BLOG: The Biblioteca Nacional del Perú’s Digitized Holdings by William Cohoon

Gretchen Pierce (She/her/hers) Blog Post
William Cohoon teaches upper school history at Trinity Valley School in Fort Worth, Texas, and earned his Ph.D. in colonial Latin American history at Texas Christian University. Recently, Historia y Cultura published his article “Intercambios predecibles: estandarización del servicio de correo real en el Perú borbónico,” which focuses the Bourbon monarchy’s desire to create a predictable and revenue generating postal service. For this article, he completed research at the Archivo General de la Nación del Perú and relied on digitized documents from the Biblioteca Nacional del Perú. He also has published previously with Research Corner on the digitization of the Archivo General de la Nación del Perú, a step-by-step guide about how to acquire digital sources there, and how to navigate the Portal de Archivos Españoles. If you would like to contribute to this blog as well, please contact Gretchen Pierce at or via this Google Form.

The Biblioteca Nacional del Perú’s Digitized Holdings

In today’s post I will focus on a few of the Biblioteca Nacional del Perú’s (BNP) digital holdings. First, I will provide a brief historical overview of the library and its efforts to create and maintain a digital database of materials available to the public, and then I will highlight a handful of different digital records available for researchers.

The BNP’s modern era began in 1821, when the leader for Peru’s independence, José de San Martín, established the republic’s national library. However, in 1824 Spanish royalist troops razed the BNP’s holdings. During the War of the Pacific (1879-84), the Chilean military stole thousands of documents and other materials while occupying Lima.1 During the mid-to-late nineteenth century, the library acquired new materials. In 1943, the BNP lost additional resources when the building caught on fire. Despite these setbacks, the BNP’s directors have consistently sought to expand the library’s collection during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, while at the same time working toward innovation. Beginning in the early 2010s, the Peruvian government declared that the BNP would be the “central depository of cultural heritage,” which included the creation of digital materials. In 2020, the BNP launched its program “Towards 200 Years” to enhance the interconnectedness of Peru’s libraries and, more importantly, to allow the public to have greater library access. A significant part of this objective was the Biblioteca Pública Digital, which provides access to its sources to people of all ages and socioeconomic groups. Additionally, the BNP hopes that its efforts will serve as a platform to reach all parts of the globe.2

The library’s digital presence has expanded to allow scholars access to its catalog of colonial and republican documents, covering the sixteenth through the early twentieth century. What’s more, the BNP has gradually digitized and made available a variety of primary sources.3 One of the most significant undertakings by the BNP was the digitization of Lima’s libro de cabildos (townhall meeting minutes) in a collaborative effort with the Archivo Histórico Municipalidad Metropolitana de Lima (AHMML), which holds the physical copies of the townhall meeting ledgers covering the years 1534 to 1835. Prior to digitization, only two methods existed to examine the libro de cabildos: visiting the AHMML or finding Juan Bromley’s transcribed twenty-four copy set, which only covers the period 1534 to 1637.

To search for these digitized materials, begin on the BNP’s homepage and then hover over Biblioteca Digital, and select Partrimonio digitalizado de BNP y otras colecciones (Digitized Assets of the BNP and Other Collections; see Figure 1). Next locate the search engine bar near the top right-hand corner and enter your term; I am using “cabildo” (see Figure 2). On the next page you will find your resultados (search results), and on the webpage’s far left-hand side you will see the menu tells you which biblioteca (library) holds the sources, as well as provide you the autor (author), editorial (editor), idioma (language), colección (collection), and fecha publicación (publication date; see Figure 3). In the center you will see the various digital publications associated with your word search. If you plan to examine the libro de cabildos, I suggest that you go to the menu on the left-hand side of your screen and click the Municipalidad Metropolitana de Lima (Municipal Government of Lima) then scroll down until you reach fecha publicación where you click ver más (view more; see Figure 4). After you select “ver más,” click ver todos (view all; see Figure 5), which takes you to a page where you can choose the years you want to examine. I have selected 1756-1781 (see Figure 6). On this next page, you will find the details for the book, which in this case is “libro de cabildo thirty-six.” This information includes the year of publication, a description of the ledger, and the date range for meeting minutes. At the bottom of the description, one will find click a blue icon that says “ver más” (see Figure 7) that will take you one final page prior to being able to read your selection. Underneath a picture of the manuscript, click the leer ahora (read now) icon in blue (see Figure 8).4


Figure 1: patrimonio digitalizado, reached from the Biblioteca Digital portion of the BNP homepage.


