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Future-Proofing the Past: LAI Joint Conference 2008

Siobhan Fitzpatrick reports on the Annual Joint Conference of the Library Association of Ireland and Cilip IRELAND.

15 April

The conference, entitled ‘Future-proofing the Past: 80 years’ commitment to access and cooperation’, was officially opened by the President of the Library Association of Ireland (LAI) who welcomed the delegates and wished them well in their deliberations at this conference which was the 40th joint conference of the LAI and Cilip IRELAND, occurring in the 80th year of the LAI. The conference was attended by 120 delegates.

Unless otherwise stated, the sessions described below were all plenary.

Opening Session: ‘The European Library’

Louise Edwards, General Manager of the European Library
Chair: Siobhán Fitzpatrick, Vice-President, LAI

Louise Edwards began by inviting the audience to spread the word about The European Library [1]. In the course of her forty-minute paper she provided us with an overview of the participants in and the contents of this portal. The European Library, based at the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, in The Hague, is an initiative of the Conference of European National Librarians (CENL), a foundation aimed at increasing access to the national libraries of Europe. Stretching to Azerbajian and Armenia and soon to include the national libraries of Russia and Turkey, it already provides access to the catalogues of 47 national libraries, amounting to 170 million records. With multilingual collection descriptions, online exhibitions featuring the constituent national libraries and the innovative Europeana site which will provide access to 2 million digital objects from libraries, archives and museums by November 2008, the European Library is a wonderful example of cooperation to enable access. A useful feature which can be applied on your own site is the mini search box which can be downloaded into your own portal.

Libraries on the Agenda

Alan Hassan, President, CILIP Scotland
Chair: Deirdre Ellis-King, President, LAI

Alan Hassan spoke about future-proofing the past in the context of dealing with the political imperatives set by our masters. He pointed to some of the paradoxes which coexist in society today:

Government is meantime pursuing a reductionist model and a value chain analyis approach. Assumptions are based on a 35-hour week which fails to take account of the realities of the workplace. The centralisation of services will lead to job losses which will be treated as savings.

In the current Scottish situation emphasis is on the setting of five priorities with 15 outcomes at national and 55 at local level. This approach drills down very deeply at local level. For organisations, issues include resourcing, prioritising objectives, staffing, and how much influence the organisation is capable of maintaining in flatter structures.

On the positive side, there have been innovative responses to this reductionist approach:

Alan concluded by confirming that libraries have been managing decline for a number of years. We need to re-examine our mission and determine the resources required to deliver it.

The Tuesday session closed with a presentation by Ms Hayley Harris, Alexander Street Press on the product, Music Online.

16 April: Members’ Day

Presidential Address:

Tracing the path of professional education for public library staffs: 1928-2008
Deirdre Ellis-King, President, LAI
Chair: Rhys Bebb Jone, Chair, CILIP Cymru/Wales

Deirdre Ellis-King explored the various means by which public library staff acquired professional training prior to the formation of the LAI and subsequently. She particularly emphasised the tough economic conditions which prevailed in the emergent state and the consequent difficulty of ensuring that high standards of training and education were met. This placed demands on the association who set the standards and prioritised professional training. The LAI was incorporated in March 1952 and distance learning activities were in place in the early 1950s. The President emphasised the need to maintain vigorous re-training processes which would be necessitated by changes in society and the continuing need for professional postgraduate education.

Parallel Sessions

I: Services for All
Pat Beech, Royal National Institute for the Blind Library
Niall Crowley, Chief Executive, The Equality Authority
Chair: Breda Gleeson, Kildare County Librarian

Pat Beech emphasised the need to listen to blind people in order to provide services which are inclusive and equitable. She pointed out that the legislation only demands minimum requirements whereas we should aim for the maximum standards of provision. Blind people should be able to access information, which is their right, without intermediaries. Pat explained that 100 people begin to lose their sight every day; the corollorary of this is that their use of the public library decreases correspondingly. Twenty per cent of blind and poor-sighted people, aged 75+, have not left their homes in a week; 46% of these have given up their hobbies. The situation invites us to:

Niall Crowley began by stating that Services for All equates to a standard for equality.

Equality should be a high standard and access should be the aim. Equality should be part of the decision-making process.

He proceeded to speak about the implications of diversity and the barriers to equality of access which can be either physical or attitudinal. Like Pat, he emphasised the need for consultation with individual users and local disability organisations. He also dealt with the auditing of buildings, the design of services, the provision of assistive technology, the level of capacity among staff to deal with disability, the delivery of services and events which are inclusive. In terms of marketing, Niall placed an emphasis on identifying channels people with disabilities use. He also stressed the importance of quality control and data collection.

Referring to the Equal Status Acts, Niall said that compliance is the bottom line. Services should be pro-active in terms of equality. It is important to create an approach that is endemic rather than championed by individuals. Staff should be well trained and action plans should engage with the reality of needs. Organisations should engage in evidence-based, participative, decision-making.

