“Manuscripts rare for the writing” and The Skeleton in the Library Cupboard: the Early Library Records Project


The Library holds a very rich collection of the records of its own activities, stretching right back to the charter of Clement Littil’s bequest in 1580, which started the library.  Many of the books acquired at every period since then are still here, often bearing physical evidence of their history in the collections, in the form of inscriptions, old shelf marks, or bindings distinctive of a particular period.  The records and the books have the potential to be a very rich source of information and useful to researchers in many different subjects, but currently they are poorly understood and documented and are very difficult to use.  

This summer we welcome to CRC Nathalie Bertaud, an Employ.Ed intern, who is working on the records of the first two and half centuries, or thereabouts, of the library’s history, producing a research guide and collecting the data to improve the descriptions of the records on the catalogue of the University Archives.  She has been making many discoveries: 


Ever wonder how long a book or other object has been in the library and where it comes from? How much it cost or by whom it was given to the library? Or still, what the money given by students was spent on? With a good number of early press, subject and author catalogues, as well as matriculation and donation books, the history of the University’s library is not so dark a place to delve in. As we embrace these early records and their flimsy pages and characteristic smell, let us dive into the library’s history and follow, record after record, the life of its marvels.


The library has, from very early on, been a welcoming home to objects other than books. This can be seen in items Da.1.18 and 19, as both contain several lists of wonders and curiosities. We are indeed told that precious items were kept in a chest – a sort of 17th century equivalent to our fire-safe! Among the items precious enough to go in the chest were the Bohemian Protest, the marriage contract between Mary Queen of Scots and Francis Dauphin of France, and a thistle banner printed on satin 1640 being found carelessly put in one of Mr Nairn’s books. What is more, a list is given us of portraits that were hung in the library, a celebration of illustrious men and women. Featured celebrities included Tiberius Claudius, Martin Luther, and Mary Queen of Scots. We still do hold some of these portraits. Items related to the discipline of anatomy were also gifted to the library, and we are told in several lists that these comprised the ‘skeleton of a French man’, or a ‘gravel stone (…) cut out of the bladder of Colonel Ruthven’, who, we are informed in Da.1.31, ‘lived six weeks thereafter’.


Now, where did the books and objects come from? Well, we know a fair amount about key benefactors of the library, as their names are listed over and over again, their generosity being commemorated by several library keepers. Such examples of commemorative lists can be found in Da.1.18 and 19, where the first page lists such generous men as Clement Litil, William Drummond or James Nairn.


Item Da.1.31, a book of donations started by the librarian William Henderson in the late 17th century, gives us short descriptions of benefactors, such as: ‘Isobell Mitchell, at the time of her decease which was upon the 19th of October 1667 left to the college as a token of her great love to the flourishing of piety and good learning the sum of a hundred merks Scots’. Yet, less renowned people also made a contribution to the library’s collection, and when we chance upon a brief description of these almost anonymous benefactors, we get a sense of how collections get built. Such an example is: ‘By Mr David Ferguson, student in Kirkcaldy, a youth of great hopes but was snatched away by an early death (…) a manuscript rare for the writing’, or ‘George Bosman book-seller, gave in the Breviary of the B. Virgin, a manuscript very curiously written & adorned with rich colours besides many exquisite pictures’, or still ‘Mr John MacGregory, student, gave in a Hebrew Bible’.

As lists of new accessions are fairly well represented in the records, we are also offered insight into what places were hubs for book purchasing in the 17th and 18th centuries. London and Holland seem to have been such places, as they are mentioned regularly, for instance in Da.1.32 and 34. The cost of the books purchased is sometimes given as well, and we quickly understand, from looking at the records, that books were purchased not only from donations but also from student fees. However, the money paid by the students was not always used for the purchase of books. We get a glimpse into the day-to-day management of the library when we run through items Da.1.32, 34 or 43, where we can read that money was spent on fees for services rendered, such as ‘for drink money for bringing in books gifted to the library’, ‘for washing 12 pictures’ or ‘for cleaning the library’. It was also spent on library necessaries like ‘paper, pens and ink, and postage’, ‘for binding books’ or still ‘for transcribing a copy of the New Catalogue for the library’. All these wonderful details, sometimes scribbled in tiny script, allow us to get a better understanding of the early history of the library and its management.

