Dear friends and readers,
I had promised to continue the newsletter even after the end of the building works and of the events surrounding the reopening of the Library, and I am happy to be able to keep that promise! At first, however, I did feel that I had little news to relate: no news on the progress of the building works, to reassure you that we had lost no time during those long months of closure; nothing regarding the subsequent events which were to culminate in the visit of Pope Benedict XVI.
But it would unfortunate indeed if I really had nothing to say! As if we had always to live only of exceptional things, and as if a library in its normal daily work had nothing significant to report. Granted, the news is not sensational: it concerns the rhythms of normal service and of our usual activities, but also some particular initiatives which have enriched this or that particular moment.
Let me make one remark at the outset: the reopening of the Library and the return to our regular work rhythms have not exactly meant a return to tranquility and blissful repose. On the contrary, among us, the remark is often heard that we would like to slow down our pace for fear of falling into any kind of excess. But we cannot fail to respond diligently to the «natural» demands which are made of a library, and to make the choices and go about the tasks which those demands constantly require of us. If nothing else, I take comfort in the Gospel parable which invites us to take our talents and bring them to fruition: the parable takes issue with the servant who buried his talent and went to sleep... That is a temptation which we cannot afford to countenance!
1. Attendance in the reading rooms
I begin by providing some data on the presence of scholars in the reading rooms: it is for them, after all, that we reopened the Library on September 20, 2010! In recent months we have seen a steady readership of between 40 and 50 people per day in the Printed Books Reading Room, and usually of more than 50, sometimes even of 60, in the Manuscript Reading Room. In recent weeks, as is usual during the period which coincides with the end of the academic year, the number has increased significantly; but we spare no effort to offer quick and attentive service.
2. Digitization of manuscripts
The Digitization Project still has not yet fully set sail in the sea of full implementation, even though we have been hoping for a long time that that moment will arrive, and are doing all we can to speed its arrival. The number of digitized manuscripts is constantly growing nonetheless, constituting a (limited) first step towards this goal. An initiative of the University of Heidelberg (Bibliotheca Laureshamensis – digital: Virtuelle Klosterbibliothek Lorsch), which aims to reconstitute virtually the ancient library of the monastery of Lorsch, has allowed us, for example, to digitize 142 manuscripts of the Palatini shelf-mark series which came from that monastery. Similarly, recent weeks have seen the resumption of the digitization of Chinese manuscripts and printed books concerning Chinese history from the seventeenth to the early twentieth century: the project, sponsored by the Chinese National Committee for the Compilation of Qing History, involves more than 600 manuscripts, in addition to approximately 100 printed books which were digitized in 2008. In all, about 1300 items will be digitized, for a total of 100,000 leaves, of which about 30% are manuscripts and 70% are xylographic prints. Other, similar projects are on the horizon, and all of them are most welcome.
In any case, this fall we are planning to build a new data center for the Library, in a new site where it will have more space and better equipment. This is a demanding undertaking which has been in preparation for some time and has been necessitated by the continuous growth which our IT services have experienced and have come to require. Its importance is due not least to the fact that expansion and updating of our equipment will work in favor of the Manuscript Digitization Project itself.
The publications which have appeared in recent months, following those which were announced on the occasion of the reopening of the Library, are of various kinds. One of them, a bilingual (Italian and English) publication entitled Vatican Library - Books and Places at the Beginning of the Third Millennium, is actually still linked to the recently completed building works: its intention is to present the renovated Library in a handsomely produced volume, enhanced with a considerable number of illustrations. Published in collaboration with the Fondazione Italcementi and relying on the competence of various contributors, it first of all explains the reasons which led to this extensive renovation of the Library; then offers a brief analysis of its mission; briefly presents some of its most famous treasures; traces the architectural history of its buildings; and finally describes the building works carried out between 2007 and 2010, and in particular the design and construction of the new «Manuscript Tower».
