Friday, April 15, 2011

CNS: Precious library at risk, seeks help.

I missed this story when it was first published three weeks ago, but it's certainly still timely enough to post here: the Jesuit-run Pontifical Oriental Institute, considered one of the world's greatest centers for the academic study of Eastern Christianity, is in serious need of funds to renovate its antiquated library facilities and to repair rare books that could otherwise be lost to mold and decay. Here's more on the story, courtesy of the Catholic News Service:
The Pontifical Oriental Institute has the best general collection in the world on Eastern Christianity.

It boasts some 184,000 volumes, including rare and precious imprints and manuscripts, documenting centuries of Eastern Christian culture in a multitude of languages.

But the library's oldest and most valuable collections are in a serious state of degradation, including an extremely rare 1581 edition of the Ostrog Bible -- the first complete Bible printed in Slavic.

"For the Slavic churches, this is the Gutenberg" Bible, said U.S. Jesuit Father Robert Taft, former prefect of the library and former vice rector of the institute.

Rome's temperatures swing wildly from bone-chilling cold in the winter to hot, high humidity in the summer. Then add that to the ordinary wear and tear on volumes that are hundreds of years old.

What's left are works whose covers and bindings are disintegrating, metal clasps that are broken, and pages that are fragile, molding, water-damaged or riddled with the boreholes of bookworms.

"Everybody knows that that the only way to preserve material like this is to have a standard uniform temperature with humidity control and climate control throughout the entire year," [Taft] said.

"Thank God for Scotch tape," he said sarcastically as he pulled a manuscript of Byzantine liturgical music from a steel gray fireproof case. Brittle bits of yellowed adhesive tape flaked off the worn binding and large green rubber bands held together other volumes that were completely lacking spines.

"This is a sin against the patrimony of the human race," said the priest.
As the CNS article makes clear, the Orientale has a plan to preserve and protect its endangered resources. What the Orientale doesn't have - at least not yet - is the money to make this plan a reality:
The institute and library are funded, like all pontifical institutes, by the Vatican. However, the portion they receive is only enough to increase their holdings and keep the place running. Major expenses for modern equipment, renovation, and preservation are just not in the books, he said.

The institute's rector, U.S. Jesuit Father James McCann, said he is looking for outside funding for its preservation efforts.

Jesuit-run Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., hopes to provide a grant to the library that would pay for a high-tech digitizing machine plus a year's stipend for one person to do the scanning, he said.

Digitizing the collections would help preserve many of the works, especially the most fragile, since scholars could work off the scanned pages, Father Taft said.

. . .

While digitizing the collections will save on further wear and tear, funding must still be found for repairing the degraded volumes, which Father Taft said "costs a fortune."

"You just don't send it out to your corner bindery; these have to be handled by experts who work in a lab."

Father McCann said he also wants to look for potential donors outside the church, such as "people who love books or specialists who recognize the value of these materials." One student told the rector he should start an Adopt-a-Book campaign.

A climate-controlled system for the library and its collections could cost a quarter of a million dollars, said Father McCann. Not only would it protect the books from heat and humidity, he said, the library would be able to stay open year round instead of having to shutter its doors from mid-July to mid-September because of the stifling temperature.
To read the rest of the CNS article, click here. If you'd like a more detailed description of the PIO Library and its current needs, take a look at this article by Father Robert Taft.

Readers who would like to get involved in the effort to help preserve the PIO Library should visit the webpage of the Gregorian University Foundation, which raises crucial funds for operating expenses, student scholarships, and special projects at the Orientale and the other Jesuit educational institutions in Rome. If you cannot support this worthy endeavor financially, I hope that you can support it with your prayers. AMDG.


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