Digital Humanities Research Colloquium: “Preserving the Library of the Future”

Preserving the Library of the Future

Elaine Harrington


A Next Generation Learning Spaces seminar was hosted in the Boole Library on 11th October 2017. Keynote speaker Professor Stephen Heppell from Bournemouth University spoke on the latest innovative developments in the fields of learning, new media, and technology.  Prof. Stephen Heppell noted the following: ‘next generation is here and it means business’ and ‘students are going to a world of surprises.’ With these points in mind, how do libraries prepare for the library of the future? In this presentation, Elaine Harrington will discuss traditional expertise and how this is adapted for the uncharted territories of the future. (James O’Sullivan)

About the Speaker

Elaine Harrington is a Special Collections Librarian at UCC’s Boole Library. Elaine has a background in teaching and is an active member of the LAI’s Rare Books and Special Collections Group and CONUL’s Unique and Distinct Collections Group.

Image of The Boole Library situate UCC.
Boole Library, UCC

The Digital Humanities Research Colloquiums arranged by James O’Sullivan every Wednesday in the DH Active Learning Space to date have been a great learning experience for me. I found the lecture given by Elaine Harrington a great insight into the Special Collections held at UCC Boole Library. Following on from the #nextgenspaces learning event outlined above Elaine highlighted the fact that the Next Generation learning space is Now. In discussing contemporary collecting Elaine gave the example of the V & A museum who have taken a new approach to curating and through what they term as a  “Rapid Response Collections Initiative” are involved in collecting and displaying objects from the here and now. By collecting items such as Katy Perry’s false Eyelashes, a 3-D printed gun, Nude Shoes they are collecting now for the museum of the future.

Elaine asks us why an item would go into Special Collections? A book or document can be held in Special Collections for many reasons, Its Rarity, it may be part of a collection, a famous author (The Boole holds the private collection of Frank O’Connor’s books). Unique and distinctive collections can be of many varied formats such as early printed books, newspapers, maps, microfilm, audio-visual, music manuscripts but will also include born-digital and digitized documents.

Image of Old Leather Bound Books., UCC Library.

The speaker gave a detailed account of the preservation tools of the trade used by the Special Collections, namely the Phase Box, Archival folders, Japanese Paper and little thing such as plastic paper clips.

Further to this, the speaker outlined the environmental factors that affect materials preservation, such as temperature, humidity, light, air pollution. Confirming that chemically stable materials will last indefinitely with the proper care.  The oldest book held in the UCC Boole library dates back to 1476. 


Preservation is very important Elaine outlines but even more so is, access. In giving us a glimpse of access to documents in the past she described how back in 1930’s and 1940’s photostat copies of manuscripts were made and held, these photostats still exist in the Boole today. They are really valuable, as they provide the only access to many manuscripts, the original of which may be held in the National Library. Some were never put on microfilm so these old fashioned photostats are the only copy of the manuscripts available. (see Riverside Blog)

Online you will see that UCC has given access to the 1911 Henebry/O’Neill Wax Cylinder Digitisation Project, it is just wonderful to have access to music that would otherwise be forgotten. But as Elaine points out while it is great to digitize a collection such as this, we must make sure website are kept up to date and links are working. These recordings are available for free download.


Elaine notes that with Digital and the advances in technology we are heading into unchartered territories, she outlined previously the new Rapid Response Collections Initiative of the V&A Museum, where they hope in the future to provide insights into the design that reflects how we live right now. For the future, we must ask what do we capture now?  Elaine asks where are we going? “When you go off the map there will be dragons”!  Giving the example of Twitter and the documenting of historical events #CharlestonShooting, and  documenting Ferguson, the question is, how do we digitally preserve this? Is it possible? There are up to 16 pieces of information on a tweet, for example the number of tweets, source.

Image of twitter icon and Library of Congress
twitter donate public twitter conversation data to the Library of Congress (image courtesy of Gnip Blog)

In 2010, with the intention of preserving America’s digital heritage, Twitter donated an entire Tweet Archive to the Library of Congress. But we read that to date nothing has been done with this project. How do you proceed and create an archive for the vast amount of information contained in what is reported to be half a trillion tweets?

Elaine highlights the challenges ahead for the Library going forward. Paper is a known quantity, what space is needed for digital? We can’t harvest everything, there is personal information, we have no right to harvest this. Web sites can be taken down, Snapchats & tweets are transient, we need back-up, USB keys, hard-drives, Data- centers, money. You-Tube, is this a digital archive of our day? Digitisation allows access without the potential damage to the original, but digitization increases awareness and consequently more requests for the original.

“ Arguably, the issues of safekeeping digital content that has traditionally stayed within the realm of historical records and memory institutions, are now part of everyday life, posing challenging questions. What happens to our social content? Where will our memories be kept in 50 years? How will the public and scholars, including historians, researchers, and genealogists, know what life was like in the early 21st century? How will we ensure the reproducibility and reuse of scientific output in the future?”(iPres 2016)

Image of iPRES 2016 Borchure
Screenshot of iPRES Brochure 2016
 In outlining the future of the Library, Elaine confirms the value of the digital as a vital resource in our knowledge economy. Digital preservation of information that is valuable for research, education, for science and the humanities presents many challenges going forward. But, access in the future to information depends on the digital preservation work of today. Digital is fragile, digital information is often at risk of loss or becoming outdated. Preservation for the future will depend on the deliberate and ongoing allocation of resources, human, technical and financial.
Web References:
Harrington, Elaine. “Preserving the Library of the Future.” Lecture Slides, 18th October, 2017.

IPR16.Proceedings_4_Web_Broschuere_Link.Pdf. Accessed 5 Dec. 2017.

Smith Rumsey, A. 2010. Sustainable Economics for a
Digital Planet: Ensuring Long-Term Access to Digital
Information. Blue Ribbon Task Force on Sustainable
Digital Preservation and Access

Victoria & Albert Museum
About the Colloquium
UCC’s Digital Arts & Humanities Research Colloquium draws speakers from across Cork’s research community (and sometimes beyond). Comprised of subject experts and postgraduate students, the event fosters multidisciplinary exchange while exposing students and faculty to new concepts, methods, and projects. Held every Wednesday at 1pm in the DH Active Learning Space.