Vatican Library digitizes ancient manuscripts, makes them available for free

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A Vatican librarian, wearing white gloves, turns the pages of a facsimile copy of the Borgianus Latinus, a missal for use at Christmas made for Pope Alexander VI. Photo by Alessandro Bianchi/REUTERS

A Vatican librarian, wearing white gloves, turns the pages of a facsimile copy of the Borgianus Latinus, a missal for use at Christmas made for Pope Alexander VI. Photo by Alessandro Bianchi/REUTERS

One of the oldest libraries on the planet is digitizing its archive of ancient manuscripts — and they’re all available to view free of charge.

The Vatican Apostolic Library is undertaking an extensive digital preservation of its 82,000 document collection. Over the course of a few years, with the assistance of Japanese company NTT DATA, the library has catalogued nearly 4,500 manuscripts online — and it hopes to reach the 15,000 mark within the next four years.

Monsignor Cesare Pasini, Prefect of the Vatican Apostolic Library, called the project a “true effort in favour of the conservation and dissemination of knowledge at the service of culture throughout the world;” writing on the library’s site that the project could eventually lead to 40 million digitized pages and 43 petabytes worth of data.

The entire undertaking is expected to take at least 15 years and cost more than $63 million dollars — an effort the Vatican Library is attempting to support, in part, by crowdsourcing funding.

“Thanks to Digita Vaticana it will be possible to contribute to an undertaking on which the preservation and safeguard of the oldest knowledge depends,” the site writes. “Technology gives us the opportunity to think of the past while looking towards the future, and the world’s culture, thanks to the web, can truly become a common heritage, freely accessible to all, anywhere and any time.”

The current list of digitized manuscripts can be viewed through the Vatican Library website.

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