Dear friends and readers,
I would like to focus this newsletter on the theme of patience. By way of explanation: I do not think that I have any special experience in this field, and I do not intend to offer you a treatise on the subject. But I recognize that we are facing multiple invitations to patience, so that it is just as well to face them with open eyes; to contemplate their fruits with joy, when they come; and to exercise patience precisely when we do not know how to manage our impatience...
1. Patience and IT novelties
Where shall I begin? I should say, with your patience, when, for one or two days, between Christmas and the New Year, you may have tried to open our website or send us an e-mail, and found that this was not possible. We were transferring the Library's Data Processing Center (CED, Centro Elaborazione Dati) to a new location with more spacious premises, so as to be ready to support the future development of our activities, and specifically to be able to house the digitized images of the Library's manuscripts and other materials. To be sure, we have been patient for a long time before reaching this goal which we have had in mind for years, and we are very happy that the wait has finally been rewarded and the goal achieved. I would like to thank those whose work has allowed us to make this difficult step forward: our superiors; the staff of the CED, which has operated with care and skill, and many others. We may truly say, in this case, that our patience was not in vain!
However, I must immediately add a clarification: more than a goal achieved, this is in fact a step towards a new departure, and our patience is already being put to the test again. What, indeed, has become of the major digitization project which has been announced many times already? On 21 October the Enzo Hruby Foundation, well-known for its work in the field of security in cultural collections, announced its contribution to ensuring the security of new buildings for the CED and of the premises where digitization will be performed. The media learned of this step forward and announced it as if we were going to digitize the eighty thousand manuscripts all at one go... Here, too, patience is advised, without denying, however, that something is indeed moving. In particular, the digitization of over two thousand Latin manuscripts of the Palatino collection has begun, thanks to a multi-year project generously supported by the Library of the University of Heidelberg. Other projects, including an initial, two-year phase of the global project (which has been prepared and piloted for some time now) are imminent, but I will announce them in the future, in agreement with the institutions involved.
In the meantime, I confirm that the Vatican Library has made the choice of preserving its digital reproductions in the Flexible Image Transport System (FITS), a non-proprietary format which is extremely staightforward and was developed several decades ago by NASA. It has been used for over forty years to preserve data from space missions and, during the last decade, also in astrophysics and nuclear medicine. I mention it here, not in order to bore you with overly technical details, but in order to point out that our choice has been noted also on the website of NASA itself [Vatican Using FITS to Preserve Manuscripts] and has received broad support among researchers dealing with digital conservation. We hope – though we realize that this prospect will again require a great deal of patience – that FITS will one day be accepted and certified as an international digital conservation standard.
The website of the Library is also being deeply restructured, in particular the catalogue section. In the coming weeks the new search platform will finally make its appearance, with thoroughly refurbished graphics and now including, in addition to the previously available catalogues for individual materials, also a specific catalogue for the incunabula and one for the archives (with a first set of data), as well as offering a unified search for the integrated catalog of all the materials in the library.
In addition, from within the Library, it is now possible to access various materials via intranet, namely a first batch of digitized manuscripts (in particular some volumes which can no longer be consulted directly for conservation reasons), and some electronic research tools (repertoria, periodicals, databases and e-books). We have observed that an ever greater number of readers is making use of these resources, and we intend to develop them further.
In these days we are also introducing into our website the possibility of making donations directly on line with a credit card (or via bank transfer). In the coming months – including some time set aside for patient waiting! – we will proceed to allow this type of payment also for the purchase of books published by the Library and for photographic reproductions. I am convinced that these innovations, by simplifying procedures, will be appreciated by the users of our website.
Turning now to publications, I wonder how much patience has been required of the editors, Francesco D'Aiuto and Paolo Vian, and their collaborators, to complete the Guida ai fondi manoscritti, numismatici, a stampa della Biblioteca Vaticana, which is now in print, but was begun back in 1999. It comprises no less than 1555 pages, including more than 500 pages of indexes, distributed in two mighty volumes (Studi e Testi, 466-467). In the Preface, the editors say that they are "deeply aware of the incompleteness and inadequacy of this tool, which aims to be a gateway to the many facets of a reality so great, vast and complex" as the Vatican Library with its various collections. But they also express the hope "that, despite all its limitations, the volume can be useful, and are convinced, above all, that in the future it will be perfected, completed, superseded by subsequent editions, which will be a mirror of the constantly changing reality which is a living library "(p. 8). For now, neither they nor we are thinking of future editions; but we congratulate them for the result: it is certainly a valuable "Guide" for the many who come to the collections of the Library and will be glad to be led by the hand into "a brief history [...] with precise instructions on the consistence, the events, the catalogues and the bibliography" (p. 7). We have been awaiting this publication for some time, whether with impatience or with resignation or with justified understanding; now it is here for our use!
