The roots of Armenian ritual songs, epic poems and plays are going back to the 6th century B.C. During next centuries, using these oral traditions, Armenian written materials were created. For about a century after Armenians conversion to Christianity (301 A.D.) St. Mesrop Mashtots in 405 invented Armenian alphabet. Written Armenian can be divided into classical Armenian (Grabar), which dates from the 5th – 12th centuries, and is still employed as the scholarly and liturgical language, medieval Armenian (12th – 17th centuries), and modern Armenian (Ashkharabar), which dates from the middle of 17th century and is a language of modern Armenian literature. Classical, medieval and modern Armenian are using the same alphabet, which originally had 36 letters but now has 39. There are two main spoken dialects, Western Armenian and Eastern Armenian.

The catholicos Sahak the Great and St. Mesrop, encouraged by king Vramshapuh formed a school of translators who were sent to Edessa to procure and translate Syrian and Greek copies of the scriptures and other important works. Much of the literary activity of the 5th century, the golden age (oskedar) of Armenian literature, was devoted to such translations and original works. Formation of national bibliography records is being dated to these times.

Since the 5th century thousands of manuscripts and printed materials were created all over the world by Armenian writers. The Matenadaran is one of the oldest and richest book-depositories in the world. Its collection of about 17000 manuscripts includes almost all the areas of ancient and medieval Armenian culture and sciences – history, geography, grammar, philosophy, law, medicine, mathematics-cosmography, theory of calendar, alchemy-chemistry, translations, literature, chronology art history, miniature, music and theatre, as well as manuscripts in Arabic, Persian, Greek, Syrian, Latin, Ethiopian, Indian, Japanese and others.
Hakob Meghapart was the first who in 1512-1513 printed the Armenian language books in Venice: “Urbatagirk” (Friday Book), “Parzatumar” (Simple Calendar of Armenians), “Pataragatetr” (Book of Liturgy, Missile), “Aghtark” (Collection of Astronomical and other Predictions) and “Tagharan” (Book of Songs).

The following is an incomplete chronological list of places where Armenian books were published: Constantinople (1567), Rome (1579), Lvov (1616), Milan (1621), Nor Djugha (1638), Livorno (1644), Amsterdam (1660), Marseilles (1672), Smurna (1678), London (1736), Echmiatsin (1a 771), Madras (1772), Trieste (1776), St. Peters The development of project is supported by a grant from the Open Society Institute – Assistance Foundation Armeniaburg (1781), Nor Nakhijevan (1790), Astrakhan (1796), Calcutta (1796).

A notable place in the history of Armenian book printing belongs to a publishing house in Amsterdam of Voskan Yerevantsi, where scores to the Armenian books were printed in the second half of the 17th century. Among them were the first Bible (1666), “History” by Arakel Davrizhetsi (1669), “The history of Armenia” by Movses Khorenatsi (1695) and others. In 1695 the same publishing house also put out the first geographic map “Hamataratz Ashkharatsuits”, which is considered one of the first artistically designed maps in the history of cartography.

Publication of the first Armenian periodical “Azdarar” (Herald) began in Madras (India) in 1794. The first weekly newspaper “Arevelian tzanutsmunks” (Oriental News), appeared in Astrakhan (Russia) in 1815. First printing house in Armenia was established on 1772 in Echmiadzin.

For digitalization of these and lot of other materials, which are preserved in libraries of Republic of Armenia, Open Society Institute- Assistance Foundation Armenia (www.osi.am) approved the funding of a project “Developing of Armenian Libraries computerized network”. The project started in February 2001 and will be realized on 2004. The Library Consortia of Armenia manage the project. The purpose of the project is to:

* assist Armenian libraries to become leading digital libraries;
* improve Armenian and international users’ access to the information resources, via Union Catalogue;
* provide critical information resources for the national educational system;
* support the production of local content and share Armenia’s cultural heritage with the world;
* provide free public access to global information resources
* promote the use of international standards and best practices in communication, library and information science fields

Project participants are: National library; the library of Yerevan State University; the library of Academy of Science of Armenia; republican scientific medical library; the library of Science and Technology; Book Chamber, Republican Childrens’ library.

The project is great opportunity to support Armenian libraries on its way of transformation from a traditional library to a digital, introducing new information technology and automation tools in Armenian information and library market. In the course of the project, Armenian and European experts’ team analysis of user requirements, state of the current infrastructure and information services, examined the future and expected needs of the library users. An “Invitation to tender for an automated library system” was prepared and disseminated amongst library automation vendor developers. Aleph system of ExLibris (Israel) was chosen as an automation tool.

The project is now in implementing phase including:

o the design of a fiber optic network between participant libraries;
o procurement and installation of a new integrated library system with UNICODE support;
o creation of Armenian libraries Union catalogue;
o creation of multilingual Armenian Authority Files and Subject Headings.

The successful implementation of a project will be a solid baseline for Armenian library modernization, integration of Armenian IT sector to Cyberspace, fast access to world’s libraries largest full-text databases, catalogues, electronic journals and newspapers. Scholars and researchers abroad will be able to work with Armenian library collections of digitized documents.

The Library Consortia of Armenia is grateful to all persons, charitable organizations and business sector whose contribution will be forever remembered by the current and following generations as a good act for preservation of Armenian cultural heritage.