Vatican Library

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Vatican Library

Vatican Library or Vatican Apostolic Library, in Rome, founded in the 4th cent. but dormant until given new life in the 15th cent. by Pope Nicholas V. It is the oldest public library in Europe and one of the chief libraries of the world. It is constituted primarily as a manuscript library. The first major librarian, Platina (Bartolommeo de' Sacchi), made a catalog of some 2,500 volumes. The library now holds more than 150,000 manuscripts and more than 1.6 million printed books, including some 8,300 incunabula, and is especially rich in books on paleography, history, art history, classical literature, and philology. These figures do not include the vast Vatican archives, a separate collection of more than 150,000 items, a collection of more than 300,000 coins and medals and more than 70,000 prints and engravings.

Facilities of the library were greatly improved in the 20th cent., although the staff and funding remain small. With funds supplied principally by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, librarians from the United States did much work (1927–30) in cataloging and classifying the contents of the library. Microfilms of most of the library's great manuscript collection were deposited at St. Louis Univ. in 1957. The Vatican Library has worked extensively with American computer companies, who helped to make its catalog of modern printed books available online in 1985 and in 2002 began a project to post images online of its complete collection of books and manuscripts.

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