- William Warner Bishop, The Vatican Library: some notes by a student, «The library journal», 25 (1900), n. 3, p. 110-112.
«No other library has the associations, the history, or the value of the famous collection of the Vatican. [...]
To secure the privilege of the manuscript reading-room one has simply to come armed with proof that he is a person prepared to make use of the valuable documents in a proper way. With the introduction of the consul, or with other credentials, Americans have no difficulty in securing admission. Fortunately for the writer he was a member of the American School of Classical Studies in Rome; which fact insured a hearty welcome, for the Vatican authorities have been exceedingly kind in extending all possible courtesies to the School. During an almost constant attendance of some months I heard of no one who was refused the privileges of the library, and, in fact, I was frequently astonished at the extreme liberality of the management.
It is a more difficult task to secure physical admission than the written permission. Guards in various gaudy and somber uniforms bar the way with a polite but firm demand to know your business there. The words "Biblioteca," or "Padre Ehrle" generally secure an instant salute and a polite direction. To a newcomer it is no easy task to make his way up staircases, across courts, and through galleries to the black, nail-studded door which bears a card requesting him not to enter but to apply to another door in the garden for admission. [...] Once inside, a polite and deferential porter receives his hat and cane. He generally keeps on his outer coat, if he is wise, for to the northerner these enormous palaces of Italy are damp and dangerous. And as he has climbed over 160 steps from the Piazza San Pietro he is usally so warm that he fears the chill of an unheated room.
The vestibule to the reading-room in older times was the reading-room itself. Two dark wooden counters down the sides, flanked by equally dark and tightly closed bookcases or lockers, create a gloom which the one window would not much relieve were it not for the numerous portraits of former cardinal librarians which deck the walls of vestibule and reading-room. By this window is generally seated a woman at work on some manuscript, for women are not admitted to the sacred precincts of the reading-room itself. In return, however, for this treatment the feminine student gets the best light in the place. [...]
The reading-room, which is entered through green baize doors, is a rectangle, nearly twice as long as it is broad, high, of course, and lighted by two large windows on the north side. Between them Father Ehrle, S.J., the justly famous guardian of these treasures, has his desk. In the long cassock and black biretta of his order he presides with kindly interest over the readers. Apparently he speaks with ease all the languages of modern Europe, and his courtesy and good humor seem unfailing. Parallel to the shorter side of the room are four long tables, each with 12 chairs and racks for manuscripts. Across the end of the room opposite the entrance is a raised platform with seats upholstered in red. These are intended, I suppose, for the officials, for I saw using them only priests and two of the so-called scriptores of the library. All the furniture is of plain, dark wood. On the east side opposite the windows are ranged the ponderous tomes of the inventory and catalogs. Near the door is a small counter, behind which an attendant sits to receive the applications for manuscripts and to keep the tallies. He has one or two assistants who bring the documents to him.
The prospective reader takes his papers to Father Ehrle, and is by him required to write his name and address in a book, together with the particular subject he wishes to investigate. He then discovers the number of his manuscript and fills out in duplicate an application blank, of half of which a reduced copy is here printed [...].
The attendant – who must in some cases walk nearly a quarter of a mile in making the trip to and fro – brings him his manuscript. At the time he leaves, a receipt in duplicate is made out at the bottom of the same slip, of which one copy is retained by the library and one by the reader. In case he wishes to consult the same manuscript the next day, it is retained for him at the desk. Before leaving the room he must obtain a ticket to show to the porter. Thii is given him by the man who receipts for the manuscript, and so equal justice is done to both librarian and reader. I ought to add that the attendants are exceedingly courteous, prompt, and obliging. In no other library anywhere have I met with more hearty, prompt – considering the distances – and polite service. It seldom takes more than 10 minutes to secure a manuscript after the slip has been made out – and none are so near the desk as the remoter books in any ordinary library, while many are at great distances.
The readers would afford an inviting study to an artist. All nations of Europe seem represented. [...]
It is exasperating to a librarian to see the careless manner in which many of the readers handle the manuscripts. [...] The amount of noise which a few men make in the room is also a source of annoyance to a librarian.»
(William Warner Bishop, The Vatican Library: some notes by a student, p. 110-112).