25 Oct 2023

Cataloguing an Archival Collection of Private Papers

This blog post by Selina Collard from University College Dublin was highly commended in the CONUL Training and Development Library Assistant Blog Awards 2023.

As a trainee archivist undertaking the MA in Archives and Records Management in UCD, and working in UCD Archives, I have been learning how to catalogue archival collections. My colleagues worked on collections from the Royal Irish Academy for their cataloguing practice. As I work in a busy archive, I worked on two unprocessed collections in UCD Archives.

Archival collections consist of original and unique material which require careful handling to ensure their survival far into the future. There are professional standards and best practice procedures for processing archival collections that archivists carry out daily, in collection management (preservation and access), and archival cataloguing (arrangement and description). The aim of archival cataloguing is to establish physical and intellectual control of a collection to make it accessible for research.

Shows a sponge, a plastic tub full of paper clips, a roll of ribbon and a brush
Archivist's tools: Smoke sponge, plastic paperclips, cotton ribbon and a cleaning brush

The collections I have worked on consist mostly of paper records from c.1900 – 1960s. When beginning a cataloguing project some basic preservation work is carried out to prevent the papers from deteriorating. Metal fastenings are removed, as these rust, and are replaced with plastic alternatives if necessary, or cotton ribbon to keep bundles of papers together. Cleaning may be required, using a smoke sponge to remove dirt, and a soft brush to remove surface dust or rust. Folded items are usually flattened using weights, as paper often tears along creases.

Archival arrangement involves identifying which materials belong together, putting them into a logical order (although we try to maintain the original order where possible) and assigning a hierarchy.  Broad subjects are arranged as a series high up the hierarchy, with more specific topics arranged as sub-series or files beneath, and single items at the bottom. 

Shows seven paper documents that have a mix of handwritten and typewritten text on them.
A file of documents written by Michael Collins (UCDA P342/4)

Detailed descriptions of the materials are written to create finding aids so that researchers can discover what is in the collection, and reference numbers are given to each file and item so that the archivist can retrieve the material and researchers can give accurate citations.   

Shows a page with typed text on it beginning with: P342/4, 1919-1921, 7 items, items from Michael Collins
The catalogue entry for the items from Michael Collins

Papers are stored in acid free archival folders to keep them secure and to help preserve them.  The reference numbers are written at the top of the page in pencil, and on the front of the folder, so that the items can easily be identified and matched to the finding aid.  The folders are then housed in an archival box, which is labelled, and stored in a strong room.  

An open grey folder containing handwritten documents clipped together and four brown labelled folders
An acid-free archival folder with four flaps and folders labelled with the collection name and reference numbers

Research forms a large part of a cataloguing project, as understanding the context of the papers is crucial for arranging and describing them. A biographical history of the person whose papers are being catalogued helps to make sense of the papers, for both the archivists and the researcher and is therefore included in the finding aid.

The provenance of the papers is very important.  As much information as possible is provided about how the papers came to be in the archive, this includes when they were deposited, who deposited them and their relationship to the person.  A record is made of any changes to the original order and the reason, and any conservation work carried out.  This helps to maintain the integrity and authenticity of the material.  

Papers housed inside a labelled box and rolling shelving storage inside the strong room

Collections can contain some unexpected items. I recently finished cataloguing the papers of Dr Robert Farnan (UCDA P342), which is a small collection with items relating to the 1916 Easter Rising, the War of Independence, and the Civil War period. I found an archival gem amongst these papers! I came across a sealed envelope with a handwritten note on the front:

Bullet removed from Right Radius of Tom Clarke first President Irish Republic. Feb 1916 by Dr F.

Writing on a brown piece of paper stating “Bullet removed from Right Radius of Tom Clarke first President Irish Republic. Feb 1916 by Dr F.”
UCDA P432/1

I was eager to open the envelope, but I didn’t want to cause any damage to either the envelope or anything else that might be inside.  Glue dries and turns brittle overtime, so most of the glue used to seal the envelope was unstuck, I carefully used a sharp scalpel to slice through the remaining glue.  This was a success, and I was able to retrieve the bullet which was wrapped inside a note confirming the information on the envelope. 

A metal bullet
Metal bullet (11mm x 6mm) UCDA P342/1

I used a very small archival box filled with cotton wool to store the bullet (see image below).

Discovering these kinds of items make being an archivist so interesting, it was very satisfying knowing that I was the first person to see the contents since the envelope was sealed.

