Just over four hundred years ago, on 28 February 1615, the University Library of Groningen was officially opened. Since then, the library has grown from a single room with chained books to a modern and busy centre which is an information hub and a social meeting place as well. It is the only university library in the Netherlands that has never moved from its original location. After four centuries it still occupies the block just opposite the Academy Building, right in the city centre.
From its beginnings, the UL has collected and managed information in diverse formats for the benefit of the academic community. In the seventeenth century, just as today, it was impossible to acquire all of the academic books in circulation. Librarians have always needed to select the best and most suitable studies, editions, reference books, literature, and periodicals. New publications are added continuously but, inevitably, works that were once of topical interest eventually become out-of-date. Such documents no longer contribute to the current scholarly and intellectual discourse, and instead become part of the history and memory of humankind.
Today, the UL possesses over three million printed and handwritten volumes, comprising works on almost any imaginable topic. They can be divided into numerous sub-collections, the major ones being those based on material types (such as manuscripts, incunables, maps, e-books, pamphlets, periodicals), subjects (e.g., alchemy, cookbooks, Groningana, socialism), exterior characteristics (typography, bookbindings, illustrated books, annotated books), and provenance.
Many collections were brought together by individuals and organisations based in the city and province of Groningen, and thus reflect various aspects of the scholarly, cultural, social and political history of the region. One of the foundation collections is the library of the Martini Church, the city’s principal church, which also includes books from Catholic religious institutions that were closed after the introduction of the Reformation in 1594.