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It’s like christmas here at the CRC!

So today I received more toys to play with…

In addition to receiving funding to purchase a Kryoflux I was also able to purchase some additional kit to complement our growing forensic workstation.

SATA docking station with 500GB SSD

SATA docking station with 500GB SSD

At present our quarantine PC is not backed up through the university’s regular back up procedures owing to the fact that 99% of the time the PC is not connected to the network. This left us with a bit of a black hole in our risk management procedures for processing digital objects. So after a bit of research I decided to purchase a docking station and a 500GB SSD. I chose a docking station option largely because it will give us flexibility and portability to use not just in-house but offsite too. The SSD was chosen to minimise risk of damage to the drive if being transported and because it’s more compact and easy to store when not in use (space, including draw space, here is at a premium!). This particularly docking station is primarily set up to receive SATA storage devices but I have purchased an adapter than can convert it to an IDE docking station, to give us additional flexibility. In case its of interest its really simple to set up for a novice, non-techie archivist such as myself.

Tableau Forensic Bridge connected to SATA SSD

Tableau Forensic Bridge connected to SATA SSD

I’ve also purchased a Tableau t35 Forensic Bridge. This is a hardware write blocker that acts as an intermediary between the original device and the quarantine PC. To it we can connect most externally acquired HDD or our own storage devices (which may have been used to conduct an offsite transfer). It is then connected to the host PC via a USB 3.0 connection. This particular write blocker can connect to SATA or IDE devices.

Whilst I’ve already put the docking station and SSD through its paces, I’ve yet to play, formally, with the write blocker. When I do I’ll be sure to post my experiences here, but at least we have kit available to help support the forensic acquisition of digital collections if and when they do come to us from external sources!

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Old dog…new tricks!

A few weeks ago – and with some money left in the kitty – I made a pitch to purchase some additional equipment to build on established procedures in place for handling physical media in the collections. At present we have the capacity to capture, quarantine and virus check items on CDs, DVDs, flash storage and 3.5″ floppy disks (HD and DD), but we lack the tools to take images of 5.25″, 3″ and any other type of physical storage media.

Following a meeting with Stephen Rigden of the National Library of Scotland, who kindly demonstrated their forensic workstation I was convinced we needed something similar, albeit not quite as sophisticated. The NLS have both a FRED machine and a Kryoflux device to enable extraction of data from  5.25″ disks and other types of media. Given a FRED comes with a price tag, and that we already have the capability to read optical and flash media, I just couldn’t justify the expense. Maybe in a few years if volume dictates it or my quarantine PC decides to die on me I may have to make the case for a FRED. On the face of it though I was very interested in the Kryoflux device.

The Kryoflux isn’t cheap by any means for an institutional license (approx 3,500 euros as of June 2017) but given the extensive work that has gone into creating and developing the device it seemed fair enough. At present this is the only known method for archives and heritage institutions to read 5.25″ disks so supporting the sustainability of this unique technology could be considered a community responsibility.

Arrival of toys!

Arrival of toys!

That said we placed order and within a week a big box of toys arrived. In addition to the Kryoflux (of which we received 2, one as a backup), we also received a 3.5″ floppy drive, a USB cable, 2 ribbon cables, power cable and also 2 reconditioned 5.25″ disk drives (which were additional).

I was itching to have a play with it, and this week I was able to connect it up and try it with some sample 5.25″ disks I use for training and demos.


Fortunately, there is a more comprehensive (for those of us that are not techies) instruction manual that is doing the rounds for comment, “The archivist’s guide to Kryoflux”, which is infinitely more digestible than the manual that you can download from Kryoflux’s website. With that to hand (and a 2 pin adapter) I was able to get going.

The first and most important thing to note is that there is a very precise order in which to connect the and disconnect the pieces, in order to maintain the integrity of the very fragile looking Kryoflux. Honestly, having spent that much money on a tiny circuit board and having to connect it up in a certain order to make sure it didn’t blow up wasn’t a problem (albeit a case of checking, double checking and triple checking before I plugged it in!).

