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A Stakeholder Approach to Digital Archiving in Ireland #DRI10

The Digital Repository of Ireland (DRI) was formed ten years ago in September 2011.  It was originally funded through a PRTLI (Programme for Research in Third-Level Institutions) Cycle 5 funding grant. In this phase (2011-2015), DRI was built by a research consortium of six academic partners. It was officially launched in June 2015 and continues to be managed by three core academic institutions – Royal Irish Academy, Trinity College Dublin, and Maynooth University. To mark our ten-year anniversary, DRI staff members are writing a blog a week focusing on different DRI milestones achieved over the past ten years. This is the first blog in the #DRI10 celebratory blog series. 


On the 7th of March 2012, Dr Sharon Webb (DRI Requirements Analyst) and myself (Policy Manager at DRI) met with Kasandra O’Connell Director of the Irish Film Institute in Dublin. This was the first step of a journey that would see Sharon and myself travelling from Cork, to Clare, to Limerick and Dublin to conduct a national programme of stakeholder interviews to determine the digital preservation and access practices in cultural institutions, libraries, higher-education institutions, funding agencies and more.  Based on the interviews we conducted, we drew up a report providing an invaluable snapshot of digital preservation activities in Ireland, including common metadata standards, vocabularies, file formats, databases, content management systems and user tools. The research in this report influenced the development of the Digital Repository of Ireland's (DRI) repository, guidelines and policies.

From a list of stakeholders in five domains (cultural, social research, education, community and voluntary sector, industry/commercial) we selected forty institutions concerned with the humanities and social sciences. We spoke to university librarians, county librarians, curators, museum directors, researchers and archivists about the procedures and practices that they have adopted in order to archive and care for the data in their collections. 

We asked about every stage in the data lifecycle, from preparation and deposit of data to preservation, to how archives responsibly enabled the reuse of data, to future development, challenges and needs. We asked about formats, metadata, user tools, ontologies, thesaurus and fixed word vocabularies. 

Tasked with developing requirements that would be used to build the DRI infrastructure, we wanted first to talk to those already working in this field. We based our development on the answers we were given. For example, we discovered that throughout the country seventeen international metadata standards were in use. We identified the top four (Dublin Core, Marc, Mods, and Encoded Archival Description [EAD]) and committed to building a repository that would support their ingest. It was, and remains, important to us that the DRI is built on and supports the ongoing work of our stakeholder institutions.

Image: From left, Dr Aileen O'Carroll (DRI Policy Manager), Dr Sharon Webb (Former DRI Requirements Analyst 2011-2013), Dr Sandra Collins (Former DRI Director 2011-2015)

On a personal level, what I remember about that year was what a privilege it was to visit our interviewees, many of the interviews took place in beautiful Georgian rooms with high ceilings and Rococo plasterwork. Of the many people we talked to I was most inspired by Anthony Edwards and Maureen Comber, both county librarians from Clare, who over many years of slow work, driven by passion and love for the county, and with the help of many local volunteers, created a truly impressive online collection of maps and resources about Clare, including information about the graveyards in the county. It showed how much can be done for our cultural heritage if we support gradual, long-term work.

Our final report, ‘Digital Archiving in Ireland: National Survey of the Humanities and Social Sciences’, a report we turn to again and again, can be found here.


By Aileen O'Carroll, DRI Policy Manager