24 Jul 2020

From my home to yours: showing off our manuscript collections in a virtual world.

Guest Post by Sophie Evans, Royal Irish Academy Library


For many years, the Library has welcomed Readers and visitors into its beautiful hushed nineteenth-century Reading Room. Every morning, before the doors opened, staff would carefully place a manuscript in the display case. A daily task which never became mundane; it is always a joy and a privilege to handle such old precious books, sure isn’t that what most librarians dream of! Then the Covid crisis hit; the manuscripts were safely locked away and library staff were sent home, scattered across Dublin and beyond. So, as manuscripts, library and librarians are locked away, how would we show off our wonderful collections? More importantly, would people be interested in our collections during a global pandemic?


As the member of staff responsible for the Library’s social media accounts, it was up to me to invite people to visit and learn about our collections virtually. Granted, this isn’t the same as visiting and seeing the manuscript in person but it does allow us to engage with more people and provide more in-depth information. Also, in a display case, you can only see the pages which are open, online you can see however many pages you want. My plan, alone and holed up in my Dublin city apartment, was to look at a different manuscript each week in detail and present this on our Twitter and Instagram feeds. This could not be done without the Irish Script on Screen (ISOS) project, which for over 20 years have been digitising Irish manuscripts from across Europe. Almost a hundred Academy manuscripts are freely available to view on ISOS and the majority have detailed catalogue records included. This really is a wonderfully important resource for researchers and librarians. The importance of digitisation has become even more apparent in 2020 as we have been separated from our physical collections.


Along with the images and information from ISOS, I also took advantage of the Special Collections pages on our website. My colleague Dr Bernadette Cunningham has been very busy updating and writing new pages for our website, providing detailed information on many of our manuscripts and other collections. For additional information on manuscripts I used the Library’s publication ‘Treasures of the Academy’ and Tim O’Neill’s Book ‘The Irish Hand’, and various articles located via JSTOR. When posting on social media I try to make the information accessible, informative, visually interesting and fun and also to provide links to further reading and resources. Here are some examples of Twitter threads on some of our older manuscripts.


Leabhar Breac 

Book of Ui Maine 

Book of Lecan 

B ii 1 Astronomical and Medical tract 

The Lebor ha hUidre is my favourite manuscript and for this one I experimented with iMovie and dusted off my guitar! 


Engagement on our social media accounts has increased and the feedback has been encouraging. We have all had to adapt to a different way of working and living and connecting to each other. Maybe ancient manuscripts on a modern medium are a welcome distraction. I very much hope that we will be able to welcome visitors into the Reading Room soon but for now, as the Academy motto goes, we will endeavour.



Sophie Evans

Assistant Librarian

Royal Irish Academy


(Title in homage to Bruce Springsteen’s recent lockdown radio show, From My home to yours.)






Posted on Friday, July 24, 2020 | Categories: