About Convert-a-Card

Currently the only way to discover tens of thousands of printed books in some of our collection areas is to manually flick through old library card catalogues in our reading rooms at the British Library.

The sheer scale involved in transforming these printed cards into electronic records for our online catalogue requires a range of innovative approaches, hence Convert-a-Card was born!

How it Works

The cards (some 50,000+ from just Asian & African collections alone) were scanned some years ago for preservation purposes, however the quality is quite variable, posing a challenge for computational approaches*.

This is where your human eye can help!

In Convert-a-Card, we're asking volunteers to look at a digitised card and search a database based on some of the fields printed on it (like Title, Author, Date..) to see if an electronic record for the book already exists in some form online.

If a match is found, volunteers then type out the Library's unique "shelfmark" as printed on the card and wha-la! A newly minted electronic record will be sent off for inclusion in our online catalogue. If a match is not found, no worries, our specialist curators and cataloguers are notified and these cards will be selected for full manual transcription by them.

*though we have put all of the cards online under CC0 license in the hopes others might take a crack at it)

The Cards

A range of languages are covered by the task sets launched on the platform, organised by "drawers". Following is a brief introduction of each.

Chinese (Pinyin)

This card catalogue covers about 40,000 printed items held within the Chinese collections of the British Library. The cards are typed and hand-written using English, Chinese characters and the Hanyu Pinyin Romanisation system. Books in this collection were acquired between 1966 and 1993 and include reference material, publications on humanities and social sciences from the People's Republic of China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore, as well as reprints of rare woodblock-printed items.


This catalogue of typewritten cards covers over 3,000 printed books published before 1982 held within the Indonesian collections of the British Library. Books in this collection range from rare missionary works printed in Bengkulu, Ambon and Batavia in the early 19th century, to first editions of some of the most important works of modern Indonesian literature, such as Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s Keluarga Gerilja (A guerilla family) published in Jakarta in 1950.


This catalogue of typewritten cards covers over 4500 printed books held within the Urdu collections of the British Library. Books in this collection were acquired between 1950 and 1981 and include works on of history, politics, language, literature, Islam, law, education, anthropology, genealogy, geography, music, art and architecture.


Visit the forum to ask any questions, report issues, or just let us know what you have discovered.

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