For Release: Immediately
Department of External Affairs
Free Library of Philadelphia
1901 Vine Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103-1189
(215) 567-7710
FAX (215) 567-7850
Contact: Communications and Development
For Release: Immediately
Contact: Communications and Development


In partnership with four higher-education institutions, the digitization project will make nearly 1,500 Islamic treasures accessible worldwide

PHILADELPHIA, January 4, 2018—The Free Library of Philadelphia’s Rare Book Department is proud to be a recipient of a $500,000 grant to support digitizing Islamic manuscripts and paintings dating from 1000 to 1900. The Manuscripts of the Muslim World project—supported by a Digitizing Hidden Collections grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), which is made possible by funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation—will provide digital access to 576 Islamic manuscripts and 827 paintings that have previously been largely invisible to scholars.

In partnership with Columbia University, the University of Pennsylvania, Haverford College, and Bryn Mawr College, the Free Library will lead this three-year project to make a hidden portion of the Islamic manuscript tradition available worldwide. Representing a great breadth the Muslim world’s flourishing intellectual and cultural heritage, the manuscripts, codices, and paintings cover mathematics, astrology, history, law, literature, and religion, including copies of the Qur’an and Hadith. The bulk are Arabic and Persian illuminated manuscripts, along with examples of Coptic, Indo-Persian, Samaritan, Syriac, and Turkish calligraphy, and album leaves and paintings. The manuscripts help to document the Islamic Golden Age (8th to 13th centuries), a period when scholars in the Muslim world helped to preserve works of Greek philosophy while advancing science and mathematics; the Early Modern Period, during which the Ottoman Empire rose as a global power; and the beginnings of modernity.

“This project spotlights treasures of the Muslim world held right here in Philadelphia, home to one of the largest Muslim populations in America,” said Caitlin Goodman, curator of the Free Library’s Rare Book Department. “Both an international audience of scholars and the wider public will be able to see and study these outstanding art historical and cultural achievements.” Goodman will serve as the principle investigator for the project.

The Free Library’s collection is largely comprised of items from Philadelphia collector John Frederick Lewis that were donated by his widow Anne Baker Lewis in 1936. The digitization and metadata creation of these materials will go hand­-in-­hand with full cataloging of the digital images. The materials will be made available online without restrictions. All digital images and records from the project partners will ultimately be available as a unified collection at OPenn and added to other online repositories.

Four Rare Book Department manuscripts that will be digitized as part of the project will soon be on loan to New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, for the spring 2018 exhibition Romance and Reason: Islamic Transformations of the Classical Past. The items—three copies of the Persian epic The Shahnameh and popular illustrated cosmologic text “Marvels of Things Created”—will be on display with artifacts from the National Library of Israel, as well as the Morgan Library and Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In 2016, 15 partner institutions—led by the Free Library, Lehigh University, and the University of Pennsylvania Libraries—were awarded a $500,000 grant from CLIR for the project Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis, which is digitizing medieval and Renaissance manuscript collections; nearly 100 manuscripts from the Rare Book Department’s collections have been digitized thus far and are available at OPenn. For the current CLIR grant, the Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation’s submission was one of only 14 recommended projects, out of a total of 118 eligible applications.

For more information on the Free Library’s Rare Book Department, visit

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About the Free Library of Philadelphia
The Free Library of Philadelphia system, with 54 locations and The Rosenbach, advances literacy, guides learning, and inspires curiosity with millions of digital and physical materials; 25,000 yearly programs and workshops; free public computers and extensive Wi-Fi; and rich special collections, including those at Parkway Central Library and at The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia. The combined holdings of these renowned collections—which include hundreds of thousands of rare books, manuscripts, and ephemera—inspire unique exhibitions and programs throughout the year. With more than 6 million in-person and millions more online visits annually, the Free Library and The Rosenbach are among the most widely used educational and cultural institutions in Philadelphia and boast a worldwide impact.

About the Council on Library and Information Resources
The Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) is an independent, nonprofit organization that forges strategies to enhance research, teaching, and learning environments in collaboration with libraries, cultural institutions, and communities of higher learning. To learn more, visit and follow on Facebook and Twitter.

About the Mellon Foundation
Founded in 1969, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation endeavors to strengthen, promote, and, where necessary, defend the contributions of the humanities and the arts to human flourishing and to the well-being of diverse and democratic societies by supporting exemplary institutions of higher education and culture as they renew and provide access to an invaluable heritage of ambitious, path-breaking work.  Additional information is available at



Department of External Affairs, Free Library of Philadelphia, 1901 Vine Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103-1189
(215) 567-7710, FAX (215) 567-7850