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Saturday, March 04, 2006

Manuscript/microfilm question

[This one's probably primarily for the medievalists in the house.]

So, there are two manuscripts in the U.K. that I really need to spend more time with, one at the BL and one at Oxford. I was initially hoping to get over there this summer, but what with one thing and another (not getting a tenure-track job; currently holding a position that pays out over 10 months rather than 12), I'm not sure that I'll be able to do so. Whether I go or whether I don't, though, I'd like to have these documents reproduced since I'm not confident of my ability to transcribe everything perfectly on the first go--and since God knows when I'll have the kind of institutional support that would allow me to party with these particular manuscripts on a yearly basis.

I'm thinking, then, about putting in a couple of microfilm requests. I suspect this would be easy at the BL, but perhaps harder at Oxford (the MS in question isn't at the Bodley, but in the dinky little library of one of the colleges). So my first question is, has anyone tangled with this at either the BL or at institutions that may not be as prepared to handle such requests? Are there secret procedures or passwords I ought to know? Would it be better if I went over and handled it in person? (I've worked with the Oxford MS in the past, but the obliging college librarian who helped me out has since moved on and I have no relationship with her replacement.)

My second question is: what on earth do I do with the microfilm once I get it? Can I purchase a reader (and would it be insanely expensive)? Can one bring one's own microfilm to a public or university library and use their readers? Or should I just go ahead and get a photo-positive made from the film, as one experienced textual editor suggested?

Any and all advice appreciated!

link | posted by La Lecturess at 2:16 AM |


Anonymous Rachel commented at 5:01 AM~  

Getting the microfilm from the BL should be straightforward (though possibly forbodingly expensive). check it out here:http://www.bl.uk/collections/micro.html

The college lib might be more tricky, and might not be willing. I'll be in Ox next week (I go to Cambridge, but my partner is a historian at Ox) and would be happy to go look in on it if you'd like.


Blogger Ianqui commented at 9:49 AM~  

I definitely can't answer your contentful question, but I'm sure that your university library will have no problem with your bringing in your own microfilm. At my U they pretend you don't even exist unless you need desperate help, and you even get your own films for yourself from the drawers!

In any case, you can always ask at your library.

Blogger Tiruncula commented at 11:49 AM~  

On the how-to-read-it thing, it's very much normal practice to take your own film over to the library. Some people I know have bough mf readers cheap when libraries were discontinuing them, but it sounds like you don't have enough mf work yet to need your own reader.

Some very high-end university libraries even have the technology to scan and digitize microfilm for you. INRU might be able to do this.

As for getting the film, as Rachel says, it's very straighforward at the BL. It's worth doing, in any case, because a lot of libraries make you look at mf first before they let you get your hands on the artifact itself (maybe less true in your period, but sometimes it'sa blanket rule.)

At most places, the cost of mf depends on whether they've already made a master microfilm for that ms; if it's something they've already filmed, they just make a copy for you, usually at well under $100; if they have to film it for you, most places will charge more for cost-recovery purposes.

For the Oxford college, I'd write to the college librarian and ask. In my experience college librarians often simply refuse to answer questions that are not in writing, so I'd just grab a piece of the most impressive letterhead available and do it the old fashioned way. I wouldn't assume they can't do it, though. Do you mind letting us know which college?

Blogger La Lecturess commented at 12:15 PM~  

Thanks for the response, folks. Neither of these MSS is all that long--the one at the BL is 29 folios or 58pp. (in a bound quarto volume), which according the library's price scheme would cost me around $70 if each page = one frame; less if facing versos and rectos are considered one frame.

The MS at Oxford is just under 80 pages, in a small quarto volume. Neither has been microfilmed before. I found the Bodley's pricing for microfilm, and it's pretty reasonable, too (under $100); I'm hoping that that's representative of what a smaller library would charge, since I assume they'd just send it out. Oh, and it's at Pembroke.

Anonymous New Kid on the Hallway commented at 12:51 PM~  

Ditto what everyone else said (isn't that helpful??). Yes, you can definitely bring your own mfilm into a U library. I've been trying to get some digitized for yonks and my little college can't do it, and no one knows where/how I'd get in touch with a specific provider who would do it, but it is definitely a useful option (and you're probably in a better part of the world to find someone who does that, if you're interested). If you find out someone who'll do the photo-positive print, let me know who it is! Unless you find a library in the process of upgrading their machines and getting rid of their old ones, I think it can be expensive to buy a reader, and probably not worth the investment at this point.

I'd be willing to bet that the Oxford colleges are all pretty aware of how to deal with microfilming things, given that even the small colleges have stuff that people want to use - but T's comments about the letterhead definitely make sense!

Blogger Kaijsa commented at 7:09 PM~  

Speaking as an academic librarian, you should ask a librarian at your university to help you with this. If you need the manuscripts for your research, you might not have to pay for the requests. The ILL librarian should be able to navigate the byzantine rules for ordering copies.

I used to get things from European universities all the time for one of my faculty members. I never had to order film, but know that the ILL department handled that.

Blogger Kait commented at 9:11 PM~  

I'm a matriculated student at Oxford, and will be here until the end of June. Usually, if I wanted to check out a book from another college, a letter from my advisor or our faculty's director of graduate studies would get me in.

But since you are not affiliated with the college, it might be a little tougher. Does the college have a fellow in your field? If so, maybe you could contact him/her for advice.

I can ask around if you would like more specific information. Drop me a line at kaitlin.walsh@stcatz.ox.ac.uk and we can discuss it further if you like. Good luck!

Blogger Kaijsa commented at 6:20 AM~  

I should clarify that I meant your university might pay for the requests, not that I think Oxford won't charge for them.

Blogger Tiruncula commented at 2:36 PM~  

I think, though, that you don't want to get into a situation where your current U library buys the film for you and then it's not yours to take away, especially since you don't have a long-term stable job yet. And you don't want borrowed film, since you'll want to go back to it repeatedly over the long haul. The Pembroke librarian should be used to handling requests directly from scholars, so I'd take the direct approach.

Blogger La Lecturess commented at 6:54 PM~  

Thanks again, everyone, for all the advice. I think I'll probably go ahead and order the BL manuscript microfilm, and I'll probably contact the Oxford librarian in short order, dropping the name of her predecessor, my grad institution, etc., and hoping that works. I appreciate the on-the-ground offers from Rachel and Kait--and if it turns out I need help, I'll be sure to let you know! Thanks again.

Anonymous Dr M commented at 1:00 PM~  

Our small library has a microfilm reader. With their help I ordered some microfilm and went through it last summer. Then I found out about 2 more reels that I should look at so I ordered them too. Some idiot in the mailroom here on campus lost the second shipment. The college had to pay for it and I probably won't ever be allowed to borrow from that library again (it's a major state university library). So -- yes of course you can order microfilm; if your library has a reader you can read it; going through microfilm really sucks, it's boring; be careful about shipments to campus. Good luck :)

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