May 17, 2022

The Folger Shakespeare Library’s British Book Illustrations (BBI) Database Adds Iconclass Metadata For Images

From The Folger’s “The Collation” Blog:

British Book Illustrations (BBI) is a project of the Folger Shakespeare Library, funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), to digitize and index woodcut and engraved illustrations in our seventeenth-century British and English-language books. We began by systematically digitizing all of the nearly 6,700 illustrations from the years 1604-1640, continuing the work done by Luborsky and Ingram in their Guide to English Illustrated Books, 1536-1603. We subsequently digitized around 3,300 illustrations from the years 1641-1700 from selected books that are renowned for their illustrations.

Perhaps most exciting aspect of this project is that these images are also indexed: now, an image of a dog will be findable when searching for that word, regardless of whether or not it’s contained in the metadata for the book. For this feature, we used Iconclass, the same vocabulary used by libraries, museums, and art galleries all over the world to describe visual material. Iconclass is the internationally-accepted standard for the description and retrieval of subjects represented in images, able to account for both the simple—this is a dog—and the complex—this is a dog representing the concept of insatiable-ness.


Access: via BBI Website

You can use the basic Iconclass browser on the BBI website to search British Book Illustrations in the Folger collection for free, anywhere in the world. The major subject areas are listed within the browser; click on any of them to narrow down the search results, and to see a narrower set of categories.


Access: via Luna Digital Image Database

The Iconclass headings have been copied into a sub-collection Luna in order to facilitate keyword searching. To search the headings, select the British Book Illustrations collection from the Luna home page. If you want to be even more precise in your search, you can limit your keyword search to the Iconclass field by preceding your search term with “iconclass_headings=”.


Access: via Arkyves

If you are on-site at the Folger, or otherwise have access to the subscription database, you can use the full Iconclass browser at Arkyves to search the Folger’s images from BBI, including easily browsing all illustrations from a particular book.

Learn More, Read the Complete Blog Post

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.