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Vatican to Digitize 41 Million Pages of Ancient Manuscripts (hyperallergic.com)
222 points by jamesbritt on Apr 3, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 95 comments

I got to spend a few days once visiting St. Catherine's Monastery in the Sinai, one of the oldest monasteries in the world, which is famous for having never been sacked. The Codex Sinaiticus was found there, one of the two oldest complete manuscripts of the Bible. It also has some of the only surviving iconography in the world from before the iconoclast period.

Their librarian is American from Boston, and he has been digitizing their library for several years now. My traveling companion was also a Boston librarian, and we had an amazing tour of the library. It was very strange to see, surrounded by ancient stone walls and crumbling manuscripts, top-of-the-line Macs, shelves of USB drives, and a giant digital camera in a room-size metal frame, with a cradle for resting books on.

I'm delighted to hear more such works are being preserved!

There's something strangely appropriate about old books and works of art and high-tech in the same space. It feels like you're present in a continuous stream of thought from ancient to present.

I find it amazing that the books and manuscripts are still around hundreds if not a thousand years later meanwhile the dye medium of my data CDs from the mid 90s is probably rotten.

Lots of books and manuscripts from that period aren't around any more. A monestry in the middle of the desert is going to be hot and dry, which is great for preserving books.

"Never been sacked" is important as well. Often books can get burned and destroyed during political upheaval, either intentionally (burn the books) or accidentially (the building with the books goes on fire).

When the Spanish conquered what is now Mexico, they destroyed all the Mayan books. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maya_codices#Background > "We found a large number of books in these characters and, as they contained nothing in which were not to be seen as superstition and lies of the devil, we burned them all, which they (the Maya) regretted to an amazing degree, and which caused them much affliction."

There's an interesting anti-parallel to ancient mesopotamian history. From the superlative book Brotherhood of Kings ( http://www.amazon.com/Brotherhood-Kings-International-Relati... ):

> Mari holds the key to much of our knowledge of this era. The site of Babylon has physically sunk over the years so that now the palace and archives of Hammurabi are below the water table and, presumably, reduced to mud

> As in the case of Ebla, the vast archive of thousands of documents from eighteenth-century [BC] Mari is preserved because the palace burned down. [...] Because of this, it is possible to read, in some of the letters baked and buried in the conflagration, about Hammurabi's relations with Mari in happier times.

Our documents from that period come from conquering kings who, in their zeal to raze enemy cities, forever preserved those cities' records. Literature wasn't as much of a presence then as it is now (tablets run to accounting and correspondence), but it (and history) existed; cf the epic of Gilgamesh.

It is so utterly disappointing that the voodoo of Catholicism felt the need to destroy the Mayan books as voodoo. My voodoo is better than yours, but just in case.

Rotten old books can be salvaged using advanced techniques, maybe old data CDs can be too.

Prompted a thought: bits are always either there or not, ultimately, correct? (meaning you can either recover it, or never can) Whereas with printed or written text, you can recover partial data - a partial single letter for example - and conclude what it was. With the potential of written text also being generally far more restricted in possibilities (given you know, eg the language and time frame), than what's on a data disc.

But bits are abstractions encoded in the physical world which is not at all 'either there or not' anywhere near the scale of writable CDs. For starters for every 24 bits of data 56 bits are written on the physical media (8 to 14 encoding and a redundancy byte for every 3 data byes) and then the pits and lands are written into dye ... much like a written page if you language consisted of a very long straight series of lines of varying length.

If you stored your bits with lots of redundancy and checksums, then you could still recover the bits if some of the bits are 'gone'.

Yeah, but CDs were never made to last very long. The key with digital information is that it's easy to duplicate and copy, so the preservation strategy in the digital age is data redundancy.

slight edit (but important):

The preservation strategy in every age has been data redundancy, but it's much easier to duplicate and copy digital information.

