“Like living creatures, with the passing of years, books age, too. Let us be gentle with old age for we, too, like old books, are destined to grow old.”
This beautiful imagery from Fr. Angel Aparicio, O.P., prefect of libraries at University of Santo Tomas in Manila, is the impetus of a grand project called Lumina Pandit II—a multi-million undertaking, supported by Unionbank of the Philippines, which seeks to restore, preserve and digitize the priceless heritage collection of the university’s centuries’ old Miguel de Benavides Library.
First launched at UST’s 400th anniversary celebration in 2011, Lumina Pandit has since taken huge steps toward its laudable goal of ensuring future generations access to the university’s tremendous archive of history books, rare literary works and valuable reference materials. The results thus far will be open for public viewing via an exhibit of restored books from the heritage collection, dubbed Lumina Pandit: A Continuum, as well as the launch of the library’s very own website of digitized titles on May 26.
As the oldest university in Asia, UST, through its libraries, has cultivated an incredible amount of books over the last four centuries. Its historical section alone carries more than 30,000 titles, a great number of which are considered rare and valuable today.
Fr. Aparicio, in an interview with The Manila Times, explained that the library’s collection of books has grown with the university. These books, he said, are therefore very much part of the school’s heritage and must be taken care of as part of UST’s rich history.
Valuing books as he does people, the priest, however, differentiates the two and observed, “But even if you forget them [books], they patiently await their destiny without complaints.”
Talking more about Lumina Pandit II, Fr. Aparicio enumerated the three major components of the project: “conservation, digitization and publication” of the UST Library and UST Archives’ historical collections, dated from 1492 to 1900, which have survived both human and natural ravages.
Once the titles are catalogued and preserved, they are then uploaded to the library’s new website to allow not just UST’s students and faculty quick and easy access to this rich heritage, but the general public as well.
“We care about the historical collections of the UST Library that served as text books and reading materials for our students throughout 400 years, and which have been pivotal in the formation and growth of the nation,” Fr. Aparicio said.
Since its launch in 2011, the project has restored and preserved a total of 50 heritage books. Appropriately, the very first book that was preserved by the famous Catholic University was a Holy Bible that had been used in oath-taking ceremonies of university officials and graduating doctors
“It was in a very poor state of conservation. Through much love and patience, we were able to bring it back to a pristine state, and this made us genuinely proud,” Fr. Aparicio said.
Besides the Bible, other rare books that have been preserved under the project include a 1832 edition of the Arte y Reglas de la lengua Tagala (Art and Rules of the Tagalog Language) by Francisco Blancas de San José, which is still considered as the most comprehensive codification of the Tagalog language; and El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha (The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha), a classic Spanish novel by Miguel de Cervantes published in 1780.
“Each of these books has a story to tell, which is why we undertook the costly task to return them to a state that is as close as possible as when it first landed on our library hundreds of years ago,” Fr. Aparicio said.
Professor Regalado Trota Jose, the project’s archivist, said they have already managed to create catalogues for two of the library’s oldest sections for the website, specifically the Becerros Folletos and the Libros.
“These are the oldest sections of the archives, and we’ve managed to finish the catalogues already,” Jose reported.
He informed The Manila Times that previous catalogues had been completed in 1944 but that the titles under had been written in Spanish, which left students unable to use them.
“As part of the preservation process, we kept the original Spanish titles but added English annotations for use today. We also added footnote details such as the year of publication and page numbers,” Jose said.
Besides the archive of books, he added, they have also uploaded photographs of the university through time to provide the public with an appreciation of just how far back UST’s history goes.
“The pictures will include those of the UST campus in Intramuros before it was destroyed, all the way to the campus at present. We will also upload pictures of student life through the ages,” Jose said.
Meanwhile, the Lumina Pandit: A Continuum exhibit will feature a number of preserved documents and books of the UST library including items in Baybayin, an ancient form of Philippine writing with English summaries, as well as a Papal Memorabilia section on St. John Paul II’s visit to the pontifical university.
Witness to growth
Fr. Aparicio said the ultimate goal of this project is for it to be an agent of and witness to the growth of the Philippines as a nation. For indeed, UST has seen a great deal of the country’s history, and has even served as a learning institution for men and women who have shaped the Philippines, led no less by the national hero Dr. Jose Rizal.
“This is practically the only library in the Philippines that has existed for such a long period of time. Since it was here in UST that Filipinos who achieved higher education studied for three centuries, we can say that UST’s heritage library is a witness to and an agent in the transformation and growth of the nation,” he added.
The library’s heritage collection will be open for public viewing library.ust.edu.ph/lumina/ beginning May 26.