Maria Ryan

Maria Ryan

Last updated on 15 March 2018

by Jenny Doyle, Joanna Finegan, Della Keating and Maria Ryan, Digital Collections Department, National Library of Ireland. 

Reading Room

The National Library of Ireland was founded in 1877.  The mission of the library is the same now as it was then, to collect, protect and share the material that comprises Ireland’s literary and documentary heritage, in whatever form it takes. The library has extensive manuscript and printed collections, along with ephemera and photographic material. In recent years, the NLI has turned it’s attentions towards fulfilling our mandate in the 21st century, by making our collections available online through our website and also collecting born digital material.

Archiving the Irish web

In 2011, the NLI began collecting Irish websites in order to document the General and Presidential elections of that year. In the years following, further collections were developed to reflect the political, cultural and creative life of Ireland online. To date, we have collected over 1300 websites and have made them freely available online, anywhere in the world.

Our selective web archive has grown out of a progression in our collecting policy. The NLI, as a legal deposit library, has always collected the published output of the state. As this moves increasingly online, the NLI has a duty to continue to collect this material, albeit in a different form. Ireland, unlike many other European countries, has yet to adopt Legal Deposit legislation that would explicitly mandate for the collection of digital or online publications. In the absence of such legislation, the NLI is fulfilling its mandate by undertaking digital collecting. As with our Born Digital Pilot project, we are also working with the creators of digital content. We are collaborating with The 100 Archive, a platform for the Irish graphic design community, to preserve Irish website design.

In 2017, the NLI undertook a full domain crawl of the Irish web. A previous crawl had been done in 2007, but could not be made available due to limited resources. Working with the Internet Archive, the crawl was undertaken in late 2017. With the help of IEDR, Ireland’s domain registry, a number of seed lists were prepared which helped enrich and inform the crawler. A focus was placed on higher education sites, including research projects websites, Irish language websites and political websites. The crawl resulted in the capture of 40TB of data. This includes 2,983,721 websites and over 390,306,821 documents captured. The domain crawl will be made available in the reading room in the NLI later this year. We are also currently exploring the optimum preservation approaches to preserving our Warc files. Moving forward, the NLI is committed to preserving and making available the online life of Ireland.

Born-Digital pilot project

In January of 2017 we started the National Library of Ireland Born digital pilot project. This project is in response to the challenge of collecting, preserving and making available unique and irreplaceable Irish digital content which is growing at an unprecedented rate, and which is in huge danger of loss. It also arose in recognition of our role as an Irish memory institution in a digital age. Our mission remains the same but we need to evolve to ensure that we can preserve Ireland’s cultural heritage in digital form.

The pilot project is designed to collect unique born digital content and manage it from pre-acquisition stage to access as part of a full collection management lifecycle. We aim to develop, document and trial workflows around a number of different content types including both textual and visual material. The project is broken down into four stages and we are currently on stage two, working with our potential donors to survey their collections and make informed decisions around selection and appraisal, tasks that we are familiar with from the analogue world. In parallel with this, we also completed a requirements process around our new Forensic workstation, and worked with our ICT team to help set it up. That process has given us a sense of excitement (and fear!) around what is to come.


Digitisation has been an established programme of work in the NLI for a number of years and has been useful for readers and valuable for the organisation, not least because it has set us on the road to Digital Preservation. While we are certainly not there yet, we have (through digitisation) established workflows in which we create digital objects in preferred preservation formats, with appropriate descriptive, technical and structural metadata. This is then managed in a digital repository and the content can be accessed by staff and is made available to readers through our catalogue. To date nearly 20% of material is available on our catalogue is digitised. The next step on our preservation journey is to develop the type of content we create and preserve…to paraphrase a political slogan: some done, a lot more to do.

To find out more about the National Library of Ireland and our digital collections, please visit our website and follow us on Twitter.

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