An open box containing a metal bullet
The bullet is stored in archival box P342/1



Posted on Wednesday, October 25, 2023 | Categories:

23 Oct 2023

My work on the Crawford Art Gallery’s Library Catalogue Project

Libfocus presents another post for the CONUL Training and Development Library Assistant Blog Awards 2023. The author of this post is Mona Power, Library assistant at University College Cork.


In August 2021, I had the chance to work on a deeply intriguing project at the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork - cataloguing the contents of the gallery's library.

Yes, the gallery has a library. It is located in a part of the gallery which is not usually open to the public, in a beautiful wood-panelled room filled with cabinets and curios. The collection housed within these walls is a unique mix of modern and historic books, journals, and exhibition catalogues, accumulated over the course of the Crawford’s rich and storied past.

The Library Catalogue Project’s main objective was to create a complete index of this collection. This undertaking was driven by the gallery’s desire to make our cultural heritage more accessible, but also motivated by needing to prepare the gallery’s holdings for potential storage off-site during major upcoming architectural works.

This blog post shares my own journey as the cataloguer on the project, highlighting the project’s key objectives, our methodology, and some of the fascinating discoveries I made along the way.

Image showing "Pleiades" design by J. Flaxman, engraved by William Blake
"Pleiades" design by J. Flaxman, engraved by William Blake. From "Compositions from the Works, Days, and Theogony of Hesiod" (1817)


Working under production manager Kathryn Coughlan and with guidance from consultant librarian Marie Jennings, my role on this project was to catalogue the entirety of the library’s holdings - in excess of 3,000 items.

Our goal was to create a catalogue that catered to the specific needs of the Crawford Art Gallery's curatorial staff and researchers. To achieve this, I focused on creating information-rich records with particular emphasis on provenance such as inscriptions by artists, authors, and members of the Gibson 
and Penrose families. I also cross-referenced certain exhibition catalogues with the Crawford Art Gallery’s permanent collection, to highlight any mention of works or artists represented in it.

The project’s remaining key objectives were to identify duplicate copies of library materials, identify rare and historic volumes, and categorise and re-shelve materials by subject.

Also, the possibility that some or all library materials would be moved off-site required fragile materials be carefully preserved in acid-free tissue paper and archival grade boxes.

Image showing Hand painted colour plate from "The Botanical magazine, or, Flower-garden displayed." (1790-1800) by William Curtis
Hand painted colour plate from "The Botanical magazine, or, Flower-garden displayed ..." (1790-1800) by William Curtis

Marie developed the methodology for this project. She determined how many collections and sub-collections were required. She designed the library catalogue in Excel, using MARC 21 Format for Bibliographic Data, so that the completed spreadsheet could be later assimilated into a library management system.

We employed the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) system and several free cataloguing resources such as Library of Congress Authorities. Each volume received a specific call number derived from its collection, size, DDC number, and author's initials, and was shelved accordingly.


One thrill of the project was regularly discovering hidden gems in the collection. Many books in the Crawford Art Gallery’s library had been waiting in their cabinets, untouched and undocumented, for decades. Among them: books published by the Golden Cockerel Press, illustrated with exquisite wood engravings by the renowned Robert Gibbings; a first (and only) edition of Cork and County Cork in the twentieth century by Rev. Richard Hodges; an early publication of philosopher Edmund Burke's seminal work A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful.

Many books in the collection were ex-library books from the Cork School of Art
 (now the Crawford College of Art and Design), which at one time resided in the gallery’s building at Emmett Place. These books came with all manner of library stamps and donation labels, as well as marginalia, personal notes, and letters left behind by 20th Century art students.

Another unforgettable find was discovering a collection of prints by the artist Estella Solomons
, hidden at the back of a locked cabinet. These prints were considered missing from the gallery’s collection for some time. The joy of reuniting these works with the registrar was an unrivalled highlight, and a testament to the significance of our project.

Image showing A first edition of "The Year's at the Spring", an anthology of poetry illustrated by Harry Clarke (1920)
A first edition of "The Year's at the Spring", an anthology of poetry illustrated by Harry Clarke (1920)


Cataloguing the Crawford Art Gallery's collection of library materials was an enriching experience, made possible by a tailored approach and close collaboration with gallery staff. Recording provenance details, cross-referencing exhibition catalogues, and preserving fragile volumes contributed to the preservation and accessibility of the gallery's collection. The resulting catalogue will undoubtedly prove an invaluable resource for future generations of art enthusiasts, researchers, and curators. With the architectural works on the horizon, I am confident this project contributed to the safeguarding of the collection for the gallery's exciting future.

Image showing photo of book "A Mirror for Witches" by Esther Forbes (1928), with woodcuts by Robert Gibbings
"A Mirror for Witches" by Esther Forbes (1928), with woodcuts by Robert Gibbings.


