Digitalize: this word has become a pressing aspiration for people working in libraries. It can even become an obsession. If you think of the amount of material to be to be dealt with, if you think only of the 80,000 manuscripts in the Vatican Library and and its 8,900 incunabula, you could be a little disconcerted. On the other hand, digitalization means both better preserving our cultural heritage, making consultation less assiduous and guaranteeing a copy before the original could deteriorate, and giving immediate access to them, online, to many more people. We must not, therefore, surrender.

Today I have the joy of being able to announce the launch of a major initiative in digitalizing – the greatest yet – which we are facing together with the Oxford Bodleian Libraries, thanks to the generosity of the Polonsky Foundation. Leonard Polonsky, through the foundation that bears his name, supports with passion and interest such enterprises as intend to facilitate access to the heritage of humanity preserved in great library collections around the world.

In this specific project, which will take about 5 years to finish, one and a half million pages of manuscripts and incunabula from both institutions will be scanned. Thanks to this project, the Vatican promises to make more than 800 integral pieces available to the populace, among them the famous incunabulum of Pius II's De Europa, printed by Albrecht Hunne in Memmingen no later than 1491, and the 42 line Latin Bible of Gutenberg, the first book printed with movable type between 1451 and 1455.

From the collection of Hebrew manuscripts, one of the most important in existence though not the most extensive, manuscripts of particular historical value will be included in the project, such as the Sifra, written between the end of the 9th and middle of the 10th century, probably the oldest Hebrew code to have made its way to us, and an entire Bible written in Italy around the year 1100. You can also find biblical commentaries, Halakhah and Kabbalah, Talmudic commentaries, and liturgical, philosophical, medical and astronomical writings.

Finally, of the Greek manuscripts which will enter into the digital collection there are testimonies to the work of Homer, Sophocles, Plato, Hippocrates, as well as texts of the New Testament and of the Fathers of the Church, many richly decorated with Byzantine miniatures.