Utrecht University Library Special Collections is a unique, valuable and rare collection of early printed and handwritten works, maps, atlases, sheet music, globes and other special materials.
Our curators know the collection inside out. Every day they work with the material, so they are the perfect linking pin between the collection and the questions asked by researchers, lecturers and students. Because of their extensive network, they know what is happening in their field of work. In this way they respond to current questions about age-old material. Regularly they discover unknown items in the collection. The Special Collections are so large that the curators often feel like explorers. You are welcome to discover and study the great variety of objects.
Research and education
All these materials are available for research and education. Students, lecturers and researchers, also from other universities, can consult and study these materials. Many items can be studied online. If items have not been digitised (yet), you can make an appointment to come to the library. You request the items in Worldcat and consult them in the Special Collections Reading Room on the 6th floor of the University Library in Utrecht Science Park. Please contact us beforehand. Or submit a request to have material digitised.
The beginnings of the collection
In 1580 Utrecht became protestant, the city had decided to follow the reformed religion. Catholic churches and cloisters were closed. Their libraries were confiscated and in 1584 the collections were housed in the choir of St. John's Church: the first public city library in the Netherlands was a fact.
These books are still the core of the current collection of manuscripts and early printed works. Over the years the collection was expanded. Around 1600 the legacies of Evert van de Poll and Huybert Edmond van Buchell resulted in a broader variety of subjects.
In 1636 the University of Utrecht was founded. The position of the library changed: it became an academic library. Cornelis Booth was its first librarian, the organisational structure improved and new books could be bought. However, the collection mainly grew through donations: from the famous Utrecht Psalter to archives of Utrecht professors.
In the 20th century the library acquired a number of important collections, owned or on loan. Examples are the library of the Dutch Reformed Church, the library of the Homeopathic Society or the library of the Dutch writer Simon Vestdijk.
Only in 1820 did the library leave St. John's Church. A new accommodation was found in some rooms in the former palace of king Louis Napoleon, the current location of the University Library City Centre.
In 2004 Special Collections moved to its latest location: University Library Utrecht Science Park. The collections consist of 2850 manuscripts, at least 100,000 letters and about 2000 lecture notes, 130,000 works published before 1801 and a much larger number published in the 19th century. Also an extensive collection of maps and atlases is part of Special Collections.
More and more of this special material is being digitised. This means that the manuscripts, early printed works and maps and atlases can be consulted, any time and any place.