The second thing I say is that you have to be quite brutal with the connections. I have a light touch with these things but you do really need to push the ribbon cables and the power adapter cable in quite firmly otherwise the Kryoflux software spits back an error message. But once the driver is installed and checked, the cables connected and the lights blinking happily I was ready to try it out on a sample disk.  Here you can see our Kryoflux in action!

The software, which you can download from the Kryoflux website, then begins to read the sectors on the disk and attempts, where it can, to read or to make modifications in order to read the contents. You can pre-select the type of disk image you wish to take from an extensive list, which I’m still getting to grips with, and determine the output for the image and the log files that document the work undertaken by the soft and hardware.

At the end you have a disk image, which you can then read in a disk image reader such as WinImage or FTK Access Data. This will give you a file list, as though you were reading the disk through windows explorer. At that point you’re ready to continue with your digital preservation work!

I’ve yet to try this out on an actual collection of archival 5.25″ disks a I wanted to be sure of what I was doing first, but now that I’m getting comfortable with it I’m hoping to let it loose next week.

The one thing I do need to do though is get some kind of enclosure for the Kryoflux. There are a couple of 3D schematics for printing a plastic enclosure…a perfect excuse to go down to our Ucreate Studio and use their 3D printer, as well as getting our conservation team onto the job of building an archival storage box for it!

More fun to be had…watch this space!

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New e-journal – BMJ Simulation and Technology Enhanced Learning

The Library has taken out a subscription to BMJ Simulation & Technology Enhanced Learning.

BMJ Simulation & Technology Enhanced Learning focuses on the use of simulation and innovative technology as an educational method or intervention for professionals in all areas of health and social care education, workforce development and quality of care. The journal seeks to contribute to research, innovation and knowledge translation for practitioners, teachers, students and leaders in all health and social care professions who wish to improve clinical outcomes, patient experience, and safety.

Access this e-journal via DiscoverEd.

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Jewish Studies Collections at New College Library : archives

Currently on display at New College Library for the British Association for Jewish Studies Conference to Edinburgh at New College is this lovely manuscript item from New College’s historic archive collections, originally coming from the Library of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

Yitzchaki, Shlomo. Commentary on Deuteronomy, undated. MS BOX 25.2

This is the first page of an illuminated Hebrew manuscript known as Rashi’s Commentary on Deuteronomy. Rashi was Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040-1105), an acclaimed French medieval scholar, whose explanations of scriptures were valued for their precision and simplicity.

The New College Library archives hold the papers of Old Testament and Hebrew and Semitic Languages scholars such as Prof Oliver S Rankin (1885-1956), which contains many writings in German, teaching notes and notes on Jewish festivals, Prof John Duncan (1796-1870) and Prof Norman W Porteous (1898-2003). These papers are important sources for researching Christian academic engagement with the Jewish people and Jewish-Christian Relations. Read More

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On trial: primary source collections from British Online Archives

Following a request from staff in HCA, the Library currently has trial access to two digital primary source collections from British Online Archives, Conscientious Objection during the World War 1 and The Middle East, its division into countries and the creation of Israel, 1879-1919.

Trial access ends 6th August 2017.

Conscientious Objection during the World War 1

During World War One, Conscientious Objectors united to oppose the war despite the criticism they faced. Three of these anti-war protest groups included the Conscientious Objector Information Bureau, the Union of Democratic Control, and the No-Conscription Fellowship. Conscientious Objection during the World War 1 includes complete files of key anti-war publications. It also contains rare reports from the Conscientious Objector Information Bureau. The internal papers include minutes from the Union of Democratic Control and letters from the No-Conscription Fellowship. The Fellowship’s most prominent figure, Clifford Allen, wrote a number of these items. Local Fellowship branches in Willesden, Middlesex and in Hyde, Greater Manchester are also covered. Also included amongst the papers is Thomas Henry Ellison’s scrapbook. Thomas was a Conscientious Objector and spent much of his time during the war in prison. His scrapbook covers both his own experiences and the experience of the anti-war movement as a whole. Read More

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Jewish Studies Collections at New College Library : nineteenth and twentieth centuries

The British Association for Jewish Studies Conference to Edinburgh at New College today covers a wide range of topics under its theme of ‘Jews on the Move’ including the theme of Jewish-Christian relations. New College Library’s collections from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries provide a window into Jewish-Christian relations, particularly through travel writing, and through development of missions to Jews in the Middle East.

