Professor John Byrne, who has been called “the father of Irish computing”, passed away on April 16 at the age of 82. Prof. Byrne had a long and illustrious career in Trinity College Dublin, and was a great friend to the Library.
Thanks to his interest in the Library, our 1872 Printed Catalogue was digitised in 2005 as part of a final year project for Computer Science students initiated by Prof. Byrne. It is incredible to think that the same module is still in use today, a decade later, and has been of benefit to thousands of scholars – quite a legacy.
In the 1990s he was an adviser to the Stella Project, where records from the card catalogue and the periodicals catalogue were digitised and added to the online catalogue, and in the 2000s advised the Mellon Project tasked with digitising the Accessions Catalogue.
As mentioned, Prof. Byrne was a great friend to the Library and was very interested in our work – especially when it came to anything to do with computers! He was an exceptionally courteous user of the Library and very grateful for any help that the Library Staff gave him.
The Irish Times obituary gives more details of this great of Irish computing.
Trevor Peare, the Library’s former Keeper of Readers’ Services adds:
John Byrne told me that his interest in the Library was initially sparked by his discovery in the Library of a very rare edition of Galileo’s works – most of the other copies had been publicly burned soon after publication. The record for the book was “buried” in the Printed Catalogue of 1872. At the time there were only three physical copies of the Printed Catalogue in the Library.
This led him on to his work to make the Printed Catalogue more readily available to scholars. He supervised a succession of Masters’ students working on Optical Character Recognition (OCR) while it was a very new area of research and application. John found a full set of unbound sheets for the Catalogue in a basement on Front Square which he was able to use for his project.
John’s computerised Printed Catalogue is a masterful demonstration of a powerful interface to a computer system – although the indexing and searching is all automated, the reader is still able to view an image of the appropriate entry in the original Printed Catalogue, so as to browse adjacent entries. It is well worth having a look at his “introduction” on the opening screen and his help screens are models too.
He was still working on some developments on the Catalogue right up to a month or so of his death – he most recently introduced a facility where an unsuccessful search in the Printed Catalogue was redirected to the Stella Search system. John was never one to let things sit as they were – always developing and improving on what had gone before.
John was well known in the Library during the 1970s and 1980s. As well as working on the Printed Catalogue project, he knew his way around the staff areas and was often seen inspecting the newly catalogued books on their way to the shelves – a genuine Renaissance Man, with a huge range of interests, but always kind and courteous to everyone – and meticulous about borrowing and returning his loans.