A General Outline of the BEIC Digital Library

A General Outline of the BEIC Digital Library

The Beic Digital Library's (BeicDL) primary aim is to compile a vast and freely accessible collection of works by some of the most important authors stretching from antiquity to the modern age. The works will cover every major field of study in the sciences, humanities and arts. 

Education by direct and in-depth contact with texts and the intelligent use of multimedia assets are among the new library’s chief goals.

The basic mission of the BeicDL differs from the three main models adopted for the building of most digital collections (be they cost free or fee charging): the Beic does not aim to digitize “all the books in the world”, nor to comprehensively reproduce individual valuable collections or funds held by major libraries, nor to focus on a specific area of culture or field of knowledge.

The BeicDL is characterized by its being selective, multidisciplinary, multimedial and interconnected. 

Its objective is to identify a wide variety of texts that represent European and global culture in each of the main branches of human knowledge. The texts are to be derived from editions without copyright constraints, so as to make them freely available online.  

For this reason, specialists in individual academic sectors have identified and selected important authors and volumes for digitization, choosing them from major libraries and from special collections located in Italy and beyond. Agreements have been made—and others will be made in the future—between the libraries that own the selected works and the Beic Foundation.

For a wide selection of works and authors that are already freely accessible on the web and available (in particular) through the Internet Archive, the BeicDL assumes the task of adding metadata to imported images, with particular attention being paid to the comprehensive cataloging of subjects and internal mapping of individual works. 

The identification of additional works by preselected authors available through other digital libraries is also made possible, thereby permitting direct, immediate access through the Beic website.  

Particular care is being taken in the preparation of descriptions of the individual works digitized by the Beic Foundation, as well as the technical characteristics of each digital reproduction. In order to achieve a high quality catalogue, the BeicDL's staff has prepared an analytical description of the contents of any publication which includes more than one work. Readers will therefore be made aware of the existence of a large number of texts that a traditional catalogue would probably not be able to account for. Thanks to the mapping of publications' structures, users will be able to directly access the specific portion of the document that interests them.

To date, the compilation of the collections has included only printed works and manuscripts. However, the Beic will shortly publish images (photographs and paintings), music, and videos selected according to the aforementioned criteria, so that in the years to come a truly multimedial library will have been created.

During its first phase, the BeicDL placed an emphasis on some branches of knowledge that are not often visited, partly because the difficulty in accessing them. Accordingly, the following collections have already been made available: Medieval and Modern European Law; Religions, Economics Classics; History of Mathematics; History of Medicine; History of the Natural Sciences; Travels in Italy, Europe and the World. Academic Papers of Italian institutions (so far including the Accademia dei Lincei, the Accademia delle Scienze di Torino, the Istituto Lombardo Accademia di Scienze e Lettere, and the Atti dell’Istituto Veneto, to be followed by other academies). 

The task of identifying works, editions and libraries in relation to other major areas of culture has only begun. This is true for Classics of Ancient Culture, Classics of European Literature, Classics of Religion, Classics of Philosophy, Classics of Political Philosophy, Classics of Sociology, and various other planned collections, including those containing music and images.

While it’s true that a large amount of fundamental texts are to some extent already available online, it is also true that the online editions are not all freely accessible, and that such editions are not always altogether reliable. The quality of images can be inadequate, and the quality of metadata is not always of a high standard.

In addition to its selective and general collections, the BeicDL includes a series of Special Collections, each of which aims at being  potentially exhaustive in its field. To date, these include an extensive collection of Medieval Juridical Manuscripts (which, because of the rights of the over 200 European libraries that own the originals, can only be consulted from reserved access points); the collection of Incunabula in the Italian Language, which includes all vernacular works published from the introduction of printing up to the year 1500 kept in Italian and foreign libraries, and numbers more than 600 volumes; the Italian Medieval Chronicles and Documents collection; and the Italian Hydraulics Library.

The works can be accessed via a catalogue allowing searches by author, title words, year of publication, century or year of composition, and by topic. A portion of the editions dating from the 1800s and 1900s has been reproduced not only in image format but also in text format, thus making it possible to search for individual words within an individual text.

The BeicDL is integrated by means of a webography that offers a selection of sites relative to sources, information and research tools in the various fields of knowledge. The indication of every site selected is accompanied by an assessment made by the expert responsible for the choice. The sites will be updated regularly and usable independently; they will also be linked to the Beic's individual digital collections. 

