Special Collections/Archives

The Great Wide World of Digital Collections

An important mission of many libraries (academic, public, and special) is to digitize their special collections, making them available to users around the world. Before the advent of the Internet, if you wanted to view a library’s special collection, you would have to make a physical trip. Now, many institutions have opened up their collection gems, whether it be historic photographs, WWII propaganda posters, 19th century scientific drawing, historic postcards, rare medieval manuscripts, etc., to the great wide world through a matter of mouse clicks. Collections that were once only available to those who could afford the cost of travel, now anyone with an Internet collection can marvel at historic & primary resources.

Every now and again, I thought I would post some noteworthy digital collections. Kicking things off this week, we have a variety of collections, some very specific, some so extensive you could spend hours browsing them. Enjoy!

Royal Society Picture Library- https://pictures.royalsociety.org

“The Royal Society Picture Library is an online database of digital images of paintings, drawings and prints held in our collections. It has been created to inspire the exploration of science through its visual history,” (https://pictures.royalsociety.org/home). The Royal Society’s members are composed of some of the world’s most distinguished scientists, engineers, and doctors. It’s image collection contains portraiture of well-known scientists (think Issac Newtown, Darwin, etc.), drawings of botanical studies, microscopical observations, anatomical drawings and more, and 16th to 19th century published plates.


This is one of those sites that you could easily spend a couple hours browsing through. Europeana allows you to browse through about 1500 European institutions’ collections, like items from British Library in London, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, and the Louvre in Paris. A great place to start is on the site’s virtual exhibits page- http://exhibitions.europeana.eu/. You can view exhibits on spices, Yiddish theatre in London, ski jumping and winter sports, Royal book collections, and more!

Philadelphia University’s Historic Philadelphia Postcard Collection- http://digitalcollections.philau.edu/cdm/search/collection/postcards

Looking for some local flavor? Take a look at Philadelphia University’s Historic Philadelphia Postcard Collection- “Collection of postcards from 1900 to contemporary times, focusing on the build environment of the Delaware Valley.” This collection contains over 1,000 historic Philly postcards. Ever wonder what Market Street looked like in 1910? They even have a historic postcard of Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Flickr Commons- http://www.flickr.com/commons

“The key goals of The Commons on Flickr are to firstly show you hidden treasures in the world’s public photography archives,” (http://www.flickr.com/commons). Libraries and archives from around the world have uploaded their historic photograph collections to the Flickr Commons. This site also encourages you to add your own knowledge of history to the images. Many images in the Library of Congress have been identified as a result of crowd sourcing and social media. On of my favorite collections is called The spirit photographs of William HopeThrough double exposure, the photographs look like there are ghost images of deceased loved ones in the portraits. Some of the institutions that participate in the Flickr Commons include NASA, the U.S. National Archives, National Galleries of Scotland, National Maritime Museum, and more. You can view a complete list at http://www.flickr.com/commons/institutions/.

UCLA’s Catalogue of Digitized Medieval Manuscripts- http://manuscripts.cmrs.ucla.edu/Manuscripts_list.php

For the medieval scholars, we have UCLA’s Catalogue of Digitized Medieval Manuscripts. The search interface isn’t the prettiest, but it’s simple and gets the job done. The digital image of each item allows you to get up close and personal with the texts. You can search the collection or browse by location, language, author or title. Europe is represented the most in this collection, though some American institutions (Univ. of Chicago, Harvard, J. Paul Getty Museum, and Hispanic Society of American to name a few) do have items listed.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s