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High-tech security for ancient books

Vatican Library tags collection

By Julie Clothier for CNN

The Vatican Library's 1.6 million books will eventually all have RFID tags.
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VATICAN CITY (CNN) -- It is home to 1.6 million books, centuries-old manuscripts and the oldest known complete Bible.

Now, librarians at the Vatican Library are using cutting-edge technology to keep track of the priceless ancient collection.

About 30,000 books have been tagged with radio frequency identification (RFID) chips since implementation of the technology began last year.

Two million of the 40-million piece collection will be tagged in the near future, allowing staff to complete the library's annual inventory in less than a day, something that previously forced it to close for a whole month.

RFID chips, also known as tags, store information and send it via radio waves to a reader, in this case a hand held device that enables librarians to monitor the condition of the books and their whereabouts.

Emilia Di Bernardo, vice president of Seret, the company that has integrated the technology into the library catalogue, says staff at the Vatican Library approached her company about three years ago.

"Initially, all they wanted was an efficient inventory," she says.

"We didn't even think about using RFID three years ago. It was considered such a new type of use for that technology.

"But we came up with something that is not only an inventory but a way to manage the books. This way staff always know where all the books are."

Di Bernardo says RFID is perfect for the Vatican Library's needs and her company has since installed the technology in other Italian libraries.

She says it is relatively inexpensive to maintain the system and the technology does not damage the books in any way.

"The most expensive part is the tags and the hardware."

Christian Krieber, of Texas Instruments, the company that manufactures the RFID tags, says the possibilities for using RFID technology are endless.

"It's easy to use. It's robust and as the price comes down, you will see it being used more and more, including in bus ticketing and concert ticketing."

His company has helped British retailer Marks and Spencer roll out 3 million RFID tags in its produce line.

"It allows them to keep track of what is fresh and what needs removing from the shelves," he says.

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