The Utrecht University Library Special Collections contain many extensive collections of manuscripts, pre-1901 printed works, more recent rare and valuable printed works, and maps and nautical charts. The library takes care of the acquisition, conservation, cataloguing and availability of this material.
The Special Collections provide students, lecturers, researchers and members of the public with a wealth of materials for research. Utrecht University Library also seeks to promote the importance of the cultural heritage for education and research through exhibitions, publications, lectures and presentations.
The Special Collections, containing many unique items, are located on the sixth floor of the University Library Uithof, Heidelberglaan 3, where the items can be viewed in two reading rooms (opening hours: Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m). Next to these rooms are an extensive reference library (the reference collection) and the information desk where librarians are available to answer questions.
The Special Collections Digital Repository provides an overview of thematic collections that are clearly separate collections in so far as it can be verified that the items belonged together and/or are have their own catalogue, inventory list or shelf list. While practically all areas of science are covered – whether by manuscripts, printed works, historical or recent items – the collections are weighted towards humanities, for which manuscripts and printed works used to be the most important sources.
Utrecht University Library contains approximately 700 medieval manuscripts, including the Utrecht Psalter, which is, without doubt, the most famous manuscript in the collection. This 9th-century masterpiece has been the subject of many studies and exhibitions.
Yet, it is not the only famous manuscript in the collection, which also contains the Liber pontificalis of the chapter of Saint Mary’s Church (Mariakerk) in Utrecht, illuminated by the Master of Catherine of Cleves, as well as the renowned Zwolle Bible (Zwolse Bijbel) and several beautifully decorated books of hours. Most of the medieval manuscripts are from Utrecht.
The collection of more than 1,000 post-medieval manuscripts includes around fifty works written by Utrecht historian Aernout Buchelius (1565-1641). The Special Collections also include around sixty archive collections, including those of historian Pieter Geyl, theologists H.F. Kohlbrugge, J.H. Gunning and A.A. van Ruler, literary critic P.H. Ritter and pharmacologist David de Wied.
The Utrecht Organ Archive (Utrechtse Orgelarchief) is also located in the Utrecht University Library Special Collections, as is a large collection of handwritten lecture notes dating from the 16th-century onwards, many of which relate to veterinary medicine.
The volumes from the Utrecht chapters and cloisters (from 1584 onwards) and the endowments of the legal scholar Evert van de Poll and the theologian Huybert Edmond van Buchel (both c. 1600) constitute the core of the collection of early printed works.
Since its establishment more than four centuries ago, Utrecht University Library has acquired many impressive collections, including those belonging to various Utrecht professors, such as the chemist J.C. Barchusen (1666-1723), the lawyer and economist J. Ackersdijck (1790-1861), the Dutch linguist H.E. Moltzer (1836-1895) and the scholar of Dutch and Germanic languages J. te Winkel (1847-1928).
The libraries of several other institutions have also been acquired, including the seminary library of the Utrecht Archbishopric, the libraries of the Franciscan monasteries and the Catholic University of Amsterdam.
Utrecht University Library currently manages over 130,000 works printed before 1801, and approximately 1,000,000 19th-century books. The Special Collections also include approximately 3,000 rare, valuable and special books from after 1900.
Although Utrecht University Library has held cartographic documents since early in its history, it was a long time before a specific policy was drawn up for the cartographic collections.
Even the 19th-century addition to the collection of two large recent private map collections was not seen as due cause to draft such a policy. The collections in question belonged to Gerrit Moll (1785-1838), who became a professor of mathematics and physics in Utrecht in 1812, and Utrecht professor of economics and statistics from 1841 Jan Ackersdijck (1790-1861).
It was not until the Geographical Institute was established in 1908 that the active management of the map collection started. A lot of fascinating additions to the map collection were acquired in the early days of the Geographical Institute, which were used in education on Dutch overseas expansion and voyages of discovery.
With the addition of large numbers of pedological and geological maps from the Utrecht University Geosciences Library in 2010, almost all Utrecht University map collections are now kept at a single location. The maps collection contains around 170,000 post-1850 maps and atlases and around 6,000 older cartographic documents.
The map collection is one of the largest collections of analogue maps and related documents in the Netherlands. The public computers in the Map Room provide access to a quickly growing and largely complementary virtual collection of cartographic documents.