Digitisation projects offer libraries valuable opportunities to broaden access to their collections. They also play an important role in preservation, because making material available online reduces the need for the originals to be consulted and thereby minimises further physical damage to material. Following the success of large-scale digitisation projects like the JISC Digitisation Programme and the Oxford Google Books Project, the Medical Heritage Library was set up in 2010 by some of the leading medical libraries in the United States as a collaborative digital curation project.
The Medical Heritage Library aims to create an online resource for the study of the history of medicine and society by digitising books, pamphlets, journals, and films relating to health and medicine in the long nineteenth century (approx. 1784-1914). Many of the items selected for digitisation are rare and fragile, so it is particularly important to preserve them digitally before they are lost. All material digitised in the project is made available on the Internet Archive through an open Creative Commons licence, meaning they are free for anyone to access and use.
In 2013, the UK Medical Heritage Library was set up as a subsidiary of the original US-based project. The UK MHL Project is coordinated by the Wellcome Library, and nine other partner institutions are contributing material to the project: King’s College London, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, the Royal College of Physicians of London, the Royal College of Surgeons of England, University College London, the University of Bristol, the University of Glasgow, and the University of Leeds. In total, the UK MHL Project will digitise around 15 million pages covering all aspects of the history of medicine.
Glasgow University Library’s participation in the project began with us generating a list of all the material from our collections that fell within the remit of the MHL project. The Wellcome Library then checked our list against the lists provided by other partner libraries, and removed a number of items to prevent different libraries sending duplicate copies of the same material. Working from the new deduplicated list, we checked the suitability of each item for digitisation and removed some material from consideration due to rarity, fragility, or size. Material deemed suitable for digitisation was carefully packed and sent to the Internet Archive’s digitisation centre in London, where it was digitised, uploaded to the Internet Archive, and then returned to us.
The first phase of Glasgow University’s involvement with the project ran from September 2014 to September 2015, when 3967 items held at the Library Research Annexe were sent for digitisation. 1598 items from Special Collections were sent in the second phase of the project, which ran from September 2015 to January 2016. Items sent for digitisation ranged from single-page leaflets to 60-volume library catalogues, and covered topics as diverse as surgery performed painlessly under hypnosis, a foetus found in a man’s abdomen, and the benefits of providing schoolchildren with soup during winter.
At the time of writing, 4469 Glasgow University Library items have been digitised and are accessible on our page on the Internet Archive. Items are uploaded as they are digitised, so please check back regularly to see new items. The UK MHL Project is now in its final stages, and when the project is complete the digitised items from every partner library will be accessible directly from the Glasgow University Library catalogue.
All items uploaded as part of the UK MHL Project are currently accessible on the Internet Archive.