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by Irina POLYANSKAYA, head of the library of the Polytechnical Museum (Moscow); Georgy NIKICH, Cand. Sc. (Art Criticism), curator of the exhibition "Rare Collection. Unique Publications from the Collection of the Polytechnical Library and Their Types"
The exhibition "Rare Collection. Unique Publications from the Collection of the Polytechnical Library and their Types" was opened in the late May of 2012 in Moscow. It presented showpieces from the rare and main funds--21 of 3.5 mln publications that form one of the major national collections of scientific and technical books.
In 2012, in the course of celebrations in honor of the 140th anniversary of the Polytechnical Museum*, this educational establishment is expanding its research activities and is trying to vary interpretation of its collections looking for new methods of communication with the public.
Within the framework of a regular exhibition project, curators and employees of the museum ask uneasy questions: What is the role of the library in the museum? What can we do to present books in a more interesting way? Is it possible to visualize the link between book knowledge and museum subject-matter? Answers to all these questions were obtained in an unconventional experiment--a multimedia exhibition of some of the most interesting publications of the rare collection.
Our library will celebrate its 150th anniversary in two years (it is a paradox but the library is older than the Museum by 10 years!). And that is not accidental: as in ancient history, the idea of collecting and spreading scientific knowledge in our country was realized in that very form and forestalled the museum practice acquired later on--collection, classification and storage of showpieces--from mid-19th century.
Today our library is one of the largest scientific and technical establishments of Russia. It was founded in 1864 by the Society of Lovers of Natural Science, Anthropology and Ethnography under the Moscow University. "In every country, where a social system rests on sound
* See: G. Grigoryan, "Polytechnical Museum", Science in Russia, No. 2, 2003.--Ed.
and reasonable grounds and where, consequently, the necessity of intellectual, moral and material development took a tangible form for the majority of population, spread of knowledge in general, as well as diversity of special scientific skills, should be considered a vital need"--that was the motto of this society that led its members--university professors--to donate books to the library that formed the basis of a future unique collection. Later on, the said society purchased books for the museum as a part of its "mandatory activities": members of the society had to make up lists of the most necessary books and magazines: Grigory Shchurovsky (1803-1884)--a list of books in geology and mineralogy; Anatoly Bogdanov (1834-1896)--in zoology and anthropology; Prof. Alexei Vladimirsky (1821-1881)-- in physics and Prof. Avgust Davidov (1823-1885)--in mathematics and astronomy. The world-known national scientists--also members of the society--chemists, corresponding members of the Imperial St. Petersburg AS Dmitry Mendeleev (1834-1907)*, Academician of St. Petersburg AS Alexander Butlerov (1828-1886), physicist Alexander Stoletov (1839-1896) also actively used the library and donated their works with autographs and books from their personal collections to the library. In addition, members of the society subscribed to magazines and donated them to the library for many years.
Thus, the Polytechnical Exhibition held in Moscow in 1872 laid foundations for the Museum of Applied Knowledge--future Polytechnical Museum. At the same time there was opened a department engaged in publishing and distribution of Useful and Cheap Publications and Pictures (also donated to the library). The library also received books from other scientific exhibitions, conferences held both in our country and abroad (in Leipzig, Stockholm, Paris, etc.). Participants of these scientific forums brought books, local publications and manuscripts to Russia. Thus, scientific literature accumulated in the library of the Society of Lovers of Natural Science, Anthropology and Ethnography from the very beginning--persistently and systematically, which is very important for that kind of scientific organization.
Nowadays, our funds have more than 3.5 mln copies of publications in Russian and foreign languages. They are dedicated to technical and natural sciences, ecology, economics, industry, transport, communications, construction, architecture, and applied arts. The collection of rare books formed in the mid-20th century on the basis of unique and rare publications makes up a part of the library. Today rare books and magazines of the 16th-mid-19th centuries count over 13,000 units.
"GATES" TO THE MUSEUM
So, the books from our rare collection, presented at the exhibition, which opened in 2012, cannot be read as we usually do; we can imagine them, compare them with our experience and accumulated knowledge.
* See: M. Savchenko, "Pride and Glory of Russia", Science in Russia, No. 1, 2004; Ye. Ginak, "Mendeleev Memorial", Science in Russia, No. 6, 2003; Ye. Solomenko, "Mendelevian Petersburg", Science in Russia, No. 6, 2009.--Ed.
Scientific papers of the past centuries surprise the visitors in different ways. Some visitors are astonished by their scientific foresight, others--by a high level of visual culture, still others--by a poetic language. Here is, for example, the one dedicated to electricity, written in early 19th century: "This power is a capacity to attract and push away light bodies; to make an impression of a light breeze; smell like phosphorus, also as a spark, and light brushes..." These words are taken from Physics by Ivan Dvigubsky* written in 1814. The book is "fixed" in the table, where one can also see other "sources of physical knowledge". For example, visitors can get acquainted with a description of the barometer structure presented in Wolfs Experimental Physics**; nearby the monitor shows a present-day version of analogous scientific and practical topics.
