biblioTECH is the locus of projects that combine rare materials and new technologies. This includes digitization as well as bio-imaging, database creation, online exhibitions, and other new ways of looking at special collections material in general. Curator Caroline Szylowicz oversees this increasingly important area of our work.

Please see the "Digitization Policy Document" for further information about formation and management of digitization projects utilizing materials from the Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Project Unica

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Project Unica is an initiative of The Rare Book & Manuscript Library of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to produce high quality digital facsimiles of printed books that exist in only one copy. The concept of a "unicum" is difficult for the average library user to understand, since printed books, by their very nature, exist in more than one copy—that's the genius of Gutenberg's invention, after all. But fate and circumstance has sometime led to the destruction of every copy, save one, of a printed book. And the University of Illinois has quite a number of absolutely unique printed books. The aim of Project Unica is to digitize these supremely rare items and to provide a simple and efficient way of getting this valuable and unique information to scholars when and where they need it. The records of the books and the digital facsimiles are also available from institution's online catalog, Illinois Harvest, and OCLC.

German Emblem Books

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Emblem books can possibly be looked upon as the multi-medial publications of the 17th and 18th centuries. They are books featuring individual emblems. Each emblem is composed of three constitutive elements - a motto, an illustration or “pictura” in the form of a woodcut or engraving, and an explanatory poem or "subscriptio." A single book may have any number of emblems, ranging from just ten to almost 1,500. An emblem is more than the sum of its parts, because the interplay between text and image produces a greater meaning than any of the individual components can provide. An individual emblem, therefore, comprises more than just the pictura, but rather all three parts: motto, pictura, and subscriptio. Emblems were often thought to be hieroglyphs, riddles or even mysterious messages containing secrets. They drew on such diverse sources as the Bible, Classical antiquity, fables, mythology, science and medicine, and they reflected movements and events such as the Reformation and the Thirty Years’ War. Their interpretation and understanding relied on the wit, knowledge and ability of the reader to combine clues in the text and image to produce meaning. During the time of their original use, they were read and viewed widely by both the educated and uneducated classes of European society. Today, research in emblems is highly interdisciplinary, attracting scholars of Latin, history, art history, and the European vernacular languages. This unusually rich form of combined artistic and literary expression also appeals to religious scholars, philosophers, and historians of science and education.

Carl Sandburg Collection Photographs

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(Campus Use Only)

The more than 2,700 photographs in this collection are scanned from the Carl Sandburg Collection housed in The Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Spanning the years 1893-1987, these images are part of a collection that includes typescripts and galley proofs of many of Sandburg’s works, his correspondence with literary and public figures, recordings and transcriptions of Sandburg’s radio broadcasts, and a supporting book collection of approximately 5,000 volumes.

Collins Collection of Irish Political Cartoons

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The University Library harvested this collection from the Collins collection of books, pamphlets, newspapers, maps and cartoons. It was purchased by the Library in 1917. The Collins Collection of Irish Political Cartoons consists of images drawn primarily from the Weekly Freeman and National Press and United Ireland newspapers. They address the subject of Irish politics of the late 1800s and early 1900s and, in particular, Ireland’s relationship with England.

Motley Collection of Theatre & Costume Design

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The Motley Collection of Theatre and Costume Design is a valuable source of documentation on the history of theatre and is housed in The Rare Book and Manuscript Library. It is a rare collection of original materials on the theatre comprising over 5000 items from more than 150 productions in England and the United States. These materials include costume and set designs, sketches, notes, photographs, prop lists, storyboards, and swatches of fabric.

The Motley Group consisted of Margaret Harris, her sister Sophia Harris, and Elizabeth Montgomery, who designed sets and costumes from 1932 to 1976 for plays by Shakespeare and modern classics, opera, ballet, and motion pictures. Their designs were used in productions in the West End of London, the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, the English National Opera, and in the United States on Broadway and the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

Their first work was for a 1932 production of Romeo and Juliet directed by John Gielgud. The Motley Group was highly innovative in designing sets and costumes that suggested the mood, architecture, and styles of the original setting of the play, but was not the rote duplication that had been done so many times before. They wanted to create an atmosphere that was artistic, in addition to having an air of authenticity. Motley set the standard for how Shakespearean productions should be staged. The Group's work diversified in 1940 when Margaret Harris and Elizabeth Montgomery went to New York to design a production for Laurence Olivier and had to remain there for the duration of World War II, while Sophia Harris worked in London. After the war Margaret Harris returned to London and Elizabeth Montgomery stayed in New York, where she designed the costumes for numerous Broadway musicals, as well as plays, ballets, and operas.

