Two of the oldest libraries in Europe — the Vatican Library and the Bodleian Library at Oxford — are about to make parts of their collections available on the internet in a big way. The two libraries have announced that they are going to scan 1.5 million pages of ancient texts and make them available freely online. The massive undertaking isn't the first such initiative to open up the collections from famous libraries to the whole world — both Cambridge University and the National Library of Israel recently released a trove of material from Isaac Newton and others online — but this new partnership is much greater in scope.
The process of working through the catalogs at two different libraries, handling ancient texts and manuscripts, scanning them, and organizing them online isn't an easy proposition; the project is made possible by a £2 million (about $3.17 million) donation from the Polonsky Foundation, and is expected to take four years. Even for all of that time and money, nowhere near all of the libraries' collections will be included — so far a selection of Greek and Hebrew manuscripts and early printed books from before 1500 (known as incunabula) will be digitized. Highlights that you'll soon be able to peruse digitally include a full edition of the Bible from 1100, a copy of the Sifra from around the 9th century, and Greek works from Homer, Sophocles, Plato, and Hippocrates. The digitization effort is especially significant because it has been nearly impossible to access these ancient texts even if you were to travel to Oxford or the Vatican — the originals cannot be handled for fear of damaging the one-of-a-kind documents.