Interview with Mons. Cesare Pasini, Prefect of the Vatican Apostolic Library
Marcello Filotei

Dan Brown will have to think up something else

The following is a translation of the interview that Mons. Cesare Pasini, Prefect of the Vatican Apostolic Library, gave L'Osservatore Romano Italian daily edition.

The interior in daytime. The Vatican Apostolic Library or the Secret Archives, which for some American film directors are one and the same. A modern basement. Towering bookcases that preserve unconfessable secrets. Thick glass panes, inaccessible but which shatter if hit hard enough. Heroes without a blemish but with several sins to their name seek the volume that will reveal the age-old enigma.

With the female researcher who has just walked in he finds the hidden Galileo that has always contained a hidden truth. There is no time to read it but the heroes do not hesitate: they tear out a page, they will examine it later. Yet basically they already know what is written on it, they will use it to nail down those guilty of the foulest crime: lying.

The event never happened. This story has no foundation, like most of the things Dan Brown recounts in books that would not be worth tracking down in any library in a few centuries' time. Now, however, even the most improbable slanderer will have now have to invent something more subtle, even if he only wants to touch on the subject.

All those "top secret" volumes — available since decades to anyone prepared to take the trouble to read them — have been catalogued with modern computerized methods and thanks to an enormous database it will be increasingly easy to consult them. And above all they will be super-protected — as Mons. Cesare Pasini, Prefect of the Vatican Apostolic Library explains to us. But first things first.

What is the first most striking innovation that scholars will notice when the Vatican Apostolic Library reopens?

The entrance.

The entrance?

It has been completely restructured so that there are different ways in. There is not only the grand staircase that leads to the first floor but also an underground passage with direct access to the scholars' lift, in turn renewed to make the library more easily accessible.

And after entering?

The first thing that regular visitors will notice is that they will no longer be given the key that served to open the locker. Instead of this key that had almost become a symbol, scholars will have a magnetic card that will enable them to enter the rooms, request books through with wi-fi and in general, to see research procedures facilitated.

What areas have been computerized?

Thanks to the closure of the library, we have not only been able to intervene in structures that needed to be saved for reasons of stability, but also in other areas; all the rooms open to the public are now cabled.

What has changed in the procedure for consultation?

It is much faster. For example we are putting online the printed bibliography that was published over decades. For the time being we have worked on the period between 1991 and 2000. Work on the digitization of previous years will soon begin. We insert the data from 2000 onwards directly into the computer without making a printed copy as we did in the past. There is instant access to all these data.

The latest news speaks of a refined security control.

The system was introduced in an experimental phase several years ago and can now be adopted. All the books in the consultation rooms and some of those in the stacks have been equipped with an electronic tag that not only sets off an alarm if the volume is removed from the room but above all provides specific information on this particular book. This information is read by the main computer. Therefore when a person goes beyond the gate or when a book is placed on a table, the book is identified and the information concerning it is sent to a database called "Pergamon". This archive memorizes the books' data and compares them with those of the people in the library at that moment, with their magnetic card in their pocket.

What happens in practice?

Anyone who passes a gate is identified and having the data of all the books, it is possible to check in real time whether that person is authorized to be in that place and to move that specific book from one room to another.

And what if someone conceals a book which he does not have permission to consult?

Mechanical blocks come into play. However, there are also less drastic measures, depending on the gravity of the fault.

So everything is under control, but when will the library reopen?

Next 20 September [2010], although certain anxious people are sowing doubts. In any case the date has been fixed, it is time to return to normality; we open the doors, the scholars open the books.

As for torn out pages there won't, of course, be any. Food for thought, film directors, food for thought!


Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
28 July 2010, page 8

L'Osservatore Romano is the newspaper of the Holy See.
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