Library Science

Manuscript Library


A Library is more than a collection of documents. Libraries have used different methods for procurement, arrangement and maintenance in preserving the housed information materials for posterity. Library is a reservoir of collective human spirit through which we preserve and perpetuate the dreams and achievements of humanity and thus help preserve World heritage documented in various types of manuscripts.

The existence of manuscripts is as old as the origin of written records. The history of writing and the history of civilization are inseparable entities. The ancient knowledge in the form of manuscripts which are the powerful medium for transmission of ideas, facts and knowledge of our society and they serve as powerful tools for preservation of our literary, linguistic, cultural and art heritage. Manuscripts serve as a source for targeted knowledge rediscovering system as such and thus help in the evolution of intellectual process of mankind.

The term Manuscript is derived from the Latin word “Manuscriptus” which is a combination of two words that is “Manu” meaning – by hand and “Scriptus” meaning — to write (Thompson, 1995). Etymologically Manuscript refers to writing by hand. According to Encyclopaedia of “Information and Library Science “Manuscript is defined as a written document that is put down by hand, in contrast to being printed or reproduced in some other way” (Corea,1993).

According to National Mission for Manuscripts, Government of India “A Manuscript is a hand written composition on Paper, Bark, Cloth, Metal, Palm leaf and any other material dating back at least seventy five years that has significant historical or aesthetic value. Lithographs and printed volumes are not Manuscripts. Manuscripts are found in hundreds of different languages and scripts. Manuscripts are distinct from historical records such as epigraphs on rocks, firmans, and revenue records which provide direct information on events or processes in history. Manuscripts have knowledge content (

People expressed their feelings, thoughts and ideas in two ways, namely, speech and writing. Ancient man, who knew writing on the walls of the caves, could not take those writings from a place to place. Therefore from time immemorial materials like clay tablet, stone, metal, bark, leather, bone, wood, ivory, conch, shell, cloth, papyrus (a type of grass), leaf, bamboo etc., had been used for writing purposes. Those expressed in writing are permanent. Inscriptions are not easily destroyed in course of time. The writings on leaf, paper, bark, cloth, leather etc., are very easily destroyed as they are perishable. A manuscript is any written document that is put down by hand, in contrast to being printed or reproduced some other way. Manuscript means symbol. Since the scripts are symbols of sound spoken, they are called manuscripts. These manuscripts are not printed but handwritten. The manuscripts on leaves are called leaf manuscripts (Yettchuvadi) in Tamil Nadu, Purja Pathra in North India and Thala Pathra in Deccan (Jeyaraj, 2007).

Manuscript Libraries: Their Role and Functions:

There are many manuscripts and records preserving institutions in this country. Every state has State Archives of their own besides private organizations and libraries. India possesses the largest number of manuscripts in the world which is mainly due to the prosperous literary tradition. The literary treasures of ancient India contained in the manuscripts were preserved in the houses of learned scholars, gurukulas, padasalas, ashrams, monasteries, temples, vihars and royal palaces who were patrons of art and literature. Several important manuscript libraries were destroyed by foreign invaders. Many manuscripts were taken to foreign land. Generally, these libraries were called as Sarasvati Bhandar, Gnana Bhandar, Bharati Bhandar. Historical records reveal the existence and efficient functioning of some of the famous manuscript libraries. Some of the famous Manuscript libraries such as Nalanda University library, Taxila Vishwa Vidhyalaya library, Vikram Shila University library, library of Valabhi, Nagarjuna Vidyapeeth library (Chakraborti, 1975).

The main functions of manuscript libraries are as follows:

1 Acquisition and preservation of manuscripts.

2. Classification and Cataloguing of manuscripts.

3. Publication of rare manuscripts and Library Catalogues.

4. Purchase of books and periodicals for reference, and

5. Supply of information of manuscripts to the scholars.

Changing Role of the Manuscript Librarian:

Manuscript librarians should have a profound knowledge of their collections and they should provide access by making bibliographical descriptions according to high standards. These tasks are the core work of a manuscript librarian. However, the information and communication technologies initiate methodological changes in manuscript studies. A narrow material conception of manuscript librarianship, as hitherto had been worked out by the tradition, has proven insufficient in this new environment. The rapid changes in the field of information management do not leave the departments of the special collections unaffected. It has become an inseparable part of the work of a manuscript librarian to fill the originating electronic and digital environment with historical and manuscript material. They are expected to have knowledge of digitization, project management and marketing in order to increase the use of their collections. This inevitably leads to re-formulating the tasks of the manuscript librarianship as a profession.