Throughout the project, I had the privilege of working closely with Kathryn Coughlan and Marie Jennings. Kathryn's expertise and Marie’s guidance were invaluable in ensuring that the cataloguing process aligned with the gallery's vision and requirements.

14 Oct 2023

Libfocus Link-out for October, 2023

Welcome to the October edition of the Libfocus link-out, an assemblage of library-related things we have found informative, educational, thought-provoking and insightful on the Web over the past while.

A woman looking at a phone with x on the screen, shelves of books, computer code in circles, a robot, a book cover, a stack of papers with a lock around them, a speech bubble
Images featured in this month's libfocus link-out articles

What Is A Repository For?
A lot of librarians feed repositories and keep them working. But what should the function of a repository be? Here, Ian Scott from the Building the Commons blog is “re-imagining” Humanities Commons, a popular discipline repository. He introduces interesting concepts of the repository as a “broadcast tower”, a “filter” or a “workroom”.

Looking towards a brighter future. the potentiality of AI and digital transformations to library spaces
A new research report by University of Leeds Libraries examines the potential and the practicalities of using AI in library spaces.

New guidelines urge UK libraries not to avoid controversial books and ideas
In this Guardian books article Ella Creamer presents the CILIP report which responds to calls for librarians to remove books from library shelves. ‘In [a] polarised world, it is important our sector is clear in its opposition to censorship.'

10 Simple Tips On Presenting Complex Information
"Regardless of the topic, all presenters share the common goal of ensuring that they keep their audience stimulated." Author Maurice deCastro explains that "exceptional presenters aim for much more; they want their audience to feel connected to them and their message. They want their listeners to remember their key message and then act on it."

We read X's new privacy policy so you don't have to
This Mashable article by Caitlin Welsh and Stan Schroeder examines Twitter/X's new privacy policy and how it will affect the way your personal data is used. The platform will now collect users' employment and educational history and biometric data and has plans to use that data to train AI.

Congress could stop free public access to government-funded research
In this Statnews article by Mayank Chugh and Jessica Polka the authors look at how the US Congress may block the public from having immediate and free access to U.S. federal government research.

Podcast: America's Top Librarian on the Rise of Books Bans
ALA President Emily Drabinski speaks to Tressie McMillan Cottom on public libraries becoming a battleground for today's culture wars.

The Future of AI in Information Services
In an ever evolving A.I. landscape, how do Higher Education Information Services step up? Beth Burnet and Jon Phipps from the University of Essex Library Services take a dive into the world of AI and explore how HE libraries and information services can respond and support their users.

Testing the EU 2022 Code of Practice on Disinformation, a pilot empirical study
Online disinformation is a fast-changing phenomenon and in this study, X is flagged as the worst offender among big tech. 

Supporting student mental health through teaching practices
Liz Cheveney's study, presented in the In the Library with the lead pipe blog looks at the ways librarians introduce pedagogies of care into teaching as a method of being more aware and supportive to mental health in the classroom.

Ask the Chefs: What is the Single Most Pressing Issue for the Future of Peer Review?
Several chefs from The Scholarly Kitchen identified obstacles peer review is currently facing. In particular, they talk about the increasing difficulty in finding reviewers, the impact of AI and bias, as well as the lack of recognition and financial incentives for peer reviewers.

Scholarly Communication Librarianship and Open Knowledge
Scholarly Communication Librarianship and Open Knowledge is an open textbook and practitioner’s guide that collects theory, practice, and case studies from nearly 80 experts in scholarly communication and open education. Divided into three parts: (1) What is Scholarly Communication?, (2) Scholarly Communication and Open Culture, (3) Voices from the Field: Perspectives, Intersections, and Case Studies.

10 Oct 2023

“It will be the Making of You”: Reflecting on my first 18 months working in Maynooth University Library’s Makerspace

Libfocus is delighted to present the third prize post for the CONUL Training and Development Library Assistant Blog Awards 2023. The author is Dr. Heidi Campbell, Digital Engagement Curator, Maynooth University Library

They say it takes roughly 6 months to settle into a new job, a year to feel competent in it and then enough space, time and support to make an impact. My name is Heidi Campbell, and I am the Digital Engagement Curator at Maynooth University Library (MU). I manage the MU Library Makerspace and this blog is a reflection on my first 18 months in the role. The initial areas of focus for me have included the following; developing a makerspace brand for MU Library, reinstating the makerspace after the Covid hiatus, the development of meaningful social media engagement for the makerspace, the initiation of virtual tours and experiences and the resumption of the main stay of any makerspace - our very successful 3D printing service. 

