Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 15, No. 124.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
Date: Sat, 7 Jul 2001 16:21:54 -0500 (EST)
From: "David L. Gants" <email@example.com>
Subject: Manuscript catalogues and online databases
From: Dominik Wujastyk <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Senior librarians and library managers increasingly see the Online Public
Access Catalogue as the principle finding aid for materials in the
library. And for printed materials, this may be valid and true. But most
large, or old, or academic libraries have collections of archives and of
medieval manuscripts, and these collections are not well served at present
by most OPACs. This is because the manuscript cataloguing community has
not, by and large, embraced the MARC format and philosophy of cataloguing. =
With the advent of the web, and the development of more recent
technologies such as the TEI, Unicode, and MASTER, it is getting more
feasible to put real quantities of manuscript metadata on the internet.
This development, together with management imperatives connected with the
high cost of investement represented by OPACs, as well as workforce
streamlining, means that printed catalogues of manuscripts may soon cease
to be produced at all.
I would like to ask a question here mainly of people who actually use
manuscripts in their research.
Do you want printed catalogues of MS collections, in more or less the
traditional form? Or do you want online databases of MS metadata? Or do
you want both?
In codicology, the principle tool for locating manuscripts has for
hundreds of years been the printed catalogue. The manuscript catalogue,
especially the catalogue "raisonn=E9e" has also fulfilled a function as a
special kind of monograph. It would tell the reader a great deal about
the content and intellectual importance of the manuscripts, in some cases
going so far as to place the manuscript in a stemmatic relationship with
other known copies of the work.
I have an anecdotal sense that serious medievalists actually read
catalogues, or large parts of them, in order to inform themselves of the
nature and content of a particular collection, and to glean various other
kinds of information not specific to one manuscript. This is not the same
thing as using a catalogue as a tool for locating copies of a particular
work, i.e., as a "finding aid".
OPACs, at least as we know them today, are very much "finding aids". But
although they can be more efficient in finding a manuscript of a work with
a title by an author with a name, there are many situations in which the
OPAC does not seem an ideal replacement for the printed catalogue of a
Is there a strong feeling amongst medievalists that new printed catalogues
are wanted in future? Or are scholars happy, by and large, with the move
to having libraries only communicate about their holdings through an OPAC?
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