The Rare Book`s Museum named after H.P. Vasylkivskyi is located in the center of Nizhyn on the first floor of the ancient building of former Merchants´ meetings, where the Fundamental Library of Nizhyn Gogol State University is situated now. Visitors will be impressed at once with the atmosphere of the museum: the smell of old paper, huge tomes in parchment and leather bindings with gold embossing, covers of unusual form, fancy Cyrillic headlines printed in a red vermilion, lines of Gothic texts…
It is an only single museum of books in Chernihiv region, which includes collections of unique ancient publications of the 16th and beginning of the 20th century, and which is working on their research, conservation and restoration. The museum was founded in 1985 on the initiative of the then Nizhyn State Pedagogical Institute`s rector F.S. Arvat and the director of the library N.O. Lenchenko on the basis of the unique book collections of the university library - one of the oldest scientific libraries of Ukraine. From 1986 the museum bears the name of one of the participants of its creation Hryhoriy Petrovych Vasylkivskyi (1905-1986).
The beginning of formation of the Nizhyn University`s book collections goes back to the 19th century and closely connected with the names of the founders of Gymnasium of Higher Learning in Nizhyn – the brothers Oleksander and Illia Bezborodko.
On the occasion of the oppening in Nizhyn in 1820, a descendant of the Bezborodko family, the famous patron honorary trustee Earl O.H. Kusheliev-Bezborodko gave the first 2,500 volumes of books of Russian and European literature of the 18th - early 19th century from his family library. Subsequently, new funds replenished revenues, such as special literature, manuals, periodicals and subscriptions from various benefactors. In 1875, after the reorganization of the Gymnasium into Nizhyn Historical-Philological Institute, the library acquired valuable book collections from Moscow S.P.Shevyrova University (1806-1864), Leipzig - F-V. Richlia (1806-1876), the director of the St. Petersburg Institute of History and Philology I.B. Shteynman (1819-1872), N.M. Mykhailovskyi`s unique collection of the 17th – 18th centuries.
Soon its composition was enriched with doublet copies of Warsaw University library’s old Polish Collection «Polonica» and rare printed books of the ХVІ-ХVІІІ centuries from Nizhyn Alexander Greek specialized school. Subsequently, the library was replenished by valuable private collections and some copies of the book collections of the Lyceum`s director V.Kukolnyk, I.Orlay and Kh.A.Ekeblad, Academicians V.I.Riezanov and K.Kharlampovych, Professors I.H.Turtsevych, V.V.Kachenovsky, M.N.Berezhkov, K.F.Radchenko, Archpriest Andriy Khoinatskyi and others. The library`s unique manuscript collection was formed, where unique codes of the 11th-19th century preserved, including Greek manuscript Aprakos Gospel of the 10th-11th century on parchment, the Georgian Bible manuscript fragments of the 11th-13th centuries, West and South Slavic manuscripts of the ХІV-XVI centuries, Ukrainian and Russian manuscripts of the 16th-19th centuries, the Hetman’s Acts (Universals), some editions of Cossack`s chronicles and "Nizhyn Chronicle» of the 17th-18th centuries, M.V.Gogol`s autographs of works and letters. Unfortunately, these unique manuscripts and other ancient books during 1930-1950 removed from Nizhyn and now are in the collections of the Vernadsky`s National Library of Ukraine, Kyiv National Taras Shevchenko University`s library and other research centers in Ukraine.
There are more than 3500 exhibits in two small rooms of the museum each of which has its own interesting history. The pride of the the library is a unique collection of European paleotypes (editions of the first half of the 16th century), samples of publishing products of outstanding European printing companies - Alda Manutsiia, Yohan Froben, Elzeviriv, Et’ieniv and others. Here you can see rare working copies of editions of the ancient Greek philosopher Plato (Venice, 1513 and 1517), "Iliad" and "Odyssey" of the blind singer Homer (1544 and 1743), "Aeneid" by Virgil (1567), classical editions of works by some European thinkers such as Nikolo Makiavelli, Erazm of Rotterdam, Thomas Hobbs, Frensis Bekon, Rene Dekart, Hotfryd Leibnyts. Slavic Cyrillic printed books are widely represented including some books by Kyrylo-Trankvilion Stavrovetskyi, metropolitan Petro Mohyla, archbishop Lazar Baranovych, spiritual writers Antoniy Radyvilovskyi, Symeon Polotskyi, Ioann Maksymovych, Dymytriy Tuptala-Rostovskyi; educational literature of the 17th-18th centuries, scientific papers of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy`s pupil Mykhailo Lomonosov, graduate of Nizhyn Alma Mater and the classic of Ukrainian and Russian literature Mykola Gogol, the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin and others.
Permanent exhibition dedicated to the life and work of the talented Ukrainian philosopher, Baroque poet, scientist, educator and spiritual master,metropolitan Stefan Yavorskyi (1658-1722), whose childhood years were connected with Nizhyn. Arouses visitors’ interest his giving own unique library to the city of his childhood, S.Yavorskyi wrote a soulful suicide elegy, which became a phenomenon in the Ukrainian literature of that time. There are some lines from this elegy translated from Latin by the Ukrainian poet and famous translator Mykola Zerov: «В путь вирушайте, книжки, що часто гортав я і пестив, В путь, моє сяйво, ідіть! втіхо й окрасо моя! Іншим щасливішим душам поживою будьте однині, Інші блаженні серця нектаром вашим поїть!»