3D Printing 3D printing lends itself well to the adage ’practice makes perfect’. There is a reason why makerspaces highlight the importance of failing because it is only when the prints are failing, and the filament is jamming, that you start to develop a feel for each printer and develop that "maker’s brain”. 

3D printed Pikachu 

As Digital Engagement Curator I strive to promote the makerspace online and throughout the university. I especially want to encourage MU Library staff to engage with us. I approached this by offering seasonal gifts for library staff. One of my favourite giveaways was to celebrate Lunar New Year where anyone born in the year of the rabbit received a beautiful red rabbit lantern. 

3D printed lantern with the Chinese rabbit character, with perforations to allow light to shine though

I hope to make this an annual tradition for staff. Next year I will be looking for all the dragons in the library. 🐉 

If you would like to know more about our 3D printing service and its role in supporting research, please read MU Library Makerspace – 3D Printing Supporting Research

Virtual Tours and Experiences 

Photo of the Ricoh Theta V 360 camera

When I joined MU Library, we had a 360 camera, however virtual tours had not yet been created with it. This was a great way for me to make a mark and develop a new initiative within the library. To read all about my time creating virtual tours and experiences see my addition to the Library Treasures Blog. 

Connecting with Makers 
One of the best parts of this job is the camaraderie I have found in the makerspace community and the knowledge sharing, encouragement and advice that is always on hand among other makers. These essential connections were evident during this year's CONUL Conference 2023 held in Cork when for the first time we presented a joint “CONUL Makerspace”. The event showcased services from University of Limerick, University of Galway and University College Cork. For my part I brought our 360 camera and demonstrated how to create virtual tours and displayed some of our virtual experiences. 

Social Media

Multiple 3D printed cats used as giveaways with new orders and for visitors 

One of the best ways to promote and to connect with other makerspaces is through social media. The MU Library Makerspace did not have its own account, and so I launched our own Twitter and TikTok handles @MULibraryMaker. As the numbers grew, I created a consistent timetable of posts to allow our growing audience to follow the stories and developments from the makerspace. Mondays mark #makermonday which showcases various types of making I have been working on throughout the week. This includes anything from intricate 3D print projects to equipment testing. I also like to use this hashtag to give praise to the many makers who design and create 3D prints or develop makerspace initiative that we use. Every Friday I post about specific 3D printing issues, fails, and developments using the hashtag #filamentfriday. I also use these days to ask for help, suggestions and input from other makers out there. 


Image of ClayCat wearing a bandana during workout session to promote health and wellbeing

Inspired by other libraries and makerspaces using animation, Lego and stop-motion as fun tools for digital engagement, I decided to test out claymation. I built a character based on MU Library’s famous resident, library cat. My hope is that I can develop a character that audiences can connect and build a relationship with. Every Wednesday I create a short stop-motion claymation video of #claycat engaging in some way with our collections or spaces. My poster presented at the CONUL Conference 2023 included this simple sway exhibition of Clay Cats development – view here. 

18 Months and Beyond 

A lot has been achieved in a short space of time. None of it would have been possible without the guidance and support I have encountered in this role. There is much more to come from the MU Library Makerspace including expanding our virtual experiences, exploring the world of 3D scanning and creating handling objects as teaching aides. And of course, #claycat will continue to comment throughout!

All images by Heidi Campbell

3 Oct 2023

Camera, Action: Finding Photography in UCD Special Collections

Libfocus is delighted to present the second prize post for the CONUL Training and Development Library Assistant Blog Awards 2023. The author is Kathryn Milligan, Library Assistant at University College Dublin (Special Collections).

From time to time, an opportunity comes to delve into a library’s holdings and reconsider how a selection of materials might be gathered and presented to readers and researchers. Recently, I have been looking anew at material related to photography and its history in UCD Special Collections. From the very beginning of this project, it was clear that our holdings included a range of interesting materials, from nineteenth century book, journals, and manuals to large photographic prints. An early stand out item was Sun Pictures of Rocky Mountain Scenery which I later wrote about for the UCD Cultural Heritage Collections blog.

Albumen print frontispiece and title page of F. V. Hayden, Sun Pictures of Rocky Mountain Scenery (UCD SC 11.Q.17)
1. Albumen print frontispiece and title page of F. V. Hayden, Sun Pictures of Rocky Mountain Scenery (UCD SC 11.Q.17).
Further opportunity to explore these collections came in December 2022 when we welcomed two historians of photography to the reading room. In putting together a display for this, I browsed the shelves to identify further notable items, coming across (for example) the imposing Notes on Irish Architecture, published in 1875, several photographic prints of John Henry Newman, and a photogravure by Alvin Langdon Coburn.

