National Library expands online archive with 10,000 images

Prints, engravings of Daniel O’Connell and Charles Stewart Parnell available

Thousands of digitised images, including dozens relating to historical figures like the Duke of Wellington, Daniel O’Connell and Charles Stewart Parnell, have been put online by the National Library of Ireland

Thu, Apr 24, 2014, 16:33

Thousands of digitised images, including dozens relating to historical figures like the Duke of Wellington, Daniel O’Connell and Charles Stewart Parnell, have been put online by the National Library of Ireland.

Some 10,500 newly digitised images have been made available for public viewing, including the Elmes portrait collection. It is named after the librarian Rosalind Elmes who compiled it, and consists of nearly 3,000 images of 1,100 famous figures from Irish history up to the end of the 19th century. There are 30 engravings of Jonathan Swift and rare portraits of Robert Emmet and Theobald Wolfe Tone.

The new releases include the family photographic collection of Tom Clarke, one of the executed leaders of the 1916 Rising, and his wife Kathleen Clarke, along with correspondence with family, friends and political associates in Ireland.

The family portraits include one of Kathleen Clarke in mourning, surrounded by her children, shortly after her husband was executed. The photograph was widely used to help raise funds for the republican cause.

The National Library first began the process of digitising its mammoth collection of 10 million items in 2007. It now has 65,000 digitised images, but demand for more is growing. A further 2,000 will be released this summer.

Internationally, millions of items from archives have been released digitally in recent years. Last week, British Pathé released its entire archives to YouTube. It consists of 85,000 films, with 3,500 hours of historical footage.

British Pathé had a dedicated Irish section for 50 years and has an extensive collection surrounding the tumultuous period in Irish history from 1912 to the foundation of the Irish Free State.

National Library of Ireland digitisation programme manager Sara Smyth said the digitisation process had created an unrealistic expectation that everything in their collection would be available online.

“There is almost an expectation from our users that they should be able to see things online and they should have that instant accessibility, and we see that expectation,” she said.

“That’s just not possible. We have to proceed on a selective basis. It is a very work-intensive process because a lot of work goes into it before it goes for digitisation. The amount of work that goes into the cataloguing and digitisation of the process is critical - and we are on a very tight budget.”