Monday, April 5, 2010
Monastery of St. Francis Library
[A work in progress. Stacks of books in the library of the St.Francis monastery in Zadar]
17 March, 2010
This was an insightful experience. This is what I had hoped to see during our service learning component of our class. The nuts and bolts of creating a working library out of a mess of a centuries-old collection of books.
Marijana Tomić was our guide for this project. She introduced us to fra Jozo Sopta, the monk of St.Francis who started the library work. Then Andreja Antonina, a professor of classical philology gave us a lecture on the history of this church and monastery and the collection within it.
The library is as old as the church, which was established in 1282. The library contains approximately 60,000 units including parchments from the 13th century, 120 incunabula, and many medieval illuminated works. Nearly 10,000 items in the collection are in a state of advanced deterioration from a host of causes (age, weather, insects, war, fire, etc). There is no catalog at all, not even an inventory list.
This project is attempting to establish this library through organizational efforts which aim to meet requirements for government funds, make the library accessible to the community, and begin preservation efforts. After 2.5 years of work, the inventory is half finished.
The students who work on this inventory are using a computer program which is doing some preliminary cataloging. An authority file is being made for every previous owner and access points are being set up now. Translated copies of the computer forms were made for us, and we tried our hand at filling them out with materials from the collection.
This experience made it strikingly clear how much background knowledge is necessary to do this work. Just from this short exercise, we need to know differences from the long history of book making (materials, binding, etc). We would need to know the different stamps and marks of different printers, binders, possible book owners throughout the ages, different languages, and a whole host of other details. And this level of experience and scholarship needs to be painstakingly employed 60,000 times?! Little wonder that it's a slow process.