Once again, ‘Lumina Pandit’ | Inquirer Opinion
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Once again, ‘Lumina Pandit’

IT SHOULD be part of the halcyon days of an academic researcher—university professors, historians, anthropologists, sociologists, cultural workers or even some lawyers whose legalese is often bereft of cultural knowledge—when a bonanza comes or he/she stumbles upon a treasure trove of scholarly resources. But in the 21st century, that windfall is not sufficient. Today’s academic researcher can look for online resources and others made handy digitally such that there is no need to fly off to other countries, say, in Europe, to research in some bibliothèque nationale.

Perhaps because not many are aware of it (hence the need to make it more universally known), the Miguel de Benavides Library of the University of Santo Tomas has not stopped at acquisitions despite the enormity of its collections. It has also gone the extra mile—conserving the collections’ antiquities and making these commonly available through digital copies instead of just through their real, fragile non-digital forms.

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Fragility is an issue for the UST library. Among its 252,000 titles and 370,000 volumes are some 30,000 published between 1492 and 1900 and kept in its heritage library, the Antonio Vivencio del Rosario Library. Here one finds incunabula—books, pamphlets, broadsides—printed not handwritten—before 1501 in Europe. Among the treasures in the library are “La Guerra Judaica” (1492) by Joseph Flavius, “De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium” (1543) of Nicholaus Copernicus, and the first book ever printed in the Philippines, “Doctrina Christiana, en la Lengua Española y Tagala Corregida por los Religiosas de las Órdenes” (1593).

In 2011, UST entered into a memorandum of agreement with Union Bank of the Philippines to embark on an ambitious three-phase program: the conservation, digitization and publication of its rich historical collections. Not only does it cover the heritage library; it includes the priceless collections contained in the Archivo de la Universidad de Santo Tomas (AUST).

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Under the leadership of the eminent history scholar Regalado Trota Jose, the AUST’s collections will also be shared with a wider world via the digitized facsimiles of the original, including two 17th-century documents written in the ancient baybayin syllabary script now declared as a national cultural treasure by the National Archives of the Philippines. The declaration itself is a testimony to UST’s mettle in matters of cultural conservation, a field where it is ahead of all universities in the country.

The four-year project is worth millions of pesos; it is financed entirely by UnionBank. Justo A. Ortiz, the bank’s chair and CEO, envisions to share the best of these collections with the world. “These are books read by Filipinos then, the same books read by the best educated of Europe during that time.”

A state-of-the-art scanning machine, the METIS Easy Digital Scanner Gamma, has to date scanned about a million pages of heritage books and documents, now currently uploaded on Internet through the digital collection management software CONTENTdm. That would make the Miguel de Benavides Library the first institution in the country to use the scanning machine.

It has been said that a university is only as good as its library. A library, as well, is as good as its librarian. The project is held together under the aegis of the UST Prefect of Libraries, Fr. Angel A. Aparicio, OP, whose vision and resourcefulness brought about this unique partnership with a private corporate institution “to respond to the borderless dynamics of 21st-century learning,” to quote his own words. Yet Father Aparicio realizes that it is as well a “journey to look backward.” “A sense of history is vital to the nation, and books are the primary medium for a credible past.”

The heritage library uses one of the best possible technologies there is for restoring historical books. Among its conservation capabilities is a 20-step process to restore old books. The process includes several tests and analyses such as those for and on ink stability and acidity; the removal of acids, stains and discoloration so that a discarded old book with worn-out pages and brittle to human touch, and with a cover that “hangs by a thread” is, presto, restored like new. The aim is always to make available to students and researchers the vast knowledge this mammoth library holds in trust for the general public.

“Miguel de Benavides, OP, the founder of the UST, had a vision and a few books. His vision was of a just and humane society in these islands. His books became the first seeds of our library for the transformation of the archipelago into a society with a communal and public commitment to a life of dignity, justice and freedom for all,” explains Father Aparicio.

In 2011, on the occasion of UST’s quadricentennial, the Benavides library launched Lumina Pandit. It was both an exhibition and its accompanying exhibition catalogue of the rich historical holdings of the library, the archives and the UST Museum of Arts and Sciences, the first ever museum in the Philippines.

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Tomorrow, May 26, it will launch, with UnionBank, Lumina Pandit II, a second volume catalogue, this time a presentation of the wealth that the conservation, digitization and publication phases of the project have uncovered for the spread of knowledge. For instance, the volume contains a fold-out version of the baybayin documents.

One fully appreciates the value of this project when he/she realizes what Lumina Pandit means—spreading the light.

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