As I look out of the window at the pouring rain, I think it might be a good idea this month to feature a library in hotter and drier climes …
In May 2012 I was fortunate to receive an Erasmus staff mobility grant from my college which enabled me to spend a week at the University of Zaragoza in Spain. Zaragoza is one of Spain’s oldest universities (earliest records go back to the 12th century) and has correspondingly old and rich bibliographic collections. My visit coincided with a wonderful exhibition ‘Un espacio para el libro’ (A place for the book) which showcased some of the library’s most prized books, manuscripts and incunabula in the former ancient Reading Room of the General Library in the university’s central ‘Paraninfo’ building.
The main purpose of the exhibition was to allow public access to the regional and cultural heritage that the collections represent. A total of 46 exhibits (6 manuscripts, 6 incunabula and 34 works from the 16th through to the 19th centuries) were arranged chronologically in glass-topped display cabinets. Examples of manuscripts were Bautista Pastor’s ‘Ejemplos de Astrologia’ , highlighting the predominance on works with a physical or natural sciences theme, and the ‘Regni Aragoniae descripto’ (Description of Aragonese kings) a centrepiece of local historical interest. Key pieces of incunabula were Dante’s ‘Divina Commedia’, printed in Venice in 1491, and Daniel Siso’s ‘Grammaticale Compendium’ printed locally in Cesaraugusta (Zaragoza’s Roman name) in 1490 and a superb example of typical Zaragonese typography. One of the most notable works from the eighteenth century was an original copy of James Cook’s ‘Troisième voyage de Cook’, published in Paris in 1785.
The Reading Room housing the exhibition was a magnificent 2-storey wood-panelled room which lent itself ideally to the theme of the exhibition. Aside from its former role as the general Reading Room it had also been used as a lecture and reading room for medical students and the extensive collection of old medical texts in cabinets on the second floor were testimony to this.
An active book conservation programme is underway at Zaragoza and the exhibition represented only a fraction of the works which have been restored or which are earmarked for restoration. Alongside the conservation programme, a book digitization project has also taken place and the contents of the exhibits can also be downloaded for viewing via the university’s library web pages – cleverly bringing the past and the present together.