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A three-story family home in the residential neighborhood of Banjica in Belgrade houses over one million books from 90 countries, some of them among the rarest in the world. Now a museum, the owner and manager of the library recently spoke to Serbian daily Blic.rs about how the collection came to be.
Today, the Museum of Books and Travel is operated by Viktor Lazić in his family home, but it all began eight generations ago in the northern region of Serbia, Vojvodina. Lazić’s ancestor, a priest by the name of Mihajlo Lazić, began a small collection of books. The collection was but a handful of titles, but they were significant and rare enough to become an item of their own in his will.
It soon became a family tradition and, in the mid-19th century, the collection grew significantly when Serbia’s first professional actor and a cousin of the family, Laza Telečki, passed away, leaving the family his own already vast collection of literary masterpieces. Realizing that the number and value of the books now exceeded a mere family collection – and a little tired of people dropping by to see the books whenever it pleased them – Viktor’s great-great-grandfather registered a reading room in 1882, opening it up to the public, with official hours.
Several generations and two world wars later, the collection is the largest in the region and among the most unique in the world. During his lifetime, Lazić has co-founded a non-government organization to manage the library and keep it open to the public daily, for a small entrance fee of $3 per visitor, a donation used for the maintenance of the collection and for acquiring new (mostly old) titles.
Among the books are 3000 miniature books, including the world’s smallest complete published book, measuring just 3.5 millimeters in length, published by the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, Germany. The library also boasts the largest collection of wartime literature, from WWI and WWII, in the region.
The truly exemplary collection also includes Buddhist prayer wheels, Ethiopian Coptic Christian literature printed on sheep placenta, silk books, a book printed on edible rice paper, Sumatran books printed on human bones, and Thai literature printed on elephant dung, as well as a 1200-year-old graphic novel – a.k.a. one of the world’s oldest existing comic books. The museum offers guided tours of the collection on Thursdays and Fridays between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m..