Ancient texts published online by the Bodleian and the Vatican Libraries

3 December 2013 

Bodleian and VaticanThe Bodleian Libraries of the University of Oxford and the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (BAV) have digitized and made available online some of the world’s most unique and important Bibles and biblical texts from their collections, as the start of a major digitization initiative undertaken by the two institutions.

The digitized texts can be accessed on a dedicated website which has been launched today ( This is the first launch of digitized content in a major four-year collaborative project.

Portions of the Bodleian and Vatican Libraries’ collections of Hebrew manuscripts, Greek manuscripts, and early printed books have been selected for digitization 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; conservation staff at the Bodleian and Vatican Libraries have 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 digitize their most significant collections, whilst taking great care not to expose books to any damage, as they are often fragile due to their age and condition.

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 digitization project including the Archbishop of Canterbury and Archbishop Jean-Louis Bruguès, o.p. The website blog will also feature articles on the conservation and digitized techniques and methods used during the project. The website is available both in English and Italian.

Originally announced in April 2012, the four-year collaboration aims to open up the two libraries’ collections of ancient texts and to make a selection of remarkable treasures freely available online to researchers and the general public worldwide. Through the generous support of the Polonsky Foundation, this project will make 1.5 million digitized 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 digitizing 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 am very pleased with the website that is launched together by the two institutions: I envision how useful it will be to scholars and many other interested people. Moreover, 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.’

Dr. Leonard Polonsky, CBE said: 'In today's fast-paced, digital-driven world of scholarship, easy access to primary resources is paramount. I hope that the collection of digital texts that is jointly released by the Bodleian and the Vatican Libraries will make a contribution to the advancement of modern scholarship. '

About the Polonsky Foundation Digitization ProjectBodleian and Vatican image

In April 2012, the Bodleian Libraries of the University of Oxford and the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Vatican Library) announced a joint landmark digitization project with the aim of opening up their collections of ancient texts to the world. Driven by the same vision of making their collections available to the public, the two institutions established a partnership to exchange knowledge about digitization practice and to provide joint access to the collections. Over the course of the next three years, 1.5 million pages from their remarkable collections will be made freely available online to researchers and to the general public. The digitization project builds on the existing relationship between the two institutions, which was initially brokered by the Bodleian’s Centre for the Study of the Book.

The digitized collections will be in three subject areas: Greek manuscripts, 15th-century printed books (incunabula) and Hebrew manuscripts and early printed books. These areas have been chosen for the strength of the collections in both libraries and their importance for scholarship in their respective fields. With approximately two-thirds of the material coming from the BAV and the remainder from the Bodleian, the digitization effort will also benefit scholars by uniting virtually materials that have been dispersed between the two collections over the centuries.

The project, which began in 2012 will span four years and will result in approximately 1.5 million pages being made available in digital format.

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