Any visitor admitted to the fund of rare books of the library can in special white gloves take, examine and slowly read unique books and magazines, smell them and feel thickness of paper, view beautiful prints, while the exhibition is quite a different experience: visitors are offered a wide range of multimedia learning opportunities.
To restore a meaningful emotional impression of a direct interaction with history and knowledge, special methods were used in this public space. Book as a showpiece is not an end in itself, it is a basis to present and discover various stories, a tool to promote and expand knowledge, and, finally, a guide to other sections of the museum. It is not by chance that the exhibition "Rare Collection" was organized right in the center of the permanent exposition of the Polytechnical Museum (by the way, passing by a plastic open page with a large photo, you can get to the Meteorology Hall, if you take one way, and to the World of Electricity, if you take another one.
The exposition design is of special interest. Strange structures made of copper tubes and mirrors and green curtains, dimmed light, images changing each other at different monitors and muted but active musical atmosphere, opportunity to read texts chained to floor lamps or answer simple and tricky questions while turning pages of a "try to guess" book--all these things make some visitors feel the atmosphere of the world of books and museums, others examine in detail presented books and videos or simply watch, for example, arithmetic cartoons. In the latter case you become part of the history focused on the unique book of 1703--Arithmetic, or science of numbers. Translated from different dialects into Slavonic, formed as a single book in two parts (it is an original title; this publication is mostly known as Arithmetic by Magnitsky)*. Visitors can try to do sums from
* Ivan Dvigubsky (1771/1772-1839)--Russian natural scientist, in 1826-1833 Rector of Moscow University. Delivered lectures and published scientific papers to promote natural science and relevant education in our country. Developed Russian botanical nomenclature and introduced a number of new terms into scientific botany--Ed.
** Wolfs Experimental Physics--the first textbook on experimental physics in the Russian language; translated copy of the sixth section of the book by the German scientist-philosopher Thiimmig Lüdwig-Philipp belonging to the Age of the Enlightenment (1697-1728) The Fundamentals of Wolfs Philosophy for Use in Academies, issued in 1746.--Ed.
"Leonty Magnitsky (born Telyashin; 1669-1739)--mathematician, teacher. Taught mathematics at the School of Mathematical and Navigation Sciences in Moscow (from 1701 till 1739), author of the first Russian academic encyclopedia in mathematics.--Ed.
this and other textbooks of mathematics in the electronic form right in the exhibition hall.
However, the most exciting showpiece of the exhibition is the early 16th century book. It incorporates letters of Erasmus of Rotterdam (1469-1536), the famous Dutch intellectual of his epoch, counsellor of kings, author of the great text The Praise of Folly (1509). Take a seat in a comfortable armchair-bag near the showcase, take the headphones and enjoy a story narrated by Natalya Basovskaya, Dr. Sc. (Hist.), well-known historian-mediaevalist, professor of MSU and the Russian State University of the Humanities (if a visitor takes one more glance at this wonderful book, he will be surprised to learn that there, behind the glass, it is located on a shelf on a soft pillow made of the same fabric as the bag; presence of the book and the reader at the exposition is symbolically balanced).
The exhibited books and history of showpieces are accompanied by "pictures" in golden frames, strange at first sight. Some of these pictures are scaled-up pages, texts and engravings, others--parts of mysterious mechanisms, reflections of light, strange items--this is the way how pieces of the permanent exposition of the Polytechnical Museum penetrate into the "rare collection".
Interaction of the museum and the library, integrity of fundamental science and innovations--these concepts were taken as a basis for many books and topics relevant for the present time. We refer to the projects of all-metal airship designed by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (1857-1935)*, the book The First Fundamentals of Metallurgy or Ore Mining (1763) by Mikhail Lomonosov*, Academician of St. Petersburg AS, member of the Academy of Arts, honorary member of Stockholm and Bologna Academies of Sciences; Letters on Plants (1885) by outstanding chemist Dmitry Mendeleev; a huge volume on the construction of the Eiffel Tower in Paris signed by a famous French architect Gustave Eiffel**; Moscow infrastructure development plans of the early 20th century.
To summarize: the museum and the library do the same thing. Scientific studies of texts and articles are converted into images that develop creative abilities of the visitor, his interest in learning and expansion of horizons of the world--open and ready for interaction. These ideas are embodied in this unconventional exhibition you should visit and enjoy.
* See: Ye. Kuzin, "Prophet of Cosmonautics, Citizen of the Universe", Science in Russia, No. 5, 2007.--Ed.
* See: E. Karpeyev, "A Giant of Russia's Enlightenment", Science in Russia, No. 3, 2003.--Ed.
** Alexandre Gustave Eiffel (1832-1923)--French engineer, specialist in designing steel structures. Became famous in 1889 after construction of an all-metal tower for the Paris Exhibition that is considered one of the most interesting engineering structures of the 20th century. The tower was named in honor of its designer--Ed.
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