Offaly History Archives will shortly launch a searchable online catalogue of its holdings. Not only that, the website will contain a large amount of digitised resources and will also host the catalogues of other Offaly repositories so that researchers will be able to search for related material in one place. Here are some facts and figures about the new catalogue.
When will it be launched?
We are hoping to launch the catalogue in August 2016. It is a work in progress so parts of the catalogue will be released in stages to allow further work on the remainder. The first collection to be released is from a hosted repository, Offaly County Council Heritage Office. In 2013, OCC’s Heritage Officer, Amanda Pedlow, arranged for the digitisation of the Digby Irish Estates papers which are kept by Lord Digby in Dorset. The papers contain the annual reports sent to the Lords Digby by successive land agents on the Geashill Estate. The first tranche of these reports, containing over 1000 digital objects, will be the first section of the catalogue to go live. These comprise the annual reports written by William Steuert Trench and his son, Thomas Weldon Trench between 1857 and 1872. The reports are a goldmine of information on the tenantry, containing full rentals of all townlands in the 30,000 acres which made up Lord Digby’s estate. They also contain vivid descriptions of housing conditions, poverty, emigration, agrarian unrest and even assassination plots against the Trenchs. Although generally reviled amongst the tenants for their cruelty, the Trenchs were improvers and the reports also contain detailed explanations of land improvements, drainage schemes, establishment of new farms, construction of new housing, repairs to existing housing and plantations of woodlands.
What will I be able to search?
The catalogue will allow you to run a search in a variety of different ways. You can simply enter a term in the search box similar to a google search, or you can browse placenames, subjects, digital objects or authority records. Authority records are definitive descriptions of people, corporate bodies and families which link related archival collections and help to direct researchers to relevant material. In a multi-repository online platform such as this catalogue, the authority records will create linkages and cross-references in collections held by separate repositories. For example, the digitised collection of images in the Digby Irish Estates as described above, will be linked through authority records and other taxonomies (placenames and subjects) to the Geashill Estate Papers, a collection of estate papers held in Offaly History Archives. This will be of immense use to researchers as it will enable real-time comparisons of related archival material on one platform.
What kind of software does the catalogue use?
The catalogue uses AtoM software. AtoM or (Access to Memory) is an open-source, web-based, standards-complaint software powered by Artefactual Systems Inc. It has a powerful database and for all the archivists out there, it is completely compliant with ISAD(G), ISAAR and ISDIAH. Other institutions that use AtoM include the Borthwick Institute at the University of York, the National Library of Wales, and the 800 repositories that make up Archives Canada.
How long will it take to catalogue all of the archival material in Offaly History Archives?
Cataloguing is a slow and painstaking process. This is for many reasons: archival material is original, authentic and unique. Records of enduring value are selected and preserved for this very reason, and every effort is made to ensure their survival for future generations of researchers. Processes such as accessioning, cataloguing, coding and labelling are undertaken to maintain the integrity of the original record so that it may be used as a reliable primary source in historical research. The downside to this careful and systematic preservation is that archivists’ workflows very rarely match researchers’ timelines (or deadlines!). As work on Offaly History’s archival collections is a very recent development, it will take some time for the full extent of the holdings to be reflected in the online catalogue. We will update this blog whenever a new collection is released for research so make sure you are signed up as an email follower.