digi | 9/20/2022

Jiří Dufka - Historian, Head of the Department of Manuscripts and Old Prints

Jirko, please introduce yourself..

Together with my colleagues we are responsible for the Department of Manuscripts and Old Prints, the part of the library where the oldest collections are kept. Within the complex structure of the MZK, we function quite independently. This is due both to the very narrowly defined user group and to the emphasis on the care of the collection. In addition, we are also engaged in our own research work and have long been collaborating on projects that go beyond the boundaries of our library.

I have worked at the MHC for about 15 years, first in various project positions related to old prints and old maps, and for the last five years or so permanently in the Manuscripts and Old Prints Department.

I studied history and archival studies and although I initially focused on other topics, I think I eventually found my feet in old prints. I've always been a bit more interested in the "meta-topics" behind the usual research questions, which overlaps very well with the nature of the library as a research infrastructure.

What does your typical working day look like? 

Usually a little different than what I plan. Our department is actually made up of several teams. The core staff are responsible for scholarly and operational tasks (acquisitions, cataloging, some digitization, research services), we are currently working on two larger multi-year tasks with project colleagues, and the third group is the restoration workshop. All the sub-groups need to meet regularly, listen to them and correct their activities if necessary. In the case of projects involving multi-institutional teams, the collaboration is a bit more complicated. In addition, of course, there is the classic bureaucratic agenda associated with all these activities. Weekends and Friday afternoons are left for more conceptual tasks.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I enjoy tasks that force you to ask the Fund questions that you don't yet know the answer to yourself. I've largely delegated the agenda of field trips that provided these opportunities, but I'm left with more sophisticated research questions that come mainly from academia and that contain similar challenges.

What knowledge/skills do you consider essential for your position? 

The ability to give things just the attention they deserve. Alternatively, being able to not address some requests even at the cost of causing dissatisfaction in others. And, of course, to keep direction while maintaining the creative freedom of colleagues and seeking consensus among the institutions with which we work on project tasks. Of course it is necessary to have an orderly personal life, we don't live one life at home and another at work.

Do you have a favorite memory related to your work? 

I don't have them lined up, it's more about feelings of joy that come to mind now. Not only years ago, but even today contact with old books brings an intense feeling of pleasure. It's not just a certain exclusivity or the fact that they are often excellent products of artistic craft. The view of bookshelves from above, from a stool, for example, is unmediated, with the tops of the highest shelves rising to different heights like mountain peaks.

An intense sense of satisfaction was brought about, perhaps surprisingly, years ago by a symbiosis with programmers. The ability to speak at least partially understand the language of their tribe made it possible, for example, to build a rather successful website for its time mapy.mzk.cz.

What is your favorite work of art?

Ugh, a question that can't be answered without talking nonsense. I don't think art is made up of artifacts or activities with some genius essence. It's really more about personal perception, and I admit I don't make rankings for those feelings. So I guess just in general - I like art that leaves room for imagination and improvisation, I also like ingenuity and subversiveness. Speaking of books, I quite like the modernists in literature, but I'm not averse to perspectives that can ingeniously relativize more than just that mode of writing. And I like books that are tastefully done.