King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies
09/13/2015
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Knowledge Exchange Program | King Faisal Center For Research And Islamic Studies
King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

More than 100,000 years ago, Arabs were renowned for the depth and scope of their scholarship. Early, handwritten Arabic texts were delicate by nature and few copies of them existed. It was therefore considered vital to minimize wear and tear on the manuscripts, produce further copies if possible, and store them as suitably as prevailing conditions allowed. For this purpose libraries were established, thereby making available information about a wide range of subjects in central locations and preserving a growing number of manuscripts for future generations of researchers.
The greatest libraries of the ancient Muslim world at Baghdad, Alexandria, and Cordoba have disappeared, but fortunately this important tradition continues. The comprehensive research facilities at The King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies include four libraries that are available to the public free of charge.
The King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies is an operational arm of the King Faisal Foundation. The Center has its own identity and is independently financed. It has its headquarters in Riyadh and was founded in 1983.

Aims and Mission of the Center
In keeping with the goals of the King Faisal Foundation, the Center is dedicated to the service of Islamic civilization, to supporting continuing research, and to encouraging cultural and scientific activities in a number of fields. The mission of the Center may be summarized as follows:
• To raise awareness about the contribution of Islamic civilization to human heritage and to highlight the main distinguishing features of Islamic civilization.
• To raise public awareness about the late King Faisal b. Abdul Aziz, of his great humanity and remarkable qualities of leadership, and to highlight his central contribution to, and continuous support for Islamic Solidarity. To this end, the Center has established The King Faisal Memorial Gallery, to preserve our memory of him and to document his contribution to Islam in the twentieth century.
• To support research in areas related to Islamic civilization, to develop it along scientific lines, and to encourage researchers and students at all academic levels. The Center provides comprehensive logistical support to students and researchers, offering library and bibliographical services, books, manuscripts, and other materials at the Center, and helps to locate materials elsewhere in the Kingdom or abroad when these are not available locally.
• To help train a new generation of scholars specialized in the fields of Islamic studies, Arabic language, and the social sciences.
• To help promote and preserve our Islamic Heritage by organizing annual exhibits at the Center.
• To organize lectures, conferences, and symposia, of both a general and specialized nature, on issues vital to Islam and to Muslins and to their roles in the present and in the future, linking today’s Muslims to the roots of Islamic culture.
• To continue to build our libraries through the acquisition of manuscript resources – original manuscripts, microfilms, and original sources in other formats – and through the purchase of books, periodicals, and audio-visual material relating to any aspect of Islamic civilization. By enriching our libraries and improving our library services we aim to make the Center one of the principal resources on Islamic civilization worldwide.
• To develop specialized databases in fields relating to the mission of the Center and its areas of specialization, thus enhancing the library services available to researchers and students at the Center.
• To translate scientific treatises and research into foreign languages, and to translate a variety of works into Arabic, when such translation would be of service in achieving the aims and objectives of the Center.
• To support and encourage research that falls within the Center’s interest.

The Library
The Main Library provides accommodation for more than one million books. The collection covers the fields of Islamic Studies and Islamic Civilization. The main reading room houses frequently used reference books in Arabic, English and several other languages. There is a separate reading room for periodicals. At present, these number 3,000 volumes in 16 languages, 35% of which are in Arabic. There is also a collection of rare and out-of-print periodicals.
Adopting an unconventional approach, the main library displays few books in the reading rooms. The majority is kept in computerized racks in a special underground storage room, a system that protects the books from unnecessary handling. Subscribers fill out a request form that includes information about the author, title, and/or subject matter. A computer printout lists all the available data on the subject within the Center. The selected information is then brought directly to the reader’s table. A wide range of database topics further supplements research. With its storage capacity of more than one million books and a current inventory of 90,000 titles in 160,000 volumes, as well as 250,000 abstracted articles, this library is a vital resource for scholars.
The children’s library, geared toward 5-12 year olds, encourages a love of reading and research from an early age and teaches youngsters how to use libraries to full advantage. The well-equipped library contains more than 18,000 books and magazines and 300 audio-visual cassettes in Arabic, English, and French. A hobby section for drawing, coloring, writing, and games, as well as areas for videos and computers provides further stimulation for the young readers.
A separate audio-visual research library has more than 11,000 audio and videocassettes, slides, and films, which contain lectures and documentary material related to the Center’s various activities and interests.

Collecting
As part of the Foundation’s contribution to preserving Islamic culture and highlighting the contributions made by Muslim and Arab scholars, The King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies has undertaken the challenging mission of locating, authenticating, acquiring, or copying, and indexing all known Islamic manuscripts worldwide. In addition to nearly 23,000 hand-written texts, some of which are more than 1,200 years old, the manuscript archives have more than 18,000 microfilms and hundreds of photocopies. The majority of the microfilms are acquired through mutual agreements with the Bibliotheque Nationale of Paris, the Library of Congress, and the British Library. Databases save researchers up to 70% of the time they would normally spend searching catalogs for information pertaining to manuscripts located elsewhere in the world.

