Monday, 22 February 2016

The Minster Library - Fragments of the Past: Part 2

In the second of his four blog posts, Jeff Berry investigates the practice of removing illuminations from manuscripts.

It is easy to think that, once the early craze for reusing manuscripts in bindings had passed, these manuscripts were treated with more respect. While that might be true (then again, it might not), different problems ensued for the manuscripts. Chief among these was the tendency to view them as objets d'art rather than historical records. This resulted in many illuminated manuscripts being cut up to be sold as leaves, such as the famous 'Otto Ege Portfolios' where some fifty illuminates manuscripts were systematically broken down and recompiled into portfolios; each manuscript less useful or valuable as a whole than as a collection of parts. In some other cases, only the illuminations themselves were removed to be admired in isolation while the text, thought to be less interesting or attractive, was left behind.

From the Stainton Parish Library collection,
York Minster Library, printed Cologne 1539
Consider this pastedown from a thirteenth-century Bible.

Judges, chapter 1, verse 1 reads, in Latin: 'Post mortem Iosue consuluerunt filii Israhel Dominum dicentes quis ascendet ante nos contra Chananeum et erit dux belli.'

In a deluxe production, the start of a new book of the Bible would often have a large illuminated capital. This seems to be the case here, where a space clearly in the shape of the letter 'P' has been relatively carefully cut out, leaving the remainder of the page in situ. This poor Bible was mutilated twice, several hundred years apart - first by the bookbinder and then by a collector of illuminations.

Bibles, while often beautiful, were also a text that was often reproduced in the Middle Ages. Documents, on the other hand, are often relatively simple, undecorated manuscripts, but they may be more interesting since they often represent the only surviving instance of the underlying text. Three books in the Minster Library collection are a case in point. The books are roughly of a size, and can be traced to the same bookbinder. Each has a large page, front and back, from the same manuscript. The pages are from an account book, tentatively dated to the late fourteenth or early fifteenth century.

From the York Minster Library incunables, printed Lyon c1498-1500

All photography by Paul Shields.

Minster Library - Fragments of the Past: Part 1 - a great French Language resource

Tony Wilson introduces a new resource covering French language, history, culture, and much more...

The Library recently subscribed to This resource offers access to a comprehensive online collection of French language publications in the social sciences and humanities.

Content recently added to the Psychology
section in
Journal articles from major French, Belgian and Swiss publishers can be accessed by students and researchers. You could be forgiven for thinking that this resource would only be of interest to French Language students or those interested in French History, culture and society but coverage is much broader than that. You will find journals covering subject areas as diverse as Economics, Psychology and Geography.

If you want the latest content you can refine your results to see content that has only been online for the last few weeks. Should you find a journal that is really relevant to your research, you can set up table of content alerts. Like many resources, you can create your own account in Cairn.Info where you can keep a record of articles that are of interest to you and manage any email alerts that you may set up.

If you don't read French, don't despair! The Cairn International Edition is also available. This is an English Language platform where abstracts and selected articles from some of the key journals on are translated into English.

The English language platform of

So where can you get access to Cairn.Info? The recommended route is through either the e-resources guide or alternatively, you can access it through the Languages subject guide. You will see listed in the Language and Linguistic Science e-library in the Finding resources tab.

For more advice about using electronic resources and for general advice about Library resources for your department contact your Academic Liaison Librarian (you can find their contact details on the Subject Guide for your department).

Monday, 8 February 2016

The Minster Library - Fragments of the Past: Part 1

In the first of four posts, Jeff Berry, one of our Minster volunteers, considers the insights into the past that early recycling gives us.

It was common practice in the early days of print for bookbinders to use parts of earlier manuscripts as strengtheners in their bindings. To modern sensibilities, the idea that these unique manuscripts were destroyed simply for their physical properties is an appalling one. It is worth considering, however, that such use represents in many cases both an instinct for efficiency and economy - after all, why use fresh vellum when used vellum will do just as well? - and a growing sense of the primacy of the text itself. In some cases, once a manuscript was in type, the manuscript itself was considered redundant, and reusing it in bindings was simply common sense.

