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History Meets Hi-tech at Vatican Library

The Sistine Hall in the Vatican Library.

The Sistine Hall in the Vatican Library.

After three yeas of extensive remodeling, the Vatican Library will finally re-open its doors to researchers and scholars on September 20, 2010. According to the Rome Reports website, the majority of the remodel was focused on upgrading library security, and now all books will be tracked electronically using RFID tags. “Each book is identified by a computer code, a tag with an electronic chip. Then, according to the user, there may be places accessible or forbidden depending on the volume and the person who takes the book,” explains Msgr. Cesare Pasini, Director of the Vatican Library. Now the location of every book will be known at all times, and any unauthorized removal of a book from a restricted area, or even the library premises, can be prevented. RFid Gazette has identified the electronic tags used in the library as Texas Instruments’ Tag-it™ models. Additionally, cameras and security arches have also been installed in each room.

The main impetus of upgrading the security system was not fear of theft, but the desire to better preserve the 150,000 manuscripts and 1.6 million books that are under the library’s roof. The roots of the library can be traced back to the fourth century, but the time of Pope Nicholas V (1447-1455) is most closely associated with the birth of the modern Vatican Library. Its vast collection is home to many priceless and historically significant documents, including the Codex Vaticanus, which is the oldest known manuscript of the Greek Bible that is nearly fully intact.

Though the re-opening of the Vatican Library is much anticipated among scholars, no plans for an extravagant celebration have been made. “We will open… with some excitement and trepidation, to be sure; but simply by returning to our “places of service” at the entrance, in the Admissions Office, in the Reading Rooms,” states Director Pasini on the library’s website. “It may seem like mere rhetoric if I say that ‘we have missed you’ during the last months and years; but I can assure you that each of us in his own sector finds it strange — and, in the end, unbearable — to work in a library without the possibility of accomplishing a library’s main task.”

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