The history of the library is connected with the foundation of the Prague University in 1348. The fi rst written references concerning books are documented in relation to the oldest Charles College, having been given a royal gift of manuscripts in 1366. The main mission of the National Library is twofold: to be the archive library for documents issued on the territory of the Czech lands and to be a public research library especially in the domain of humanities, pure natural sciences, culture, and arts. The library has more than 6 million volumes from which great parts are of irreplaceable cultural value not only for the territory of the Czech Republic, but also for many cultures of the world. The library is a leading institution in preservation of and especially digital access to documentary heritage. It is a co-ordination centre for several national programmes in these areas incl. research and development.
Access and preservation activities are mostly coordinated between themselves; for the results in this area, UNESCO awarded to the National Library of the Czech Republic the Memory of the World Jikji Prize in September 2005.
The National Library of the Czech Republic is very rich in historical collections, especially manuscripts and old printed books created in many countries of the world. In 1990s, the library co-operated closely with UNESCO to support the new Memory of the World programme: it completed several digital pilot projects in 1993 - 1995 and later in 1996; it organized and hosted a UNESCO Memory of the World training seminar for digitization of manuscripts. In the same year, a representative of the National Library joined the Sub-Committee on Technology of the programme and where his task was to concentrate on access problems. Thanks to the national support in the Czech Republic and existing research and development projects, the library in co-operation with Czech companies developed a complete approach for digitization of rare library materials based on the SGML document structuring.
For this purpose, several software tools were prepared and a whole package of materials and tools for free use were published on a CD-ROM and on the web. UNESCO approved this approach as a recommended way how to process rare library materials (1999). Still in 1990s, the library offered to UNESCO to join the projects of preparation and publication of electronic catalogues with scanned images of Arabic and Persian manuscripts. The publications appeared in the end of 1990s with the Memory of the World logo and they demonstrated how important it is to share digital data about library treasures, because they give us the chance to recreate - at least virtually - the former collections that were dispersed due to historical changes.
After a radical change of the document type definitions (schemas), all the digitized content was published in two digital libraries:
Manuscriptorium: http://www.manuscriptorium.com and
Manuscriptorium is the largest digital library of manuscripts operated by European national libraries; it provides access to data of ca. 30 Czech institutions (mostly research libraries, archives; monastery, castle, or museum libraries) and it also has contributions from Slovakia, Poland, Lithuania, and Hungary, while new agreements of co-operation are signed or about to be signed, as e.g. with the national libraries of Croatia and Turkey.
Our know-how is shared internationally in numerous training courses: Latvia for the three Baltic states in 1999; Moldova, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine in 2003, while in 2004 Serbia and Lithuania, and in 2005 again Latvia. We hosted many foreign specialists, researchers, and doctoral students interested in digitization.
Thanks to the richness of its unique Slavonic Library, The National Library assisted efficiently in completion of Bosnian collections in the destroyed National and University Library in Sarajevo (providing microfilm of destroyed items) and nowadays it also provided concrete help to the National Library in Baghdad in the field of restoration of rare documents damaged during the war.
The National Library was very active during floods in the Czech Republic in 2002 and especially in floods recovery works (together with the National Archives). Thanks to these activities, the fl ooded documents from all types of institutions were immediately frozen (several kilometres of shelves) and techniques and technologies developed and tested for drying them, while taking into account the specifi c properties of different materials. An international seminar with participation of IFLA-PAC and foreign experts incl. U.S.A. was organized in 2003 to assess all the technologies applied (mass and individual drying techniques, often combined with preservation microfilming and/or digitization).
The impact of assistance in flood recovery after 2002 on the national level was huge, because thanks to this and especially thanks to quickly launched measures, qualified advice, and co-ordination activities, hundreds of thousands of fl ooded documents (various libraries, archives, and museum documentation) have been rescued (large capacity freezing and mass and individual drying measures taken).
The National Library has also launched a boxing service (boxes made in permanent acid-free paper) for improved storage of endangered originals. Advanced plotters were applied to measure and cut automatically the tailored-made boxes for concrete documents. The service is used by many Czech institutions.
The impact of the above mentioned activities has both national and international dimensions. The largest international impact can be seen in the digitization area as explained above. The National Library is able to run the supporting research and development projects and programmes (since 1997) and it managed to persuade the Ministry of Culture to launch national programmes (in 2000) based on calls for proposals for Memoria and Kramerius activities. Thus, the financial support of the state is combined with an on-going co-ordination and research activities of the National Library.
All the output is used by all participants and the application of modern data standards is widely ensured. Thanks to this, in the domain of preservation microfilming and digital access to endangered and rare documents, national, but also foreign (as many tools are downloadable free of charge) institutions may enjoy of our unified approach in a high-technology area.
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