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Malta to have a national librarian

Priceless books can be restored at a faster rate using the leaf-casting machine donated to the National Library by the Lions Club. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Priceless books can be restored at a faster rate using the leaf-casting machine donated to the National Library by the Lions Club. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Malta will soon have a national librarian who will be responsible to ensure that priceless books, documents and manuscripts are collected and maintained for posterity.

The lack of leadership had meant that Malta’s national and public libraries did not have a direction and valuable manuscripts were being allowed to rot.

Speaking during the launch of a new restoration machine, Education Minister Dolores Cristina yesterday said a call for applications would soon be issued for the post of national librarian after the awaited Malta Libraries Act was published a few weeks ago.

She added that she was currently working on the appointments to the Libraries’ Council that will work to promote libraries and facilitate collaboration between different stakeholders.

The council, which will serve for three years, will be made up of a chairman, national archivist, the head of the university’s archives studies, director of local council departments and another three members.

The law also sets up Malta Libraries as a legal entity that can enter into contracts, acquire books and manage resources. It also creates the roles of national librarian, to head Malta Libraries, and deputy librarians for the National Library and public libraries.

Ms Cristina pointed out that the law will translate into better distribution of resources and recruitment.

Over the past years priceless books, dating back to the time of the Knights of St John, have been rotting away because the National Library in Valletta does not have any money to restore these precious documents.

Though most of the library’s 750,000 books are in a good state, there are hundreds of old ones – dating between the 16th and 18th centuries – that are literally turning into dust.

Last year the The Lions Club Sliema embarked on a National Library Book Restoration Project in collaboration with Heritage Malta.The salvage operation started with the €9,000 restoration of three books from the Hortus Romanus, an eight volume collection of valuable botanical engravings published between 1772 and 1793. After sponsoring the restoration of about 50 rare books, the Lions Club yesterday unveiled its most recent contribution when it donated a restoration machine to the National Library.

Pulp... but not fiction

The restoration of one manuscript’s page, that once took restorers an entire afternoon, can now be completed in five minutes by using a new machine.

The €7,000 leaf-casting machine was yesterday donated by Lions Club Sliema to the National Library’s restoration unit that is dedicated to reviving the thousands of tattered pages in the library.

The machine, that looks like a washing machine, works by immersing a page in a water basin, covering it with a grid and pouring liquid pulp over it. The pulp fills in the tears and cuts in the pages, caused by bookworm or humidity, explained restorer Marco Micallef.

The page is then dried out and the extra pieces of pulp are cut off before the sheets are bound together into book form.

The machine was sponsored by Bank of Valletta, The Royal Malta Golf Club, NGK Spark Plug Europe GMBH of Germany. The club’s president, Alfred Micallef, asked Ms Cristina to try and find funds to increase the number of staff at the library and refurbish it. He added that the public can help restore a book through an initiative launched by the Lions Club.

Restoration ranged from €30 and €3,000 depending on the book size and damage.

The name of the sponsor will be stuck on a label inside the book.

Anyone interested in saving a book, or more, can contact the Lions Club Sliema on 9948 5696.

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