Scholars in panic mode over Vatican Library closure

Professors, researchers and students from around the world have been working desperately against the clock as the Vatican Library closes for a three-year renovation period this week.

The BBC reports that researchers from more than 50 countries were sitting elbow-to-elbow at desks piled with documents and crowded with laptops and ancient manuscripts.

They were working desperately against time to complete their work before the closing down for the next three years of this powerhouse of academic research.

The report says that there was an unmistakable sense of controlled hysteria among library staff, scurrying around to retrieve urgently needed books for scholars from the 60km of stacks spread over seven floors, some of them underground.

Many researchers had queued for hours to get a square metre of desk space. Vatican authorities had doubled the number of readers' chairs from 100 to 200 in an attempt to satisfy the sudden spurt in demand since the announcement of the closure of the library for the first time in its 500-year history.

The Vatican Library was started by Pope Nicholas V in the early 1450s with an initial 350 Latin manuscripts. By the time he died in 1455, the collection comprised some 1,500 documents and was already the largest in Europe.

The collection now contains more than 1.5 million printed books, in addition to 150,000 precious manuscripts, the earliest of which date back to the days of the late Roman Empire.

Meanwhile, scholars around the world protested against the lack of warning. The emergency closure interrupted academic research in many countries.

Scott Mandelbrote of Peterhouse college, Cambridge, told the BBC he had to rush out to Rome to finish some library research earlier this summer, disrupting his university classes. "The Vatican Library has resources that you can find nowhere else in the world," he said.

But Ambrogio Piazzoni, deputy head of the Vatican Library, said: "The library is now closed.

"There will be no exceptions, although scholars can continue to request photocopies and microfilm until the library reopens in September 2010."

Vatican Library closure irks scholars (BBC, 17/7/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Vatican Library

Vatican library goes hi-tech to protect its valuable collection (CathNews, 16/6/04)

18 Jul 2007