Digitizing Old Russian Books.

Georgy Manaev reports on an admirable project:

In the mid-2000s, the Russian State Library (RSL) launched the National Electronic Library project with the aim of digitizing books published before 1831.

Many important texts have already been scanned; from the hand-written Archangel Gospel of 1092 – the fourth oldest known East Slavonic manuscript – to the Octoechos, a book of Orthodox Church psalms printed in 1491 in Krakow. It is one of the first books to use Cyrillic script and is worth several million dollars – although, of course, it belongs to the state and will not be sold. “These books only used to be released by special permission – and only then to prominent scholars,” explains Tatyana Garkushova from the library’s scanning department as she flicks between priceless ancient manuscripts on her computer screen. Now they are available to everyone at the RSL Digital Library page.

[…] “Books are digitized in order to make them accessible to all,” says Roman Kurbatov, the head of the scanning department. “Also, there are other factors to consider as well. In the 19th century, people wrote with zinc-based ink, which eventually starts ‘eating through’ the sheets of paper and coming out the other side. Over time, this makes the text incomprehensible on both sides of the paper.”

“Interestingly, the oldest and most expensive books are the best preserved,” Roman continues. “They were treated with great care from the very beginning: stored in special conditions, rarely opened. We have come across a contemporary French edition of Rabelais dating from about the 1530s. It is in no worse condition than mid-19th-century books.”

There are images and a video linked at the site. (Thanks, Paul!)


  1. Octoechos, a book of Orthodox Church psalms printed in 1491 in Krakow. It is one of the first books to use Cyrillic script…

    One of the first printed books in Cyrillic script. Октωихъ осьмогласникъ was indeed published in 1491, alongside another liturgical book in Church Slavic (Часословецъ). A couple of other Cyrillic books produced by the same printing house may be still older (ca. 1490), but they contain no date. One of these four must be the very first of its kind. The first printing presses in Kraków were established just a few years before Caxton opened his business in London.

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