It’s like a super-specialty state-of-the-art hospital — for books.
The iconic Asiatic library now has a swanky, air-conditioned wing dedicated to conserving antique tomes, records and manuscripts — which is a good thing, given that the beautiful Greco-Roman structure is home to about 10,000 priceless books, some of them over 650 years old.
The new conservation lab will be library’s second.
“A pre-existing facility was able to restore about 100 books a year. With the additional wing, we have doubled that capacity,” says Rohan Dalal, 51, member of the Rotary Club of Bombay’s Urban Heritage Renewal Committee, which sponsored the Rs 25-lakh project and inaugurated the new lab on Tuesday.
The infrastructure has been upgraded too, with air-conditioned, temperature-controlled and humidity-controlled chambers built so that the books can be worked on in complete safety.
The lab has been four months in the making, says Jamshed Banaji, the chief architect for the project, and is part of an ongoing process to modernise the library.
“Chemical processes like de-acidification to conserve books were introduced 25 years ago, when the first conservation lab was set up here,” adds chief conservation officer Sunil Bhirud. “In 1999 the basement was renovated to create a special collections room which is a treasure trove of the rarest of rare books — including our most famous artefact: an original manuscript, in Italian, of Dante’s Divine Comedy, dating back to 1350 AD.”