14 July 2014

Oireachtas Library & Research Service launches OPAC

By John McDonough, Head of Collections, Oireachtas Library & Research Service. Email: John.McDonough@Oireachtas.ie

The Oireachtas Library & Research Service (L&RS) launched its online public access catalogue (OPAC) in November 2013.  The OPAC launch was the culmination of a series of works and policies progressed by the L&RS in developing its public facing role and services. The OPAC was launched by the Ceann Comhairle (Speaker of the House) and Diarmaid Ferriter, Professor of Modern Irish History, University College Dublin.  Guests included senior managers from cultural institutions, historians and librarians in addition to departmental officials.

An Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett TD at the OPAC Launch

An Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett TD at the OPAC Launch

The launch of the OPAC was a major initiative for the Oireachtas. For example it:

  • provides the research community and the public with access to a comprehensive body of reports, pamphlets, maps and other documents;
  • promotes the accessibility and transparency of documents laid before parliament;
  • promotes and facilitates self-service across government departments, academics and other users who contact us for copies of documents laid or historical material;
  • enables the Oireachtas to leverage value from its investment in the parliamentary collections.

Background

The L&RS delivers information and research services to support the work of both Houses of the Oireachtas, Committees and individual Members in respect of their parliamentary duties. Like other parliamentary library & research services, the L&RS provides legislative briefings, in depth analysis of statistics or copies of the latest journal articles or newspaper articles.  However we also hold a valuable collection of older material with historical or statutory significance.

Public Facing Role

In 2011 we received permission from the Oireachtas Management Committee to develop our public facing role.  The central element of the public facing role was to publish the library catalogue online. As the Oireachtas ICT network placed all our online resources behind secure firewalls, there was a body of technical works required to move the relevant collections to a new location on the network to ensure the material could be accessed.  The OPAC module of our Library Management System was also customised to ensure it was appropriate for both internal and public usage and to ensure that thee was clear demarcation between public and private documents.

The OPAC makes over 80,000 individual items and in excess of 6 million page scans available to the general public and it represents one of the largest digital archives in the State. We are the only parliament or assembly in the British Isles to share its catalogue and online resources in such a comprehensive manner.  Take up of the new service has been very positive with over 2000 downloads per month. 

To coincide with the launch, three online exhibitions were prepared which focused on selected elements from the collections, under the themes of Maps and Mapping, Ireland and the Crown, and Building Modern Ireland.

Screen shot of online exhibition webpage

Oireachtas Special Collections

Following Irish Independence and the consequent establishment of the Oireachtas, there was an immediate and pressing need for documentation and literature for use by TDs in the fulfilment of their legislative and constitutional duties.  The parliamentary library began a process of collection acquisition, the most significant of which was the transfer from Dublin Castle of the Collection of the Chief Secretary’s Office. The Chief Secretary was the representative of the English crown in Ireland at a time when Ireland was part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain. This collection had been, in effect, the reference library of the British administration in Ireland up to 1922.  It contains a range of books, maps and archival material with the earliest item dating from 1569. This collection represents a unique perspective on Ireland and its peoples over several hundred years as it reflects the interests and preoccupations of that Dublin Castle administration as it looked inwards around this island and outwards to England and to London as a link in that Empire. 

Map of Ireland by Abraham Ortelius, (1527-1598), DCA00102. From the Dublin Castle Archival Material Collection

In 2009 the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission agreed with a plan that we proposed to undertake a cleaning and cataloguing project of the most important items in this collection and also to undertake a preservation scanning project to ensure that should anything happen to these items that a digital version would be available. 

In tandem with the historical collection, the collection of all documents laid (formal papers presented to the parliament by government departments and agencies) over the 20th century was also included for scanning. The documents laid collection gives us an understanding and appreciation of the range of official publications laid before the Houses.  These documents were to be considered by the Dáil and Seanad as part of their role as legislators or were considered of sufficient importance so as to be made available to Members.  They reflect the legislative and administrative concerns, initiatives, developments and challenges through the 20th and into the 21st century. 

To join up current practise with these collections, in 2011, in line with our digital preference policy, we developed an eDocsLaid system to allow departments lay documents electronically which are also now made available through the catalogue. 

In summary the works begun in 2009 to consolidate the collections and ensure their continued custody and use into the 21st century has seen the ability of the L&RS to offer a value added service to the general public whilst continuing to ensure it serves the needs of its primary user base.

Next Steps

In 2014 we will explore the publication of more of our research papers on line to proffer the breadth of parliamentary documents and research papers to the general public.

The OPAC gives a new virtual home to these important documents and enables users to search across the gamut of Oireachtas and L&RS online resources: http://opac.oireachtas.ie

Library and Research Services for Parliaments, Online public access catalogues, Ireland

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