The Vatican Library and its History
This document consists of three short press releases from the
Library of Congress. These press releases provide a brief
overview of the Vatican Library and its history, including its
relationship with the Library of Congress. The press releases
The press release number and date appear at the end of each
The Vatican Library
and the Library of Congress
The loan of rare materials for "Rome Reborn" is, in the
words of Father Leonard Boyle, "an attempt on the part of the
Vatican Library, at a distance of over sixty years, to express
its gratitude to all those from North America who contributed so
forcefully to 'the common convenience of the learned' which is at
the heart of the Vatican Library."
The direct association between the Vatican Library and the
Library of Congress began in the fall of 1927, when two employees
of the Vatican Library were sent to the Library of Congress to
work in the cataloging department. The visit was part of an
overall project funded by the Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace to improve the cataloging and organization of
the Vatican Library.
In the spring of 1928, the chief cataloger of the Library of
Congress, Charles Martel, led a group of American librarians who
were sent to the Vatican to catalog a sample portions of the
collections as a guide for the Vatican to follow in the future.
Working with Mr. Martel were C.M. Hanson of the University of
Chicago; William Warner Bishop, director of libraries at the
University of Michigan; William C. Randall, also of the
University of Michigan; and the Norwegian John Ansteinsson of
Trondheim, who later became director of cataloguing for the
On the foundations laid by this group, the reference
collection was classified according to the Library of Congress
system, as were all new books. The reading rooms were renovated
and the level of lighting improved and a new entrance was opened.
Fourteen miles of steel shelving were added, and new catalog
cards were added to a complete set of printed cards from the
Library of Congress.
The Vatican Library: A Chronology
- Pope Nicholas V conceives of a library "for the common
convenience of the learned", and the Vatican Library is
born. Nicholas's collection numbered about 1,160 books.
- Pope Sixtus IV brings the Library to life, installing the
books in a restored suite of rooms, building up the
collection, and naming Bartolomeo Platina as the Vatican's
first formal librarian.
- During the High Renaissance, the Library grew
enormously. By 1481, a handwritten catalog by Platina showed
3,500 entries. As from its inception, the collections were
available without restriction regarding the reader's
religious or other views.
- Protestant Reformation begins.
- Counter-Reformation. The Library inevitably suffered
from the introduction of the Index of banned books (1558)
and some limitations on access were imposed.
- Most of the rich holdings of the Palatine Library in the
Protestant stronghold of Heidelberg become part of the
Vatican Library collection as war booty.
- The Library again welcomed unfettered scholarly
pursuit, including by Protestants. It acquired vast new
holdings of manuscripts and books, most notably a
spectacular assortment of items from distant lands.
- Pope Pius VI strictly limits the consultation of
manuscripts, prompting Spanish priest Juan Andres to accuse
the pope of overseeing a "cemetery of books not a library."
- Pope Leo XIII formally declares the Library open to
- The Library of Congress and the Carnegie Endowment
for International Peace help modernize the Vatican Library's
book catalog system.
- Vatican Library holdings number almost 2 million printed
books and serials; 75,000 Latin, Greek, Arabic, Hebrew,
Persian, Ethiopian, Syriac and other manuscripts from the
2nd Century A.D. on; 65,000 units of archival volumes in 23
deposits or fondi; 100,000.prints, engravings, maps and
drawings; 330,000 Greek, Roman and papal coins and medals.
Vatican Library Facts
The Vatican Library contains almost 2,000,000 printed books
and serials, including over 8,000 incunabula (books printed
It also contains:
There are 2 million cards in the card catalog. Every year
about 6,000 new volumes are added. About 25 percent are
purchased; the rest are donations. The staff numbers 80 in five
departments: manuscripts and archival collections; printed books
and drawings; accessions and cataloguing; the coin collections
and musei; restoration and photography. Use of the Vatican
Library is restricted to scholars with a letter of introduction
from their university or institution describing their project.
- 75,000 manuscripts in Latin, Greek, Arabic, Hebrew,
Persian, Ethiopian, and Syriac from the second century
- 65,000 units of archival volumes in 23 deposits
- 100,000 prints, engravings, maps and drawings
- 330,000 Greek, Roman, and papal coins and medals
Father Leonard Boyle has been the chief librarian, or
prefect, since 1984. He previously taught paleography at the
Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies in Toronto, Canada.
PR92 - 149
There is a leaflet available with
more information about the Library of Congress.
Note: This document has been edited for use on computer networks.
It was taken from a document where diacritics, underlining, and
fonts such as italics and bold had been removed. Restoration,
if any, has been minimal.
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