Virtual Heritage & Archive collections at the National Gallery of Ireland: Lessons learned so far
Leah Benson, Archivist
The National Gallery of Ireland
The National Gallery of Ireland not only houses the national art collection but also has an active library and archive department. We have public research spaces where researchers of all levels and disciplines can come and use our collections, but we are highly aware of the need to make this material available to as wide an audience as possible, beyond our physical boundaries. Digitisation of material is an obvious approach to this and, from a special collections perspective, has the benefit of assisting in the long-term protection of the physical items and their content. The NGI library and archives implemented a system which we hoped would be highly visual in nature and provide versatile, user-friendly access to the collections based on the semantics of content. We established as part of our methodology that we would be using ISAD (G) for archival description; build on the ideas of iconclass for subjects and Dublin Core for technical details. We required at least four points of entry for the user to reach any one piece of information or archive item which were determined by our experience of how people have accessed collections in the past. The image was central as we wanted the experience for people viewing a digital item to be as close as possible to accessing the physical reality. It was also extremely important that the system could accommodate records within records and re-create the hierarchy of archival collections in a digital environment.
This system has been in place for some time now, and it would be interesting to discuss our initial aspirations in relation to this project, the work we carried out as non-IT experts and the realities that have presented themselves in relation to using a system like this to catalogue larger archival collections and the resources required.