One of the best decisions of my life is buying an iPad Mini. I bought it a few years ago when I realized that my room was piling up with magazines, copies of which I only read once but still wanted to keep. I was transitioning to minimalism, so I wanted a system where I can still have my subscriptions while saving space. There are many reasons why digital is a great alternative to reading, and one of them is to save old and rare books. Books are a country’s written history and I believe in preserving them.
The Miguel de Benavides Library and the University Archives of the University of Santo Tomas (UST) is a treasure trove, home to over 30,000 rare books, many of them dating back centuries. It is home to many important Bibles, some of which the Spanish colonizers translated to Filipino to hasten the evangelization of the Philippines.
Some of the most valuable books in the collection are a first edition of Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere (1886); a first edition copy of Nicholaus Copernicus’ De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium Libri VI (1543); Hippocrates’ Opera Omnia, considered as the first book on medicine, and the Polyglot Bible, Christopher Plantin’s most important work, financed by King Philip II of Spain. The last book is internationally valued as a rare manuscript, and a five-volume copy exists in the library.
The project first started with Lumina Pandit (Spreading the Light), an international exhibition of the manuscripts in time for the university’s 400th anniversary in 2011. The oldest book in exhibit was Josephus Flavius’ De Bello Judaico (The Jewish War), published in 1492. Because of age, they were locked away in a temperature-controlled room.
UnionBank, as part of its corporate philanthropy and social responsibility program, partnered with UST for Lumina Pandit II , a five-year multi-million project that will preserve, restore, digitize, and publish these books. They are literally opening the library to the world, through catalogs of reprints and access online.
Of course, it wasn’t easy. The project is composed of three painstaking components: conservation, digitization, and publication. The act of restoring damaged pages is already an impressive feat, but cataloging and digitizing millions of pages is a daunting and ambitious task. The project had the full support of UnionBank Chairman Justo Ortiz, who was convinced of the historical and educational value of the manuscripts.
Restoring is both a time-consuming and expensive task. Each book costs an average of P50,000 to restore, and takes three to six months. Through UnionBank, UST was able to purchase a device that will shorten the time to one and a half months, and retrofit the laboratory to make it more functional.
To date, the library has restored 41 volumes, prioritizing those with historical value.
The manuscripts were gathered to create a special catalogues that will be available to the public. They are currently available at the UST Miguel de Benavides Library:
Catalogue of Rare Books Volume 1 (P1,300)
The first volume covers 1492 to 1600 and features the aforementioned De Bello Judaico, De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium Libri VI, and the Polyglot Bible.
Catalogue of Rare Books Volume 2: Parts 1 (P1,500), 2 (P1,500), and 3 (P2,500)
The second volume features three centuries of works, and was divided into three to accommodate all 5,861 entries. The first part includes manuscripts that may have been used in the university’s first century from 1611 to 1711. One of the most prominent works here is Pope Leo the Great’s Opera Omnia (1614).
Catalogue of Rare Books Volume 3: Part 1 (P2,500)
Volume three highlights the library’s rich Filipiniana section, including the first edition of Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere.
Filipiniana Rare Periodicals (P1,200)
One of the special parts of this edition is the issues of La Solidaridad and La Independencia, two publications that helped spark and sustain the Philippine Revolution.
Catalogue 1: Becerros, Folletos, and Libros (P1,500) and Catalogue 2: Libritor 1516-1944 (P1,800)
The catalogues feature an impressive lineup of manuscripts, including Mabini’s 1898 Decalogo, Rizal’s Mi Ultimo Adios, and documents in the ancient script baybayin (1623).
Similar to how I now read magazines through my iPad, Ortiz led the digitization of selected materials from the library and archive. Since 2011, UST has scanned 785 titles, 16 rare maps, and 1,332 issues of UST publications. So far, over half a million pages have been scanned. As with its previous components, UnionBank sponsored the software to digitally manage and store data online for anyone to use.
Soon, UnionBank and UST will launch a co-branded website to let users across the world access the digital library, but it is currently available for viewing at the Miguel de Benavides Library and Archives website.
Yes, I still love physical books. I love the feeling of turning pages and the smell of old books. But practicality calls for other measures to preserve and enjoy culturally significant works. As technology progresses, it’s important to harness it to remember our past. As Rizal famously said, “Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinangalingan ay hindi makakarating sa paroroonan.“
For more information about UnionBank, visit its website, and its Facebook and Twitter pages. For more information about the University of Santo Tomas, visit its website and its Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages.