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Rare Books: Not Just Another Pretty Face

July 28, 2011
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In this age of technology, it is not uncommon that a request can travel thousands of miles in a mere instant and an answer can follow shortly thereafter.  However, it is quite uncommon for this process to occur when a rare book dated 1852 is involved.


Roger Akhrass, a Syriac Orthodox monk from Lebanon, is currently preparing his PhD thesis on the Book of Thirty-three Chapters at the Catholic Institute in Paris.  Akhrass is associated with the Syriac Orthodox St. Ephrem Monastery in Ma’arat Saydnaya, Syria.  His research brought about the need for the title Catalogus Codicum Manuscriptorum Orientalium qui in Museo Brittanico asservantur.  In particular he needed Part II: Codices Arabicos Amplectens (London 1852) by William Cureton.

Akhrass began his search in the Paris-Sorbonne University Library. Although the library believed to have the title on hand, the end result of the search continued to be the same: Manque (Missing).  His next course of action was an online post to his colleagues around the world requesting a PDF of the text.  This request popped on the screen of Dr. Adam McCollum, Lead Cataloger of Eastern Christian Manuscripts at the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library, Collegeville, MN. 

Dr. McCollum advised Akhrass that HMML did not have a PDF of the requested text, but did indeed have the actual catalog in HMML’s rare book collection.  A few digital camera clicks later and Akhrass had his request fulfilled.  HMML also hopes soon to digitize the entire catalog for viewing on Vivarium (  This text will add to the more than 40,000,000 pages in Latin, Syriac, Ge‘ez  (Ethiopic), Armenian, Arabic, and other languages already contained in the ever expanding HMML collection.

Although the rarity, unique beauty, or ornate script of a book may land it a spot in a carefully conditioned rare book room, there is almost always value and worth in the words of its pages.  Roger Akhrass’ request for his current dissertation work proves the value of preserving these rare collections of knowledge, history and information.

Above:  Excerpt from Codices Arabicos Amplectens (London 1852) by William Cureton.