Vatican Library To Begin Digitizing Archives Soon. Testing Complete.

| by Jared Keever

Special scanners in heavily-curtained rooms will be used to protect documents as workers begin to make digital copies of the historical manuscripts kept in the Vatican library. Officials will also be on hand to assure that workers remove all jewelry and wear gloves as they handle the ancient documents according to a recent story from Mashable.

The Vatican announced plans to digitize the library last month. The library hired a Japanese technology company, NTT Data, to help with the process. A Reuters story indicates the first phase of scanning is expected to last four years and will digitally archive about 1.5 million pages. The library houses, in total, some 82,000 items and about 41 million pages.

The first phase of the project will cost an estimated $25 million. NTT Data has agreed to front that money in hopes that their efforts will be repaid through donations on the library’s website.

"At the end of the four years, the involvement of NTT could lead to a further phase of engagement which could cover the entire collection," said Monsignor Cesare Pasini, prefect of the library.

If each phase takes four years it would take 109 years to to digitize the entire library.

Founded in the 15th century the library has restricted access to most visitors in order to protect the historical documents.

"This restriction was wise to protect such valuable manuscripts from hordes of visitors," said Alberto Melloni, a church historian quoted in The Wall Street Journal. "If anybody could visit, it would be like putting a child with a paintbrush in front of the Mona Lisa.”

Making digital copies, though, will protect the manuscripts while making them widely available on the Internet. Pasini characterized the effort as "a service that we provide all mankind.” 

Testing of the scanners has been completed and the actual process is expected to begin soon. Once scanned, the digital files will be formatted for long-term storage then the digital images will be made available through the Vatican website. The first images are expected to be uploaded in the second half of this year.

Sources: Mashable, Reuters, The Wall Street Journal