Vatican Library to be digitized ... again

These stories about the Vatican Library - the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana or BAV - digitizing its manuscript collection are starting to get repetitive.

Repetitive: because we have been here before, and most Rome correspondents never dig into what must be some rather messy background. Readers of this blog will recall a post four years ago about an impending digitization. At that time, a British company named Autonomy Systems was named as contractor. Is this the company which Hewlett Packard took over in 2011 and got into a fight with?

I don't know. I do know I still don't see the promised manuscript library. And I don't see any explanation by the BAV, though Cesare Pasini's rather silly encomium of that project is still online.

Chief prefect Pasini is still at it. He was referring grandiloquently in December to the "vast project" funded by Leonard Polonsky to digitize Greek and Hebrew items, but this too has moved at a snail's pace. The website under the auspices of Oxford University shows only a handful of Greek manuscripts  have actually been digitized so far.

At the Vatican, the digital library as of now is still a very meagre affair: if it were not for the Palatini latini files donated by the German University of Heidelberg, there would only be 24 codices available on the site. A sobering account in the National Catholic Reporter says the BAV is in fact 23 million dollars short of funding, adding that outside groups have helped the BAV digitize 6,800 codices, but it seems fewer than 5 per cent are on its website.

Yesterday, March 20, there seems to have been a news conference at the Vatican to announce a new contractor, NTT Data of Tokyo. The press release is short on specifics. Pasini says the Japanese company will "support the further improvement of the project". Not a word about the four lost years, or why the projects have stumbled.

Most of the news reports I am seeing miss all these subtleties. And trust a Daily Telegraph sub to make the shoddy reporting even worse: the headline "Vatican library plans to digitise 82,000 of its most valuable manuscripts" is plain misleading. The press release clearly says NTT Data will only be working on 3,000 items over the next four years.

Of one thing we can be sure. If the day ever comes when the Vatican has digitized all 82,000 of its codices, the Daily Telegraph will have long ceased to exist.

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