The KU Leuven Libraries is a knowledge centre providing scientific information for students and researchers. In this support for research and education, it develops a wide range of services. The library heritage is mainly kept in the Special Collections department and the Maurits Sabby Library.
Special Collections is most known for its elaborate reference library on the subject of book history, which can be consulted in the reading rooms of the Tabularium. This reference collection contains more than 70.000 titles about specialized subjects such as codicology and printing techniques, but also about more general historical, literary, and art historical issues.
In addition, the Special Collections also preserve heritage material such as manuscripts, rare books, unique graphical work and modern preciosa. The core of the heritage collection is the academic collection, with printed works by professors connected to the university since 1425 and lecture notes from students from the Old University (1425-1797). Special platforms have been developed to give researchers access to the digitized versions of items of this core collection, i.e. Magister Dixit for the lectures notes and Lovaniensia (under construction, available from 12 December 2017) for books by professors of the Old University. There is also a strong focus on the ‘golden century’ of the university, i.e. the 16th century, when the University of Louvain played an important role in the circulation and distribution of humanist ideas in the Low Countries. In this context, we should mention the correspondence of the humanist Frans Cranevelt (1485-1564) with contemporaries such as Erasmus, Thomas More and Juan Luis Vives. Today, 385 letters from the period 1520-1528, mostly addressed to Cranevelt, are kept in the Special Collections. They contain a rich source of information about the political and intellectual life in Europe in the 16th century. But Special Collections also preserves important provenance collections with no direct relationship to the university. For example, there are the donations by Susan Minns (manuscripts, books and graphic material on death and the dance of death) and by Archibald Corble, a fencer and bibliophile, who donated his collection of fencing books to the university. This collection contains around 1,900 copies, dating from the 15th to the 20th century, mainly from France, England, South America, Italy and Germany, making it one of the largest existing collections in this field. The last heritage collection to mention is the modern preciosa: bibliophile editions, first editions of important works, and books with author notes or special assignments, with special attention to works by Belgian authors or related to Belgium.