Glad we had all those monks copying the copies of copies so we still have all that ancient philosophy. =)

Yes. Agree, but what I meant is that the materials used to record information mattered more before. If you write something in stone (like the Rosetta stone, for example), it's extremely durable even if you do not make any copy of it. For oil paintings and sculptures, copies were usually not the preservation strategy, rather the protection of the originals in trusted places.

Check out Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, for a novel about exactly that - http://www.robinsloan.com/penumbra/

As a former history Ph.D. student who has done research in the Archivum Secretum Apostolicum Vaticanum (ASV), this is kind of an uninformed announcement, or at least it is not the whole truth. The truth is that the Vatican already has all of its pre-modern manuscripts (e.g., roughly pre-1700) digitized. In fact, you're not allowed to read the original copies of the older manuscripts. Instead, when you request a manuscript they hand you a CD that you then take down a flight of stairs to a room with iMac G4's that aren't connected to the Internet where you can view the jpeg's using some early 2000's image viewer. Anyone with a master's degree and with a legitimate claim to being a researcher can visit the archive after a brief interview, and the application process is perfectly straightforward and made public on the ASV's website in multiple language. There is nothing "secret" about it. (It is "secret" in the Latin sense of the word meaning "apart," because it was established as a central archive meant to replace the decentralized archives that were hitherto held in each of the Vatican's individual departments.)

They could have put the digital copies up a long, long time ago if they had felt like it, but libraries are institutions of power and old attitudes die hard. I don't know what the new digitized copies will add, but I'm guessing that they will be in color and that they will also include the more modern manuscripts in the collection. There are more important reforms that they could divert their resources to, however, like better and more uniform indexing and cataloging. Perhaps these will follow, but even once (if) they put the copies on the Internet the state of the Vatican catalogs is such that it will be extremely difficult for any interested members of the public to approach the source material.

ASV is entirely separate from the Vatican Apostolic Library. The former is the archives of the internal actions of the church; the latter is an archive of publications obtained by the Vatican.

Wow, facepalm. I wish I could downvote my own comment now. I swear, I thought that I read "Vatican Secret Archive" in the original article. Yes, the BAV (Vatican Library) is a separate entity, and I've also researched there. AFAIK, none of the BAV is digitized. Unlike the ASV, there isn't even a microfilm copy of the BAV (about 10% of the ASV's collections were photographed in the 50's and are available in St. Louis, MO). This is actually a monumental step =) Also unlike the ASV, the BAV actually has decent catalogs, meaning that people will be able to actually use the digital collection.

Any ideas if they are hiding anything fun?

After the Da Vinci Code book & film, people think there's some sort of secret early Christian books that are being hidden and if the world knew about them, Christianity/Catholic church would fall.

But there are loads of early Christian books / "gospels" that survive or rediscovered which are quite different from what's in the bible, and no-one really cares.

For example in 1945, a pile of early books were discovered in Nag Hammadi, Egypt[1], including a Gospel of Thomas[2]. There is a Infancy Gospel of Thomas[3] from ~145CE which claims to talk about Jesus as a child, in which child Jesus uses his supernatural powers to kill children who bully him.

Have the revelations of all this "brought down the Catholic Chruch"?

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nag_Hammadi_library [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_thomas [3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infancy_Gospel_of_Thomas

One of my favorites is the Protoevangelium of James, which tries to deal with the inconsistency of Herod killing all the children of a certain age along with the suggestion John the Baptist was in the womb at the same time as Jesus.

The gospel claims that John's mother, Elizabeth, was just sort of "swallowed" by a mountain for a while, in what always struck me as a pretty hamfisted retcon.


But yeah, these have been available for a long time. Wider readership could possibly erode support for the Church, as people realize just how pedestrian and hamfisted some of the early Church writings were, and they might start to read the gospels more critically. Maybe, maybe not. The barrier to wider readership isn't a conspiracy so much as mass laziness though.

