Books from Durham Priory Library survive in two formats, manuscript and printed, which are catalogued in separate systems. Manuscript cataloguing can be created using a variety of methods, from unstructured word processed documents to those that have a structured layout. A structured catalogue is preferable both to give a more consistent description – medieval manuscript cataloguing can be an exclusive and incomprehensible art that has traditionally been aimed at those “in the know” – and also to make the data it contains more discoverable. The catalogue structure adopted for a single project should also be that used generally, so the description of a printed Priory book should be in the same format as that of any other printed book held by the cataloguing institution, simply permitting more detail to be given as appropriate.

Spendement Catalogue 1416 - Epistles of St Paul

Cataloguing Priory Library books starts in the Priory Library. This extract is from one such catalogue, made in 1416 (Durham Cathedral Library B.IV.46, f.36v). It shows what was necessary to running a library at that time. The books have been divided into groups by content. This extract is towards the end of the biblical texts in the section on the Epistles of St Paul (“Epistolae Pauli” in contracted form is the heading in the right-hand column).

Each book is identified by three pieces of information: a letter, a title and the secundo folio. The letters in the first column (B C D E F G H I) are pressmarks, unique identifiers that are written at the top of the first page of the book which we can use today to identify surviving copies. Next comes a description, often simply a title like the first one “Epistolae Pauli glossata” the text of the Epistles with an explanatory gloss, sometimes with extra information. The third from last book is “non glossata in uno quaterno” (a single sheaf of folded pages), the second from last includes two other unidentified works “cum duobus aliis tractatibus diversis”.

The medieval librarian still had one dilemma in the days before the ISBN, how to distinguish between copies of the same work. In the manuscript era, at least until the technique for the mass and uniform re-copying of school texts was devised, the individual nature of scribal handwriting and size of parchment used meant that by the time the writer had started the second sheet of parchment the word that started that page was random. This led to the secundo folio identifier “ii° fo”. The catalogue tells us that the first word(s) on page two of B is “Jesu Christi” (heavily abbreviated), on C “medium” and on D “vicia arguit”.

This basic catalogue can then be seen to have been used subsequently to track use of the individual books. There are several clear erasures of text and later additions in a paler ink. B is currently with William Pocklington (a Durham monk in the first half of the 15th century), C is at [Durham College], Oxford, D is with the Prior and E with Richard Barton (more likely the later Durham monk of that name who died about 1463). The dots in the margins are thought to be from a library stockcheck.