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The magic of photographic plates

Glass plates are one the oldest photography techniques, used mainly in the 19th and 20th century. The images are mostly unique, hidden treasures that remained tucked away in libraries and musea.

A young Willy Sommers on a postcard. UGent Boekentoren, Collectie Etienne De Mulder

Because they are difficult to access and they are very frail, digitization is the way to go. The Boekentoren chose to participate in an unique project: the digitization of more than 170.000 glass plates, safeguarded at different heritage organisations in Flanders. The project is being coordinated by Meemoo, Vlaams instituut voor het archief. It's the first time in Europe a project of this scale takes place.

Together with different partners and organisations from the broad heritage field in Flanders we want to preserve our collection of glass plates for the future en make these images available to the audience. Photographing and correctly digitizing the glass plates will provide us with an online access to this wonderful collection. For the Boekentoren we're talking about 46.000 plates, used for lessons at the university or donations to the library.

In preparation of de digitization all glass plates were unpacked, cleaned, registered and packed properly again. Quite the job for our team, but essential for the whole process.

Starting from next summer the digital collection will be showed on the online platforms of Meemoo and the participating archives, libraries and musea. By the end of 2023 the project should be finished. The project is partly funded by the relanceplan of the Flemisch government en receives European support.

Explore the Heritage Collections

The Boekentoren manages one of the largest heritage collections in the Low Countries.


The Boekentoren holds more than six thousand manuscripts, from precious illuminated manuscripts from the Middle Ages to single-edition typescripts from the twentieth century. Almost two thousand manuscripts can be consulted online.

Newspapers and magazines

Besides countless iconic periodicals, the heritage collection contains a wealth of material - from the oldest Dutch newspapers to student almanacs, colonial press and front pages.


The 'Section Gantoise' was established in 1872. It is an active collection containing pieces related to Ghent: the Gandavensia. Manuscripts, prints, iconographic pieces and complete private collections constitute the paper memory of the city.


'Prints' includes the collection items that were published by means of the printing press. We make a distinction between 'old' editions and 'modern' editions (after 1830). The Boekentoren houses 701 incunabula and more than two million modern editions.


The Gallery contains all collection profiles with museum appeal. These are pieces with iconographic value such prints, photographs, drawings, paintings, plans, posters, porcelain cards, numismatic items and maps.


Ephemera, papers, pièces volantes. Collected intensively by head librarian Ferdinand vander Haeghen, the Ghent collection of loose-leaf pages forms an impressive, alphabetically arranged collection of miscellanea that document everyday life in times past like no other.


Since its foundation in 1797, the university library has attracted numerous archival donations because of its cultural role in city life. As a result, the Boekentoren has amassed hundreds of archives of artists, professors and cultural associations.