No, but (as I gather it) the bible as it is known today (and for the past millennia) is a whole, and anything extra - gospel of Thomas, the apocryphal books, etc - are seen as just that - extra, non-canonical, and not to be treated as fact / truth or handled during sermons.

Exactly. But those "extra books" have been know about for centuries. It's not like there are new "extra books"

> "But there are loads of early Christian books / "gospels" that survive or rediscovered which are quite different from what's in the bible, and no-one really cares."

http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/ has a large collection of writings relating to Christianity.

One of the reasons "no one cares" about a lot of the "quite different" books is that they haven't been established as being written in the same time period. The Gospel of Thomas has the strongest claim to being contemporary with the other gospels, but even that claim is fairly weak; the GoT appears to quote heavily from and allude to the other writings, as if it was written at a later date in response. My own read is that it's from around the time of Marcion.

Many of the other "gospels" appear to have been written much later, and they lack even basic historical credibility. The canonical gospels reference names and locations that are appropriate for 1st century Palestine (lots of guys named Simon, references to specific small villages), as if they were written by people who were at least familiar with the area at that time; many of the other gospels name Jesus, Mary, Jerusalem, and that's it, as if they were written by people from elsewhere who had heard the names but had no firsthand knowledge.

One of the other writings linked on that page (I forget whether it's Ignatius or someone else) actually discusses the gospels, describing the authorship of the four that are in the Bible. Many of the writings, including some that are in the Bible, warn against false teachers and distortions of the gospel.

The net result is that few people are either particularly surprised that there were "quite different" gospels, or are particularly inclined to treat them as credible.

Yes, but the Catholic Church has had infamous internal political shenaningans.

Not hiding. But definitely many, many fun things that I could spend all day telling you about =) Some things just silly (one of my colleagues found a sixteenth-century property document involving a certain "Castel Cazzonelculo" outside of Rome--Google Translate is your friend). Some things more...subversive...

No matter what your feelings are about religion, this is a great thing for humanity in general. The preservation of ancient manuscripts only makes us richer.

It's sad you have to qualify it—religion is part of all our past, whatever our opinions of it now, and it will only increase our wisdom to understand our ancestors.

It's also very much a part of our present, perhaps Silicon Valley not withstanding.

Oh, don't worry, Silicon Valley still has some forms of religion. Like the idea of Singularity, with Kurzweil as a prophet. You also have Saint-like figures such as Steve Jobs, whose achievements are God-like for all his believers, no matter how he mistreated employees, competitors and humans in general.

It's a strange thing, actually, to see people reject older nonsensical beliefs while creating their owns devoid of all rationality.


I suspect most modern Catholics would agree with you. I don't think its vet productive going round blaming each other for what our predecessors did hundreds of years ago.

Most modern Catholics are ignorant to all the suffering their religion has caused. As are most people of all religions, otherwise they would abandon it.

Your point rests on the premise that institutions carry some kind of permanent guilt with them that delegitimises what they stand for. There's a number of issues with that, not least of which is the fact that institutions are not neat abstractions that behave uniformly without contradiction or change.

This creates two issues for an institution as old and decentralised as the Catholic Church. Firstly, the church is not a corporation where processes and orders dictate the behaviour of employees and people are fired for insubordination. In practice it is highly decentralised, and the idea that it is centrally run by a single old man at the end of his life in Rome without access to a computer is farcical.

Secondly, the church is the oldest institution in the world. Even the United States, a 'modern' institution by historical standards, has to contend with the slaughter of native peoples, the enslavement of thousands of innocent human beings, countless wars (many of which have little to no serious justification), the destruction of the environment etc etc etc. And the US is by far the most just superpower by historical standards. In spite of all those things most people will agree that it has been an unprecedented force for human progress in its (relatively) short history.

Your comment was probably just a throwaway insult that didn't warrant such a detailed response but comments like it really irk me for some reason.