Among the museum's exhibits there is a record-book - the Holy Gospel from 1689 from Nizhyn Annunciation Monastery, a present of a tradesman Fedor Yavorskyi, the metropolaian Stefan`s brother. This book is a huge size volume, weighing almost 18 kilograms. Some pages of this unique edition the painted by the hand with colored paints, and titles are gilded ...
The first edition of “Primary Chronicle” “Russkaya Pravda”( “Rus’ Truth”), “The Tale of Igor's Campaign”, a reproduction of " The Ostromir Gospels" 1056-1057, “Reims Gospel” (The very same that was exported to France by the daughter of Prince Yaroslav the Wise and on which French monarchs took an oath during the coronation); “The Peresopnytsia Gospels” of the 16th century, “The Ostrog Bible” by Ivan Fedorov, the first edition of the Cossack chronicles by S.Velychko, H.Hrabyanko, M.Hanenko; works from Ukrainian history and historiography ("History of Rus", “History of Ruthenians or Minor Russia ” by D.Bantysh-Kamenskyi; works and historical monographs by Y.Bodyanskyi, M.Kostomarov, D.Mordovtsev, D.Yavornytskyi, O.Lazarevskyi, Academician K.Harlampovych) are presented in the exhibition of history books, chronicles and typography in Ukraine. A separate chapter is devoted to the scientific heritage of the outstanding Ukrainian historian and public figure, Academician M.S. Hrushevskyi, where world-renowned scientist`s lifetime editions of classic works, such as ten-volume "History of Ukraine-Rus", "History of Ukrainian Literature", "Illustrated History of Ukraine" are also presented.
The books which are authors and publishers’ presents are a real pearl of the exposition. The library of the university is the only owner in Ukraine of complete set of (2 volumes and satin with pictures and drawings) edition of the book "Traveling around the world" by the famous seafarer and our countryman Yu. Lysyanskyi, who in 1803-1806 together with I.Kruzenshtern made the fit in the history of the Russian Empire voyage around the world in their ships “Neva” and “Nadia”. In 1825 Yu. Lysyanskyi personally gave this kit to the Lyceum`s library. Here also are the books which were carefully preserved and presented by the Russian court poet H.Derzhavin and historian M.Karamzin; by the director of Nizhyn Lyceum I.Orlai, by the famous Greek benefactors and educators Mykola and Anastasii Zosim brothers; by the Lyceum graduates: the artist A.Mokrytskyi, the poet and translator M.Herbel, the military engineer and bridge builder D.Zhuravskyi; the writer and translator of the first Gospel into Ukrainian P.Morachevskyi.
Some thematic sections are devoted to French literature of Enlightenment of the 18th century. Lifetime editions of books by Molier, Bomarshe, Volter, Montesquie, Helvestii; the famous 30-volume encyclopedic dictionary by Dalamber and Didro 1751 impresses with its elegant decoration.
Sure thing, works of the famous Nizhyn "student" - writer Mykola Gogol whose covers an honorable place in the exhibition, 200-year anniversary was celebrated this year in Ukraine. Taras Shevchenko selection of works, including three editions of "Kobzar" by the great Ukrainian poet is also noteworthy. A separate showcase is devoted to rare editions of the times of the Ukrainian national freedom movement and the Ukrainian People's Republic 1918-1920.
The most popular sections of the museum display is local history, which introduces the literature on Nizhyn and Chernihiv history. Topographic and statistical description of Chernihiv and its antiquities of O.Shafonskyi, archbishop Filaret (Humilevskyi) archaeologist D.Samokvasova, Ukrainian historian O.Lazarevskyi, geographers and statisticians O.Rusova M.Domontovych, materials from the history of Nizhyn, local government and education of the ХVІІ-ХІХ century are in great demand among scientists and students. The Rare Book`s Museum of Nizhyn Gogol State University is annually visited by hundreds of guests, including - politicians and scientists, participants of international conferences and foreign delegations. It is called the "The Museum of the two Presidents" because two presidents - Viktor Yushchenko, Ukraine, and Karolos Papulis, Greece, left their autographs in the book of honored visitors. Next to them you can see the grateful records not only in Ukrainian, Russian and Belarussian, but also in English, German, Polish, Swedish, Czech and even Japanese...
Our contemporaries’ artists also present their books to the Museum. Recently the collection of books with authors` autographs was replenished by numerous works of famous scientists and writers, including our countrymen such as poet Igor Kachurovskyi and Leonid Gorlach, who is the Shevchenko Prize winner and who recently presented to the library of his alma mater his last edition.
The Rare Book`s Museum cannot be called a dead storage of mute witnesses of world history. The Museum lives and works, giving a second life to old and rare books.
There is always a lot of people there. Presentations of rare books of local authors, visits of the Museum by first-year students and giving advice to researchers and teachers not only from Ukraine, but also from abroad have become traditional.
The plans of the Museum for the immediate future are: updating the museum equipment, conduction of scientific-research work to study the library collections, transformation of the Museum into an even more active research center.
Library named after Academician M.O.Lavrovskyi.