Despite the differences, all manuscript departments have one thing in common: their position at the core of the library is not self-evident anymore. The paradigm shift ‘from collection to connection’ has its consequences for the manuscript departments as well. Traditionally there was a strong focus on the collections. The manuscript collection, often being the most rare and precious of all, attracted a lot of permanent attention both from the management and from the public. Consequently, the curator of the manuscript department had an important position in the library management, being the head of the department, that possesses all these treasures. The manuscripts formed the heart of the collection and therefore of the library itself. Efforts are being focused on the handling of the items themselves: cataloguing and preservation. In many cases, the collections were not freely accessible: users needed to show a handwritten permit. At the present the focus has shifted from collection to connection. The accessibility of the collections is now the centre of attention and in most libraries the items in manuscript departments are not particularly well attainable (Leerintveld and Vanotegam, 2003).

Nature of Information materials:

Information materials are as old as civilization. Man learnt the art of writing and applied it for recording his war songs and prayer, sacred legends and lores, the stories of his clan and achievements of royal dynasties; he also sought to preserve them for posterity in clay tablets, papyrus rolls, parchment, vellum and so on. The role of such early information materials like clay tablets, stone, metal plate, papyrus, parchment, vellum, palm-leaf, birch-bark etc., was therefore no less significant in the organization of information materials in the ancient and medieval world. Their very use was a clear indication that man had by that time leapt out of the valley of darkness and ignorance to the uplands of light and knowledge (Vijay Kiran, 2005).

Information materials commonly used in ancient India was of two:

1 Durable and permanent: Materials like stone, copper, iron, tin, gold and silver etc.

2. Perishable by nature: Materials like birch-bark, palm-leaves, cotton, silk cloth etc. (Mukherjee, 1977).

These may also be classified as organic and inorganic. Information materials used in ancient India radically differ from the materials used in European countries due to the availability of materials, climatic conditions and the nature of documents and socio-religious conditions.

All these writing materials are concerned with the pre-paper age. After the invention of paper, which is the most fascinating writing material and which cannot be replaced with any other type of medium. However, the post-paper age has witnessed with the advancement of technology, a variety of writing / information storage materials such as magnetic media, film media, electronic, optical and web media, which are in use in the modern world.

The early writing materials, later the popular material paper and the latest optical materials all have one and the same purpose that is to store human thought content. At different stages of human history, man has used available writing materials and preserved the information for the future generations. Nothing is static and everything is dynamic. Therefore the information materials have evolved from Stone Age period to the Web Age.

Figure 1.1 Evolution of Information Storage Media (Source: Ramesh Babu, B, 2004).

The present century might even witness another dimension (Ramesh Babu, 2004).

The advancement of information technology has given rise to many tools for recording, storage and dissemination of information. But even after the introduction of these electronic medias for recording of knowledge, the manuscripts are still considered as important sources of information that are having some kind of special values in our society. Therefore the organisation and preservation of these documents are always given priority in the libraries and this aspect is related long back to the origin of written records. However the issues related to the collection and preservation of manuscripts whether it is on palm-leaf or on paper plays a pivotal role in fostering the literary and religious culture of a country or any of its area. Since our ancient cultural heritage is preserved in these manuscripts, these are considered as invaluable sources for the reconstruction of history and culture of a country. But the problems of preservation are acute as the materials on which the manuscripts have been written being organic in nature are susceptible to deterioration in comparison to that of inorganic substances. As far as organization of manuscripts is concerned this is also vital because these documents are used for retrieval of information by different users. Moreover like printed books, manuscripts are not available in each and every library. Therefore both preservation and organization of manuscripts are the thrust areas of research since long back. So quite a good number of publications are seen as regards to this area of study but with the introduction of digitization of manuscripts the emphasis on study of concerned area have been reduced as the process of digitization has reduced the tension of preservation of those manuscripts available in organic form. But digitization has brought other problems such as standardization of bibliographic description, choice of appropriate subject headings and its limitation in long-term access to information. Simultaneously proper care and preservation are to be adopted for the original documents. Preservation and organization of manuscripts are the thrust areas of research and as a result, a good number of publications are seen in this area of study.

Preservation and Conservation of Manuscripts:

Libraries and archives play a critical role in organizing, preserving and providing access to the cultural and historical heritage of the society. In the relatively stable world of printing, hand-written and mechanically reproduced information, libraries and archives managed to preserve this rich heritage for specialized scholars and for the general public. Libraries and archives have served and serving as the central institutional focus for preservation and both types of institutions include preservation as one of their core functions. In recent decades, many major libraries and archives have established formal preservation programmes for traditional as well as digital resources. The introduction of digital technologies into the process of production, distribution and storage of information challenges the capacity of libraries and archives to carry out their responsibilities for preservation. Information Management covers the whole spectrum of information handling activities, technology, covering methods of inputting, storing, retrieving and distributing information. Its function incorporates a wide range of activities including records management, library management, printing, reprography and micrography. The problem of preservation is further complicated by the rapid obsolescence of the hardware and software required to interpret and present digital documents (Bhowmik, 1969).

