ORKING with manuscripts has long been a labor limited to those with the time and resources to travel to libraries around the globe. In recent years, this has slowly begun to change, as more and more libraries have begun to make their collections available online. Such digitization projects are complex, so publishing an entire library online does not happen overnight. One very important collection that continues to expand its online offerings is the Vatican Apostolic Library (VAT).
Launched in 2010, the digitization of the Vatican Library (known as DigiVatLib and available here) has comprehensive goals. Ultimately, the plan is to make the library’s entire manuscript collection available online. The collection includes 80,000 codices, which will translate to 40 million scanned images. The DigiVatLib project makes use of International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) technology, which not only makes its own resources accessible, but also enables these resources to be easily searched and compared alongside the treasures of other major collections.
Digitizing manuscript libraries serves two principal purposes. First, it accomplishes long-term preservation of the materials for future generations. Second, it opens the collection’s treasures to a broad audience of scholars and interested parties. Both of these missions are immensely valuable.
Perusing the Vatican collection online turns up not only mesmerizing manuscripts, but also a large collection of coins and medals. Other treasures to be explored include incunabula, archival materials, and graphic and printed materials.
The homepage of the Vatican Library is worth a visit in its own right, but the digital collections warrant special exploration. One decade into the project, the results are fascinating.
Taking a few moments (or countless hours!) to pore over DigiVatLib is sure to provoke questions, curiosities, and new interests.