Trinity College library to enter technological age

Proposal to declutter Long Room and create ‘Genius Bar’ for aspiring Mark Zuckerbergs

Trinity College Dublin may have one of the most envied libraries in the world but it's not resting on its laurels.

One hundred and fifty years after opening the Long Room, now one of Ireland leading tourist attractions, the university is planning a range of digital innovations to create “the 21st-century library for the future”.

A strategic plan for the library published Thursday proposes some decluttering and relocating of exhibitions; greater integration of new technology; and creating a different learning experience for students including collaborative and entrepreneurial zones.

It proposes to better utilise the Book of Kells visitors’ centre to showcase Trinity’s academic output, suggesting many tourists come away from the attraction with little knowledge of the host university.

Proposals aimed at improving the student experience include the creation of a “Tech Bar with the customer focus of a Genius Bar,” catering for aspiring Mark Zuckerbergs.

Despite the name, however, it has nothing to do with serving drinks. The library cites the example of the University of Chicago's TECHB@R, which provides walk-up technology support including free digital equipment lending.

The document is designed to trigger consultation and debate within Trinity, leading to a five-year implementation plan which “will take longer to achieve; this is essentially a 15-year strategy”, it says.

In an introduction to the strategy, Helen Shenton, librarian and college archivist, writes: "150 years ago, a brilliant architectural solution to structural and space challenges saw the creation of the sublime, soaring, barrel-vaulted roof of the Long Room.

“Fifty years ago Trinity commissioned an imaginative, controversial, brutalist, constructionist - and successful - new building which became known as the Berkeley Library… Now, in that Trinity tradition, we must innovate - in both the virtual and physical realms - to create the Library that ensures our multiple communities progress and flourish.”

Ms Shenton says: “As the very concept of what a library is blurs and morphs, the boundaries between a 24 hour bookstore and coffee shop, a pop-up learning commons, a data visualisation lab, a social collaboratory and a library are melding.”

Among Trinity’s goals are to increase its global reach from a base last year of 2.16 million “visits” to its virtual library, as measured by searches internationally of its web pages and digital archives.

TCD is already introducing some new digital displays to its Treasures Exhibition, incorporating the Book of Kells. The strategy proposes further improvements to improve the visitor experience and enhance conservation.

It says temporary exhibitions could be relocated from the Long Room “in order to concentrate the glory of the ‘most beautiful room in Ireland’.”

The visitors’ centre could also be used to showcase TCD academic research with daily “press cuttings” the latest academic research on wall of screens, it says.

The strategy notes: “In the physical realm, Trinity has the ‘wow’ factor of the Long Room in the Old Library, experienced by 750,000 visitors each year. The vision is for Trinity to have the equivalent “wow” factor in all the library spaces - where research excellence is manifest to inspire students and where potential industry partners are taken, where serendipitous encounter happens.”

The TCD library was the fifth most visited paid tourist attraction in Ireland last year, according to Fáilte Ireland.

* The strategy can be downloaded here:

Joe Humphreys

Joe Humphreys

Joe Humphreys is an Assistant News Editor at The Irish Times and writer of the Unthinkable philosophy column