Profile-raising through innovative uses of technology

About the project

The University of Nottingham’s Manuscripts and Special Collections developed an iBook entitled ‘Parchment, Paper and Pixels’ between 2015 and 2016 to raise the profile of the collections across the university and beyond. Staff and academics were invited to contribute short articles on their favourite items from the collections, or items suggested by our staff were illustrated with images, video and sound.

Our collections have been built up since the 1930s and now comprise over 3 million manuscripts in over 700 archive collections and over 80,000 printed books ranging in date from the 12th to the 21st century. The archives of the Dukes of Newcastle of Clumber Park and the Dukes of Portland of Welbeck Abbey and the DH Lawrence Collection have been formally designated as of national and international importance. The iBook was intended to draw these collections to the attention of a wider audience.

Challenges and opportunities

The selection of individual items proved challenging as we were spoilt for choice. We wanted to ensure a reasonable coverage from our holdings and date periods but couldn’t include everything proposed. There were certain items we felt that we had to include but we also wanted to select items which readers might not have expected to find. Items also needed to be aesthetically attractive. We hope that we achieved an agreeable balance to provide readers with a taster from our collections.

Some academics were extremely enthusiastic and submitted text very promptly whilst others had to be chased or they agreed to submit an article and never delivered and so had to be replaced at the last minute. Text from other academics also had to be edited into a more publicly accessible style.

There was a certain amount of project drift as we were relying on the good will of colleagues in the Learning Technology team to deliver the finished product and they had other pressing calls on their time. However they were also keen to exploit the opportunities and variety presented by the format so additional videos and images were included, which extended the project time line, but also produced a much improved end product. The publication process through Apple also caused some delays.


The iBook was produced with 27 articles and an introduction from the Vice Chancellor. It showcased some of the treasures held in the Manuscripts and Special Collections, with a range of short articles illustrated with images, sound and video. It included medieval manuscripts, archives, maps, posters, photographs, rare printed books and music, all covering the globe from Iceland to China by way of Nottingham and the Soviet Union. Notable personalities that featured included Robin Hood and DH Lawrence and the project also introduced the father of English geology, William Smith, and one of the world’s first ornithologists, Francis Willughby.

The publication of the iBook was used to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the move to the Kings’ Meadow campus which provided more expansion space for the collections and improved facilities for conservation and digitisation.

Promotional videos were produced with a few of the contributors and it was formally launched by Professor Jeremy Gregory, Pro-Vice Chancellor Faculty of Arts, at an event attended by owners of collections and some of the contributors.

In addition, iBooks have been installed on fixed stands at four different locations across the university and we have purchased portable iPad stands to use in public engagement and outreach activities.

Lessons learnt

Producing an iBook was new for us so that in itself was a valuable learning experience. Working with the Learning Technology team was a very positive experience although the iBook took longer to produce than we had originally anticipated. We were able to recycle some existing videos and many of the digital images as well as link to existing web content but some videos and images had to be newly created and additional time had to be built into the project for this work. Academics were extremely generous with their time and with sharing their knowledge and expertise.

Future development

There is potential for other iBooks to be developed from our collections but we are also looking to collaborate with Learning Technology on other projects including videos and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).