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foto: Ans Brys

City of Antwerp and Google put more than 100,000 books online

The City of Antwerp and Google signed an agreement to digitise a large portion of the collections of the Hendrik Conscience Heritage Library and the Plantin-Moretus Museum. This entails more than 100,000 works from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century that will be made freely accessible in the coming years via Google Books and the library catalogues of both institutions. The books to be scanned are no longer subject to copyright.

Partnership with Google

In September 2020, Google will start digitising our collections. They will digitise everything that is in the public domain (publications older than 140 years), with the exception of everything that it already digitised in other libraries. The City of Antwerp is the third partner with which Google works in the Low Countries. The Ghent University Library and the Royal Library of the Netherlands preceded us.

Google has already digitised collections from the university libraries of Stanford, Harvard and Oxford, among others. It is therefore remarkable that thousands of books from our collections can still be added to Google Books.

Hendrik Conscience Heritage Library

The collection of the Heritage Library is composed of a total of roughly 1.5 million volumes, and is consulted daily in our reading hall by many scientists, students and enthusiasts. The fact that Google will digitise around 85,000 works will greatly increase the findability of our collection and encourage more to consult it. The whole world will quite literally gain access. Of the 85,000 selected books in the Heritage Library, approximately 40,000 were printed abroad: many thousands of books come from France, the Netherlands, Germany and the United Kingdom. It not only illustrates the national but also the international dimension of the collection.

Plantin-Moretus Museum 

About 22,500 works have been selected for digitisation from the Plantin-Moretus Museum collection. Its library contains not only the most complete collection of Plantin and Moretus prints in the world, but also many rare old European prints. This collection is therefore invaluable for scientific research. The digitisation will give this research a phenomenal boost. The scanned books will be made full-text searchable: Researchers can search them easily, quickly and specifically. Google will scan both old and modern prints until 1894. Doing so, the museum realizes a major catch-up in the digitisation of the collection, one of the major policy objectives of the museum for the coming years.

Antwerp: city of books

Antwerp has always been a true city of books. As early as the sixteenth century, many printers were active here, with Christophe Plantin at the very pinnacle. He succeeded in becoming the largest publisher in the world. But even throughout the subsequent centuries until today, Antwerp still lives and breathes literature. Consider the many writers, publishers and bookshops that were and still are active in the city. The collaboration with Google Books is a fantastic way to grant the products of all their efforts, our printed heritage, a second digital life.

foto: Joris Luyten


In September 2020, the first 5000 selected books will be transported from Antwerp to Google's European digitisation centre in batches and at regular intervals by secure transport. After the scanning work is complete, Google immediately places the digital copies online. The Hendrik Conscience Heritage Library and the Plantin-Moretus Museum will also receive a digital copy which will be incorporated into their own catalogue. With thousands of books leaving Antwerp and coming back, it is expected that the last book will be scanned within three years.