Department of Early Printed Books


With its support of the VD18-project the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) continues the funding of retrospective national bibliographic cataloguing of German imprints, begun as early as 1969. Three long term projects aim at cataloguing (with certain exceptions) all books printed in the German speaking territories as well as all books published in German - beginning with the 16th century (VD16), followed by the VD17 and finally reaching the 18th century with the VD18.

In comparison to its sister projects the VD18 is distinguished by the fact that apart from being catalogued the books are also digitized. The workload of the VD18 project all in all amounts to more than 600,000 works to be dealt with. At large, these works reflect the century of the Enlightenment, when Germany – in dialogue with its European neighbours – was shaping its national culture. Through the digitization of 18th-century materials on such a large scale an online reservoir is being created that is available throughout the world and offers an excellent basis for the exploration of the German as well as the European history of culture and all its facets.

The Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin ranks among those libraries with the most extensive and significant holdings of 18th-century books. As its online catalogue shows the library holds more than 280,000 books printed in the 18th century, of which an estimated segment of about 125,000 are of relevance to the VD18. During the pilot phase of the project, 14,000 of them were adequately catalogued and digitized; the data were further enhanced through subject indexing and sub-structural metadata to allow for the proper navigation of the digital copies created. In this way, a first step has been taken to make the sources of the Age of Enlightenment available in digital form. Another 15,000 books were processed by the State Library in the project’s main stage, which started in 2015 and ended in 2020.

The Staatsbibliothek‘s digitization in VD18 focusses on imprints concerning theology, languages, literatures and law. Occasional personal writings (e.g. funeral sermons, regulations and legal orders) are heavily represented. In addition children’s books, libretti and books with special provenances, e.g. from the Diez Library or from the Archive of the Decker Publishing House are worth mentioning.

Meanwhile more 21 libraries all over Germany are contributing to the VD18.

The following six institutions took part in the project’s pilot phase (2009-2012):