There is a process for preserving ancient books and manuscripts taking place in northern India that is unlike any other I have seen before. It is being done at Dar-ul-Uloom, an Islamic seminary in the town of Deoband, state of Uttar Pradesh. This is an important school with what is evidently a magnificent collection of ancient Islamic texts. They have over 200,000 books, but the most important part of their collection is the 1,563 rare manuscripts, most between 500-800 years old.
As might be expected of such ancient material, much has become brittle, not easily handled. To preserve these ancient texts, the library is undertaking a digitization process. Such is not an easy task when some of the material is in a precarious condition, and if anything, the procedure could be expected to weaken the ancient material even more. Seminary officials felt they needed to do something to preserve the delicate material, both so it can be handled for digitization without further damage, and for its long-term preservation.
What the seminary is doing to preserve the pages is to laminate them. According to TwoCircles.net, an online site concerning Islamic issues in India, “...the boys [students] first separate the pages of the manuscripts by inserting a serial number with a pencil and applying a paste of transparent glue, then laminated with a special tissue glass cloth and dried. These pages are then saved sequentially. It is scanned before binding and preserving digitally.”
Transparent glue? Laminating? It sounds so outside the norms of preserving ancient material in the West that the idea is astonishing. Is this a terrible, destruction of original material or a smart way to protect it before it turns to dust? Are these people crazy, or are the Indian Muslims of the “two circles” thinking outside the square box? I don't think many western libraries will be adopting this procedure anytime soon, but that doesn't necessarily means it's a bad idea (or a good one either). I will leave that judgment to the librarians, historians, and preservationists.