15 Mar 2022

Cataloguing maps: developing archival skills with the RCB Library’s diocesan collection

Guest post by Bryan Whelan, Assistant Librarian in the RCB Library in Dublin.

The Representative Church Body (RCB) Library is a specialist library. It is both reference library and archive repository for the Church of Ireland, which like all the main Christian churches has an all-Ireland 32-county remit. The collections are extensive and organic, currently in excess of 80,000 print items, 1,214 collections of parish records (including registers of baptism, marriage and burial), the records of 20 historic Church of Ireland dioceses and 20 cathedrals and 1,230 manuscript collections relating to a variety of people, buildings and activities, as well as the non-current records of the General Synod and the RCB.

A small specialist library offers information professionals the opportunity to develop non-traditional skillsets that may not have been covered in their undergraduate or postgraduate courses. In my role as Assistant Librarian, I have gained cataloguing experience with rare books and pamphlets, as well as working with archives. All of this experience was vital with regards to the project which is the focus of this article.

Figure 1: Kilcommon: A map of Kilcommon glebe (Hodges, Smith & Company, 1855).

Surveying the project

The RCB Library’s Diocesan Archive of Tuam, Killala and Achonry is a great example of how archive collections can develop and expand over time. Items pertaining to this collection have been arriving in piecemeal since the mid-1980s, being transferred gradually from local diocesan custody to the Library. A small but important part of this collection was a large assortment of maps and plans, along with other related material, spanning the period 1753-1873.

I have had a long personal interest in maps and cartography, and so this project was identified by the Librarian & Archivist, Dr Susan Hood, as one with which to obtain valuable experience with an archive collection. Working closely with Dr Hood, we identified the best way in which to approach this project. The maps were separated from the rest of the collection, and laid out flat - this would be essential in ensuring a smooth workflow with regards to cataloguing when we came to this stage.

In the meantime, the Library purchased some key core texts to help with the basics of map librarianship. The two items that I found most useful were Cataloging Sheet Maps: The Basics by Paige G. Andrew (2003) and Mary Lynette Larsgaard’s Map Librarianship: An Introduction (1998). These helped to identify the essential details that I would need to include in our catalogue list, as well as core MARC fields that I could utilise should we wish to make these maps available to search on our online (print) catalogue. These sources also provided helpful pointers that would prove essential during the course of the project.

I received a lot of guidance and direction from Dr Hood with regards to the more archival-specific aspects of this project. This included best practice pertaining to storage as well as how to display the information as part of a traditional archive catalogue. The project also required careful planning and time management. Working as part of a small team in a busy and diverse library (where space is limited) meant determining the optimal use of workspace on large and often cumbersome items, while ensuring that the project did not interrupt people visiting the Library and other ongoing projects. Another important and practical consideration was the purchase of tailor-made acid-free folders for storage in the Library’s secure strongrooms.

Figure 2: Kilmackshalyon: A map and survey of the glebe of the Parish of Kilmackshalyon in the Barony of Tireragh and County of Sligo (Folan, 1855). 

The finished project

With the completion of the project, the Library now has a detailed catalogue-list of over 80 maps, showing either parish or district boundaries, and divided into four distinct categories. There are some duplicates, and some of the maps are very fragile, whether due to age or in many instances, the fact that they were drawn on tracing paper. It was felt to be important to include not just the key core data elements (title, measurements, publisher, surveyor and date) but also to include townlands not mentioned specifically in the title. We also felt that it was important to state where land measurements were included (showing arable land) as the existence of this information could be useful for local historians. The detailed list also indicates where unique features are displayed. Often this would mean where a sketch of the glebe house or surrounding areas were included. The maps are in many cases strikingly beautiful, particularly the glebe maps, and resemble maps of the time that blur the distinction between functionality and art.

The maps form an integral part of the overall Diocesan Archive of Tuam, Killala and Achonry. Although the earliest item (a map of Kilmactigue in County Sligo) is dated May 6, 1754, it is important to note that it states it was ‘filed in Registry 10 July 1875’ (2020, RCB Library). Many of these maps date from the 1850s up to 1873, a time when land was at the forefront politically and culturally in Ireland. This was also a decisive point in the history of the Church of Ireland, with its Disestablishment from the State taking place on 1 January, 1871. This is a good example of the value of a detailed catalogue list for highlighting the context of a collection - for staff as well as for the Library’s users.

