in development, general, University of Oxford

Medieval Libraries of Great Britain

Medieval Libraries of Great Britain (MLGB) is a one year project (pilot) of a collection from a person checking the books, where they came from, check how things moved between libraries. Quite systematic format identifying the objects and cross references.

  • tracking locations of manuscripts
  • dynamic resource to help annotation
  • parse the code to find book/location/etc.
  • check catalogue author (librarian)

A bit more about the Medieval Libraries of Great Britain

For the remains of medieval British libraries, the scholar must deal in fragments. Libraries are attested first by their surviving books and second by surviving medieval catalogues of the collections. Our aim is to bring together these complementary fragments in a resource that will enable an integrative reading of the evidence. The Corpus of British Medieval Library Catalogues [hereafter Corpus], a major project to publish the medieval catalogues of British libraries, is now within sight of completion. As a complement to this, it will be necessary also to update the standard research tool that records extant manuscripts according to evidence of their medieval library provenance, Neil Ker’s Medieval Libraries of Great Britain [MLGB]. The opportunity exists to integrate these two strands in a single innovative digital resource. Completion of both strands will take several years, but we are bidding now for a pilot project to test that an electronic edition is feasible for Medieval Libraries of Great Britain in order to prove the viability of the integrated project.


The encompassing research objective is to use books and libraries—which have a tangible reality and meaning to modern scholars—as a vehicle to enrich our historical understanding of the texts written and read in the middle ages, their contexts, and all that they open up for the student. Our task is to move that tangible understanding of medieval books forwards. From the application of physical codicology to gain a better understanding of books and the making of books, it is desirable to apply a fuller understanding of books to the composition and circulation of texts. This will contribute to the framing of an overall picture of medieval British library history as well as providing detailed information on particular libraries, particular books, and also individual texts across the whole range of subjects read over the longue durée of the middle ages. It underpins all study of medieval learning.


Further, most scholarly and much literary reading and writing in the middle ages depended on host-institutions which owned and maintained libraries, often for centuries. Such institutions were not changeless, nor were their books, and our date-range for the middle ages extends from the earliest available evidence of provenance or documentation to the break-up of most religious institutions in England between 1536 and 1547. This period encompasses the transition from the manuscript as the normal form of book to an age in which print had taken over in almost all contexts. In Great Britain no medieval library survives entire, but surviving books that bear evidence of provenance can be listed to form a virtual library, something achieved by Neil Ker in Medieval Libraries of Great Britain, now the standard work of reference for contextualizing books and their texts. We seek to move the analysis of such lists forward by making it possible to use them more flexibly and more fully in an electronic medium. Extant library catalogues made in the middle ages between the eleventh and the sixteenth centuries provide a complement by showing the whole contents of a lost library at a particular moment and often, in the later middle ages, their arrangement on shelves. The Corpus of Medieval Library Catalogues has hugely advanced our ability to interpret these documents while fully deploying the complementary evidence of those books, manuscript or printed, that survive and can be cross-matched. The documentary evidence taken as a whole allows a systematic and typological approach to libraries and their contents that permits extrapolation beyond their surviving contents. We can project what a library of a certain type would have been like at any particular period from a synthetic reading of fragmentary evidence, and draw comparisons with libraries attested by richer evidence. In addition, the cumulative overview now emerging of what works were available where and when, with a similar possibility of projection, allows a more systematic—yet also physically grounded—view of the learned culture of the middle ages than traditional methods ever could.


Work of this kind has been strongly associated with Oxford since the 1930s when Roger Mynors and Richard Hunt conceived both the Corpus and MLGB. The Bodleian Library holds the record cards from seventy years’ work on the provenances of medieval English books, which will be freely available to us. The Corpus has been based in Oxford since 1990. For both aspects of the work, the collection of manuscript catalogues and Handapparat for identifying texts, shelved together in the reading-room known as Duke Humfrey, was designed for this purpose by Richard Hunt and is more complete and more accessible than can be found in any other British library. The approach to medieval books and libraries developed here has gone much further than in any other country, and the kind of integration here produced would not yet be possible elsewhere. Through meetings with a carefully chosen consultative panel, we aim not only to optimize the usefulness to scholars of our own work but also to spread the word to other countries in Europe where similar evidence awaits exploration.

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