A manuscript is a collective name for texts written by hand (late Latin manuscriptum, from Latin manus – hand and scribo – I write).
The department collection of manuscripts includes more than 4,500 items, manuscript books and archives, which form part of the national archive collection of Belarus. The collection includes manuscripts and archival documents in the Old Belorussian, Belarusian, Russian, Polish, German, French, Latin, Italian languages, and also in the languages of Eastern peoples. The earliest of them date back to the 14th century.
The old Slavonic writing collection contains liturgical books (including music publications of the 17th–19th centuries with hooked and linear notations), theological works, the lives of saints, collections of words and moral teachings, Old Believer collections. An important place in the collection takes Cyrillic handwritten books created on Belarusian soil: Mineya sluzhebnaya na dekabr (the 1670s), Prolog, sentyabrskaya polovina (early 16th century), Trefologiy (16th century), Evangelie-aprakos (early 16th century), Shestodnevets Ioanna Zlatousta (early 17th century), Oktoikh (mid-16th century). The collection also features a well-known manuscript of the 16th century in the Old Belorussian language Taynaya taynych, ili Aristotelevy vrata (Aristotelian Gate). This unique book, along with the famous Aristotelian Gates, includes a collection of fortune-telling texts.
A unique phenomenon of Belarusian book culture is the book tradition of Belarusian Old Believers, who created a number of hand-written books with a bright design. A number of manuscripts came from the Old Believers' centers of the Gomel and Vitebsk regions, first of all, music collections: octoechos, hirmos, celebrations, music alphabets for singing, chimes.
Very treasured is the country’s largest collection of kitabs, hamails, tefsirs – the sacred books of Belarusian Tatars in the Belarusian and Polish languages, written in Arabic script.
Latin manuscripts are mainly represented by scientific and educational literature on philosophy, theology, medicine and natural science. Documents in German and French are mostly historical, legal and literary works (including diaries and memoirs of French soldiers and officers participating in the Napoleonic wars of 1800–1815).
The library also keeps manuscripts of the 15th–18th centuries in the Arabic, Persian and Turkish languages on theology, Islamic law, logic, Arabic grammar, poetry and history.
The collection of archives comprises more than 3,500 items. The earliest Belarusian archives date back to the 17th century.
The collection also includes private book collections of Belarusian cultural and scientific figures: writer and artist Karus Kaganets (1894–1917); librarian and bibliographer, organizer and first director of the National Library of Belarus Joseph Simanovsky (1st half of the 20th century); library expert and bibliographer Yevgeny Khlebtsevich (1st half of the 20th century); historian-orientalist Nikolai Nikolsky (mid-20th century); bibliographers and literary critics Nina Vatatsi and Valentina Dyshinevich (2nd half of the 20th century).
Of great interest is a collection containing the authors’ manuscripts of novels by Belarusian classics Tishka Gartny, Zmytrok Byadulya, Yakub Kolas and others. The department also keeps the manuscripts of unpublished scientific papers by the first rector of the Belarusian State University, Vladimir Picheta.
Handwritten and archival documents from the collection of the National Library of Belarus are an important source of knowledge on the history of Belarus, as well as Lithuania, Poland and Russia. The documents reflect the history of our country in different periods and on various issues.