The un-Irish achievements of the Digital Repository of Ireland
The sheer quantity of information produced since the digital age began some two decades ago is astounding. In bulk at least, it dwarfs everything that went before. And for future historians and contemporary archivists, this presents a terrible problem.
The tsunami of ephemera that swamps us every day might seem trivial, but if it vanishes completely no true history of the world we now live in will ever be possible.
The Digital Repository of Ireland (dri.ie) is, in part, an attempt to face this problem. On one level, it is a third-level research institution, dedicated to designing ways to preserve at least some of the fleeting online world. Rather than just doing this itself, the DRI also aims to spur other bodies into taking part in the worldwide efforts to cope with the gargantuan historical raw material we are now producing. As far as this layman can tell, it is succeeding admirably, producing world-class research.
A more public part of DRI’s remit is to partner with archiving organisations in making digital collections more publicly accessible and intelligible, in effect demonstrating what is possible. This has already produced spectacular results. Launched just 10 days ago, repository.dri.ie showcases records, film, audio recordings and photographs from more than 20 Irish organisations, bringing into the light material that would hitherto only have been available to a few specialists. One of my favourites is the complete collection of the Harry Clarke stained-glass studio records, from TCD.
Not the least of DRI’s achievements is the success of its collaborative approach. Irish institutions can be aggressively territorial and the level of cooperation – by funding bodies, record-holders, government departments, universities – is nothing short of extraordinary. What a different place this country would be if more of it operated like this.
DRI’s founding director Dr Sandra Collins begins work as head of the National Library next month. I can’t wait to see what she does.