Drumlong: Chambers House map (n.d.).

Spreading the word

Much has been written, and with good reason, as to the importance of libraries exploring avenues to make their collections available and accessible to users, and the RCB Library is no exception. In practice, this meant examining what staff could achieve with the resources that we had to hand. Although we now have an incredibly useful and detailed catalogue of these maps as part of the handlist for the diocesan collection, it is envisaged that we will incorporate these items as part of our online (print) catalogue, allowing our users another avenue to locate these items.

Digitisation is an area that the RCB Library has been developing, principally as a preservation tool. This process will make digital surrogates available rather than original materials and will ensure that key items can be accessed and viewed by people all over the world. Some of these include the digitisation of the Red Book of Ossory, The Church of Ireland Gazette (1856 to 2010), the architectural drawings of churches, cathedrals, and glebe houses, as well as its most ambitious project to digitise the extensive collections of parish registers.

Any digitisation project will necessarily raise questions as to cost and storage, and with this in mind, I looked at maximising the potential of what we already have here in the Library. There is an option to upload high-resolution images to our versatile Library Management System which will require further investigation. I like the idea of a user being able to search for a particular map or area on our online print catalogue, and being able to immediately view this item.

Promoting such an important collection is a key focus for the RCB Library. I have already mentioned the technical aspects of a detailed and findable catalogue - a great way for historians and researchers to locate items of interest. However, the RCB Library has an active social media presence, and we have learned what a fantastic medium this provides for announcing aspects of a collection to a wider audience. Since 2012, the Library has been publishing blogs highlighting interesting aspects of the collection as part of its popular Archive of the Month feature. Additionally, the Library’s Twitter account @rcblibrary (which commenced in 2017) has grown steadily. An article has already been published about the Tuam Diocesan collection as a whole, and we hope to write about the map collection in the forthcoming months.

I mentioned that the RCB Library is an organic library, and one with a collection that is continually growing over time. Given the success of the project outlined above it is envisaged that I will work on similar collections in other diocesan collections. We have identified a similar collection as part of the Diocesan Archive of Killaloe, Kilfenora and Kilmacduagh that will be prioritised in 2022.

Image details:

Figure 1: Kilcommon: A map of Kilcommon glebe (Hodges, Smith & Company, 1855). An example of the beautiful design that is on display for many of the glebe maps in this collection. This map of Kilcommon Glebe is from 1855 and shows a sketch of the glebe house from this time. We also have a smaller sketch of the church in the top-right of the map. These small details can be very important for local historians and architects. RCB Library D5.17.1.28

Figure 2: Kilmackshalyon: A map and survey of the glebe of the Parish of Kilmackshalyon in the Barony of Tireragh and County of Sligo (Folan, 1855). This map of Kilmackshalyon, Co. Sligo, is incredibly detailed, not only in terms of the type of material shown on the map (we can see a very brief sketch of the church some distance from the glebe lands, as well as all the buildings that were present on the glebe), but also in the detail included at the top of the page, as well as the extra information contained in a note at the bottom. RCB Library D5.17.1.39

Figure 3: Drumlong: Chambers House map (n.d.). This is an interesting contrast to the intricate designs of the majority of the maps in this collection. It concerns a disputed right-of-way in Drumlong, Co. Mayo from the Newport river to Chambers House through rectory land. RCB Library D5.17.3.1


Andrew, P. G. (2003). Cataloging sheet maps: The basics. Haworth Information Press.

Drumlong map: Chambers House. (n.d.).

Folan, M. (1855). Kilmackshalyon: A Map and Survey of the Glebe of the Parish of Kilmackshalyon in the Barony of Tireragh and County of Sligo. [Map]. 

Hodges, Smith and Company. (1855). Kilcommon:  a map of Kilcommon glebe. [Map].

Larsgaard, M. L. (1998). Map librarianship: An introduction (3rd ed.). Libraries Unlimited.

RCB Library. (2020). D5/ & D5A/ Diocesan Records of Tuam, Killala & Achonry c. 1613-2000. Representative Church Body Library. Retrieved 15 March 2022 from https://www.ireland.anglican.org/cmsfiles/images/aboutus/AOFTM/2020/June2020/TKA-Diocesan-Archive-Final-2020.pdf


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