After the Vatican's suprise announcement in May that its library would be closing on July 14 for a three-year renovation project, it has been a busy place, the NYTimes reports. "[D]ozens of scholars have been lining up each day at ever earlier hours to snatch one of the 92 available spots in the manuscript room, where they can pore over archaic texts in forgotten languages. The library staff, traditionally prompt in responding to requests, has been struggling to keep up with the demand."
The Times report adds that researchers have begun circulating petitions addressed to Pope Benedict XVI, "ultimate authority on Vatican matters." "Some ask that the manuscript division at least remain accessible to the public during the three-year renovation. Others request that the closing be delayed until 2008 so that scholars will have time to wrap up research and meet publishing or teaching deadlines."
Scholars say they're concerned that the three-year plan will be just the beginning: "A deeper concern is that once the renovations begin, new structural problems could arise. Many scholars cite the endless restorations that kept the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan under wraps from 1990 to 1997, and, more troublingly, the renovation of the Bibliotheca Hertziana of the Max Planck Institute for Art History here in Rome. It has been closed for renovations since December 2001 and is not expected to open until 2009, though an off-site reading room for the printed books collection has been available to scholars since 2003."
Pope Benedict is expected to visit the library today.