The Sibbald Library is one of ten partners participating in the UK Medical Heritage Library. The UKMHL is an ambitious two year project led by the Wellcome Trust to digitise 19th Century books.

 19th century RCPE Library books before packing 

Approximately 15 million pages of printed books and pamphlets from the ten partners’ pooled collections will be made freely available under an open license. The digitised content will be on multiple platforms including the Internet Archive, the Wellcome Library and Jisc Historic Books. The project's focus is on books and pamphlets on medicine and its related disciplines. This includes books and pamphlets relating to the medical sciences, consumer health, sport and fitness, as well as different kinds of medical practice, from phrenology to hydrotherapy.

Selecting books for digitisation in the RCPE New Library

The Sibbald Library’s practical participation began in 2014 when we sent Wellcome over 15,000 of the MARC catalogue records detailing the RCPE books or pamphlets that met the project’s inclusion criteria. Wellcome responded in early December asking us to send about 80% to London for scanning. In January 2015 we sent our first shipment of 640 books. Our books will be out of the College for about two months.

Preparing books for their trip to London in RCPE Basement 3

Before the books are sent to London we use the Wellcome request data to select the books and check their condition, size, and suitability for digitisation. The next stage is to produce an inventory which includes information on special handling requirements etc. We then carry out any necessary repairs or preparations such as splitting uncut pages and marking the start and end of books or pamphlets that are bound together. The books are then carefully packed into large orange crates for shipment to London by Constantine, the fine art removal specialists.

Shipping crates awaiting uplift

There were ten crates in our first shipment. Once the crates arrive at the Wellcome Euston Scan Centre, Internet Archive, who have decades of experience in dealing with high-throughput digitisation from multiple partners, take over. Our Sibbald Library books are then digitised to a high standard and made available for teaching, learning and research. The College and the other partners are converting books into searchable data allowing users to explore every aspect of 19th-century medicine and develop new insights into this period of unprecedented medical discovery.


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