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Picture from Vatican LibraryThe Vatican Library is home for many of the world’s rarest books and documents.The library has more than 150,000 manuscripts, including the four oldest surviving manuscripts of the Roman poet Virgil dating from the fourth and fifth century AD; and the oldest known manuscript of the Bible, written in 350 AD. There are also more than a million books, including 8,000 published during the first 50 years of the printing press. Virtually all civilizations and cultures in the history of humanity are represented somewhere in the Vatican Library. The wealth of content is phenomenal and scholars from all over the world are deeply interested in studying it in detail. The result will be an advancement in the general understanding of the history of the world. That is the good news. The bad news is that due to the cost of travel and the physical limitations of the Library to accommodate visiting scholars, only about 2,000 scholars per year can actually visit. Fortunately, a number of technical collaborations have focused on how to both preserve the treasures of the Library and make them more accessible to scholars.

Through the Vatican Library Project, IBM has been exploring digital library services to extend access to portions of the Library’s collections to scholars worldwide. The idea is to complement traditional library services. One of the key goals of the project is to provide Web access to some of the Library’s most valuable manuscripts, printed books, and other materials. A multinational, multidisciplinary team is addressing the considerable technical challenges of the project including…

  • Development of an effective multi-server system suitable for scholars worldwide
  • Capture of images of the materials with faithful color and sufficient detail to support scholarly study
  • Protection of the on-line materials, especially images, from misappropriation
  • Development of tools to enable scholars to locate desired materials
  • Development of tools to enable scholars to scrutinize images of manuscripts

A team of IBM researchers has written a paper, Toward on-line, worldwide access to Vatican Library materials, published in the IBM Journal of Research and Development, which provides an overview of the project, a description of the system being developed, and a discussion of how the technical challenges are being addressed.

The Vatican Museums web site is a great resource to get a better appreciation for the scope and beauty of the fantastic treasures that are already on line. Visitors can browse through various rooms, including the Sistine Chapel, and also take a virtual tour of each room. A Java interface includes a zoom and scroll feature

The Internet Scout Report reported the following…

With some of the most exquisite frescoes in Europe, the Vatican created this Web site that highlights some of their remarkable holdings, many of which are situated within the various rooms of the Apostolic Palace. As many travellers may be unable to wait in the seemingly endless lines that are a hallmark of visiting the Vatican, the site offers a nice overview of some of the works that have been commissioned by different popes over the past five hundred years. In the "Vatican Museums Online" section, visitors can browse through the various rooms, including the Sistine Chapel, the Ethnological Missionary Museum, and the Gregorian Egyptian Museum. Visitors may also take a virtual tour of each room, aided by a Java interface that includes a zoom and scroll feature. Additionally, a highlights section features 30 works of great importance within the Vatican, among them the works of Raphael, Botticelli, and Michelangelo.

The above paragraph is copyrighted by the Internet Scout Project, 1994-2003.