by Nikki Ralston, Exhibitions
Our new Front Hall display proudly says “Welcome to Your NLI”, not the NLI or our NLI but Yours. After all, as a public collection the National Library of Ireland does belong to all, it’s Ours. Perhaps you already had a sense of this public ownership, but had you thought about the NLI being personally Yours? Well it is, or it can be because each NLI visitor, reader and online user creates their own version and experience of this institution.
Through the “Your NLI” project we hope to share some of our favourites from the collections and to encourage you to discover your own. We hope that those of you who can call into us on Kildare Street in Dublin will enjoy the display, and will be keen to learn more; and that users far and wide will be able to do this too through our online exhibition. If I’ve managed to hook you and you’d like to delve deeper still, follow the direct links to the catalogue record for each item, some of which contain digitised images or links to the images on our Flickr. Also watch out for a series of blogs which I’ll be posting over the coming months. There’ll be a post on each of the 10 items featured in the display. The first one, looking at the early 13th century Topographia Hiberniae by Giraldus Cambrensis (or Gerald of Wales), will be hard on the heels of this post. As the display reflects the sheer variety of our collections, I hope that there’ll be “one for everyone in the audience”.
This is true of the National Library of Ireland in general, we really do have something for everyone. Whatever your interests, the NLI can provide just about whatever you want, and the options are endless. We could be a means of connecting with your personal past through family history research or the shared past of Ireland’s fascinating history, as highlighted by our varied programme of talks, workshops and courses. Or Your NLI might be a visual experience, whether visiting our exhibitions, enjoying our online digitised images or consulting items directly at the National Photographic Archive or Prints & Drawings Reading Rooms. Speaking of Reading Rooms, don’t miss out on the chance to experience our soaring domed main reading room as a reader or during our building tours; you’ll be following in the footsteps of past readers such as W.B. Yeats, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Patrick Kavanagh, Sean O’ Casey…
A recent, though much less illustrious, addition to the above list would be me! Although I’ve worked here at the National Library for a good number of years, my main contact with our reading rooms as a member of the conservation department would have been to advise on safe access, handling and reprographic procedures. Working in Exhibitions and Interpretation means that the collections are just as central to my day to day life, but in a different way. I’ll still be drawing upon my conservation background to ensure that our collections are displayed appropriately, but now I’ll also be thinking about how the meaning and significance of the collections can be made accessible to as wide an audience as possible. The first step is “getting to know” the item, whatever that might be; manuscript, book, poster, photograph, map, newspaper, drawing, etc.
As this has been new to me, I was at first a little overwhelmed, but having explored the catalogue, I really would say that if you are in any way interested in becoming a reader, just do it! Remember that our reading room staff are always there to help not just with the catalogue, but in pointing out good starting points for your research. Not knowing where to begin can feel daunting, but once you take that initial step the exciting aspect is not knowing where the journey will take you. My experience in researching this varied group from the collections was that in each instance there always seems to be something unexpected to look forward to, and this is something which I hope will come across in my subsequent blog posts. For me, surprising connections were made, opinions revised and I soon realised that “more to this than meets the eye” was the rule rather than the exception; which I hope you’ll also find to be true of Your NLI.