> that delegitimises what they stand for

is pretty clear when you realize that only 4.3%[0] of their profit is for charities that they _only stand for money_, they use the rest for privately own businesses (incl. hospitals and schools, but completely private and run like businesses)

They also (currently, not in the past) been linked with money-laundering [1]; by the way your premise of the organization being decentralized and consequently non-responsible for the doings of their members is false; specially when they have special access to far more financial secrecy than the average bank or person.

Plus they are still a great spot for pedophiles[2] to do their things, even with the current pope they do not accept their bad handling of the acussations [3]





ivanca - let those of you without sin cast the first stone. I'm sure if you name a group you're a member of we can find something less than savory about it.

Currently wrong-doing? No sir, I try to not affiliate myself with wrong-doers.

You should consider getting in touch with SpaceX and sign up for a one-person, one-way trip to Mars. Disassociation with all potential wrong-doers guaranteed.

My experience suggests the contrary (full disclosure, I'm Catholic, although I don't go to church regularly). Your argument is against religious INSTITUTIONS, which are, like all system we create, flawed. Religion itself is separate from what people do in the name of religion, just like the things the US has done in the "war on terror" is separate from the idea that terrorism is bad. Yes there have been bad decisions, but over thousands of years, for many of which the governments of the time did horrible things, it is not that surprising.

The reason many Catholics started coming to services again under the new Pope is not that they suddenly believed in God again, but that they feel the church has shifted to a stance they can support.(although it still has a ways to go IMO)

Please dissociate religion as in private beliefs from religious institutions and their leaders. If you assimilate both, it's very much a strawman.

I doubt that very much. Just because the church has caused suffering in the past does not cause people to lose their faith.

If an organization claims its legitimacy based on an unbroken line of continuity, and also claims certain fundamental values, then violations of those values at some point in the past should be seen as a break in continuity and a loss of the organization's legitimacy.

that would then mean that no government in the world is legitimate. Maybe we should invalidate all laws/regs passed during Obama's presidency, since he has fundamentally reneged on the promises he made in his campaign?

Thanks for this comment, the lack of rationality in this comment thread is astounding.

There's also that 1000 years of lost progress in science due to their persecution of scientists...

Ridiculous. I could list dozens of important Catholic scientists over the centuries but I'm sure I'd be wasting my breath. Can you even name a persecuted scientist besides Gallileo? (The new secular darling Bruno was not a scientist)

Bruno was also executed for, among other things, denying the divinity of Jesus and the virginity of Mary, not any of his pseudo-science. (This a bad blemish on the current run of Cosmos; he should be remembered as a whacko philosopher rather than one who contributed to our current scientific corpus.)

> I could list dozens of important Catholic scientists over the centuries

How does that disprove that the Catholic church might have prevented scientific progress?

It proves the exact opposite.

How so? What if the church prevented some research while allowing other? At the end of the day, there might have been some research but the church still would have prevented progress.

> The new secular darling Bruno was not a scientist

How so?

That's the exact reason I can't name them; they got killed by the church before they could get famous.

There's a list with all of the names inside Russel's Teapot.

No sir, is closer than that: http://listverse.com/2011/06/08/top-10-shameful-moments-in-c...

And this are the know ones, if you don't think there is a single one outside those, you sir, are delusional (or just biased).

That does not appear to be a list of scientists.

Ups, wrong link, it was meant to be: http://www.wired.com/2012/06/famous-persecuted-scientists/

My original comment was more about how you excused yourself out of providing proof, rather than stating that there were no such people. For anyone curious about the contents of your link, here's a TL;DR of the people listed:

Rhazes - Muslims beat him over the head with his own book. Crazy stuff.

Sevetus - Executed for theological reasons. Ironically beaten to his scientific discovery by a Muslim, Ibn-al-Nafis who figured it out some 300 years earlier. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pulmonary_circulation

Galileo - Well known, put under house arrest.

Domagk - Nazis kept him from getting his Nobel prize.

Einstein - Nazis got mad at him after he left the country.

Turing - Given hormone injections.

