If you’ve been working on cracking the Da Vinci Code for the last decade, but still feel like you need to visit the Vatican to check out some dusty Greek parchments, the Polonsky Foundation is sparing you the trip—and librarians your visit—by digitizing 1.5 million pages of early books, as well as Hebrew and Greek manuscripts, from both the Vatican Library and Bodleian Library in Oxford.
Once the books are digitized with high-definition, zoomable images, they’ll be made available on a website that just launched today and that already has the first fruits of what should be a four-year digitization harvest.
Not every book in the libraries will be digitized, so scholars and curators had to select works that not only held significant content, but were also in robust enough shape to be photographed. That said, it looks like there won’t be any shortage of medieval Latin Bibles online shortly, much to everyone’s relief, I’m sure.
While the digitization project will definitely open up resources to people who are unable to make it to Rome or Oxford, both libraries have actually been open to the public since the mid-15th century. Digitization, though, spares you having to put on your acid-free gloves to handle delicate texts, as you can sit at your laptop eating hot wings for all anyone cares. In a video, Dr. Leonard Polonsky himself laughs at how easily he could grab early 17th century texts back in his Oxford days, before noting that was probably a bad idea.
In spite of being over 400 years old, the Bodleian Library in Oxford is handling the 21st century like a pro. When Motherboard last checked in with them, they were feeding a gossip-hungry public by digitally releasing Queen Victoria’s journals. It was positively Wikileaks-esque.
And the Vatican? Well, it has a Twitter account and a pope who warns of the dangers of income disparity, and it has an on-going digitization project of its own.
Just as the Bible advises against storing treasures on Earth—where moth and rust destroy, and thieves break in and steal—digitization holds some promise of permanence. Whether or not anything stored digitally will last longer than these books already have remains to be seen. But for now, these manuscripts are transcending their corporeal covers and spines and making their leap to immortality.