When José Mindlin, a Brazilian lawyer, businessman and bibliophile, donated his private library of Braziliana to the University of São Paulo in 2006, it was in the grand tradition of American philanthropists such as Lessing J. Rosenwald (1891-1979). Rosenwald’s donation of rare books to the Library of Congress is the premier collection of its kind in the United States and the “jewel in the crown” of the nation’s library. (See Information Bulletin, October 2003.)
Mindlin, who began book collecting in 1927 at the age of 13, became acquainted with Rosenwald. As a young man, he met many book collectors who saw themselves as guardians of the printed book and he grew to understand that many great collections were destined to be given to institutions for the benefit of scholarship and preservation. He was introduced to Rosenwald in the 1960s and later visited him at Alverthorpe, Rosenwald’s estate in Jenkintown, Pa. He was impressed by the scope and rarity of Rosenwald’s books and by his resolve to give his books and prints to the American people.
The visit to Alverthorpe would have an important impact on Mindlin’s understanding of the potential for his collection. He became determined to build a library in the “American style” and he focused his efforts on creating a national collection of Braziliana that would benefit the people of his nation. In addition, he was determined to build a second collection of rare books which included examples that had not yet reached South American shores. He and his wife Guita accomplished this by expanding their collection to include illuminated books, early printed books and illustrated books dating to the 15th century, which, in many ways resembled Rosenwald’s collecting focus.
Mindlin purchased books and maps from antiquarian booksellers in Europe and in North and South America, and established relationships with scholars and researchers from around the world who were interested in the history of Brazil. To house his growing collection, he established the Biblioteca Brasiliana Guita e José Mindlin (BBM). The collection—considered to be the most important of its kind amassed by a private individual—holds nearly 15,000 titles, comprising 40,000 volumes.
Mindlin gained international recognition as one of the great 20th-century book collectors. He was elected to the Academia Brasileira Letras, the Grolier Club of New York and the Association Internationale de Bibliophilie of Paris to name only a few of his accolades. He served for a time as science and technology secretary of São Paulo.
In 2000, Mindlin came to the Library of Congress to celebrate Brazil’s 500th birthday. Sponsored by the Library’s Hispanic Division and the Embassy of Brazil, his lecture focused on the history of Brazil from the 16th through 20th centuries. He observed that at the dawn of the 21st century, Brazil, with an economy that is the eighth largest in the world, is a contributor of music, painting, literature and other arts to the world’s culture.
“Brazil, a country of many contrasts and many hues, Portuguese-speaking in a hemisphere of Spanish-speaking neighbors, is not easy to explain, much less to summarize, but is a country that is easy to appreciate, even love,” Mindlin concluded. (See Information Bulletin, June 2000.)
As his collection grew, Mindlin considered how to make his gift to his homeland. He began a lengthy series of negotiations with the University of São Paulo (USP). As a graduate of USP’s law school, and as a manager of one of Brazil’s most important automobile-parts companies, Mindlin was dedicated to keeping his collection in São Paulo. It took several years before Mindlin convinced the university’s administration to take an active role in creating an environment where the collection could be used by the Brazilian people.
The gift of his Braziliana collection to the University of São Paulo remains the largest of its kind for Brazil and it has been hailed by philanthropists worldwide as an example of making a gift to the nation and a way of giving back to the country that nurtured his individual success.
The university responded to Mindlin’s gift by creating a project called the Brasiliana USP and announcing its intention to dedicate a new building to house the collection (comprising the contents of the BBM and those of the Institute of Brazilian Studies, a center for national research established in 1962). The project’s mission is to house and make available for research and instructional purposes the world’s largest collection of Brazilian materials. This project encompasses three major initiatives: to foster professional development, provide online access to the collection and develop a national network for its preservation.
To assist in realizing these goals, in November 2008 Pedro Puntoni, director of the BBM, and Edson Gomi, digital coordinator for Brasiliana USP, visited the Library of Congress. The three-day visit, coordinated by Beatriz Haspo, collections officer for the Library’s Collections Access, Loan and Management Division (CALM), focused on the Library’s digitization projects. They learned about a collaborative effort between the Library of Congress and National Library of Brazil—the creation of a bilingual website titled “The United States and Brazil: Expanding Frontiers, Comparing Cultures” that explores the historical similarities and differences, ethnic diversity and interactions between both countries (http://international.loc.gov/intldl/brhtml/). They also learned about the Library’s plans for a World Digital Library website, which launched in April 2009. (See Information Bulletin, May 2009.)
Puntoni and Gomi met with staff from CALM, the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, the Geography and Maps Division, the Preservation Reformatting Division and the Hispanic Division to discuss technical and curatorial concerns related to the Library’s digitization projects. They also visited the off-site storage facility at Ft Meade, Md., to gather information on construction standards, the collection environment, security and access that would be useful in the organization of their new library building, scheduled to open in 2010. During the visit, the suggestion was made to host a seminar to honor Mindlin’s donation to the nation and to launch the Braziliana Digital Library, the online component of the Brasiliana USP (www.brasiliana.usp.br/).
The two-day international seminar on “Books, Reading and New Technologies” was held in at the São Paulo Museum of Art in June 2009. John Hébert, chief of the Library’s Geography and Map Division; Beatriz Haspo of CALM and Daniel De Simone, curator of the Rosenwald Collection, were invited to participate in the program. They joined 10 other speakers from Brazil, Portugal and Canada. They included librarians, digital specialists and administrators from institutions such as the University of São Paulo, the Museum of the Republic in Rio de Janeiro and the Senate Federal Library in Brasília. Presentations focused on digitization and access. Speakers discussed the technical aspects of digitization as well as their response to the growing demand for online access to rare books, maps, manuscripts and prints.
Hébert and De Simone described the Library’s digitization efforts, including the decision- making process by custodial divisions regarding which segments of their collections to digitize. Haspo discussed the new storage modules at Ft. Meade that the Library of Congress recently opened and how new technologies were being used there to store, track and retrieve library materials.
The conference ended with a roundtable discussion conducted by Pedro Puntoni, which reviewed information presented at the seminar and how it could be applied to the Brasiliana USP.
More than 300 people attended the conference, which was later webcast on USP’s website. The immense interest in the webcast caused the site to crash—a story covered on the front page of Brazil’s national newspaper.
At the center of it all was Mindlin, a 95-year-old man whose dream had come true. He expressed his great satisfaction at a small reception at his home for all the conference participants. With great pride and emotion, he showed his guests his books and talked about how he acquired them. He spoke of the many booksellers, librarians and fellow collectors like Rosenwald that he had known. Though a bit frail, his eyes sparkled as he told his stories and touched his books. He was in his element and it was clear that it was his passion for the books and the commitment to the dream of making them accessible to others that keep his spirit alive.
Daniel De Simone, John Hébert and Beatriz Haspo contributed to this article.