It's not as simple as that. Religion was part and parcel of those cultures just as it is in many cultures today. It's not just about the one or two overt cases that we know about hundreds of years later, but the fact that for every one of those people there were likely hundreds or thousands more whose voices were never heard, not because they were forgotten by history, but simply because they chose to remain silent.

Maybe in the western / Catholic world; while they were busy burning witches, they kept going on mathematics and mechanics and whatnot in the islamic world.

Too many christian apologists around?

In my view, this and the later comment of yours offers nothing positive to the discussion.

Something changed at some point in Hacker News; or maybe christians are getting together (twitter?) to downvote contrarian opinions.

No, HN has extremely good vote ring detectors.

Blaming religion for the flaws of humanity got really old about 5 years ago. It reached its peak at Reddit but it's no longer popular. Turns out people realized that blaming an object (gun), a religion (islam, christianity), a movement (athiesm, feminism), or a philosophy (conservative, liberal) is dismissive of humanity's flaws.

When you get rid of religion, extremists do not go away, people find something else to be extreme about.

We are not blaming the flaws of humanity, just its own flaws, but that is enough to get downvoted. So maybe maybe the vote ring is incidental or not, is still one.

ChrisNorstrom is on the right track.

There's a small cluster of people who seem to think that, every time religion is mentioned, it's important to jump in and make negative comments no matter what the original topic is (and, on some sites, a small cluster of people who seem to think it's a good time to try to convert people.) The thing is, those comments (on both sides) are generally boring and unenlightening, two things we don't like to see on Hacker News.

The idea that a group is digitizing a whole bunch of ancient documents is interesting and has potentially deep intellectual consequences for people interested in researching the topics covered in the ancient documents as well as for those interested in other ancient documents that might be digitized using the knowledge gained from this project.

Kvetching about how harmful religion X is or was in the past is boring. Nobody in this thread has said anything genuinely new or insightful; you can hear these exact sentiments just by making a religious comment in a semi-public way (with a large group of friends, on FaceBook, etc.) On other sites they might provoke a flamewar, but here on HN we prefer comments to be thought-provoking. We downvote flamebait. Consider it a signal from the HN community: make more thoughtful and worthwhile contributions.

Fair enough.

I think you got downvoted because you implied the community is protecting something you don't agree with, therefore there must be something wrong with the community. (I didn't think it deserved downvotes at all, it was just a question)

It was silly for OP to pick on the Catholic church when all throughout history, from World War 1 and 2, to the African Genocides, and the inter European wars, and the Mongolian & Muslim invasions, and the European colonizations, and the Japanese massacres, and the Chinese wars and communist caused famines.... Hundreds of millions have died needlessly. We should look past it and be glad we as humans have evolved past those points. Human beings take advantage of large groups, infiltrate them and use them as their personal armies. Sometimes to do good, sometimes to do bad.

The OP got downvoted into unreadable "grey hell" for a broad comment that brought nothing thought provoking.

personally i hope it highlights how arbitrary all the writings are.

Awesome! Do you have any idea what licensing / re-use / fair use of this content is? For example, would I be able to take these scans and build a digital product (e.g. web / desktop app) around them? Could I print one out and put it on a t-shirt? Etc.

Something tells me "definitely not"...but I wasn't able to find anything conclusive on the site.

You can get copies from the Archives for research purposes but it isn't cheap. I forget how much it cost when I was last there doing research. Also, they probably wouldn't grant permission for the purpose of making t-shirts, just my guess...=)

They site footer has a copyright notice. I'd say contact them - they may be open for non-commercial use.

They are watermarking scans of items that are not in copyright since they predate the copyright system. What kind of bullshit is this?

These should all be public domain. Is there anyone besides Google and the Vatican that watermark public domain works?

The Getty museum used to do that (and be very aggressive about anyone using the old images) until recently. They have since pulled their collective heads out of their collective asses and allowed public access and relatively free use. Other museums still do this kind of senseless protective stuff regularly.