After the members of the Motley Group had retired, Michael Mullin, a professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, met Margaret Harris and expressed an interest in the University acquiring the over 40 years worth of designs that the group had accumulated. After long negotiations with Sotheby's, who had been contracted to auction the items, the University of Illinois finally reached an agreement in April, 1981, to purchase the entire collection. This ensured that a valuable resource on the history of 20th century theatre would be preserved intact for the benefit of future generations.

Portraits of Actors, 1720-1920

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Portraits of Actors, 1720-1920, includes almost 3500 pictures of actors-studio portraits and actors posing in costume for a particular role or performing a scene from a play. Dramatists, theatrical managers, singers and musicians are also included, but the majority are British and American actors who worked between about 1770 and 1893. Among the hundreds of actors included are: Sarah Siddons, Edmund Kean, John Philip Kemble, Edwin Booth, Edwin Forrest, William Henry West Betty, Charles Mathews, Dorothy Jordan, Frances Abington, and Ada Rehan.

The images were digitized from etchings, engravings, lithographs, mezzotints, aquatints, wood engravings, photographs, and photomechanically-reproduced prints, all from the University of Illinois Theatrical Print Collection. They are indexed by the type of print, actor's name, role, play title, type of performer (such as actors, singers, blackface entertainers), other occupations (such as theatrical managers, dramatists), and a few other subjects (such as costume, "breeches parts" -- women playing male roles -- and child actors).

In their day, these publicity pictures were published as plates in books or sold individually in print shops. They are some of the earliest examples of the mass production of celebrity images, in many ways the forerunners to Us Magazine and "Entertainment Tonight."

This project would not have been possible without the generous support of the University of Illinois Executive Committee and the University of Illinois Large Scale Digitization Working Group.

Project credits:

  • Dawn Schmitz, coordinator
  • Elissa Johnson, digital imaging and metadata
  • Lauren Thurlwell, digital imaging and metadata


Series I (Prints: Portraits and Scenes) of the University of Illinois Theatrical Print Collection (TPC), Rare Book and Manuscript Library, collection #35.

John Starr Stewart Ex Libris Collection

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The John Starr Stewart Ex Libris Collection comprises some 1500 plates, each mounted on an individual card. Each card has a specially designed printed form mounted on the verso upon which Mr. Stewart inserted notes about the owner, designer, or subject of the plate. Besides bookplates, the collection contains book stamps and spine labels, especially from institutional libraries. The collection was made between 1903 and 1906 and is rich in contemporary bookplates, many in the art nouveau style, although older plates are also included. While mid-Western and other American plates predominate, a substantial number of English and continental plates are present.

Historical Maps Online

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The Historical Maps Online collection features contributions from the map collections in The Rare Book & Manuscript Library. The intent of the Historical Maps Online project is to electronically publish the images of maps charting the last 400 years of historical development in Illinois and the Northwest Territory.

19th Century British Novels

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This collection contains novels that were published in 19th century in serialized format. The collection is a subset of the University of Illinois Digitized Books Collection.

Early British Economic Pamphlets

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British pamphlets published during the late 18th century and early 19th century, mainly addressed economic and financial issues of the nation.

Maps of Africa

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The Maps of Africa to 1900 digital collection contains images of maps listed in the bibliography Maps of Africa to 1900: A Checklist of Maps in Atlases and Geographical Journals in the Collections of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (Bassett & Scheven, Urbana: Graduate School of Library and Information Science, 2000). As such, this collection mines not only the Library's map collections, but also its extensive collection of 19th century atlases and geographical journals, including the "Journal of the Royal Geographical Society" (United Kingdom), the "Bulletin de la Société de Géographie de Paris" (France), and Petermanns Geographische Mitteilungen (Germany).

Bassett's and Scheven's original bibliography lists 2,416 maps of which nearly 78 percent date from the 19th century. Africanists and historians of cartography are drawn to this century because the map of the continent changed so rapidly in the wake of European explorations, conquests, and colonization (Bassett & Scheven, p. iii). About a quarter of the collection dates from the sixteenth century, 9 percent from the seventeenth, and 13 percent from the eighteenth century. The Library is digitizing as many of the maps as possible, condition permitting. Maps are added to the collection as they are completed.