The reproduction of ancient books and manuscripts is considered the best way to preserve such valuable objects, because most of the time scholars may work on the copies, and only seldom they need to inspect the originals. Thus, these materials can be conserved in optimal temperature, humidity and illumination conditions, and are immune from the inevitable wear and tear connected with their consultation.
The reproduction of such bibliographic material, particularly manuscripts, is also very important for disseminating a thorough knowledge of the collections belonging to different archives, and for commercial purposes. Several specialized publishers now sell affordable facsimile reproductions of rare books, both on paper and CD-ROM. The success of such ventures is a blessing for underfunded libraries, who can sell the reproduction rights.
A third reason for producing high quality reproductions of the material disseminated all over Europe in a host of libraries and archives – which are often small and offer little protection to their collections – is disaster preparedness. In case of theft, the dissemination of faithful reproductions of the stolen or lost objects has been proved to be useful. In case of damage, good images help in artifacts’ restoration. In case of total loss, the reproduction preserves the memory of the books as objects and of their content. The total loss is almost certain for a great part of the books printed between 1840 and 1970, the so-called acid paper era, independently of any natural or man-made disaster. Many important National Libraries state that up to 30% of their books are at risk of total loss, and many of them will surely not be recovered by de-acidification, because their decay is much too advanced.
Fabrizio C. Celentano, project coordinator
Maresa Bertolo and Maurizio Antonelli, CRII, Varese
Martin Zürn and Maurice Whelan, JRC, Ispra