14 Sept 2021

Preserving our cultural memory in the digital age

Libfocus is very happy to post the second of the highly commended posts in the 2021 CONUL Library Assistant Awards.  Congrats to Stewart Killeen of TU Dublin (City Centre) Library

Recently, I had the great pleasure of watching Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project, Matt Wolf’s documentary film on the life and work of Marion Stokes. Marion Stokes was an African-American civil activist, who besides tirelessly engaging the broad spectrum of American public opinion through public-access television, also took a key interest in technology with all of its political and social implications (Wikipedia, 2021). Her visionary enthusiasm for the new media and technologies which developed throughout the twentieth century and her commitment to democratic values culminated in her astonishing collection of recorded television news footage, spanning a period of 35 years from 1977 until her death in 2012 (Wikipedia, 2021). Her collection, which is now in the care of the ambitious Internet Archive project, consists of 140,000 VHS tapes, and it provides a record of televised news covering many of the seminal events that marked the close of the previous millennium and the beginning of a new one (Wikipedia, 2021). 

Courtesy of the BBC 

It was surely of no little significance to the legacy that Marion Stokes left that for much of her professional life she worked as a librarian with the Free Library of Philadelphia (Wikipedia, 2021). Indeed, in my own short time working as a Library Assistant with Technological University Dublin and through my studies on the MSc in Information and Library Management with Dublin Business School, I have come to appreciate the fragility of our shared cultural record as it is brought to life in a digital world. 

With the arrival of the internet and the explosion of digital technologies that has accompanied it, information professionals have faced both new challenges and opportunities in the curation of information. Traditionally the preserve of librarians and scholars, the digital turn has opened up the domains of human knowledge like never before, offering  “fast facts” to our fingertips (Kavanagh and O’Rourke, 2016, p.4; Rowlands et al., 2008, p.293). In some sense we have all become librarians today, as we access, monitor, and create large volumes of content to be shared and distributed across a wide variety of public platforms. The democratisation of information has undoubtedly improved the individual and collective lives of many, but it has not come without risk. The greatest danger it seems is the tendency to assume that the sheer volume of digital information available is a guarantee of its future sustainability and accessibility. One need only consider the historical and cultural significance of the Marion Stokes collection, however, to appreciate the tenuousness of such an equation. 

As far back as 2003, Clifford Lynch, one of the founding members of the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI), warned of the potential threats to cultural preservation in a digitally-driven economy (Lynch, 2003, p.149). In his paper, The Coming Crisis in Preserving our Digital Heritage, Lynch outlined how developments in intellectual property law, the dynamics of market forces and the technologies involved in maintaining digital information across sustained periods of time may conspire to “create a crisis in our ability to preserve our cultural heritage as this heritage increasingly migrates into digital formats” (Lynch, 2003, p.150). 

Lynch singled out as particularly worrisome the changing terms of availability that increasingly characterise the digital economy where, rather than paying to obtain copies of a given work consumers instead pay to experience these works (Lynch, 2003, p.151). This has in fact become the norm with many of today’s biggest information providers offering a large class of “ephemeral”, “transient,” and “experiential” products in return for a subscription cost (Lynch, 2003, p.151). However, should we choose to abdicate our responsibility for cultural preservation to intermediaries whose primary concern is not the “long-term preservation of the cultural record” we may, as Lynch suggests, run the risk of losing a considerable and vital part of that record (Lynch, 2003, p.151). 

Courtesy of the Haiti Trust Digital Library 

What can be done to avoid such an outcome? 

The success of libraries in supporting digital scholarship within the academic community offers a possible solution. With their expertise in “contextualising information”, their knowledge of metadata creation and their commitment to long-term access, librarians have been instrumental in helping create digital objects that are sustainable in the long-term (Burns, 2016, p.246). Moreover, librarians play a key role in the cultivation of skills that are essential to responsible and effective information management, i.e., information literacy, and there is a growing recognition of the need to cultivate a “digital mindset”, one which inculcates a deeper understanding of the implications of our digital culture (Kavanagh and O’Rourke, 2016, p.7). As Kavanagh and O’Rourke (2016, p.5) have argued, the “truly digital literate person is one who moves beyond passively absorbing information to actively participating in its creation.” By instilling both the skills and appreciation for the creation of sustainable digital objects it is perhaps possible to save some of the digital heritage we will leave to future generations. In doing so we will honour not only our own legacy but also that of Marion Stokes. (777) 

Courtesy of the National Orientation Agency 

Recommended Resources: 

A guide to personal archiving by the Library of Congress
A quick guide to Personal digital archiving by the Digital Preservation Coalition 

