The preparation of a new catalogue involves the resolution of two potentially conflicting forces: provision of information for the ever-developing needs and interests of the scholarly (and, increasingly, the not-so-scholarly community), as reflected in the evolving methods employed in a variety of catalogues of other collections; and in-house styles, conventions, and methods, which cannot lightly be altered or abandoned.
There is no common standard for the cataloguing of medieval manuscripts, although various countries have each begun to form their own general consensus about cataloguing methods, often as a result of a major cataloguing effort or project. In the USA and UK there has been a tendency in recent years to follow the format and conventions developed by Neil Ker in his pioneering Medieval Manuscripts in British Libraries (1969-92); once the user has become familiar with the conventions used, it has the great advantages of clarity, precision, and concision (see, for example, (Shailor 1984, 1987, 1992); (Dutschke 1989); (Ferrari & Rouse 1991); (Light 1995)). In the introduction to the first volume of this work (pp. vii-xiii), Ker discusses some of these conventions in a list of sixteen of the points covered by his catalogue descriptions, and few modern catalogues with any pretensions to completeness neglect to include the features on this list (see Appendix 000). The Bodleian catalogue descriptions follow his format in its general outline, by providing, as a general heading, the Shelfmark, Contents, and Language, and Place and Date of Origin; this is followed by a detailed description of the Contents, Decoration, Physical Description, Binding, Provenance, and Bibliography; but some of these (such as decoration) are treated in considerably greater detail than by Ker.