Oxford and Vatican libraries join forces to digitise ancient books

Oxford and Vatican libraries join forces to digitise ancient books

Part of a four-year digital collaboration

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The Bodleian Libraries of the University of Oxford and the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (BAV) have digitised and made available online some of the world’s most unique and important bibles and biblical texts from their collections.

The move is the start of a four-year digital collaboration by the two institutions announced last year. The digitised texts can be accessed on a dedicated website which has just been launched.

Portions of the Bodleian and Vatican Libraries’ collections of Hebrew manuscripts, Greek manuscripts and early printed books have been selected for digitisation by a team of scholars and curators from around the world.

The selection process has been informed by a balance of scholarly and practical concerns, with conservation staff at the Bodleian and Vatican libraries having worked with curators to assess not only the significance of the content, but the physical condition of the items.

While the Vatican and the Bodleian have each been creating digital images from their collections for a number of years, this project has provided an opportunity for both libraries to increase the scale and pace with which they can digitise their most significant collections, whilst taking care not to expose books to any damage.

The newly-launched website features zoomable images which enable detailed scholarly analysis and study. The website also includes essays and a number of video presentations made by scholars and supporters of the digitisation project, including the Archbishop of Canterbury and Archbishop Jean-Louis Bruguès.

The website blog will also feature articles on the conservation and digitised techniques and methods used during the project. The website is available in both English and Italian.

Through the support of the Polonsky Foundation, the project will make 1.5 million digitised pages freely available over the next three years.

Richard Ovenden, interim Bodley’s librarian, said, "It is very exciting to see the first fruits of this landmark collaboration between the Bodleian and the Vatican Library.

"We hope that through digitising and making openly accessible some of the most significant books in our collections we will increase their potential for research and broader understanding of these ancient texts."

Monsignor Cesare Pasini, the prefect of the Vatican Library, said: "I envision how useful it will be to scholars and many other interested people. I see the common fruit of our labour as a very positive sign of collaboration and sharing, that is a trademark of the world of culture."

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