‘Conservation of early printed books from the National Book Collections of Poland’ is a project aimed at protecting the most precious early printed books, some of which belong to the collection of the Zoological Cabinet of the Royal University of Warsaw. They are among few materials of this type that survived wartime and are considered one of the most valuable items in the National Book Collections. The collection traces its beginnings to Baron Sylwiusz Minckwitz’s personal library, and the patronage of Branicki family, who prevented its transportation into Russia by creating a private museum. Many items in the collection, written mainly in old Polish, Latin, German and French, are distinguished by excellent graphic layout, decoration and beautiful binding. Some of them have supralibros –marks of personal ownership, stamped onto the covers. The editions chosen for the project are classics of the Polish literature on natural sciences, dealing with the topic of plants, animals, anatomy or equestrianism. Some examples may be Father Krzysztof Kluk’s works – Zoologia czyli zwięrzetopismo dla Szkól Narodowych from 1789, which is believed to be the first zoology textbook, or Dykcyonarz Roślinny, containing description of 1536 domestic and international plant species, listed in alphabetical order according to Latin and Polish names. Another work by the same author, a four-volume Zwierząt domowych i dzikich, osobliwie kraiowych, potrzebnych i pożytecznych, domowych, chowanie, rozmnożenie, chorób leczenie, dzikich łowienie, oswoienie, zażycie, szkodliwych zaś wygubienie, which appeared between 1779 and 1780, was the first attempt to synthesize knowledge on domestic fauna and for a long time it served as a textbook on the subject. Apart from this, it is worth noting a richly illustrated tome on crops titled Zielnik herbarzem z języka łacińskiego zowią […]. It was written in 1613 by Szymon Syreński – one of the most prominent Polish herbalists, and is considered a classic work of the Polish Renaissance dedicated to botany. Among Polish language materials there is also the first work on descriptive biology of mammals, titled Historia naturalis curiosa Regni Poloniae, written by Gabriel Rzączyński and published in 1721. Among foreign texts, it is worth mentioning Historiae animalium by Conrad Gesner. Published in 1558, the work is considered a milestone in the investigations of zoology and for 200 years it remained a primary source of information on the subject. The subsidies received will be allocated for the most costly endeavour, that is conserving and renovating the unique materials to protect them from further destruction. A collection of 27 items, which so far has been unavailable to readers due to a poor state of preservation, will undergo a thorough conservation treatment. Many of these items have damaged bindings, tears and dampstains – a consequence of improper conditions of storage, temperature, and in particular incursion of water. Incursion of microorganisms and various kinds of discoloration can additionally be noticed on their leaves.
All these activities will make the books look attractive again, underscore their artistic aspect and improve their readability. The treatment will also prevent them from further destruction, extending the life of paper and leather. Following conservation treatment, the items will be digitized. This will make them freely available world-wide, attracting readers not connected with academic or cultural institutions, and at the same time preserve them for future generations. Once scanned, the images will be processed using OCR technology and then processed graphically. Additionally, they will be microfilmed and placed in the Archive of Digital Repository of Scientific Institutes (RCIN). The whole collection will be accessible in DjVu and PDF formats via the Fundacja Natura optima dux website. The website, in its English, German and French language versions, will also detail the project aims and conservation treatment procedures. Subsequently, the task of librarians will be to create bibliographic records of the early-printed books and submit them to the union catalogue of Polish research and academic libraries – NUKAT catalogue. The records will contain proper spelling of an author’s name, title, as well as authority data for a publisher, printer and others responsible for individual works. Additionally, the digitized texts will be put on the RCIN website. Since RCIN resources are searchable via Digital Libraries Federation, which aggregates metadata for Europeana, they will become better known world-wide. The task of popularizing knowledge of early-printed materials will thus be carried out in various directions so as to breathe new life into the texts and attract readers. Thinking of the latter, we have not forgotten about those disabled. In the reading room of the Library of the Museum and Institute of Zoology PAN, the project partner, we wish to set up reading equipment for people who are visually impaired. With the aid of screen readers and magnifiers they will be able to get acquainted with the oldest printed books and benefit from our project on a greater scale. Next we set about promoting the early-printed materials. Information leaflets will be printed and distributed among scientific communities. To make people more familiar with early printed books, notes on our collection will appear on various websites dealing with natural sciences and cultural heritage. We hope that thanks to conservation and renovation treatments this unique collection, which deteriorates continuously due to natural aging, will stand the test of time to serve scholars in the future. Thanks to digitalization all of us will have an opportunity to come into contact with an early knowledge of flora and fauna, which so far has been reserved for a small circle of professionals. This seems particularly important nowadays, when the educational role of the Internet is ever growing.
Pracownia Skanowania, Muzeum i Instytut Zoologii PAN