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 are:

The press release number and date appear at the end of each release.

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 Vatican Library.

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.

     ISSN #0371-3527

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 qualified researchers.
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.
     PR 92-148
     ISSN #0371-3527

Vatican Library Facts

The Vatican Library contains almost 2,000,000 printed books and serials, including over 8,000 incunabula (books printed before 1500).

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.

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
     ISSN# O371-3527

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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