Display of photographic prints and photographically illustrated books, UCD Special Collections Reading Room
2. Display of photographic prints and photographically illustrated books, UCD Special Collections Reading Room
These searches suggested the need for a more systematic review to identify photography related holdings within our collections, and a method of making them more findable and accessible to our readers. Building on the knowledge I had gained when writing about Sun Pictures, I decided that identifying and improving the records of photographically illustrated books would be of significant benefit and be of interest to a wide range of disciplines within the university.

Albumen print frontispiece and title page of Richard A. Procter, ‘The Moon’ (UCD SC RCSCI 525.3 PRO).
3. Albumen print frontispiece and title page of Richard A. Procter, ‘The Moon’ (UCD SC RCSCI 525.3 PRO).
Photographically illustrated books contain an actual photographic print, such as an albumen or carbon print. They emerged in the mid-nineteenth century as photographic processes developed more generally. These were not books that a former owner or collector had personalised through extra-illustration, but rather fully conceived works that brought together letterpress and photography, with images either tipped in or bound with the text block.

Photographically illustrated books can be found across a range of scholarly and general interest publications, from travel and spectroscopy to biography and medical research. Given the nature of the holdings in UCD Special Collections, which includes books from the libraries of UCD’s antecedent institutions like the Catholic University of Ireland and the Royal College of Science for Ireland, our print collections cover many disciplinary fields.

A shelf in UCD Special Collections: are there any photographically illustrated books here?!
4. A shelf in UCD Special Collections: are there any photographically illustrated books here?!

To assist with identifying these books, I turned to three main resources: Julia van Haaften’s ''Original Sun Pictures': A Checklist from New York Public Library's Holdings of Early Works Illustrated with Photographs, 1844 – 1900’; Helmut Gernsheim’s Incunabula of British Photographic Literature, 1839 – 1875; and the British Library’s online Catalogue of Photographically Illustrated Books. I also consulted more specialised publications on Irish photographic history to identify additional material. As well as basic catalogue searches, I also did systematic shelf searches, replicating van Haaften’s own process in

After consulting the published bibliographies, catalogues, and creating a basic listing of items, I consulted with my Special Collections colleagues to see how this new information could be best captured within our existing catalogue records. We settled on adding relevant MARC fields, capturing information such as the photographer or photographic company’s name, and whether the book appears in van Haaften and Gernsheim. The genre heading ‘Photographically Illustrated Books’ from the LOC’s Thesaurus of Graphical Material was also added to each record.

Example of an updated catalogue record for a photographically illustrated book
5. Example of an updated catalogue record for a photographically illustrated book

To date, I have identified close to thirty photographically illustrated books containing a range of photographic and early photomechanical processes. There are also examples of early colour reproductions and photographic literature. For many of these publications, further research is needed to fully identify the photographic processes employed, as well as details of the photographer or publisher. Our readers can now find these books by searching for ‘photographically illustrated books’ and filtering the search results to ‘Special Collections’ on the UCD Library Catalogue. This basic listing also enables us to easily promote these holdings across the university and seek opportunities to incorporate them into teaching, learning and public engagement programmes, aligning with Pillar 2 of the Library’s Strategic Plan.

I hope that research on, and analysis of, these books will continue and that a standardised cataloguing guideline can be used for similar holdings across UCD Library’s Cultural Heritage collections. For now however, we can look to these books to learn about (and enjoy) the story they tell us about the development of photography and the illustrated book.

Hand-coloured albumen print frontispiece and title page of Alexander W. M. Clark Kennedy, ‘The Birds of Berkshire and Buckinghamshire’ (UCD SC Store 598.094229 KEN)
6. Hand-coloured albumen print frontispiece and title page of Alexander W. M. Clark Kennedy, ‘The Birds of Berkshire and Buckinghamshire’ (UCD SC Store 598.094229 KEN)

Chandler, Edward. Photography in Ireland: The Nineteenth Century (Dublin: Edmund
Burke, 2001).

Gernsheim, Helmut. Incunabula of British Photographic Literature, 1839 – 1875 (London
and Berkeley: Scolar in association with Derbyshire College of Higher Education, 1984).

van Haaften, Julia. ''Original Sun Pictures': A Checklist from New York Public Library's
Holdings of Early Works Illustrated with Photographs, 1844 – 1900’, Bulletin of The New
York Public Library (80:3 Spring 1977).

All photographs are by the author, and show items from UCD Special Collections.