How to preserve your digital memories: Sara Day Thomson gives lecture on ‘Personal Digital Archiving’ by the Digital Repository Ireland 

Personal Digital Archiving: the basics by Purdue University Library 


Burns, J.A., 2016. Role of the information professional in the development and promotion of digital humanities content for research, teaching, and learning in the modern academic library: An Irish case study. New Review of Academic Librarianship, 22(2-3), pp.238-
248. https://doi.org/10.1080/13614533.2016.1191520 

Kavanagh, A. and O'Rourke, K. C. (2016) Digital Literacy: Why It Matters. Available at: https://arrow.tudublin.ie/ltcart/37/ (Accessed: 16 July 2021) 

A. Lynch (2003) Chapter 18. The Coming Crisis in Preserving Our Digital Cultural Heritage, Journal of Library Administration, 38:3-4, 149-161, https://doi.org/10.1300/J111v38n03_04 (Accessed: 16 July 2021) 


Rowlands, Ian et al. (2008). The Google generation: The information behaviour of the researcher of the future. Aslib Proceedings. 60. 290-310. 10.1108/00012530810887953 (Accessed: 16 July 2021) 

Wikipedia (2021) ‘Marion Stokes’. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marion_Stokes (Accessed: 15 July 2021

10 Sept 2021

3D printing in a pandemic: Maynooth University’s role

Libfocus is very happy to post the highly commended, and the winning, entries in the 2021 CONUL Library Assistant Awards. 
The first of the Highly Commended posts is by Sheree Yeates, Maynooth University Library

I am a library assistant working in the Library Information and Technology Department (LITD) in Maynooth University Library. Part of my role involves the day to day running of the library makerspace. In this space we provide three Ultimaker 3D printers, one of which can be seen below.

Ultimaker 3 Extended – Picture taken by Marie Cullen

These printers are normally used to print prototypes for students undertaking courses in areas such as Design and Innovation. During summer requests get a bit more fun and less academic like the below baby Yoda which was popular when the Disney show The Mandalorian first aired.

Thingiverse A picture of a 3D printed Baby Yoda

When the Covid-19 pandemic began in early 2020 it soon became apparent that there was a personal protective equipment (PPE) shortage, not only in Ireland but in the world. Little pockets of 3D printer users began to discover that they could aid in the fight against the pandemic, and this soon reached Maynooth University.

A number of people began to look into the possibilities. In discussion with me, Cathal McCauley, Head Librarian of MU Library said that ‘The project came about for a few reasons…the overriding one was the camaraderie of the national response that was very strong in March – June 2020.’ We began a project to create PPE. The project, which was made more difficult by the work from home order began in March 2020. It was a partnership between MU library and the Department of Design Innovation.

Each of the three 3D printers were relocated from the library makerspace for the duration of the project. Two went to Anthony Cleary, Design Studio Manager in the Department of Innovation. Anthony had a number of other printers which he also brought home from the design studio and began to create PPE in the utility room of his home. The third printer went to the University Librarian’s Cathal McCauley’s home.

Maynooth University

The process of printing is a simple enough one once you have done it a couple of times and have gotten used to the procedures. I provided brief initial training over Microsoft Teams and Cathal and his four children were ready to get printing. Cathal mentioned afterwards that ‘I think one thing the whole experience highlighted was the user-friendliness of 3-D printing. With some help from you (the author) and Anthony Cleary, inexperienced people like my kids and I were able to produce the content and repair the printers as we learnt about things like cold pulls and base plate levelling.’

Anthony sourced the files of the PPE that were to be printed. These files were found on websites such as Thingiverse. Thingiverse is a dedicated website with mostly free, open-source 3D print files created by hundreds of different people around the world. All the PPE files were open source and available for anyone to download and use.

Anthony began by printing two different types of visors. To do this he used the 3D printer to create the visor clip and then attached a piece of acetate to create the visor. He also printed face mask extenders to stop the PPE from hurting ears and contactless tools for opening doors.

                                                             Picture taken by Anthony Cleary                                                                         Top left – Contactless Tools, Top right – Face mask extenders, Bottom – visor clip 

Cathal and his children also printed face mask extenders, contactless tools and face mask buttons for a local charity that was making cloth face masks.

Between the two homes, hundreds of visors were printed, more than 1,000 face mask extenders, 200 plus contactless tools and hundreds of facemask buttons were also printed.

The PPE and accessories were delivered to Tallaght hospital over two months. As PPE was needed in many different areas over the pandemic, these were also distributed amongst other areas of the local community. This included local nursing homes, pharmacies, gardaĆ­, paramedics and other frontline workers.

