The Warburg Digital Library

Wed 4 October 2017

The Warburg Digital Library

In 1926 Aby Warburg opened the Kulturwissenschaftliche Bibliothek Warburg (KBW) in Hamburg, the core of which was his own personal library that reflected his diverse research interests. In 1933 the collection moved to London to form the kernel of the Warburg Institute’s Library, now the world’s largest collection on Renaissance studies and the history of the classical tradition. In 2017, the collections are opening out further and wider in the form of the Warburg Digital Library, a curated collection of digitized books from the KBW, including many of Warburg’s personal copies.

The Warburg Library has been digitizing some of its materials for some time now in the form of PDF scans of books made available via links on its catalogue but this is the first time that it has created a sophisticated, curated digital library using a dedicated interface.  Like the Warburg Library itself, the Digital Library incorporates Warburg’s unique classification scheme which expresses his vision of knowledge stemming from Image, through Word, to Orientation and finally to Action.

Work has only just begun on converting materials from the Library but already two collections are in place. The first is drawn from the Library’s unique collection of baroque Italian opera libretti acquired by the Library in 1931. Forty-five libretti from late 17th- and early 18th-century Italy are included in this collection.

The second is of books from Warburg’s KBW itself. We are starting by scanning approximately 500 of these covering the subjects of Magic and Science, part of Orientation, that part of knowledge which, in Warburg’s vision, concerns human beings’ attempts to make sense of the world.  We have already scanned approximately 100 of these and aim to convert the remainder of the collection in the near future.

The Warburg Digital Library uses a sophisticated system for presenting its collections known as Islandora: this had been modified substantially by us to incorporate several new features. The system allows readers to search and browse for materials by author, title or subject (including the Warburg classification) and to read a book onscreen or to download it as a PDF file for viewing ‘offline’. 

Behind the scenes, much work has gone on to make these digital collections conform to the latest professional standards, particularly in metadata. This is important to ensure that they will last well beyond the lifetime of their current platform and can be shared with others in this increasingly collaborative intellectual world. The work that has gone into the digital library should ensure that they remain accessible for many years to come.

The digital library is available at https://wdl.warburg.sas.ac.uk