As the end of another busy year approaches, this blog highlights some of the ways in which the Manuscripts and Archives Research Library (M&ARL) supports researchers. It is based on departmental statistics collected during the past five years (2011-2015). These show that the department provides a variety of local and remote services to national and international researchers from diverse backgrounds. M&ARL’s services support teaching, learning and research in Trinity College Dublin, and across the globe.
M&ARL holds more than 20,000 unique collections, including medieval manuscripts, literary collections, and the College Archives. The provision of access to this material (in line with preservation needs), via local and remote user services, is central to the work of M&ARL. Collections discovery and access are enabled by online resources, especially via the MARLOC online catalogue, which was launched in 2010. M&ARL staff also provide expert advice and guidance via the email enquiry service; they responded to over 20,000 such enquiries during 2011-2015.
It has been said that the Library is ‘where the learning happens’. In M&ARL, onsite learning activity is mainly centered on the Reading Room, where staff and researchers interact face-to-face. During the past five years, visiting academics, doctoral researchers, undergraduate students, journalists, tourists and members of the public have conducted original research in the Reading Room. Almost 7,000 researchers, including 1,500 new or first-time readers, were registered in M&ARL. Statistics show that almost two-thirds of researchers came from Ireland. The remaining third were mainly from the United Kingdom and the United States of America (figure 1). The duration of individual researchers’ visits ranged from a few hours, for some genealogists, to many days, as in the case of some Long Room Hub Fellows, and even up to many months for some doctoral candidates.
Analysis of M&ARL statistics on the interests of new readers registered during the period 2011-2015 shows a wide variation in the subjects of research (figure 2). The popularity of cultural history continues to grow. The more traditional subjects of modern Irish history, college history, medieval history and modern Irish literature, also continue to attract significant attention. M&ARL’s collections in these subject areas are well-known for their national and international significance. Another influential area of interest, with close links to college history, is genealogy; it is likely that tourists and members of the public account for the vast majority of activity in this area. The subjects of women, science, and modern music are also of importance to new researchers, though perhaps not as frequently as might be expected. There are a number of possible explanations; the M&ARL holdings in these areas may be less extensive and less well-known to some researchers. Also, it is important to remember that the wider environment of research is constantly changing in response to new ideas, societal needs and priorities.
Consideration of departmental statistics can provide some useful insights into the variety of researchers and research subjects which M&ARL supports. Analysis of these statistics can assist M&ARL to reflect on current services and plan for the future, as it continues to acquire, catalogue, and provide access to new and existing collections, to support research in Trinity College Dublin, and across the globe.
Claire Allen, Assistant Librarian