The Vatican Apostolic Library, the official library of the Roman Catholic Church, is located in the Vatican Palace and entered via the Belvedere Courtyard. It is one of the oldest libraries in the world and contains 75,000 historical documents, 1.1 million printed books, and some 8,500 incunabula (ancient manuscripts). It is a research library for scholars of history, law, philosophy, science and theology and is open to anyone who can satisfactorily document their scholastic qualifications and research needs. I just received permission to access the library from January 15 to February 5 to research women in the early church who were involved in the ministry of hospitality and healing.
The Vatican Library was first envisioned by Pope Nicholas V as a place that would lure pilgrims and scholars to the Vatican to facilitate its scholastic transformation. Nicolas wanted it to be a public library where scholarship would flourish, but his death prevented him from carrying out his plan. The vision was fulfilled by his successor Pope Sixtus IV who officially founded the Vatican Library in 1475.
In March 2014, the Vatican Library began a four-year project of digitizing its collection of manuscripts to be made available online. The Vatican Secret Archives, the central repository for all of the acts promulgated by the Holy See, were separated from the Vatican Library at the beginning of the 17th century. They contain another 150,000 items. The Vatican has begun to digitize that collection as well, and information can be accessed on the Vatican Apostolic Library website.