News / Europe

Vatican to Open High-Tech Library for Ancient Volumes

The Vatican's Apostolic Library is reopening to scholars following a three-year renovation. Improvements have been made to how volumes and manuscripts are catalogued and to security measures. The library re-opens to scholars and academics September 20.

Scholars have not been able to access the wealth of books and manuscripts or the coin and medal collection that belong to the Vatican's Apostolic Library. It has been closed for renovation since 2007. But on September 20th it will be reopened, sparkling clean, with modern technology.

Vatican Library Prefect Monsignor Cesare Pasini says there is great interest for the world to know about the library and its mission, a mission in support of culture. The Holy See has this library that it has maintained for free for centuries, and which it opens to scholars and therefore to the world.

Deputy Prefect Ambrogio Piazzoni explains what the Library is all about.

He says the library keeps everything that is the thought, passion, fantasy and faith that men have produced in written form during the past 20 centuries. And this is in reality not just the heritage of the Vatican Library, but of the whole of humanity.

The Library does not check out books, although with special authorization it has been possible to borrow books, manuscripts, coins and medals for special exhibits. Only the Pope can check out a book.

Piazzoni says the greatness of the Vatican Library resides above all in the quality of its books. There are 1.6-million volumes. Many other libraries in the world have more, but the Vatican Library has 80,000 medieval and humanistic manuscripts, which can be compared only to the national libraries in Paris and London.

A new sophisticated security and tracking system has been installed. A scholar visiting the library will receive a magnetic badge that will track his movements inside the library. In addition electronic tags have been inserted in each of the books so that they can be easily located.

Piazzoni says in this kind of a library if a book is misplaced it is like losing it, because finding it would be up to chance. But with this new radio-frequencies system of identification it will be much easier to find a book and return it to its rightful place.

The Vatican library was started by Pope Nicholas V in the early 1450s with an initial 350 Latin manuscripts. By the time he died in 1455, the collection had swelled to about 1,500 publications and was the largest in Europe. Pope Nicholas wanted a library that did not belong only to the pope but to scholars all over the world. Vatican officials say 150 to 200 scholars will be allowed into the library every day.

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