2: Digitising our Past I:

The Changing Libraries Digitisation Programme*
Joan Ward, Executive Librarian, An Chomhairle Leabharlanna/The Library Council
Chair: Kieran Swords, Chair, LAI/Genealogy & Local Studies Section

Joan Ward described the Changing Libraries Programme, the partners of which are the Department of the Environment, Heritage & Local Government, library authorities and the Library Council. The aim is to digitise local content and make it available online via the web site, Ask about Ireland [2]. The site contains documents, images, links and contacts. Digitisation is labour intensive, but positive outcomes are:

Other sources which are available on the site are The Irish Times Digital Archive and Historic Map Viewer (The Ordnance Survey 6” and 25” map series). Griffith’s Valuation will shortly be available and there are plans to go live with the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century statistical surveys of various Irish counties.

Apart from the positive aspects mentioned above, the web site will benefit from feedback and community memory, and has much potential for growth.

3: Digitising Our Past 2:

The 1911 Census in the National Archives
Caitríona Crowe, Senior Archivist, The National Archives
Chair: Kieran Swords, Chair, LAI/Genealogy & Local Studies Section

Caitríona Crowe took the audience on a fascinating tour of the digitised 1911 Census, a project undertaken by the National Archives (Ireland) in partnership with the Library & Archives Canada. To date only the census for Dublin city and county is available but gradually the census for the remainder of the country will be rolled out and the 1901 Census should be completed by mid-2009. Caitríona explained that Ireland is unique in that it is the only country which preserved the original census forms. It is possible to reconstruct the composition of entire streets in terms of residents, how houses were divided up etc. Added value has been added to the web site via the introduction of selections from photographic collections of the National Library of Ireland and the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, and tram timetables from the resources of the Irish Railway Record Society. Essays have been commissioned on topics relating to Dublin at this crucial time pre the Great War.

Caitríona alluded to the potential of sites such as this as a springboard for exhibitions and a host of other co-operative activities [3].

4: EU Information Everywhere: The Europe Direct Service

Maureen Kerr, Donegal County Library
Chair: Mary Carleton Reynolds, Longford County Librarian and Chair, LAI/City & Co. Librarians Group

Maureen Kerr began by describing the origins of the Europe Direct Service which arose in the context of a negative perception of the European Union (EU) as being bureaucratic and remote. The rejection of the Consitutional Treaty in 2005 by the Netherlands and France, Ireland’s initial rejection of the Nice Treaty and concerns among EU citizens about the effects of enlargement and globalisation prompted the Vice-President of the European Commission, Margot Wallstrom to promote the idea of a ‘Plan D’, standing for Debate, Dialogue and Democracy.

In Ireland the EDS partners are the European Commission, the Library Council and libraries in various regions, Letterkenny Library being the centre for North-West Ireland.

The aim is to bring the EU closer to the individual citizen by providing information on opportunities offered by the Union, information about the EU and how to make your voice heard in Europe. Services offered by ED centres include:

25 per cent of users access the service re mobility issues and a similar number seek information on EU institutions, their functions and objectives. Maureen showed interesting graphs re issues of concern to Europeans, in which unemployment ranked highest at 36%, followed closely by the cost of living and pension issues. Significantly, economic growth featured seventh from the bottom of the scale at 7%.

Communication priorities for 2008 are: The Lisbon Treaty; the Lisbon Strategy for growth and employment; energy and climate change; migration; EU’s role in the world; EU budget review etc. The service is funded by the European Commission with a grant to the Library Council for maintenance of the Web site. [4][5][6]

The National Library of Ireland: Recent Strategic and Digital Developments

Aongus ÓhAonghusa, Director, National Library of Ireland (NLI) and Katherine McSharry, Assistant Keeper II, NLI
Chair: Fionnuala Hanrahan, Vice-President, LAI

Aongus Ó hAonghusa welcomed the opportunity to speak at the conference about developments at the NLI [7], including a new Strategic Plan, 2008-10. He began by outlining briefly the history and background of the library and referred to its statutory functions which include Irish legal deposit. The library holds over 8 million items.

The change in status of the library in 2005, whereby it has a governing board and is an autonomous cultural institution offers new challenges and opportunities. The library aims to be a world-class institution by 2020: the library has identified six key strategic aims and 25 objectives which are elaborated in the Strategic Plan, copies of which were circulated in the delegates’ conference packs. Aongus stressed the potential for collaborative working (e.g. on digital projects) between the National Library and libraries in other sectors. He also suggested staff exchanges, exhibitions and other ideas which could be explored in the future. Finally, the Director invited comment on the Library’s Collection Policy which will shortly be made available.

The Strategic Plan [8] is available from the NLI’s online Reports and Policy Documents.

Katherine McSharry elaborated the Library’s plans to digitise images from the collections and the ongoing digitisation of the major bibliographic resource Hayes’s Manuscript sources for the history of Irish civilisation, 11 vols + supplements (Boston, 1965-79) and Richard Hayes, ed., Sources for the history of Irish civilisation: Articles from Irish periodicals, 9 vols (Boston, 1970). The emphasis is on access to the Library’s resources and to this end the National Library is contributing to the Europeana digital library project which is part of the European Library.

