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Collections and Digitization Projects of the Vatican Apostolic Library

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The following post is written by Dante Figueroa, a senior legal information analyst at the Law Library of Congress. He has recently written for In Custodia Legis on the Italian Parliamentary Library; Spanish Legal Documents (15th to 19th Century); Recent Legislation Enacted by Italy to Tackle COVID-19; and Italy: A New Silk Road Between Italy and China – the Belt and Road Initiative.


Interior of the Vatican Library with arched, decorated ceiling, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Photo probably by James Anderson, between 1855-1877.

The Vatican Apostolic Library (VAL)

The VAL finds its origins in the Scrinium of the Roman Catholic Church from the fourth century onwards and is located in Vatican City. The library currently has about 180,000 manuscripts in Latin, Greek, Arabic, Hebrew, Persian, Ethiopic, and Syriac from the second century onwards, two million books and serials, 8,000 incunabula, over 330,000 Greek, Roman, and papal coins and medals, more than 100,000 prints, engravings, maps and drawings, and over 200,000 photographs.

VAL’s Digital Collections

VAL’s digital collections encompass manuscripts, printed materials, incunabula, visual materials, coins and medals, archives and inventories. Recently in mid-July 2020, the VAL inaugurated its new website containing a wealth of digital reproductions of historic manuscripts. The new website provides access to the digital collections of the VAL allowing free access to high-resolution materials.

Digitization Project of 80,000 Codices

Noteworthy is the VAL’s project to digitize its manuscript collection of 80,000 codices chiefly from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The project began in 2010 and aims to digitize about 40 million pages of documents. To date, over 19,000 manuscripts have been digitized and are available on the VAL website.

Collaboration between the VAL and the Library of Congress

Interestingly, during the years 1927-1939 the Library of Congress collaborated with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in a project to complete a new card catalogue of books. This collaboration also included the exchange of specialized staff between both institutions and the donation of important bibliographical materials to the Library of Congress.

Also, between January and April, 1993, the exhibition “Rome Reborn: The Vatican Library & Renaissance Culture” took place in Washington, D.C. This was one of the greatest exhibits of the VAL’s treasures outside the Vatican and was motivated by the VAL’s gratitude to the collaboration between both institutions that had taken place 60 years earlier.


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