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Collection of catalogues of the holdings of Leiden University Libraries

Identifier: ubl091

Scope and Contents

The collection contains 387 catalogues and inventories providing access to the holdings of Leiden University Library. The oldest catalogues describe the complete holdings (A 1-9); from 1741 onwards they cover only parts of the holdings, such as acquisitions (A 10), special collections (B-G), selections for exhibitions (J) or loans (K-S). Ever since 1910, library staff have published catalogues of western and oriental manuscript collections and archives in the series Codices manuscripti. The collection includes some 140 catalogues of exhibitions organized by the library, mostly on-site but more recently also in museums (J 27, J 119, J 132). The majority of the printed exhibition catalogues has been published in the series Kleine publicaties van de Leidse universiteitsbibliotheek. In more recent years, the library has started with online exhibitions (e.g. J 108-118). The inventory includes catalogues from permanent loan collections that have been published before the year in which collections were given on loan to the library (K-S); they are regarded as de facto Leiden library catalogues. This also applies to the catalogues of the library collections of the Royal Tropical Institute (KIT) (R) and the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Carribean Studies (KITLV) (S), which were received in 2013 and 2014 respectively.


  • Creation: 1595-2015

Language of Materials

Latin, Dutch, English, French

Conditions Governing Use

Regulations that apply during the use of these materials can be found on the website of Leiden University Library.

Biographical / Historical

A public library, however small, without a catalogue is nothing more than a chaotic pile of books, where users will be lost for words (in more than one sense). Realising this, the Trustees of Leiden University had a catalogue published as early as 1595. This Nomenclator (A 1) can be regarded as the first comprehensive catalogue of a public library collection ever to be printed. The nearly 500 entries in this 108-page catalogue were listed according to the location of the books in the stacks, arranged by discipline and format (See Bertius 1995, introduction).

From 1595 onwards, many catalogues have been published, most of them in print, in recent years also in digital format. The development of the library collections can be reconstructed by analysing its catalogues and archives. For the rich history of Leiden University Library and its collections see Berkvens-Stevelinck 2012. The last printed catalogue that covered all library holdings was published in 1716: Catalogus librorum tam impressorum quam manuscriptorum Bibliothecae Publicae Universitatis Lugduno-Batavae (A 8). This folio volume of 500 pages describes about 10,000 items (still arranged by subject and format), with another 119 pages for the index. A supplement (paginated 501-534) was published in 1741 (A 9).

All catalogues published after 1741 cover only parts of the Leiden holdings. In 1864 the library started to use alphabetical and systematic card catalogues (and discontinued the practice of shelving books according to subject). The card file system was replaced in its turn by the online catalogue in the 1980s. However, special collection and exhibition catalogues keep being published in print or in digital format.


387 items

Abstract in Dutch

Gedrukte en digitale catalogi en inventarissen betrekking hebbend op de collecties en archieven die Universitaire Bibliotheken Leiden sinds de stichting van de Universiteit in 1575 beheert.

Abstract in English

Printed and digital catalogues and inventories describing the collections and archives held by Leiden University Libraries since the foundation of the University in 1575.

Physical Location

Leiden University Library, Special Collections

Other Finding Aids

The printed catalogues can be requested using the online catalogues. Catalogues printed before 1900 must be consulted in the Special Collections Reading Room. Several catalogues are available in a digital version.


  • Beek, J.E.F. ter, Bibliografie van gedrukte catalogi betrekking hebbend op het bezit van de Universiteitsbibliotheek te Leiden en de daarin opgenomen bruiklenen. Leiden 1989. (Kleine publicaties van de Leidse Universiteitsbibliotheek, 5)
  • Berkvens-Stevelinck, C., Magna commoditas. Leiden University’s Great Asset. 425 Years Library Collections and Services . Leiden, 2012.
  • Bertius, P. Nomenclator. The first printed catalogue of Leiden University Library (1595). With an introduction by R. Breugelmans and an authors’ index compiled by Jan Just Witkam. Leiden 1995.
  • Otterspeer, W., Groepsportret met dame. Vol. 1. Het bolwerk van de vrijheid. De Leidse universiteit, 1575-1672 (Amsterdam 2000), p. 180-189; Vol. 2. De vesting van de macht. De Leidse universiteit, 1673-1775 (Amsterdam 2002), p. 109-116; Vol. 3. De werken van de wetenschap. De Leidse universiteit, 1776-1876 (Amsterdam 2005), p. 120-126.
  • Otterspeer, W., The Bastion of Liberty. Leiden University Today and Yesterday. Leiden 2008.

Processing Information

In 1989 J.E.F. ter Beek published a printed bibliography, containing 132 items (Ter Beek 1989). In the following years many new collection and exhibition catalogues were published. Furthermore, it turned out that several older catalogues had not been incorporated. For this reason, revised and enlarged versions of this bibliography have been published on the website in 1999 en 2005, and — as an inventory — in this collection guide. The present version has been updated up to and including September 2015. The consecutive numbering of the entries in the printed version of Ter Beek (1-132) has been replaced by a system with letters and numbers, in accordance with the chapter division (A 1 - S 10). Furthermore, the indices of the printed version have been omitted in the inventory. Nearly all of its entries contain a link to the metadata of the printed copy available in the online catalogue, a link to the metadata of a digital version, or to both.

Collection guide of the collection of catalogues of the holdings of Leiden University Libraries (1595-2015)
Collectie catalogi van de Universitaire Bibliotheken Leiden
James ter Beek, 1989, 2005 ; André Bouwman, 2007, 2015
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Beschrijving is in het Engels.

Revision Statements

  • 3 June 2020: latest update

Repository Details

Part of the Leiden University Libraries Archives & Collections Repository

Witte Singel 27
Leiden 2311 BG Netherlands
+31 71 527 2857