Monday, June 14, 2004


The amazingly large and richly interesting Vatican library is going high-tech:
Dealing with bug infestations, normal wear and tear and even the occasional thief, keepers of the 15th-century Vatican Apostolic Library face an ever-challenging task. Their latest step to keep their invaluable collection intact has been to employ some 21st-century technology.

Officials have started implanting computer chips in the 1.6 million books in the Vatican's collection. The chips communicate via radio wave with hand-held monitors, so librarians can tell if a book is missing.

"That is no small thing, because a book that's out of place is as if the book is lost," deputy prefect Ambrogio Piazzoni says.

It's an amazing place, I'm sure. The problem is, no one really knows what all is in the place:
Today, the Vatican Library is known for its collection of about 65,000 manuscripts, the one-of-a-kind books that predate the printing press. One of the library's most important pieces is the Codex B, the oldest known complete Bible, which dates from about A.D. 325 and is thought to be one of the 50 bibles Emperor Constantine commissioned.

The library also is home to 300,000 medals and Roman-era coins....

Scholars also must know exactly what they're looking for, since the manuscript collection -- like those of other great libraries -- is not entirely cataloged. In fact, only about 15,000 to 20,000 manuscripts have been logged so far since the modern process began in 1902, Piazzoni says.

"Which means that if we continue with the same criteria of cataloging, we can assume that we'll finish in 31/2 centuries," he says.

After seeing that, I'll have to remind my wife that my meagre book holdings ain't so bad!

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