by R.C. Miessler, Head Editor, INALJ Indiana
The Pope and Open Access
The recent election of Pope Francis may not seem to have much to do with libraries, but in fact, it may play a major role in determining the future of open access to Vatican Library documents. But first, a bit of context.
EMC recently announced that it would partner with the Vatican to digitize the Vatican Apostolic Library’s materials that predate 1501, providing 2.8 petabytes of storage for the digital archival of the library’s documents. EMC isn’t a stranger to large-scale digitization projects, having been involved with other libraries’ efforts to archive their materials. What makes this project especially interesting is the scope of the materials being digitized, and the potential interest in the library’s archives around the world.
Given the library’s rather strict guidelines for admission, and the fact that it is a fixed library with only one location, the digitization could be a boon for scholars around the world, as well for interested parties who want to peruse the wealth of materials in the library. Unfortunately, nothing has been announced in regard to accessibility; we have yet to know if access to the digital collection will be open to all, or if the Vatican will go with a subscription or institution-based model, or if it will even be available accessible over the Internet in the first place. The amount of data and number of potentially interested parties will make preservation, hosting and maintenance a substantial task, and while open access would be ideal, I have doubts that this will be the road taken, at least for the entire collection. However, here’s to hoping my pessimism is unfounded, and this will truly be an open access archive, and there is one reason why I think this may be possible.
This is entirely pure speculation at this point, but Francis’s service in Argentina and his championing for the poor may play a role in maintaining an open access archive of the Vatican library’s documents. The growth of the Roman Catholic Church in the global South, where academic resources are limited and opportunities to travel to the Vatican for research are less likely, may prompt the Vatican, under Francis’s leadership, to give open access to these resources in order to give opportunities to less fortunate scholars, clergy and laity. If Francis is still Pope when the project is completed and takes an active interest in the digitization of the Vatican’s documents, then perhaps he may be moved to ensure an openly accessible archive for all. And what better advocate for open access than the Pope?
Again, pure speculation, as the digitization project hasn’t even started, and Francis just began his tenure, but it’s an interesting thought, and a good way to bring the importance and relevance of open access to a larger audience.