These fragments may still be found in various books, and provide a tantalizing glimpse of information which is now lost forever. All manuscripts are on some level a puzzle. As unique, handcrafted objects, questions about their origin, purpose, and use naturally arise; this is equally true of luxury books and of seemingly more straightforward documents. How much more puzzling are the fragments, then, with much of their context lost or scattered? The manuscripts are in many cases works of art, and the bits used in the bindings are fragments of greater works. Often when viewing these fragments, I am reminded of visiting ruined medieval buildings where only the foundations or a few lengths of wall remain. It is enough to fire the imagination, but the vast majority of the data, of the history if you will, is gone.

That is not to say that there is nothing to be learned from the fragments. Quite apart from their aesthetic value, they can provide information about how early printers did business, can help to localize early books to their point of origin, can be used to track fashions and taste in literature, and doubtless can provide information in many other ways related either to the manuscripts themselves or their use as raw material.

The York Minster Library has one of the finest collections of early printed books in the country, and has a correspondingly rich collection of manuscript fragments in the bindings of those books. In this, and future posts, I would like to show you a few of the fragments which are of particular interest.

Image from a book published in Louvain, Belgium in 1562 (Minster Library V/3.N.2). The binding contains fragments of both Middle English prose and legal documents in Latin.

Monday, 1 February 2016

"An invaluable resource" - your thoughts on the Minster Library

Joanne Casey finds out what you think of the Minster Library, and details recent improvements.

The Minster Library, in the Minster Gardens.
Photograph by Paul Shields

In February last year, we ran a survey to find out how visitors to the Minster Library feel about the services offered. We're taking this opportunity to report back on what we learnt and how we've reacted to it, and to encourage you to provide further feedback on our services.

What you liked…

Special Collections in the Minster Library
Photograph by Paul Shields
  • The range of the collections
  • The unique resources
  • The staff
  • The chance to study in a fascinating building
"The Minster Library is an invaluable resource"
"Exceptionally generous and attentive staff!"

What you'd like to see changed…

  • Borrowing arrangements
  • Document production times
  • Charges for reprographics
  • Wifi provision
  • Opening hours

What we've done...

Inside the Minster Library
Photograph by Paul Shields
Services provided by the Minster Library now match those offered by the University Library as far as possible; so, staff and students can now borrow up to 50 items, on the same flexible loan model that the rest of the Library uses; items borrowed from the Minster can now be returned at King's Manor or the main University Library (and vice versa). We're also introducing a trial of the Book Delivery Service, which is already running successfully between the Morrell and King's Manor libraries.

Unfortunately there are some things that we're not able to change at the moment, but we can explain why that is:

Document production 

It's frustrating when you have to wait for us to fetch you items that aren't held on the open shelves. We always try to make such items available as quickly as possible after you request them, but as the Minster Library has a small team of staff, it's not always possible to do this as quickly as we - or you - would like. We do our best to meet our target of producing the documents for you to use within 24 hours

Photograph by Paul Shields

Charges for reprographics

These charges are set by the Minster, rather than by the University. They reflect the fact that these are unique and precious resources, and the charges have to cover the cost of providing reprographics, and enable the Minster to make a small profit on this aspect of the service. However we are reviewing our charging structure in line with other comparable institutions, and hope to introduce changes soon.

Wifi provision

The older the building, the trickier it often is to provide reliable wifi coverage in all areas. Wifi within the Minster Library is provided by the Minster IT team, rather than by the University's IT Services, and they are investigating the situation. IT Services are also looking into the possibility of providing eduroam coverage within the Library.

Opening hours

The Minster Library is open 9am - 5pm on weekdays. It's closed at the weekends. Unfortunately, it's not possible for us to provide the extra staffing resource necessary to extend the opening hours.

Photograph by Paul Shields

What else could we do?

We'll be running another user survey soon, so you can let us know what else we could do to improve the services we offer. And, of course, your comments are welcome at any time - you can email, fill in a comment card, or let us know in person. You can find out more about how we receive and respond to feedback at: