Week 10: Sample Descriptions

To give you an idea of the work I have been doing on the manuscript collection, I have attached a pdf of my description of MS 148, which is a leaf, not a full manuscript book. When approaching my descriptions, I primarily followed the kind of format you will find for most printed catalogs of medieval manuscript collections at major insitutions like the Bienecke, the British Library and the Newberry Library.  It is the cataloging practices of these institutions that influenced the Descriptive Guidelines for Ancient Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts. Basically, if you create a catalog description of a manuscript that follows the above insitutional practices, you should be able to convert that information into a MARC record or a Metadata record without having to consult the actual item. 

The basic framework of a description of a medieval manuscript includes the following sections:

Institutional call number,

title, date, location,


 physical description,



The contents section is usually further broken down by listing the various sections of the work and providing any citations to modern critical editions of that work. One also gives the physical span (pages or folios) of each of these sections along  the opening and closing words of those sections.

The physical description section can be very detailed or minimally detailed. I strove for a balance, especially with single leaves, to keep it fairly basic. The elements that I include are:

Paper or parchment

Number of folios

Size of book/document


Decoration (initials, colors, illuminations, drawings)


With above elements, a cataloger can reproduce the record in MARC format, although, I must say that after working on a few records with the rare book cataloger, it is not a straightforward process! And of course one of the big differences between a MARC record and a printed catalog record, is subject analysis–a far from straightforward process that takes solid grasp of the cultural and historical significance of the object.

Below you will find a pdf of my description of MS 148 and a link to the MARC record for it on the WMU library website. Once the object has been digitized I’ll post the link to the item along with it’s DUBLINCORE metadata record which I also produced.



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