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Portraits of Brazil

Library housing the José Mindlin collection inaugurated at USP

The interior of the library reproduces the way the books were organized at Mindlin’s house

Léo RamosThe interior of the library reproduces the way the books were organized at Mindlin’s houseLéo Ramos

On March 23, 2013, the University of São Paulo (USP) inaugurated the Bíblioteca Brasiliana Guita e José Mindlin (Guita and José Mindlin Brasiliana Library), designed to house 32,000 titles from the Brasiliana collection donated in 2006 by the businessman and his wife. The event, attended by more than 500 guests, including officials, sponsors, and intellectuals, also opened two exhibits to the public. The first, which will be permanent, displays photos and other materials about the lives of the Mindlins and their efforts to build the library, and summarizes the history of books and the press. The second, which will be open to the public until June 28, exhibits 100 of the most treasured items from the collection. These are books and manuscripts, such as the original manuscript for Vidas Secas (Barren Lives) by Graciliano Ramos. Since 2009, a portion of the collection has undergone the process of digitization and is now offered on the Internet. Currently the digital library has about 3,600 titles that can be accessed on the Brasiliana USP website ( operated by the Mindlin Library.

Bibliophile José Mindlin (1914-2010) who, besides being a prominent businessman in the auto parts industry, was also an attorney and journalist, began collecting old books in 1927. On the shelves of his private library one could find rare works from the 16th century and others about Brazilian and Portuguese literature, as well as manuscripts, scientific journals, and periodicals about art. Mindlin often invited to his home friends and researchers who were fascinated by the chance to visit the collection. Mindlin’s wife Guita, who died in 2006, was responsible for preserving it. Sérgio Mindlin, the couple’s son, recalled with visible emotion at the inauguration ceremony his parents’ devotion to the library. “While they were alive, the library was their world. Now it’s become institutional and accessible in ways once unthinkable, through vast research and study facilities and access to the Internet,” he said. Sergio and his three sisters serve on the board of directors of the institution.

USP Chancellor João Grandino Rodas emphasized the significance of the donation by Mindlin and his family. “Brazil lacks this tradition of making donations, the process is not simple, but here the seed has been planted so that others may make the same gesture,” the chancellor said in speaking to Agência USP de Notícias. The inauguration also honored the memory of historian István Jancsó, one of the mentors of the USP Brasiliana Project, who died in 2010.

The external structure that houses the collection

Léo RamosThe external structure that houses the collectionLéo Ramos

Celso Lafer, president of FAPESP, said that “digitization means not only preservation, but also widespread access and the possibility of expanding the information.” The Foundation was responsible for purchasing the robot-driven equipment needed to digitize bound books, and nicknamed the device Maria Bonita (reference to one half of the pair of outlaws known in backlands folklore as Maria Bonita and Lampião). The machine can photograph as many as 2,400 pages an hour, which represents about 40 books a day (see Pesquisa FAPESP issue no. 161).

Literary critic Antonio Candido said his friend José Mindlin was not just a book collector. “Above all, he was a reader who was endowed with a facility for critical judgment, a sort of author of his library,” said Candido. Historian Boris Fausto, who also attended the opening of the library, emphasized the Mindlin couple’s determination to make the collection available to the public. “It’s important to emphasize the generosity shown by the Mindlins in donating a library of this size and value, as well as the role of the family, whose action ratified the gesture made by their parents.” The library building, which includes USP’s Institute for Brazilian Studies and its Integrated Library System, cost R$130 million to build. Some of the funds came from USP, but the project also received help from sponsors like Petrobras and the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES).

São Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad said that Mindlin’s example may encourage similar initiatives. “I hope this attitude opens a new frontier for dialogue between leading businessmen and educational institutions,” he declared. Recently returned from a trip to museums and libraries in the United States, Minister of Culture Marta Suplicy said the new USP building is certainly on a par with international standards. She also pointed out that a new Copyright Law is soon to be submitted to Congress, in order to permit further digitizations, such as those being done by Brasiliana, to be made available. “Otherwise, it will not be possible to offer access to all the works unless they are in the public domain,” she explained. São Paulo State Secretary of Culture Marcelo Mattos Araújo, attending as representative of Governor Geraldo Alckmin, also hailed the initiative of the Mindlin Library.

The original version of Vidas Secas that shows the title as revised by Graciliano Ramos

Léo RamosThe original version of Vidas Secas that shows the title as revised by Graciliano RamosLéo Ramos

Benefits for Research
Ever since digitization began, researchers have benefited from the transfer of works to the computer screen. “The Digital Brasiliana Library project is one of the most important for the field of human sciences in Brazil,” says Jaime Rodrigues, a professor in the Department of History at the Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp). In the Mindlin library he found travel reports that helped flesh out his research on the maritime culture of the ships that passed through Brazilian waters between the 16th and 19th centuries. “I was able to find only a few works in other libraries, but a good number were found, in their original versions, on the Brasiliana website,” Rodrigues says.

Pedro Puntoni, director of the Mindlin Library, says that access to books in their physical form will require extra precautions. Researchers will have to register with the library and ask to be put on the schedule. That will require a decision from the library’s curators, who will examine the condition of the requested book and decide how it can be consulted. “But access will remain open over the Internet, within the limits of copyright.” Puntoni, a professor at the USP School of Philosophy, Language and Literature, and Human Sciences, explains that the library has already formed partnerships with international institutions, primarily those that have collections of works on Brazil, such as the Oliveira Lima Library in Washington DC and the John Carter Brown Library in Rhode Island, both in the United States. “We will be able to offer those libraries free access to works that interest them and, in return, they can provide us, in digital form, books that we don’t have,” he says. Consultations were also held with Beatriz Haspo, Collections Officer at the Library of Congress, in Washington DC, who discussed conservation and preservation. “The library will forge new international partnerships because it is a living thing, an open institution that intends to serve as a center for Brazilian culture in connection with other institutions,” he concludes.