Two publications, which belong to the series Documenti e riproduzioni, are the result of research carried out in the Library's Prints Cabinet. The first is Anna Maria Voltan's book presenting one hundred nineteenth-century images from the Photographic Collection of the Vatican Library (Cento immagini del XIX secolo dalla Raccolta Fotografica della Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana); the other is the book about the drawings in MS Capponiano 237 (I disegni del Codice Capponiano 237) by Simonetta Prosperi Valenti Rodinò and Manuela Gobbi. The first collects one hundred images showing Italian places and monuments, as well as archaeological sites in such countries as Syria, Egypt and Turkey, which are chosen from about seven thousand positives which came to the photographic collection of the Library from the Polish Academy of Sciences in Rome. The second studies and catalogues the 309 drawings from Italian and foreign schools, from the fifteenth to the early eighteenth century, which are contained in MS Cappon. 237, a unique miscellany which belonged to the rich library of Marchese Alessandro Gregorio Capponi (which joined the Library's collections in 1746).
The Studi e Testi series also continues its publishing program with its usual diligence. Among the items which have appeared here I should like to single out the second volume, edited by Marco Buonocore with the collaboration of Valentino Di Cerbo, Marco Di Paola and Caterina Franceschi, of the retrospective bibliography of the manuscript collections of the Vatican Library (Bibliografia retrospettiva dei fondi manoscritti della Biblioteca Vaticana). Two further important publications will be announced in the next newsletter, namely the «Guide to the Vatican Library» (Guida ai fondi manoscritti, numismatici, a stampa della Biblioteca Vaticana) edited by Francesco D'Aiuto and Paolo Vian; and the Proceedings of the conference for the reopening of the Library which was held last November.
As for the history of the Vatican Library (Storia della Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana), the first volume of this work, edited by Antonio Manfredi, was presented to the public on April 7 in the Vatican Radio's Marconi Room. It had been published last November and is dedicated to the Origins of the Vatican Library in the Humanistic and Renaissance Periods (Le origini della Biblioteca Vaticana tra Umanesimo e Rinascimento [1447-1534]). On Saturday, September 17, the book will be presented in Sarzana, the home town of the founder of the library, Pope Nicholas V Parentuccelli, with a speech by Director of the Vatican Museums, Antonio Paolucci. In the meantime, the preparation of the subsequent volumes continues apace, especially that of the second volume, covering the period from Paul III to Sixtus V, i.e. up to the transfer of the Library into the Salone Sistino (1534-1590), and of the third volume, dedicated to the seventeenth century (1590-1700), the golden age of libraries. As for the second volume, edited by Massimo Ceresa, the collection of the individual papers composing it will be completed before the summer, so that we expect to be able to respect the announced publication date of 2012. For the third volume, edited by Claudia Montuschi, contributors have now been identified and contacted, and publication has been set for 2014.
It has been some months now since the closing of the exhibition Knowing the Vatican Library: A History Open to the Future, in the Braccio di Carlo Magno, St. Peter's Square. The total number of visitors was 61,285, and the exhibition met with great interest and rather flattering praise from the most various types of visitors, schoolchildren and adults, pilgrims and scholars. The Vatican Library is also featured in an exhibition which runs until 24th July in the same location, dedicated to Pope John Paul II and entitled John Paul II: A Tribute by Benedict XVI on the occasion of his Beatification. Indeed, the annual medallions which are on exhibit there come from our collection; and a contribution to the setup of the exhibition was made, with her usual generosity and expertise, by Barbara Jatta, curator of the Prints Cabinet of the Library.
The Prints Cabinet which I have just mentioned has received a number of special donations in the last months. First, a selection of over 100 particularly significant graphic works (woodcuts, chalcographic prints, lithographs) by Siegfried Bartolini (1932-2007), painter, engraver and one of the main protagonists of Italian graphic arts in the twentieth century, were donated by the family of the artist. Then, 112 matrices, together with prints made from them, with sacred images as well as landscapes from Rome and its surroundings, by the designer, painter and engraver Lino Bianchi Barriviera (1906-1985), was donated by his heirs. Finally, according to the wishes of the artist herself, the German painter, portraitist and illustrator Moed Jansen, the Cabinet has received about two hundred portraits of famous people (in the ecclesiastical, artistic and business fields), which is probably the most important component of the artist's work. Among the people portrayed we are happy to mention, in addition to Pope Benedict XVI, also our Cardinal Librarian Raffaele Farina.
