I think it was back in my fourth year in college that I made my first trip to the National Library of the Philippines. Me and my classmates were writing a paper on the little known Filipino writer Nita Umali Berthelsen, whose works you can only now find in the National Library. Aside from being impressed by their extensive collection of Filipiniana serials, I remember fearing for my life riding their temperamental elevator, which had the unnerving habit of shutting down between floors.
The second time I was there was several years later, when my editor asked me to write about the National Library. This time around I had a tour of the whole place, from their section for blind people all the way up to their copy of the very first issue of the Manila Bulletin, the country’s oldest newspaper. The only section were I wasn’t given access to was the Rare Books and Special Collections section, which is where they keep the original manuscripts of Rizal’s works as well as the Philippine Revolutionary Papers. Of course, I obsessed about getting inside that section ever since.
This year, I sort of got my wish.
Because of the upcoming 150th birth anniversary of Jose Rizal, the National Library rightfully thought it would be a great tribute to the national hero to have his original manuscripts repaired and conserved. With the help of the Federal Government of Germany, the National Library had at their disposal two German conservators to work on repairing the manuscripts. At a press conference last week, the National Library gave members of the media a look not just at the original manuscripts, but what is being done to preserve them.
As it turns out, our government can do something right after all! German conservators Monika Schneidereit-Gast and Katrin Hupeden noted the fact that the books are in great shape, considering how hot and humid our country is. “Mi Ultimo Adios” didn’t even need any repairing at all.
“I think the Library is going to do continuous efforts to keep it that way. I think they are coming up with a new vault for the objects. There is no need for the vault right now, but the storage conditionscan be improved for the long run,” shares Gast.
The other works to be repaired — “Noli Me Tangere”, “El Filibusterismo”, and Guillermo Tell” — only need some minor work, at least according to the pair. Hearing them talk about it, though, might give people who are anal-retentive about their books a little heart attack.
The “Noli”, for instance, has a “few tears…broken areas, missing parts, especially the side of the cover.”
On the other hand, the “Fili” has “some broken pages where they are detached from the book block. One page has a tear that has been mended with masking tape, which may cause further damage to the paper.”
Guillermo Tell — a translation of “William Tell” — has to be sewn back to its cover, as well as to have the edges of the paper reinforced as it has quite a number of tears.
The German conservators hope to have all the repairs done by next week, while the National Library hopes to have the manuscripts on display for a very, very short time in celebration of Rizal’s 150th birth anniversary.