, visit the Joanina Library annually, they will also be able to be consulted by readers and researchers from all over the world.

In addition to being accessible online, on the platform developed by UC (which will take care of the entire process of digitization, cataloguing, archiving and development of technological solutions), the Joanina Digital Library collections will also be made available on the Europeana digital cultural heritage portal, which brings together books, films and music from thousands of European cultural institutions.

The Rector of the University of Coimbra highlights the importance of this project, which should contribute to the creation of a new model for digitizing old book collections from historical libraries. “This project constitutes a unique opportunity to project, in the digital universe, one of the most beautiful libraries in the world, stimulating disruptive technical solutions and innovative research, while at the same time ensuring the curation and preservation of this precious and unique bibliographic collection”, declares Amílcar Falcão.

The Chairman of Sharjah Literary Authority emphasizes the importance of this collaboration. “Under the visionary leadership of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Sharjah has become a beacon of illumination. The ‘Sultan bin Muhammad Al-Qasimi Library’ project reflects this on a global scale. Leveraging the University’s digitalization expertise of Coimbra, we aim to establish a digital library of great academic importance. The Joanina Digital Library will not only provide access to the precious collection of the Joanina Library but will also act as a channel for historical knowledge, promoting a deeper understanding of continents and eras. This initiative further solidifies ties between Sharjah and Portugal, with a view to cultural exchange and preservation”, says Ahmed Bin Rakkad Al Ameri.

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