6. Recent Events
Two important events have taken place in recent days. On Monday, June 13, at the headquarters of the Università Urbaniana in Rome, we held a panel discussion on certain topics of relevance to library science, on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the URBE network (Unione Romana Biblioteche Ecclesiastiche), which digitally connects the libraries of seventeen ecclesiastical institutions active in the field of education and manages their online catalogues. In the roundtable discussion, which was led by Vice Prefect Ambrogio Piazzoni, the Vatican Library was represented by Luigina Orlandi, Paola Manoni, Raffaella Vincenti and Angela Nuñez Gaitán. It was a valuable opportunity to meet and enrich one another, in which participants had ample opportunity to compare data and experiences arising from library work.
The following Wednesday, June 15, we were able to meet with Dr. James Hadley Billington, Librarian of Congress; and the next Saturday we received a visit from a group of members of the James Madison Council of the Library of Congress, the oldest among the private institutions which support that library. This was an opportunity to discuss the participation of the Vatican Library in the World Digital Library project, jointly developed by the Library of Congress and UNESCO, which aims to collect in a single site those rare or unique documents which tell the history of the world's cultures and to make them available to readers.
Before closing this newsletter I wish to give some news regarding appointments among the staff of the Library. Regular visitors to the Manuscript Reading Room have had occasion to meet Antonio Schiavi, who has been working there for years and has now been appointed Head of Manuscript Reading Rooms and Stacks. After the retirement of Arnaldo Mampieri in late 2010, leadership of the Restoration Laboratory has been entrusted to Angela Nuñez Gaitán. Best wishes and heartfelt thanks to them, to their predecessors and to all the other managers in the Library.
On June 24, four new Scriptores were appointed: Antonio Manfredi and Claudia Montuschi as Scriptores latini, Timothy Janz as Scriptor graecus, and Delio Vania Proverbio as Scriptor orientalis. They join five other Scriptores who have been in office for some time: Ambrogio Piazzoni (who as Vice-Prefect is also the coordinator of the Scriptores), Paolo Vian, Adalbert Roth, Marco Buonocore and Sever Voicu. In offering my warmest congratulations to the newly elected members, I also note with some satisfaction that the Library's College of Scriptores, after many years, is finally nearing the statutory number of ten members. As indicated by the Library Statutes (Art. 29), they constitute the Library's «scientific staff» whose task is «scientific research, and the cultural activity which is proper to the Library»: we count on them!
I do not wish to limit myself to the grown-ups. I have not mentioned in previous newsletters the children whose birth has given joy to the families represented in our staff during the period, which has now reached a certain length, since I arrived at the library in the summer of 2007. I am happy to introduce all of them to you (in strict chronological order): Carlo Matteo, Caterina Anna Maria, Giorgio, Giulia, Matilde, Aurora, Elena, Matteo, Tommaso, Giulia, Margherita, Flavia and Liliana. Thirteen small ones, not counting those which are expected soon. I feel, in their parents, a deep joy and a sense of a mystery that surpasses them, along with a great sense of responsibility and dedication. I do not know if these little ones will continue our scientific and humanistic mission: perhaps it is better to await their own decisions... But it is good, as we gaze into the future, to look forward to their own «missions», whatever they may be and however they may come to be expressed; and to give them our best wishes with affection and faith. For my part, I always feel their presence as I make my way in the Library, as if sharing with them, for four years now, those first steps through which children grow and learn and give happiness to those around them.
To all, with great esteem, my best wishes for the honest and proper accomplishment of the mission that has been entrusted to us.