Tallaght Hospital

I felt proud to be part of the effort to bring PPE to those who needed it. Maynooth University’s 3D printing effort even received local and national recognition when Nuacht TG4 came to interview Cathal and his children. They demonstrated on air how the printer worked and how the PPE accessories could be used. Their work was also featured in a Liffey Champion article.

3 Sept 2021

Mapping Prints: Creating A Small-Scale Visualisation Project

Guest post by John Rooney. John is a Senior Library Assistant in Special Collections & Archives, UCC Library.

A key objective of any research repository is ensuring users' awareness of resources and holdings, examining methods for enhancing engagement and access, as well as catering to a diverse range of researchers and learning styles. While increasing points of access is a well-established method for accomplishing this, diversifying the methods by which users can actively engage with the material is also important.

The themes of user variety and dynamic engagement were among the primary drivers behind a small-scale visualisation project I developed while listing a collection of Irish topographical prints held in Special Collections at UCC.

IE BL/CV/TP/Cork/12 The Cork River (from below the Glanmire Road)

Listing Prints

The initial project involved listing a collection of approximately three hundred 18th and 19th century prints. The collection contains a mix of engravings, lithographs, chromolithographs, and aquatints depicting locations from across the country, including landscapes, towns, cities, buildings, harbours, and monuments. The prints provide a visually rich record, offering unique perspectives on both familiar and forgotten places. Thanks to resources such as Rosalind M. Elmes' Catalogue of Irish topographical prints and original drawings and NUIG's Ireland Illustrated, 1680-1860, the source of many of the prints could be traced, with the majority having been extracted from illustrated history and travel books. Further details on the listing project can be found on The River-side blog here.

Data and Visualisation

Once the print listing was completed, it was converted into a PDF and uploaded to the Special Collections’ Cartographic Visual LibGuide where it could be accessed and searched by researchers. As the project was coming to an end, I had the good fortune of attending a training day on “Textual Analysis and Data Visualization” run by the Center for Advanced Studies in Languages and Cultures and the departments of Digital Humanities and Italian at UCC, which included a session on mapping data. Despite having spent years working with spreadsheets and databases, I would not consider myself a particularly data conscious individual. However, attending a number of introductory sessions over the past year or so has encouraged me to be more aware of the ways in which even the most basic data can be ultilised and visualised.

IE BL/CV/TP/Kerry/12 Lislaghtin Abbey, Co. Kerry

Coming from the session on mapping data, I was able to formulate a simple project proposal to map the print collection. The aim would be to enhance the profile of the collection by utilising both the visual and geographical nature of the prints, unlocking the potential for greater user engagement and access. 

Mapping Prints

Working remotely during lockdown, I was able to convert the PDF listing into a dataset using the reference, title, date, and description elements as a starting point. I then compiled the longitude and latitude coordinates for each print, noting the accuracy as either "exact" or "approximate" (depending on whether I was able to pin down the exact location). Finally, I added a small number of additional fields for sorting the data and linking back to the original PDF listing.


Sample of Irish Topographical Prints Dataset

Once I had compiled a small sample, I was able to test the dataset in several different mapping tools, including Carto, uMap and Google MyMaps. After examining the features and viability of each tool, I settled on Google MyMaps.

Map of Irish Topographical Prints on Google MyMaps

 When the completed dataset was uploaded, the base map was populated with points based on the co-ordinates I had included for each print. I used the Subject Type field to style the icons for each point according to four main types: "Building", "Landscape", "Townscape" and "Harbour". I was then able to select which fields should be viewable to users. After some final testing, the map was ready to go live.

Navigating Prints

In terms of interaction, researchers now have the option to use a search box and drop-down menu to search for specific topics or locations and can zoom into the map to explore areas of interest.


Exploring Cork on the Map of Irish Topographical Prints

By either clicking on an icon on the map or selecting a title from the left-hand menu, a pop-up side panel appears providing descriptive details together with a thumbnail of the print, with the final field in the side panel containing a link to the full listing for the print on the original PDF.

Thumbnail and Description of an Irish Topographical Print 

The map is now embedded on the Cartographic Visual LibGuide alongside the PDF listing and accompanied by both contextual information and other resources relating to the collection.


Map of Irish Topographical Prints on the Cartographical Visual LibGuide


While the project is quite a basic example of visualisation, it has provided an opportunity to further explore the wide range of Digital Humanities tools and lessons currently available. In this regard, it has also generated discussions around how we might further utilise data to create different access points, draw on our collections in creative ways that encourage interaction, and plan for future projects.