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Library of the Month: The University Library of Leuven

Posted By Administration, 29 August 2019

Library of the Month: The University Library of Leuven


The August 2013 Library of the Month comes from Leuven in Belgium. Thanks to Katrien Smeyers, Mark Derez, Dirk Aerts and Tarek Peeters for the contribution.


The University Library of Leuven has an especially moving history. From 1636, the first central library of the university was located in the University Hall, in the Naamsestraat. In August 1914, at the beginning of the First World War it was burned down together with a large part of the town. All 300,000 books went up in flames. There was a great international feeling of indignation, which brought about a worldwide outpouring of solidarity. Hundreds of American benefactors, mainly educational institutions, contributed financially to the reconstruction of the building.

The current building was erected between 1921 and 1928. Its architect, the American Whitney Warren, also built New York’s Grand Central Station. The style is derived from the 16th-17th century Renaissance in the Low Countries. With the invasion of the German Wehrmacht in May 1940, another 900,000 books went up in flames. It was not until 1951 that the library was in use again. In 1968 the collection was split between the Dutch-speaking KU Leuven (which stayed in Leuven) and the French-speaking U.C.L. (located in Louvain-la-Neuve).

Today, the building houses more then one million books, newspapers and magazines. Together with the ten faculty libraries, the Central Library forms the University Library, which harbours a collection of circa 4.300,000 volumes. Besides the collection of the Central Library itself, the building plays host to the University Archive and Art Collection, and other heritage institutions such as the Alamire Foundation (music in the Low Countries) and Illuminare (medieval art).

Katrien Smeyers, Mark Derez, Dirk Aerts & Tarek Peeters

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