Digitizing the Vatican’s OPAC — and those other things, too

Image courtesy of Liviu Degeratu.

I was fortunate enough to spend my spring break experiencing the historical, artistic, and culinary wonders of Italy.  I was fortunate enough to tour the Vatican Museums while I was there – if you haven’t been there before, you must go if you ever make it to Rome, as it is one of the most magnificent places I have ever been.  Fittingly, it has a legendary library with an amazing collection – none of which was available to me.

Fortunately, I won’t have to wait long to experience texts from the library right here in the United States EMC, a corporation specializing in electronic storage, has announced that it is going to support the Vatican Apostolic Library in digitizing  its entire collection.  The list of materials included in the Vatican’s catalog is impressive, including a copy of the first book printed, the Sifra, and roughly forty million other pages of information.

This project is essentially the dream of any information professional: a tremendously well-funded effort supported by a big data powerhouse with the potential to attract the best librarians in the business to its cause.  I am eager to see records from the project as they are produced – but also to let this initiative inspire my own career.   I will be fortunate to ever work with a project half as well-funded and supported as the Vatican’s, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t use it to guide my own initiatives to success in my future library.

EMC and the Vatican are doing three things that I believe will make this digitization initiative unbelievably successful.  First, they are sensationalizing the materials to be digitized.  The EMC’s press release names some of the collection’s most valuable and revered items and only names the others by sheer volume.  Next, they are promoting the project through the EMC press release and related posts throughout the blogosphere.  Finally, they are targeting the correct audience – bibliophiles like myself.  Posts like John Rath’s on Data Center Knowledge target information professionals, the people who will get excited about the project and promote it through word-of-mouth in their communities.

“Sensationalization,” promotion, and targeting; these three deceptively simple tactics will help to make the Vatican’s project tremendously successful.  Believe me, I will find a way to incorporate each of those into any major project I contribute to in the future.


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