It will be immediately followed by the Proceedings of the conference on "The Vatican Library as a Place of Research and as an Institution at the Service of Scholars", which was held in November 2010 (Studi e Testi, 468). We are delighted to have been able to promptly collect the contributions of the speakers and to offer our readers the results of those days of study regarding our institution and of shared joy about the reopening of the Library.
Also in preparation for the coming months are a volume of the Numismatic Cabinet and one of the Cabinet of Prints and Engravings. In the first, entitled Aurea Roma, which is to be published in co-edition with the Italian Istituto Poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato, Giancarlo Alteri sketches the urban history of Rome through the papal medals, as suggested by the subtitle La storia urbanistica di Roma attraverso le medaglie papali. In the second, entitled The Papal Collection of Photographs at the Vatican Library (Documenti e riproduzioni, 12), Sandra Phillips introduces us to the knowledge of the important Photographic Collection of the Vatican Library. As we await the arrival of these publications with patience – naturally –, I would like to point readers to the list of our publications in our website; and remind them that in our homepage, in the section entitled "News Bookshop", our new publications are mentioned as they appear.
3. The Salone Sistino
In the press conference held on September 13, 2010, in the Sistine Hall of the Library, on the occasion of the reopening of the Library, it was announced that that room would in the future return to use as an additional reading room for printed books. In the past months, thanks to the generous involvement of the architect Paolo Portoghesi, we have been able to design its interior, with new shelving and work desks for scholars, and the refurbishment of the existing shelving. In the coming months, we expect to install the double glass wall separating the Salone Sistino from the galleries of the Vatican Museums. To make this work possible, we have received the initial generous support of the Fondazione Prosolidar (the Italian national foundation of the banking sector, made up of the labor organizations and the Associazione Bancaria Italiana in support of charity projects), which has found a way to bring together, under a single charitable initiative (L'ultima Lira), institutions which provide emergency relief (Emergency, Terre des hommes, UNHCR) and the Vatican Library. The joining together into an unusual but promising alliance of initiatives respectively addressing social and cultural issues is extremely significant.
Thanks to the humanistic spirit that has characterized it since its founding, the Vatican Library is an institution capable of universality and of encounters with humanity, and for this very reason finds its place next to institutions of international solidarity in a unique and convergent "alliance for man" . The reopening of the Sistine Hall will still require work and patience; but I do not think I need to insist further on these things...
4. People and donations
Already in the last Newsletter I mentioned our little ones which give cheer to the families of our staff. I would like to update the list, noting the arrival of Marta, Gabriele, another Gabriele, Pietro and Ruggero; and I am almost tempted to continue with the names of grandchildren and of so many other children...
Instead, I turn now to the grown-ups, to express our congratulations to Marco Buonocore, Head Archivist of the Library, whom the Pope appointed, on July 20, 2011, to be President of the Pontifical Roman Academy of Archaeology. Also, on December 22, Pope Benedict conferred the honor of "Cavaliere di Gran Croce dell'Ordine di San Gregorio Magno" on Stefano Righetti, the Library's Bursar, the honor of "Cavaliere dell'Ordine di San Gregorio Magno" on Luciano Ammenti, our Information Services Coordinator and CED Director, and on Marco Bargellini, Head of the Housing Services Office of the Governorate of Vatican City State. We have long awaited these awards, as a grateful reminder of the Library's renovation works which were completed in the fall of 2010. Here again, our patience has been happily rewarded.
5. Greetings and best wishes
I fear that I have tested your patience by dint of my own reflections on the theme of patience. But, as I write my closing greetings, I feel the need to touch on a point which has been in my thoughts: what of the patience we exercise towards our own selves? It is a patience full of expectations and wishes. Each one of us has projects and hopes, all of which bring their own lot of patience and waiting (and sometimes also of worry, anxiety or disappointment ...). However, I wish to maintain a positive perspective, that of constructive patience; above all, I do not want to impose a rigid pattern on everything, for I recognize that every constructive freedom is in movement towards an ideal, knowing how to face challenging waits and also how to receive their fruits with gratitude when they appear.
I would like to offer you a text which I refer to often and which can perhaps set the tone for the Christmas which has just been celebrated by Christians. It is a passage from the Commentary to Psalm 118 (VIII, 7) by Ambrose of Milan (ca. 340-397), in which the author comments upon the expression used by the Apostle Paul in his Second Letter to the Corinthians (6:16): I shall live among them and (as Ambrose accurately translates) in them I shall stroll. Here is his comment: The others complain about the small size of their fields; in you God has a large estate where he says that he strolls, i.e. that he finds the spaciousness of a large house, he who holds the entire world in his hand. The world is narrow, but you are for him an ample home. This is a very great aspiration, which echoes the paradise in which God walked in free intimacy with the man and the woman he had created (cf. Gen 3.8). My personal wish for each one, for the year just begun, is to advance with the necessary patience and - for that very reason – to be able to build many good and beautiful things, in ourselves and with many others...