Frequently asked questions
What’s in Digital Bodleian?
Digital Bodleian contains just under a million images of items from the Bodleian's special collections, some Oxford College libraries, and other Oxford institutions. The digitized items include manuscripts and printed books from many regions and periods, as well as maps, ephemera, archives, photography, portraits, and juvenilia.
The images in Digital Bodleian are a mix of modern digital photography, early digital photography from the 1990s, and digitized slide collections originally assembled earlier in the 20th century.
Have all the Bodleian's special collections been digitized?
No. At present, we have fully or partially digitized around 15,000 items, and more items are being added all the time. Different collections have been digitized to different extents. Items from across the special collections have been digitized, but the best-represented in Digital Bodleian are Western medieval manuscripts, Hebrew manuscripts, Chinese manuscripts and printed books, incunabula, portraits, and sheet music. A smaller number of important Arabic, Persian, Armenian and Georgian manuscripts have also been digitized. Several projects to digitize 19th century archival collections will soon be underway.
What’s currently being added to Digital Bodleian?
The very latest additions can be seen here. At any given time, we’ll be working on several different digitization projects. Current projects include Manuscripts from German-Speaking Lands and the Chinese Collections Digitization Project.
How does the Bodleian choose what to digitize?
Most of the Bodleian’s digitization work is funded externally: by large charities such as The Polonsky Foundation; by Oxford groups such as the Marjory Wardrop Fund and the Friends of the Bodleian; or by individual donors. These types of funding are generally allocated for specific objects or collections. The Bodleian’s imaging studio also takes photography orders from publishers and researchers, and if we can, we put these images in Digital Bodleian as well. Bodleian curators and conservators assess every digitization project, and we strive for balanced representation across our collections, but we are rarely in a position to outright choose what to digitize.
Oxford colleges manage their own digitization according to their own priorities and funding streams.
Can I request that an item be digitized?
If an item hasn’t been digitized yet, you can order images from Bodleian Imaging Services.
Where can I find more information about an item?
The most current and complete information about our collections can be found in our online catalogues (regardless of whether an item has been digitized or not): SOLO for printed materials and maps, Medieval Manuscripts in Oxford Libraries for medieval manuscripts, and Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts for post-1500 archives and manuscripts. For online resources relating to Hebraica and Judaica, and Middle Eastern, North African, South Asian, East Asian, and South East Asian collections, see the Bodleian oriental special collections LibGuide.
While we try to include as much information about an item as possible in Digital Bodleian, the catalogues are the best and most complete source of information. Where possible, we link directly to an item's catalogue page in the Digital Bodleian description.
Please see the Bodleian special collections pages for further information on finding items and catalogue descriptions, If you can’t find what you’re looking for, please email email@example.com.
If you have a question about a college item, please email the college library directly.
Why are some of the digitized items only “partial”?
“Partial” means that we haven’t digitized every page or section of the original object. This is usually because only a particular page or section was relevant to a digitization project. Most of our partial digitizations are scans of 20th-century slide images of illuminations in medieval manuscripts. Often, these partial digitizations have detailed image-level descriptions.
Why are there multiple versions of some items?
We’ve been digitizing our collections for nearly 30 years, and capturing analogue images for much longer than that. Some objects have been photographed several times, for different projects and with different equipment. For example, 35mm slides of select pages of MS. Bodl. 264 were captured over a period of about 40 years; digital photographs of the entire manuscript were captured in 1999; new digital photographs were captured, including images of the binding and composite flash images of the gold-leaf decoration, for a print facsimile in 2013. These different versions are useful for researchers trying to understand the history of scholarship around a particular object, and we have chosen to keep all of them in Digital Bodleian rather than choosing one particular version as the canonical facsimile.
Can I reuse the images?
Who do I contact if I want to use an image in a commercial publication?
Please contact Bodleian Imaging Services for requests to publish a Bodleian image in a commercial publication. For college images, please contact the college directly.
What are collections, projects and partners?
Collections are groupings that resemble the organisation of the Bodleian’s special collections. Some of these are based on place of origin, date of origin, or production method, or a combination of these. For example, the Bodleian separates its Western manuscript and archive collections into three groups: pre-1500, 1500-1800, and post-1800. With Persian manuscripts (for instance), the same temporal divisions are not observed, so you’ll find just one collection of Persian manuscripts. Other collections are “named collections”, groups of items with similar provenance, often donated or bequeathed by a particular person, such as William Laud, Matteo Luigi Canonici, or Francis Douce.
Projects are digitization projects that have allowed us to make sets of items available online (see “How does the Bodleian choose what to digitize?”). These projects are generally funded by external donors and focus on a particular category of item (for example, 18th-century entertainment ephemera or medieval German manuscripts). Items belonging to the same digitization project were generally photographed at around the same time and have similarly detailed catalogue descriptions.
Partners are other Oxford institutions that have made some of their digitized images available through Digital Bodleian. Most of our partners are Oxford colleges with their own libraries that take advantage of Digital Bodleian’s centralised infrastructure for ongoing digitization work. Some are colleges and museums that we partnered with in the past, for projects such as Early Manuscripts at Oxford and the Oxford Digital Library.
What is IIIF?
IIIF (the International Image Interoperability Framework) is a set of open technical standards used by cultural heritage institutions to make their digital image collections more easily accessible and interoperable. Please see the IIIF website for more information.
What is a IIIF manifest?
IIIF manifests are JSON documents which represent digital objects. They contain information used by IIIF applications to display objects, such as descriptive information and the order in which images should appear. IIIF object viewers like the Digital Bodleian viewer, Universal Viewer, Mirador and TIFY use manifests.
All Digital Bodleian objects have a corresponding IIIF manifest. These can be accessed using the IIIF dropdown in the object viewer. We also maintain a series of IIIF collections.
Why can’t I do full-text searching?
We don’t have full transcriptions of most of the objects in Digital Bodleian. In the rare cases where we do have transcriptions, these can be accessed on other websites (for example, firstfolio.bodleian.ox.ac.uk for Shakespeare’s First Folio). We will be making these transcriptions available directly via Digital Bodleian in a future update.
How are the images captured? What kind of equipment do you use?
The images in Digital Bodleian come from many different sources. Most of the Bodleian’s collections were photographed by Bodleian Imaging Services, but images of college items are more likely to have been shot by freelance photographers or college staff, using a variety of equipment. Bodleian Imaging Services uses a few main pieces of kit: the “Grazer” Conservation Copy Stand for fragile bound volumes; Phase One digital cameras; Rodenstock lenses; and intermittent flash lighting.
Where do the item descriptions come from?
It depends. In many cases, the descriptions available in Digital Bodleian are copied (and sometimes abridged) from the descriptions available in our electronic catalogues. These descriptions in turn are based on printed catalogues, some published in the last decade, but others decades or centuries older. Some descriptions are much more detailed than others, depending on what sources were available at the time of digitization. We have tried to give a reference to the source of the description where we can. If you have an enquiry about a particular item’s description, please get in touch with us.
Are the permalinks really permanent?
We are committed to persisting any Digital Bodleian URL in the form digital.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/objects/<uuid>, digital.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/objects/<uuid>/surfaces/<uuid>, or digital.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/inquire/p/<uuid>. Permalinks can be obtained using the Permalink button in an object's metadata panel.
Can I see a full list of everything you've digitized?
By default, the Search page lists everything in Digital Bodleian, alphabetically by shelfmark (including holding institution). You can use the search facet options to narrow this list down to individual institutions or collections. Alternatively, individual Collection and Partner pages list all associated digitized items alphabetically by shelfmark.