Figure 2: Biblioteca Digital search engine.


Figure 3: menu for search engine results.


Figure 4: BNP search results with the ver más option for publication dates.


Figure 5: BNP search results with the ver todos option for publication dates.


Figure 6: publication dates for the libros de cabildo.


Figure 7: libro de cabildo 36 and the ver más option.


Figure 8: libro de cabildo 36 and the leer ahora option.

Now we can examine our selected document (see Figure 9). In the header, one can find the document’s title and a short description, and next to this information is the number of pages the manuscript contains. Below the book, you find five icons: thumbnails, comments, sharing, magnifying, and full screen. I especially enjoyed the sharing feature because it provides you with a QR code to scan with your phone and/or tablet. After clicking on the manuscript’s cover, the book will open to the document’s first page, which can be a continuation of the previous cabildo ledger. Other times, a scholar may find the index. In certain circumstances, the cabildo might place the index at the end of the manuscript if the final entry does not carry over into a new book. Scholars can click on the left side of the page to return a previous image or click the arrow button on the right side to move to the next image (see Figure 10). High resolution images allow users the ability to utilize the magnifying tool to maximize its potential. Although you cannot zoom in on a specific word, users can magnify the document to fit a minimum of eight lines on the screen. I felt that this feature allowed me the chance to transcribe most words. If a researcher wants to return to a specific page later, remember not only to write down the folio number but also the pdf page number, as these two figures do not correlate. For those unfamiliar with the cabildo records, officials often wrote brief one to two sentence summaries in the page’s margin summarizing the meeting’s proceedings. This tool can be useful if you do not find your key word in the manuscript’s index.


Figure 9: libro de cabildo 36 description and icons.


Figure 10: libro de cabildo 36 with a sample set of pages.

The BNP’s digital holdings not only include the libro de cabildos, but also a variety of other sources that scholars may find useful in their research. One such record that I found beneficial for my own work were digitized paintings by Francisco “Pancho” Fierro (1807-1879). Fierro’s paintings capture daily life in Lima during the early republican period. His watercolor paintings illustrate the diversity of Lima’s people and the various jobs that these individuals did, like candle vendors, street merchants, and the military. He also focuses on Lima’s architecture and other city spaces. Other important documents include various manuscripts from the colonial era ranging from royal declarations, the Tupac Amaru II revolt (1780-1782), and an 1814 declaration of loyalty from Huamanga City (modern day Ayacucho).

The digitized cabildo records are an exceptional opportunity for researchers from a variety of backgrounds and with different archival experiences. Cabildo ledgers offer a glimpse into the inner workings of a municipal government that show what these officials considered important at any given point in Lima’s colonial history. Although the documents principally offer the perspective of Lima’s societal elites, one can always read against the grain to find other views. Nevertheless, these digital sources offer a valuable tool for scholars to conduct preliminary research on a given topic related to the city’s urban history and environment. In my next post, I will focus on how to locate, order, and purchase digitized documents from the BNP.


1 “Intellectuals and Scholars Call on Chile to Return Items Stolen During 1881 War,” History News Network, Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, April 26, 2006, accessed May 19, 2023.

2 Nuestra historia: Biblioteca Nacional del Perú,, accessed April 26, 2023.

3 The BNP has also made widely available a variety of eBooks of fiction and non-fiction books. To gain access to these sources, an individual needs to create a library account in person or online.

4 You also have the option to agregar a mi Biblioteca (add to my library), but this option requires the user to create an online account with the BNP.