Manuscripts and Special Collections

Types of collection and their physical features

Most of the collections held by Manuscripts and Special Collections at The University of Nottingham contain items made out of paper or parchment. Paper and parchment are made of organic materials. These materials were once living, and include animal skins, textiles, and increasingly wood pulp after around 1850. They continue to react to heat, cold, light and humidity.

What is paper?

Paper can be made from textile rags or wood pulp. In both cases the material is pulped and then formed into flat sheets.

What is parchment?

Parchment is a material made from treated animal skins, often from sheep or goats. The best quality parchment is called vellum. Vellum may be made from the skins of young animals such as kids or lambs.

There is more information about making paper and parchment in the research guidance unit Medieval Books.

Items made from paper or parchment can be found in a number of different formats:

Single documents made from paper and parchment

These items can be the easiest to store, as they can be kept flat. However, seals attached to documents need careful handling so as not to be damaged.

 Parchment deed with seals

Loose letters in a folder

 Loose flat items

Bundles or files of papers

Related papers, stored together, may be found within an original wrapper, or attached together by sewing or pinning. Modern papers or files can contain a wide variety of documents of all shapes and sizes. The fact that modern papers are not uniform in their format means that they can be difficult to store and handle

 A bundle of papers attached at the top

A bundle of papers attached at the top

Maps and plans

Some maps and plans can be very large, and are kept rolled. Others may be folded

 Unrolling a large map

Unrolling a large rolled map

Books (bound structures)

The pages of books can be made of parchment or paper. The binding of a book protects the pages from damage and keeps them in the right order, but if the binding is damaged, the inside parts of the book also become vulnerable. Some books are very tightly bound, especially when they have been re-bound. This makes it hard to see the whole page properly, and readers are tempted to force the book open too wide, damaging the spine.

 Unbound medieval volume (WLC/LM/3)
 Medieval bound volume (WLC/LM/8)

Unbound medieval volume which has suffered damage to its spine and outside pages (WLC/LM/3); and bound medieval volume in good condition (WLC/LM/8)

 Modern tightly-bound paperback volume

Modern tightly-bound paperback volume


The collections may also contain other, more specialised, types of material:

Photographs and films

Photographs can be found in many different formats, such as daguerreotypes, prints on paper, negatives, and slides. Many older moving image films are on reels, but in the late 20th century various types of video formats were popular. Each format has slightly different storage requirements. It can sometimes require expertise to identify exactly what type of photograph or film it is, and what chemical processes were involved in creating it.



Prints and illustrations may be found on their own, or bound into books. They are often mounted onto or bound next to a different quality paper or card, and the varying acidity levels between the engraving and the neighbouring material can leave both vulnerable to staining caused by chemical run.

   Bleed-through of ink from an engraving of Lincoln Cathedral (East Midlands Special Collection, Oversize Lin1.D28 HOW)   Foxed engraving of Lincoln Cathedral (East Midlands Special Collection, Oversize Lin1.D28 HOW)

(right) Engraving of Lincoln Cathedral, from A Selection of Views in the County of Lincoln (London, 1805), East Midlands Special Collection Oversize Lin1.D28 HOW, showing signs of foxing. (left) reverse side showing bleed-through of ink from the engraving


Audio formats and ‘Born-digital’ items

Audio materials vary in format, from vinyl records, to reel-to-reel tapes, and cassette tapes. ‘Born-digital’ items are not digital copies of other originals (e.g. scans), but items that were created to be read on a computer or other electronic device. Examples include digital photographs, digital audio or video files, word-processed documents, spreadsheets and emails.

 Audio-visual and electronic media

A selection of audio materials and electronic media including reel-to-reel and cassette tapes, CD, and floppy disks


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Manuscripts and Special Collections

Kings Meadow Campus
Lenton Lane
Nottingham, NG7 2NR

telephone: +44 (0) 115 951 4565
fax: +44 (0) 115 846 8651