Preservation is the maintenance of manuscript objects close to their original condition as for as possible, or until they are no longer needed. It includes all the managerial and financial considerations including storage and accommodation provisions, staffing levels, policies, techniques and methods involved in preserving library and archive materials and the information contained in them. Preservation is an integral aspect with the collection development and the provision of service to users of the present and future generations (Majumdar, 2005).

Conservation denotes those specific policies and practices involved in protecting the manuscripts from deterioration, damage and decay, including the methods and techniques devised by the technical staff. It deals with the use of chemical and physical procedures in treatment or in storage to ensure the preservation of Manuscripts. Restoration of manuscripts denotes those techniques and judgments used by the technical engaged in the making good of Manuscripts damaged by time, use and other factors (Kathpalia, 1983).

Conservation of manuscripts and documents is closely linked with the writing material that has been used in its creation. In India, in spite of the practice of oral transmission of knowledge, some writing did exist on clay, stone, copper plate, palm-leaf and birch-bark. The writing material commonly used in early India was palm-leaf from the Talipot palm of which the earliest surviving example date from the 2nd century A.D. The Palmyra palm was also used for writing from 6th century onwards. In northern India the matter was written on the surface with a reed pen, whereas in the Southern India and in Orissa it was incised with a pointed stylus, and the grooves were filled with carbon or ink. Birch-bark (Bhoja Patra) was also used for writing in the Himalayan regions. Paper was introduced in this country by the Muslims in the 13th century.

The conservation of documents and manuscripts has now been engaging the attention of the archivists and the conservationists. There has been a sort of awakening in this respect. The problems relating to their conservation are enormous. At the same time, climatic conditions, especially excessive heat and humidity in most parts of the country, injurious biological pests, improper storage conditions and paucity of conservative facilities have aggravated the problem (Sinha, 1997)”.

Conservation of documents and manuscripts include preservation, preventive measures and restoration. It has been observed that emphasis is laid more on collection of such material rather than its preservation. Collection of such materials is not the end. The object of collecting such material is to protect them from decay. The preservation aspect of such material should, therefore, be given priority and major portion of the budget should be allocated for this work. Every endeavour should be made to develop and strengthen the archives especially its conservation branch during the Plan period.

The Department of Culture, Government of India has started a scheme of Financial Assistance for preservation of manuscripts under which it gives financial assistance to voluntary organizations, educational institutions, libraries, museums and universities for preservation, listing, cataloguing, evaluation and publication of manuscripts. The scheme also provides for assistance in technical know-how for scientific preservation, repairs, and renovation, reprography and microfilming of rare and valuable manuscripts. The assistance of the Government of India is on a sharing basis, 75 per cent of the approved expenditure is borne by the Government of India and 25 per cent matching contribution to be assisted under the scheme. The grant is made through the National Archives of India, New Delhi, Institution having manuscripts in their custody can take full advantage of the scheme (Sinha, 1997).

Microfilming and Digitization of Manuscripts:

The Archives, Libraries, Museums and other Repositories that have been instrumental in preserving and providing access to scholarly communications, documentary heritage and other cultural resources in traditional formats. Preservation of traditional materials became more successful and systematic after libraries and archives integrated preservation into overall planning and resource allocation. Microforms have a tremendous role to play in the preservation of the textual content of a great proportion of library materials, current and retrospective. With a linkage of microforms to the computers it is possible to give easy, quick and wide access to library materials. Microforms represent the key to fulfilling today and in the future, the need for storage and retrieval of vast amount of information. The increasing popularity of publishing on microfilm which we see today is certain to accelerate the replacement of conventional media with the microfilm (Rajasekaran, 2011).

The effect of preservation by using traditional and other methods have induced the human beings to use modern methods of preserving the manuscripts by using both microfilm using the analog mode and digitization of manuscripts using digital mode. For all practical purposes, preserving information Preservation of analog content of manuscripts differs in significant ways from preservation of digital content. Copying the content of a manuscript by copying from the manuscript itself, by micro filming, almost produces inferior copies and thus unauthorized and illegal copying is readily detected. The access is limited by the fact that only one user can use the analog content at a time (Govind Sharma, 2004). Digitisation on the other hand, is more effective form wherein the manuscripts are not only preserved, conserved and passed on to the next generation but also multiple copies of digitised manuscripts can be made and the same can be viewed by many users at a time with unlimited access facility. The term digitisation refers to the process of converting manuscripts and documents in digitised form which can be stored in a computer system in a form that allows it to be manipulated (for instance, for improved retrieval) and delivered in ways that the conventional version of the material cannot be.

Original Research Article:


Md. Ashikuzzaman

Work at North South University Library, Bangladesh.

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