A series of organized paths (percorsi organizzati) is currently under development. These will allow non-specialist readers direct, engaging access to digitized works in ancient editions by means of carefully selected texts and suggested steps.

The scheme outlined above will include the development of a series of didactic and educational programmes for both secondary schools and universities. Work on these is already underway: after two years of experimentation they are now accessible on the Beic website. A series of teaching units (devised by faculty members) and a learning project have already been fully realized.

A census of Italy's universities’ digital collections has been developed by the Beic Foundation in collaboration with the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities (MiBAC) on behalf of the Conference of Italian University Rectors (CRUI). A periodically updated catalogue is to be created that will allow access to the individual digital collections.

The catalogue of Archive of Lombardy's Published Documents from 2006 to 2012 has been entrusted to the Beic Foudation in agreement with the Region of Lombardy and the Braidense National Library. The Beic will post the catalogue online with enhancing features, such as frontispieces, indices, reader interaction, etc.

A list of the works being digitized is available on the site www.beic.it

Beic Digital Collections (in progress)

Classical Greek and Latin Authors

Poets, writers, historians, philosophers and scientists of Classical Greece and Rome, in ancient editions.

Italian Hydraulics Library

This collection presents a wide selection of scientific and historical texts on the subject of hydraulics, dating from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries.

Classics of Culture

The principal authors and key works from classical, medieval and modern times: European literatures, philosophy, history, religion, law, economics, social sciences, mathematics, natural sciences (physics, chemistry and biology), medicine. 

Italian Medieval Chronicles and Documents

In collaboration with the Società Internazionale per lo Studio del Medioevo Latino (SISMEL) di Firenze and the Istituto Storico Italiano per il Medio Evo di Roma, this sub-collection offers an important selection of printed chronicles and Italian medieval documents.

Medieval and Modern European Law 

In collaboration with the Dipartimento di Diritto Privato e Storia del Diritto of the Università degli Studi di Milano, this collection brings together a vast number of manuscripts and printed editions on European medieval and modern law

- Medieval law manuscripts (civil law and canon law) from the eighth to sixteenth centuries 

- Italian city statutes from the twelfth to seventeenth centuries

- Modern codification (Italy and France), Italian legal doctrines, nineteenth Century

Economics Classics 

Selected for the most part from the printed works held by the Fondazione Raffaele Mattioli per la Storia del Pensiero Economico, this collection presents classic works on economics dating from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries.


The collection, only recently started, will include texts by the most important writers on philosophy from the classical, medieval and modern ages.

Incunabula in the Italian Language

Realized in collaboration with the Dipartimento di Italianistica e Spettacolo of the Università degli Studi di Roma "La Sapienza", the collection will include digitization of all the volumes in the Italian language (in excess of 1,600 titles originating from more than 100 Italian and foreign libraries) published from the birth of printing up to the fifteenth century.

Italian Literature

This collection offers in digital form a wide selection of works by Italian poets, scholars and writers. It includes, among other things,  the entire Laterziana series “Scrittori d’Italia” (italian writers),  in 287 volumes.

Reference Works

This collection includes a series of classic biographical reference works and various major encyclopedias.


This collection will include a selection of works (historiographies) of the main ancient, medieval, modern and contemporary historians. 

History of Mathematics

A collection of classic authors and historical reference works on mathematics dating from antiquity up until modern times, partly drawn from the ancient fund held by the Biblioteca Carlo Viganò di Brescia.

History of Medicine

This collection includes a selection of works on ancient, medieval and modern medicine originating from various Italian libraries, in particular the Fondo Alfieri of the Università degli Studi di Milano. 

History of the Natural Sciences (Physics, Chemistry, Biology)

The collection comprises printed works by Italian (and other European) scientists dating from the fifteenth to nineteenth centuries deriving mostly from the Florence's Museo Galileo, the Accademia delle Scienze di Torino, the Biblioteca Nazionale Braidense and the Biblioteca Universitaria di Pavia.

Religious Texts

This collection, whose project was outlined, consists in a core selection of works on Christian theology dating variously from the medieval and the modern ages.

Travels in Italy, Europe and the World

This collection will include a series of works selected from various libraries, both Italian and foreign; most of the works belong to the Fondo Tursi of the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice. 


Currently around 1,000 (to increase to 2,000) sites are listed, briefly described, evaluated and periodically updated (the listings are selected by experts in individual fields of study).