The reproduction itself is still a protected work, but you are free to reproduce the content if you copy it from the original or a reproduction that is no longer protected (i.e. older than 50 years in most jurisdictions I know about).

I don't believe so. INAL but if the photograph attempts to exactly replicate an image I'm pretty sure copyright doesn't hold. So like, a high resolution image of a Caravaggio is still usable as public domain.[0]

I'm pretty sure the Vatican's got to "ruin" the images with a watermark or anyone would be able to use them as is for whatever they want. It'd be different if it was sculpture, but these pics seem to me like they'd definitely fall into the "slavish reproduction of a public domain work" category.

[0] http://fairuse.stanford.edu/overview/public-domain/welcome/#...

Er, why are we looking at reference on US copyright law here? The State of Vatican City is not a US jurisdiction, and it has its own copyright law (which incorporates, to the extent that it is not preempted by the special laws promulgated by the Vatican, the copyright law of Italy.)

So all you need is to get access to a 1,000 year old book. Sure real easy.

Scans are photographs. Sad, but true, in this particular case.

It is debateable whether or not scanning a public domain book allows you to claim copyright on it. Alas.

Some of the early maps of Ireland (from 1840s) have been scanning and rectified and put online by the Ordenance Survey of Ireland. But they're all copyrighted by them, and you can't have them. (they're viewable here http://maps.osi.ie/ )

I highly doubt most of that stuff will be publicly accessible. A friend told she had a very hard time finding the documents she needed for her thesis at the Vatical Library. She had the definite impression, after a lengthy process to get clearance, that the inventory was kept patchy on purpose to make it hard for external visitors to find stuff in the allotted time.

The interview process is short and straightforward, or at least it was in my case, but the indexing system is a nightmare and a patchwork of centuries of amateur and professional librarians cobbling together catalogs. Some of the collections can only be referenced using catalogs that are 250+ years old--literally. I don't mean copies or modern printings of the catalogs. I mean literally some dude wrote on the pages in front of you 250 years ago and that is the tool that you are supposed to use to find your sources. Yes, very low quality facsimiles are tucked away in a corner of the reading room, but you need to figure out which catalog they're in to find them...

One definitely wonders at some point whether the whole thing is organized as a conspiracy to confuse new Ph.D. students!

I think it also depends on what you're looking for. My friend was working on libertines in the XVII century, so probably documents the church is not especially proud of now.

It did not help that one of her advisors had published a paper on homosexual marriage in a roman church in the late XVI century [0, 1]

[0] https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chiesa_di_San_Giovanni_a_Porta...

[1] http://books.google.it/books?id=tOANjJswdRQC&pg=PA22&lpg=PA2...

I defer to your friend's expertise on the subject, but really, the Church isn't trying to hide anything. This was not the case when the ASV opened to the public in the late nineteenth century when in fact the Vatican's hope was that researchers would read their documents and write nice things about the church. These days, however, the ASV is one of Europe's main archives, curated by respected professionals. There is no hidden agenda.

A more likely reason why your friend had such a hard time was Napoleon, who made a policy of transferring all the grand archives of the countries he conquered back to Paris. An enormous number of documents were lost during the transfer and the eventual repatriation, somewhere around one third. Records relating to Galileo's trial were lost, for example. Of course, the most likely reason that your friend and I had difficulty is just the incredibly user-unfriendly systems of cataloging that the ASV uses.

At the risk of sounding like an apologist for the Vatican, I should also point out that the fact that these archives are open at all is remarkable. These aren't a national archive, for instance, where the state maintains records as a service for its citizens and to keep the nation's heritage alive. The ASV is quite simply the dumping ground for the Vatican's bureaucracy over the past 1700 or so years. They don't owe this to anyone.

