Medical libraries go online for all


The University of Leeds is joining forces with one of the world's major resources for the study of medical history as part of a project to create a comprehensive online resource.

Leeds is one of nine institutions whose 19th century medical book collections will be digitised and added to the UK Medical Heritage Library (UK MHL) for the study of the history of medicine and related sciences, in conjunction with the Wellcome Library and digital education charity Jisc.

The project's focus is on books and pamphlets from the 19th century that are on the subject of medicine or its related disciplines. This will include works relating to the medical sciences, consumer health, sport and fitness, as well as alternative forms of medical practice, such as hydrotherapy – “taking the waters”.

Works on food and nutrition will also feature: some 1,400 books from the University of Leeds’ internationally important Cookery Collection are among those lined up for digitisation. The 8,000-strong collection covers food production, medicine, gardening and household management, as well as cookery.

Michael Emly, Head of Collection Services at Leeds University Library, said: “We are delighted to be part of this important project to convert what are often rare and precious volumes into searchable data.

“Researchers and members of the public will be able to explore every aspect of 19th century medicine – a period of unprecedented medical discovery."

Approximately 15 million pages of books and pamphlets from all ten partners will be digitised over two years and made freely available under an open licence. By pooling their collections, the partners will create a comprehensive online library available on multiple platforms to broaden access, including the Internet Archive, the Wellcome Library and Jisc Historic Books.

The books and pamphlets will be transported to the Wellcome Library in London for digitisation by a team from the Internet Archive. The project will build on the success of the US-based Medical Heritage Library consortium, of which the Wellcome Library is a part, which has already digitised more than 50,000 books and pamphlets.

Simon Chaplin, Head of the Wellcome Library, said: "We are pleased that these nine institutions have chosen to add their valuable collections to the Medical Heritage Library. As well as our partners Jisc and Research Libraries UK, we will be working closely with our Academic Advisory Group to produce an online resource that is both a repository for a superb wealth of content and an effective research tool for a broad range of users."

Further information

The libraries of six universities, including the University of Leeds, have joined the partnership – UCL (University College London), University of Glasgow, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, King's College London and University of Bristol – along with the libraries of the Royal College of Physicians of London, the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh and the Royal College of Surgeons of England.

The UK MHL initiative started in 2013 when the Wellcome Library embarked on a project with the Internet Archive to digitise their collection of 19th-century medical books. The project was extended earlier in 2014 with the support of Jisc and the Higher Education Funding Council for England. It was co-designed with Research Libraries UK and is informed by an Academic Advisory Group to ensure that the best collections are included.

For more details of the project, contact Holly Story, Assistant Media Officer, Wellcome Collection, 020 7611 8248 or 

Wellcome Library
The Wellcome Library is one of the world's major resources for the study of medical history. It houses 2.5 million items of extraordinary range and diversity and has a growing collection of material relating to contemporary medicine and biomedical science in society.

The Library is situated within Wellcome Collection, the free visitor destination for the incurably curious and is part of the Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health.

Jisc offers digital services and solutions for UK education and research. The charity does this to achieve its vision for the UK to be the most digitally advanced education and research nation in the world.