Techonology FITS Vatican Library's preservation needs

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Thursday 05, January 2012 | Category:  

Though the Vatican Library is one of the world’s oldest—founded in 1475—it’s turning to contemporary digital imaging technology to address an ongoing challenge: preserving manuscripts and codices, some of which predate the invention of the printing press and can be up to 1,800 years old.

SCANNING manuscripts at the Vatican Library.
Photo: Vatican Library
Vatican Library archivists have begun scanning texts in the collection to create accurate, flat digital images of them, reports InnovationNewsDaily (12/20/2011). The effort both protects the manuscripts and preserves them for the future. "It's very dangerous for the manuscripts every time someone touches them," said Luciano Ammenti, director of the Vatican's Information Technology Center and head of the new project.

But there’s a possible catch: Will future computers will be able read the digital images? To solve that problem Ammenti turned to the flexible image transport system (FITS) format, designed by NASA and European space scientists in the 1970s to store images taken by satellites and orbital telescopes such as the Hubble Space Telescope.

"If you have a tool that can read FITS today, you can read FITS files from 20 years ago," said Pedro Osuna, head of the European Space Agency's scientific archives. "It's always backwards compatible." FITS’ open-source approach stores all instructions about how to read and process the information in a text header at top of the data. That allows FITS files to be read without conversions to different formats that might be incompatible with future computers, even ones built 100 years from now.

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