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Vatican library: open source for long-term preservation

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The combination of open source and open standards ensures long-term preservation of electronic records and prevents IT vendor lock-in, says Luciano Ammenti, head of the IT department at the Vatican Library (Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana) in Vatican City.

Open standards and open source solutions are a key part of the Vatican Library’s long-term digital conservation project. The library stores tens of thousands of manuscripts and documents, including the main ancient sample of the Greek version of the Bible, monastic collections from the medieval period, the Codex Borgianus and a fifteenth-century copy of the Mishneh Torah.

The Vatican library does not have a policy prescribing open source and open standards, says Ammenti. “The reality is that in our data centre we use a lot of open source software, sharing our experiences with other scientific communities. It is a privilege to use their open source solutions.”

Ammenti talked about the Vatican’s use of open source and standards at EMC World, the eponymous IT vendor’s annual user conference, taking place in Las Vegas, in May.

Immense patrimony

The head of the IT department in particular praised the FITS data format standards as a way to avoid IT vendor lock-in. The digital file format is updated every six months, supports 64-bit integer data type since 2005 and is ready to manage three-dimensional image files. The main proprietary alternative standard was last updated in 1998.

The IT department’s principled approach is a consequence of the Library’s mandate, Ammenti explained in Las Vegas: “free consultation of its immense patrimony for scholars from around the world.”

The IT department at the Vatican Library uses many open source solutions, Ammenti confirms by email. The Apache Hadoop distributed storage solution is one of the main components of the long-term digital conservation project. The library also runs many servers using the CentOS Linux distribution. The Vatican Library uses Postfix as its mail server, in combination with EFA to filter spam emails. The IT department uses GNU Zebra to manage its gateways.

 

More information:

Presentation at EMC World by Luciano Ammenti (pdf)
Introduction on the Information Technology Center at the Vatican Library
Inquired news item
IT Espresso news item (in Italian)
Silcon Angle blog post (2014)