Bible Plants, 1887

New College Library’s collections are rich in the area of nineteenth century Christian encounters with Jews, usually in the form of mission to Jewish communities. The New College object collections include objects collected from trips to the Holy Land, including the pressed flower album of ‘Bible Plants’ above, phylacteries, a prayer shawl and a scale model of the Temple of Jerusalem. The book and archive collections include some fascinating materials from the Church of Scotland’s development of missions to Jews in the Middle East, including books, archives and objects relating to Rev. Andrew A. Bonar and Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne. Bonar and McCheyne were appointed by the Church of Scotland in 1838 as part of a deputation to visit Jewish communities in Europe and the Middle East, with a view to future mission activity.

Books from the William Foakes Jackson Collection

The William Fulton Jackson Collection preserves the collection of man who was an enthusiastic armchair traveller to the Holy Land, with a popular, rather than academic interest in Israel and Palestine. His collection also includes many works on Jewish Studies, including encyclopedias and dictionaries, and demonstrates a keen interest in understanding Jews and Judaism.

New College Library’s Pamphlets Collection of over 35,000 items reflects a deliberate policy from the foundation of New College library in 1843 to collect pamphlets and ephemera on historical, religious and current issues. The collection includes these three pamphlets are examples of the publisher Victor Gollancz’s campaign to draw attention to the plight of the Jews in Europe and to demand that the British Government provide rescue and sanctuary for Jewish victims.

Nazi massacres of the Jews & others : some practical proposals for immediate rescue made by the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Rochester in speeches on March 23rd 1943 in the House of Lords. London, Gollancz, 1943. Z.h.30/24

One of the founders of the Council of Christians and Jews in 1942, Temple was at the forefront of the campaign to draw attention to the plight of the Jews in Europe and to demand that the British Government provide rescue and sanctuary for Jewish victims. His speech urges:

The Jews are being slaughtered at the rate of tens of thousands a day on many days … we cannot rest as long as there is any sense among us that we are not doing all that might be done.”

Sadly no changes to refugee policy were made by the British Government and after William Temple died in 1944, the impetus for rescuing the Jews did not continue.

“Nowhere to lay their heads” : the Jewish tragedy in Europe and its solution. London : Gollancz, 1945. Z.h.30/33

“Let my people go” : some practical proposals for dealing with Hitler’s massacre of the Jews and an appeal to the British public. London : Gollancz, 1943. Z.h. 30/1

Christine Love-Rodgers – Academic Support Librarian, Divinity

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New to the Library: British Library Newspapers, Part V

I’m really pleased to let you know that the Library has purchased access to the final part of Gale Cengage’s British Library Newspapers collection (Part V). This means the Library now has access to the full British Library Newspapers, Parts I-V. 

You can access British Library Newspapers via the Databases A-Z list or Newspapers databases list.

British Library Newspapers, Part V: 1746-1950, has a concentration of titles from the northern part of the United Kingdom with 36 individual titles included. This doubles coverage in Scotland, triples coverage in the Midlands, and adds a significant number of Northern titles to the British Library Newspapers collections. Read More

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Jewish Studies Collections at New College library : early books

This week New College welcomes the British Association for Jewish Studies Conference to Edinburgh. Delegates are welcome to visit New College Library where they’ll find a display of Jewish Studies related items from our Special Collections..

Early Jewish sacred texts, biblical scholarship and devotional works in Hebrew can be discovered throughout New College Library’s Special Collections.

leha-Rav rabenu Mosheh bar Naḥman. Perush ha-Torah. Pisa: Bene Sontsino, 1514. Dal-Chr 15.

Read More

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New to Library: Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society archive online

The Library has recently purchased the online archive to the journal Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, covering the period 1935 (volume 1) until 2009 (volume 75).

The Library already has current online access to the Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, covering the years 2010 (volume 76) onwards. So the purchase of the archive ensures the Library has full access to the entire run of this important journal in prehistoric research.

You can access both the archive and current access via DiscoverEd. Read More

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