The COLICO Lecture:

‘Cross-border working makes sense, but more needs to be done’

Andy Pollak, Director, Centre for Cross-Border Studies, and Secretary, Universities Ireland
Chair: Elaine Urquhart, Chairperson, COLICO (The Committee for Library Co-operation in Ireland)

COLICO (Committee on Library Co-operation in Ireland) [9] is a North-South body whose function is to optimise the collective value of the combined resources of Irish libraries for their clienteles. The committee was established in 1977 and since 1994 has been the formal advisory body on library co-operation to An Chomhairle Leabharlanna, and the Library & Information Services Council, Northern Ireland (LISC). An Chomhairle Leabharlanna provides the Secretariat to the Committee. COLICO hosts an annual lecture at the joint conference.

Andy Pollak spoke about the work of the Centre for Cross Border Studies (CCBS) and indicated key factors for good practice in North-South co-operation. The CCBS is one of the most significant non-governmental North-South bodies to have emerged since the 1998 Belfast Agreement. It is an independent, university-based centre providing research, policy development and administrative services to groups and organisations wishing to engage in cross-border co-operation. Andy outlined the wide range of activities and research projects at all levels, which the CCBS has facilitated or managed. These include training public and civil servants in North-South co-operation. Andy highlighted:

Areas which need to be strengthened or addressed are:

Andy emphasised the need, above all, to ‘do things which make sense’ and bring real benefits to the people of both jurisdictions.

The full text of Andy’s address [10] is available.

Curators of the Carriers of Civilisation:

The Role of the Rare Books Librarian in the 21st Century

Marie Boran, NUI Galway and Evelyn Flanagan, UCD
Chair: Mary Farrell, Westmeath County Librarian

Evelyn Flanagan and Marie Boran gave a joint presentation in which they outlined the wide variety of collections handled by Special Collections librarians, the attendant activities, e.g. conservation, training readers in handling the collections, building up the collections, digitisation, organising lectures, exhibitions, classes etc. Examples of projects in which Special Collections librarians can be involved were cited, included the Galway 1842 Map Project. Marie and Evelyn referred in particular to the work of the LAI/Rare Books Group, and the services which it offers to those working, however marginally, with rare books or special collections. These include cataloguing workshops, seminars on topics such as maps, drawings, ephemera, history of science collections and so on, visits and lectures. The group has also published seminar papers and other works of interest to librarians, historians and bibliographers.

Resource Description and Access (RDA):

A New International Standard

Ann Chapman, UKOLN, and Chair of CILIP/BL Committee on AACR/RDA
Chair: Colette O’Flaherty, National Library of Ireland

Ann Chapman described RDA [11] as a new standard for creating bibliographic metadata, drawing on AACR and taking into account the requirements of bibliographic records and the often complex relationships introduced by multimedia and a plethora of formats and activities. Ann outlined the problems with AACR2, including issues re seriality and hierarchical relationships and the problems arising from mixing the data relating to ‘content and carrier’. A joint steering committee consisting of the ACOC, ALA, BL, CCC, CILIP and LC is guiding the process. The aim is to establish rules which are:

Ann gave examples of how the rules might be applied in practice: many of the applications are simpler and more practical than the old rules permitted. The features are more user-centred and may be used with MARC, Dublin Core etc. The process of refinement is ongoing and greater emphasis is being accorded to cataloguer judgement. The end product will be capable of being customised for one’s own institutional requirements, e.g. MyRDA.

RDA will be published as an online resource; the demo version will be shown at IFLA 2008. It may also be issued in a loose-leaf version. The national libraries will lead the field in implementation.

The conference featured a lively trade exhibition, a civic reception hosted by Athlone Town Council, an enjoyable conference dinner and a visit to the Athlone Library and Civic Centre with a tour of the Aidan Heavey Special Collection.


The author acknowledges with thanks the notes taken by Ms Mary Conefrey, Leitrim County Library, at the presentation entitled ‘Digitising our Past I: ‘The Changing Libraries Digitisation Programme’.


  1. The European Library http://www.theeuropeanlibrary.org/portal/index.html
  2. Ask about Ireland AAI http://www.askaboutireland.ie/
  3. National Archives: Census of Ireland 1911 http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/
  4. EuropeDirect.ie - Home http://www.europedirect.ie/
  5. European Commission: The EU in Ireland http://ec.europa.eu/
  6. Europa - The European Union On-Line http://europa.eu/
  7. The National Library of Ireland http://www.nli.ie/
  8. The National Library of Ireland: Reports and Policy Documents http://www.nli.ie/en/udlist/reports-and-policy-documents.aspx
  9. Committee on Library Co-operation in Ireland (COLICO) http://www.librarycouncil.ie/colico/
  10. COLICO Lecture Series http://www.librarycouncil.ie/colico/lectureseries.shtml
  11. “RDA: cataloguing for the twenty-first century”, presentation by Ann Chapman to the Annual Joint Conference of the Library Association of Ireland and Cilip, April 2008
    and also: “RDA: A New International Standard”, Ann Chapman, October 2006, Ariadne, Issue 49

Author Details

Siobhán Fitzpatrick
Vice-President, LAI
and Librarian, Royal Irish Academy, Dublin

Email: s.Fitzpatrick@ria.ie
Web site: http://www.ria.ie/

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