Precious heritage digitised

Russian specialists to help restore book collections of Belarusian nobility

By Victor Andreev

It’s difficult to join UNESCO’s Memory of the World programme, which includes some of the world’s most precious archive manuscripts, editions and libraries; it currently boasts 193 items from 83 countries, with Belarus represented by just one collection: the library of the Radziwill dukes, from Nesvizh. Most of the collection is held abroad: in Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine and Finland, as well as in Russia. However, the UNESCO Office in Moscow has joined the National Commission of Belarus for UNESCO in registering the collection and is now digitising the heritage of the noble Sapegi family, which is currently kept in St. Petersburg.

Digitisation allows rare editions to become available to scientists around the world, alongside library users, preserving fragile manuscripts and folios on contemporary data storage media.

In 2011, the first CD was released containing the title pages of 300 Sapegi books from the collection of the Russian National Library in St. Petersburg. Several folios have been published in full on CD. Lyudmila Kiryukhina, Deputy Director of the National Library of Belarus, notes that many previously unknown editions are now on display for the first time, as are the original manuscripts of outstanding authors. All are now also available on CD.

Sadly, Belarus has lost almost everything relating to the heritage of the noble family, except for the ruins of several castles. One of these — in the Brest Region’s Ruzhany — is now undergoing reconstruction.

“If the Sapegi library is restored at least virtually, we’ll be able to apply to join the Memory of the World register,” explains Vladimir Schastny, Chairman of the National Commission for UNESCO.

The project has grown from a modest endeavour into a major inter-state affair, with specialists from Belarus and Russia, Lithuania and Poland uniting as an international council creating an e-collection of manuscripts and black-letter books once owned by the Sapegi family.

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