May 21, 2022

The Vatican Library Goes Beyond Digitization to Deepen Access to 300 Rare Manuscripts

From a News Release via Stanford U. Libraries:

The Vatican Library (the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana) recently launched Thematic Pathways on the Web, which drastically expands the traditional functionality of most digital libraries by offering narratives and over 26,000 annotations for exemplary manuscripts in its collection.


The site is the result of a three-year project funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation with the Vatican Library serving as the principle investigator and Stanford Libraries serving as the technical partner for the project.

Thematic Pathways uses Stanford’s platforms as a foundation, including the International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF), a set of image standards established by Stanford Libraries, the Bodleian Libraries at Oxford University and the British Library among others. Thematic Pathways also employs Stanford’s Mirador image viewer to enable annotation and transcription in addition to its many other functions to deepen scholarly engagement with digital objects.


Thematic Pathways illustrates the advantages of leveraging technologies for the study of manuscripts, making annotation easy to save as well as share. The technical combination of IIIF and Mirador also supports comparative analysis of texts and images from several different manuscripts.


To date, the Vatican Library has digitized over 18,000 of their 80,000 manuscripts and structured the initial release of Thematic Pathways using five thematic pathways, each curated by a subject expert, as navigation points.

The Greek Paleography pathway, for example, illuminates the evolution of Greek scripts from antiquity to the Renaissance. A careful selection of images of manuscripts, accompanied by transcriptions and comments, remarkable in this section as textbook for a course in Greek paleography.

Latin Classics focuses on the evolution and the transmission of classical works. The Vatican Library owns one of the most important collections of manuscripts with texts by Classical Latin authors, many of them richly the earliest known examples of these fundamental texts of Classic period and Roman Empire literature. It is possible in this pathway to follow the stemma of a given author from Late Antiquity to the Renaissance.

Vatican Palimpsests, which are erased and then recycled parchment folios, intends to present this rich and scarcely explored material to the public by making in-depth paleographic research on the original texts erased from and then overwritten from twenty-four manuscripts, thus recovering formerly lost contents with the help of IIIF and Mirador technology.

Finally, The library of a “humanist prince”, collected by Federico da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino, well known as a humanist collection, modeled on the prior example, advice and commentary of Tommaso Parentucelli, later Pope, taking as his name Nicholas V, who founded the Vatican Library, now open to the contemporary world thanks to the work of a curator in the Vatican Library.

Read the Complete Release

Direct to Thematic Pathways on the Web,

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.