– notes, frequently asked questions and useful links from the archivist and curator of manuscripts at Balliol College, University of Oxford. Opinions expressed are the author's own.

more about manuscripts

Updating our online lists of Balliol’s medieval manuscripts: the condition survey of medieval books is progressing well. Each time we finish another 50, the descriptor [good/fair/poor/unusable] is added to its list entry in square brackets, to indicate its current physical condition as assessed by Oxford Conservation Consortium staff in 2014. Those in Poor condition will not normally be produced for researchers, and those rated Unusable not produced at all, until conservation treatment has been carried out in order to prevent further damage during consultation. Poor or Unusable manuscripts may also not be fit to photograph safely, including by staff. If you do want to consult or request images from a manuscript that is not currently in a state to produce or photograph safely, please let us know – active research interest is of course a key factor in determining our conservation priorities.

This doesn’t mean that currently Poor or Unusable manuscripts will be inaccessible forevermore. The survey is being undertaken specifically to inform our decisions about what needs conservation treatment most urgently, and it stands to reason that those in the worst condition and which attract active research interest are most likely to be high on the list.

Neither does it mean that Fair or Good manuscripts can be handled with joyous abandon. (After all, they are all at least 500 years old in order to qualify for the title ‘medieval’.) Production of manuscripts is always at staff discretion, and readers are expected to arrive with good handling skills and/or be instructed in them – and put them to use!

More ‘before’ pictures of Interesting Problems in manuscripts coming shortly – and starting next year, we look forward to posting ‘after’ pictures of the ‘ex-poor’!


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