The Gotha collection of manuscripts is less well-known than it should be, except to specialists. But anybody doing anything with English and Cornish and Welsh saints’ lives is aware of a semi-mythical manuscript in that collection, with the shelfmark “Gotha Forschungsbibliothek Membr. I 81”. These lives are mainly accessed in an abbreviated recension made by John of Tynemouth and printed as “Nova Legenda Anglie”. What makes the Gotha manuscript special is that it contains unabbreviated versions of some of this same material.
We live in a period of transition, where archives know that manuscript material ought to be accessible online. But at the moment most archives have limited IT resources, both of infrastructure and people skills. It’s important for extremely online people to remember this. There may well be just one person at the other end.
A lot of Gotha manuscripts are online. Unfortunately the website was clearly designed by a non-manuscript person – not at all uncommon, this! -, and it makes it hard to find what is online. You can’t search by shelfmark. If they would just put up a single page with all the manuscripts on, listed by shelfmark, and with a link to each ms, that would solve it.
Last Tuesday, a mere 6 days ago, I decided to write to the library and ask. From the list of contacts I selected a certain Dr Henrikje Carius, and enquired. I didn’t get a reply, but the following day I had an email instead from Dr Monika Müller:
Memb. I 81 has been digitized, however, the digital copy has not yet been put online due to the lack of a sufficient catalogue entry. It is provided to put the digital copy online in a project planned for next year. In general, the Research library sells already existing digital scans which not are accessible online for 8 Euro. Please, inform me about how you would like to proceed.
Here we see evidence of a library that is in the transitional period; because it’s hard to see why you would do all the hard work of photography and then not put it on the web, just because of cataloguing. That’s an old trap that librarians sometimes fall into, because cataloguing is never finished. All the same this was a very helpful reply. But clearly we were going to get a version of the old-fashioned labour-intensive manual process that used to happen.
I was wary of the 8 euro charge, trivial as it was. Accounting for money takes loads of manual labour, more than such a charge would justify. Anyway I agreed to it, mainly out of curiosity. The next step was that I was sent a long form in PDF format which was an “estimate”, and asked to complete it. But also:
My apologies, that I have overlooked one aspect: As the manuscript has 230 folios and therefore the scan 460 images, it takes a lot of time to upload the scan. The library charges fees for this service, i.e. 25 Euro for the scans of Memb. I 81.
I didn’t know it then, but the zip file in question was 10Gb, so it did take a while. I don’t think I’ve ever been charged for this before, however. On the other hand, it was not so long ago that a CD would be sent out by post.
The paperwork duly caused problems. Thankfully this was emailed to me – once, this would have been by post. That is a step forward. Unfortunately I was away from home and reading the PDF form on a phone. I could see no way to enter text. Emails to and fro. When I returned home, two days later, I found that the PDF was indeed read-only! So I printed it off, hand-scribbled my agreement, and scanned it back in and sent it in. I would guess that I should have been sent a Word .docx file instead. All transitional stuff. They need a form online that you can enter the data into.
Once I had emailed the PDF in then things moved swiftly. Another document in PDF appeared, which luckily I did not have to do anything with. Then I had to find out just how to send money. International bank transfer was the sole option. This is common in the EU, but rarely done outside. Banks tend to charge 10 euros just for the trouble. But I was fortunate: since the last time I did this, the banks have introduced ways to do it, and the money went over swiftly. This morning I received a link to the download – the monster 10 Gb file! This I shall stash on 3 external drives.
Inside the zip were all the pages in TIFF format, each about 30 mb. I was relieved to find that they were all excellent quality colour photographs. I opened one in MS Paint and saved it as PNG, and the size dropped to 20mb. I then saved it as JPG and the size dropped to… 3mb. That’s about the size I would expect.
What I want, of course, is a PDF. I have the tools to create it, and then I can add bookmarks for the various sections of the manuscript. So the PDF needs to be a reasonable size.
There are about 460 images in the folder, so I’m not doing that conversion manually. Instead I used ImageMagick. Looking at my collection of installers, I’ve not done this since about 2011! But it all worked fine. I right-clicked on the folder and opened it in Terminal, and then ran:
mogrify -format jpeg *.tif
This ran extremely fast and, in less than a minute, it had merrily converted every .tif image into a brand new .jpeg file in the same directory. Whatever the image conversion defaults were – some loss of quality, of course -, the jpg file size was 3mb each time, and the images looked just as readable for my purposes. I then fired up Adobe Acrobat Pro 9 – very elderly now, but still working – and combined all the .jpgs (ignoring endleaves etc) into a PDF. This itself is a mighty 1.18 Gb, but it will serve my purposes very well.
The next step is to use an online set of contents, and create bookmarks.
Thank you, Dr Müller, and the Forschungsbibliothek staff, for what was a far more efficient process than in the past.