One of the largest collections of early printed books and periodicals in the Republic of Armenia is located in the Fundamental Scientific Library (FSL). The rare book collection is in particularly poor condition and requires urgent action to protect them and prevent further damage.
The first Armenian book was printed in Venice in 1512 by Yakob Meghapart. Between 1512 and 1513 he printed five titles: Urbatagirk, Parzaytumar, Pataragatetr, Altark and Tagharan. The collection contains 231 titles printed between 1512 and 1800.
After the establishment of the communist regime in Armenia in 1920 and ideological cleansings of 1937, substantial numbers of manuscripts and books were destroyed and the remaining were confined to the archives. A huge number of Armenian periodicals published during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were placed in closed archives classified as 'Top Secret'. The reason was that articles could be found in these publications describing historical events of that time not in the way desired by the communist party leaders; or the founders and publishers of the periodicals were political parties, clergy or persons not cooperating with the communist regime. The FSL was the location selected by the authorities to house such material and a very limited number of researchers had access to these materials. Since 1991, after the collapse of the Soviet regime and the emergence of Armenia as an Independent Republic, all spheres of Armenian society have experienced a tremendous and fundamental change. The category of material previously labeled 'Top Secret' is now open to all users. Periodical literature is a vital and unique source of information for the study of the history of the Armenian Diaspora, their literature, culture, institutions, church life, and politics.
The preservation conditions are not satisfactory - all the collections are very fragile, suffering from paper deterioration and fungus lesion, and the physical condition of the books is rapidly deteriorating. The fluctuation of temperatures and level of humidity in the stacks during the autumn and spring seasons and the pollution level remain uncontrolled. Many rare books which were indicated as sources in the publications of scholars at the beginning of the twentieth century are currently unavailable as they have been destroyed, either through poor storage, or because of the fragility of the paper or lost in war and civil strife, and there are no surrogate copies for them. The same will happen with the remaining ones, as the paper continues to deteriorate.
This project will digitise the Armenian rare book collections and periodicals being kept in the FSL and make them available on the web. These unique texts, pictures and atlases are of immense value for understanding the culture, traditions, political structure and habits of the people and the nations living in Asia Minor in medieval times. The collection comprises 4,200 endangered books and 190 titles of Armenian language newspapers and periodicals. Professional training will be provided for those involved in the digitising activities and these retrained staff will then provide training sessions for the Armenian library community.
Web versions of the images are being hosted on the FSL webpage under the heading 'Armeniaca'.
In total the project digitised:
Armenian rare books (year of publication 1512-1800): 211 titles;
Armenian early printed books (year of publication 1801-1850): 360 titles;
Armenian early printed books (year of publication 1851-1900): 305 titles;
Armenian early printed books (year of publication 1901-1920): 161 titles;
Armenian periodicals of the 19th-20th centuries. 3 titles, 697 issues;
Armenian newspapers of the 19th-20th centuries. 15 titles, 2470 issues.
The endangered archived materials are housed in the Fundamental Scientific Library (FSL), with digital copies deposited with the British Library. Web versions of the images with relevant bibliographic descriptions are being mounted on the FSL web page, under the title ‘Armeniaca’. All materials are freely accessible to researchers, students and general public.
This project was a new experience for all staff working in FSL. The digitising equipment, preservation techniques, software solutions and web based applications all served as a good basis to understand the whole process. As a result in FSL there is now a team of professionals, who are proficient when working with cameras, with cropping images, and with archiving.
On the basis of the expertise now at the FSL, the National Library of Armenia has joined FSL and are involved in developing an ‘Armenian Rare Books Union Catalogue’. Armenian rare books kept in the NLA are being digitised and added to the FSL rare books collection. The Mother See of Holy Echmiadsin library has also started digitising and adding its library rare books to the Union catalogue. The Library of Ancient Manuscripts will be invited to join this project to add rare books preserved in the library to the Union Catalogue. An agreement has been made with the Armenian Apostolic Church in Romania and they will digitise Armenian rare and early printed books and send the images to FSL for further addition to the Union catalogue. The Armenian Mekhitarist Congregation (Vienna) has sent the digitised version of the book ‘Small Song Book’ (year of publication 1777), to be added to the collection. The uniqueness of this book is that there is only one copy. The work which was started in the Fundamental Scientific Library is finding supporters in Armenological centres.
Read the article written by Alan Hopkinson and Tigran Zargaryan published on Ariadne: “Peculiarities of digitising materials from the collections of the National Academy of Sciences, Armenia”