It would be like if Microsoft pooled all documents generated by HR, marketing, product development, engineering, legal, and its other divisions, physically dumped them in various containers over the centuries, and one day in the year 3749 A.D. announced that the public could rifle through the papers if they wanted to. The immediate impetus would be to demonstrate that Office 3750 was not in fact part of an anti-competitive plot to secure a monopoly on productivity software sold in Alpha Centauri and Venus. But by 3800 A.D., that original purpose would have been long forgotten and researchers, regardless of which office suite they use, would be able to mine the archives for anything that anyone working for Microsoft ever said, did, or observed during the work day, so long as those thoughts were captured on some format that eventually made its way to paper.

...to make the analogy more complete, let's also assume that most of the other major institutions and their archives have been wiped out by this time. What ends up happening, then, is that researchers in 3749 A.D. dig through MS' archives for glimmers of things like what people ate during the day in 2014 or what sort of music they listened to.

from the actual press release:

“All manuscipts digitised through this operation will be released on the Vatican Apostolic Library's website as high-definition data. As a result, numerous researchers in the fields of academia and in various fields of knowledge will be able to interpret the valuable manuscripts, to which access had long been restricted, in their original form”, declared the president of the NTT Data Corporation.

We might still both be right. Released through the website might still mean that you have to go through a process to get access. We only know you will not be required to fly to Rome anymore.

It also says nothing about how they are organized or indexed, which is very important given the volume of work present.

Now we really need a long term storage medium.

Has anybody else though about just how fragile data is these days I mean these books/manuscripts are ancient?

What is the likelihood of any of our data surviving for over 1000 years in the digital realm?

We need a long therm digital data archive or we risk loosing a lot of important but not very popular data since the internet favors popularity over importance.

Problem is, data storage evolves very fast and new technologies come and go. Even if you designed the ultimate, 1000-year durable floppy disk 20 years back, nobody would use it now because it's obsolete in terms of storage. You can only reach this kind of thinking when storage density reaches a plateau.

Personally, rather than data storage, i'm much more concerned about the formats and the OS we use for our files - will they still be supported 50-100 years down the road ? For the ones which are open-sourced, maybe, but how about all the proprietary formats ? How can we ensure they will remain readable ?

You store the data in an open lossless format at the highest quality that makes sense, then transfer the digital copy from storage medium to storage medium as they are developed.

So for your example you'd transfer from floppy disk to bluray.

Regular storage mediums are just too fragile and if you have a lot of data transferring it over takes too long we're still digitizing books.

Long term storage medium capacity doesn't need to progress in line with regular storage mediums it just need to be updated once it's too out of sync.

The old data can stay on the old version since there's no urgency in transferring it over as long as the spec for it is kept on the latest medium a reader can always be built to read it.

We tend to worry about not having devices to read it but given how 3D printers are progressing having the spec and building a replacement reader should be easy enough.

There's a few techniques out there or being developed for this kind of data - things like disks made out of sapphire that last 10 million years, which are used to store information about nuclear waste storage (http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/132793-the-10-million-yea...).

From the original press release[1]:

> The project consists of an initial four-year phase during which three thousand manuscripts will be digitised, which may be extended into a second phase to include the 82,000 volumes – more than 40 million pages – of manuscripts preserved in the Library and dating from between the second and twentieth centuries.

It's going to be slow but it's a step in the right direction.

[1]: http://www.news.va/en/news/agreement-to-digitise-82000-manus...

Slowness isn't surprising. These books are old and one-of-a-kind. Even with the best technology, it's still a very delicate process to scan them without damaging them. Some of these works are so old, that even the wrong kind of light will hurt them.

If only the Vatican Bank was so transparent...

An attempt to stay relevant and continue to paralyse certain communities with superstitious bullshit from the iron age, for the foreseeable future!

I'm assuming you did not read the link, the library includes art from feudal japan, a book from the Aztec empire, etc. Did you think it was just a bunch of old bibles? Missionaries would report what they saw when they traveled the world (often making "first contact"). I don't think digitizing texts in Ancient Greek will help "relevance" much.

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