Tuesday, January 24, 2017


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What am I doing going to a talk on the evolving university library? Haven't I left all that behind me long ago?

It's true that in UCD studying politics, in the last century, I had to get a note from my tutor to get out a book which the Catholic church disapproved of and which was stored behind the librarian's counter on a very high shelf indeed.

Well, apparently all has changed, changed utterly and a terrible beauty of sorts has been born.

The challenge is immense: from the need to digitise existing resources, through how they are then made available both to researchers and the wider public, to how are we going to digitally conserve the present for future generations.

You might think that in today's digital world this could be achieved at the mere push of a button.

Sandra Collins

Not so. And nobody knows this better than Sandra Collins, Director of the National Library of Ireland. Sandra introduced Helen Shenton, Librarian and Archivist at TCD, who was going to lead us through this complex territory, explaining the global challenges and how TCD is responding to them.

First, though, I have to recall Sandra's recent TEDx talk in UCD on this very subject, where, in simple language, she explained the parameters of the enormous task facing us.

Helen Shenton

Helen Shenton came to TCD in 2014 and she was well aware of the task ahead. She was, however, undaunted having worked miracles already in the V&A, the British Library and Harvard. Her experience was vast and she was now bringing it to bear on this institution.

She is not only dealing with digitising what is there, she is also busy figuring out how to use the spaces that become available when material is digitised and the physical copies are then consigned to storage.

TCD Long Room

She is unlikely to strip the Long Room of its books, which at this stage are almost part of the structure of the building. She has already told us how much she is in awe of this wonderful room and how she has given up explaining it to visitors. She just steps back and lets the visitor experience the sheer wonder of it.

Whatever about all the digital and virtual stuff, Helen is also a great respecter of physical space and she envisages the function of the library in the widest sense possible. It is not just a place for reading but for learning, networking and socialising. People also learn from each other so socio-academic space is vital.

Library and College's central location

While TCD's physical space is limited by the surrounding streets, the whole digital revolution opens up the possibility of re-conceiving existing space as it is freed up and there can be new premises acquired off campus. All this without losing TCD's great asset of a city centre location.

And, of course, developments go beyond the boundaries of this one college. Each university/college needs to have its own place of excellence in the scheme of things. Substantial duplication, for which there may have been some justification in the past, needs to be eliminated and the capacity released put to creative use.

Helen & Sandra, all smiles

This is just giving you a flavour of what Helen is at. If you are curious for more, the whole thing is spelled out in detail in the library's strategy, the cover of which is reproduced at the top of this post.

And so, after an enthusiastic and fast moving talk from one librarian, hosted by another "librarian", we call a halt with smiles all round.

[Talk was at the National Library of Ireland at 1pm on 19/1/2017]

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