Conservation and Restoration
In environmentally controlled manuscript galleries visitors can enjoy the beauty of ancient, illuminated texts, read sources of wisdom that have been passed down for centuries, or simply admire the labor-intensive efforts of people who loved learning. As past generations knew so well, books preserve and propagate knowledge. Their conservation ensures that future generations will benefit from a growing reserve of accumulated learning.
Thousands of rare Arabic manuscripts have been marred as a result of burning, burying, water damage, and inexpert cleaning. Even with the support of modern technology, the task of restoring these texts can seem overwhelming. It is not just the poor condition of some of the more seriously deteriorated books but the sheer quantity of the volumes. The continuing discovery of ancient manuscripts and the problem of increasing pollution make the need for preservation greater than ever before. The manuscript library currently contains over 13,000 texts in need of repair. It can take anything from a week to six months to restore each book.
Coping with the Center’s constantly increasing number of ancient manuscripts is a never-ending process. To minimize the risk of any further damage and decay while awaiting repair and restoration, the books first undergo an intensive sterilization program. Up to 50 texts at a time are placed, opened, in a fumigation chamber. This evacuates the trapped air and forms a vacuum, which is then filled with highly toxic ethylene oxide gas, killing all insects and molds that feed on paper. The process can take as long as six hours, after which five air washes remove the gas from the chamber. As an extra precaution, the books are then transferred to a special ventilation room for three to four days, to guarantee that all traces of the poisonous gas have evaporated. Fumigated texts are then sent for storage in a section segregated from the still unfumigated manuscripts, preventing the re-contamination of sterilized books.
Only a few manuscripts at a time go to the conservation laboratory, usually the most important texts or those in the worst condition. Where appropriate, the books are unbound and the pages separated, being numbered in pencil if they do not already have such identification. This precaution ensures that the page sequence will not be lost, even though individual pages go to different parts of the laboratory for treatment.
The next step involves dry-cleaning the pages with a special powder and a gentle eraser. Even the best-preserved books have coatings of dust and other impurities that must be removed before the more delicate work can proceed. After the dry-cleaning stage, technicians test the paper for its acidity; the higher the ph reading, the more intensive will be the treatment required.
Before proceeding further, the manuscript ink must be tested to determine whether it is soluble or insoluble. Only then can the experts decide on the most suitable washing solution. Washing benefits old manuscripts because it intensifies the cellulose bonds of ancient paper. The ph level indicates the required level of the solution, and how alkaline it should be to de-acidify the paper effectively. The solubility of the ink determines whether the solvent should be aqueous o on-aqueous. Particularly unstable inks require a mixture of two solutions.
To wash the paper, each page is placed in a protective polyester support before being dipped into a basin containing the solution required. After washing, the pages rest on blotting paper until the moisture has been removed. To re-flatten the paper, the cockled pages are placed in a press or put under weights. Very weak paper can be resized after washing and de-acidifying. Papers that cannot be washed because of unstable ink can sometimes be de-acidified by spraying. Technicians do not normally attempt to remove stains from handwritten manuscripts, because the necessary bleaching process could inadvertently delete text if accidental seepage onto the ink occurred. The process is not quite so risky when removing stains from printed books.
Once the cleaning procedures have been completed, the actual repair work can begin. For missing sections, tears, and holes, “Japanese” mending paper is carefully applied. In aqueous preparations a transparent compound, either starch or sodium carboxymethyl cellulose paste, binds paper to paper. Where non-aqueous preparations are required technicians choose heat-set tissue and use special implements to iron the tissue onto the manuscript pages. In extreme cases of a combination of unstable ink and weak and brittle paper, the pages are laminated with lens tissue or simply insulated between sheets of clear polyester film called Melinex.
Once repaired, the books return to the main library, either for storage or for exhibition. Sophisticated equipment constantly monitors the temperature and relative humidity of the manuscript galleries, and maintains suitable levels of dryness for the types of books in each location. Riyadh’s extremely dry climate makes it ideal for manuscript storage once the temperature has been reduced to no less than 25C.
In order to increase the number of qualified technicians, the Center instructs suitable candidates in the discipline of manuscript preservation. When they complete their training, these new experts will be sent wherever there is a need for the preservation of Islamic texts. The Center will provide this service free of charge, only requesting permission to make a copy of the repaired books for its own library. These usable copies will make valuable information more accessible to a large umber of scholars, without further risk of damage to the fragile documents.
The continuing discovery of ancient manuscripts and the problem of increasing pollution make the need for preservation greater than ever before. Technology has risen to meet the challenge, and The King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies is actively applying it. As past generations knew so well, books preserve and propagate knowledge. Their conservation ensures that future generations will benefit from a growing hoard of accumulated learning.

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