The Vatican library began digitalising thousands of its historical manuscripts dating back to the early days of Christianity in a project that will bring the precious documents online.
Working with the Japanese technology group NTT Data, the library intends to scan and digitally archive about 1.5 million pages from the library's collection of manuscripts, which comprises some 82,000 items and 41 million pages. The project is scheduled for four years but will most likely be extended.
"The manuscripts that will be digitized extend from pre-Columbian America to China and Japan in the Far East, passing through all the languages and cultures that have marked the culture of Europe," said Monsignor Jean-Louis Brugues, archivist and librarian of the Holy Roman Church.
The library will use NTT scanners to record the manuscripts and archive software to manage the collection. Technicians from the Japanese company will work alongside Vatican librarians during the four year period while NTT will donate the equipment and pay for their employes work.
"At the end of the four years, the involvement of NTT could lead to a further phase of engagement which could cover the entire collection," said Monsignor Cesare Pasini, prefect of the library.
The estimated cost of the initial phase of the operation is about €18m (£15m), and is expected to cover some 3,000 handwritten documents over a four-year period, NTT said.
The Vatican library dates from the late 14th century and forms one of the world's most important collections of historical documents. It includes 1.6 million books and large coin and picture collections as well as its manuscript archives.