On May 19th I ordered reproductions of two manuscripts of the unpublished Arabic Christian historian al-Makin from the Vatican. I didn’t receive any acknowledgement, so wasn’t expecting much. Anyhow a UPS man arrived a few minutes ago, bearing a parcel. So it took just under 7 weeks to get, from posting the order to now. That’s really not too bad.
Less good is the payment arrangements. They’ve sent me an invoice, which has an international bank account number (IBAN) and a SWIFT number on it, so I can do a bank-to-bank transfer. These are marvellously expensive things to do from the UK (because the banks rip you off). There seems no facility to do a credit card payment.
The images arrived as two PDF’s — which is good. The images are scanned from black-and-white (not even monochrome) microfilm — which is terrible. The consumer really should be protected from this rip-off racket of selling substandard images at very premium prices. The price for the two mss. was 215 euros; the charge for postage and packing was 15 euros; quite a bit for 43Mb of data, which could perfectly well have been made available for download.
Of course the library is profiteering pretty heavily here. The microfilms already existed, so to produce these PDF’s required them to load them in a microfilm scanner, hit “scan”, and go and have a coffee. 200 euros for a trivial bit of work; nice if you can get it, eh?
I was amused to find a “copyright” notice included. This is almost certainly fraudulent, as ever; these images cannot be considered creative works of art! Only in the UK could this even possibly be in copyright, because of the foolish wording of the law in this country.
Still, the failings of this service are historic and traditional; the advantages of it are all new, and I think we may expect radical improvements in service. Everyone will expect better quality, and we may hope to get it.
UPDATE: I discovered by chance that HSBC customers can do their own international transfers from their online system, at a price of 9 GBP; far cheaper than Lloyds TSB at 15 GBP, etc. So that’s the way to do it, if you have such an account.