Saturday, 3 June 2017

PRONI stakeholder forum report from Belfast

Yesterday (Friday June 2nd) I attended the regular stakeholder forum for the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland ( in beautiful Belfast. The following is a quick summary of recent developments at the archive.

We first heard from Lorraine Bourke on cataloguing. Work continues on the papers of the Brabazon Sharpe family of Galway and Mayo, which are being catalogued under D4523, and also on the Northern Ireland Women's Football Association records from 1973-1993. Another major new accession is a series of posters collected by Northern Ireland civil rights activist, and amateur historian and archivist, Fred Heatley, who died earlier this year. These document a range of political issues over the years on everything from elections in the province to the hunger strikes, and are being catalogued under D4629. Papers from the Belfast Co-Op Society's former York Street premises, including admin records, photos, etc. have been acquired, and these are being catalogued under D3895.

Another interesting project is work in progress to preserve the Prisons Memory Archive of about 175 walk and talk oral history interviews of from people who were at the Maze/Long Kesh, and Armagh prisons, including staff, chaplains, prisoners. This is a collaboration between PRONI, Queen's University and the Prisons Management Group, which as  Heritage Lottery Funded project was formally launched on March 29th. Posts are currently being filled to get this underway, but the plan is to work on 12 recordings a month, and to have them available for consultation in due course at the archive, and posisbly at relevant access hubs across the country.

We had a brief update also on plans to update the catalogue inside the archive (not the online version), with regards to accessing digitised holdings, such as some church records. One of the key points made about the length of time it takes to catalogue and make materials available for consultation was the lack of metadata that is supplied by those making deposits to the archive, which the archive has to address. Metadata is 'data about data' - e.g, you might gift a photograph to PRONI, but who is depcited within the photograph? That's the metadata bit!

Janet Hancock then gave us an overview of PRONI's plans to seek UK archive accreditation during 2017/18. This involves aspiring to reach key standards of work practice in three areas, namely  longevity, collections care, and stakeholder engagement, and essentially helps the archive to focus on which areas it needs to perhaps concentrate more on, and to recognise which areas it is already making good progress in. If PRONI achieves this accreditation, its standards would then be re-evaluated again every three years, to keep pushing for better practice. Anyone who holds an archive can apply for such accreditation.

We were informed that there is a possibility that the archive might seek to install library editions of some of the more popular genealogy websites. I asked how popular the usage of the four GENI ( platforms at PRONI have been since they were made available - the system that allows you to search for the GRONI's birth, marriage and death events from Northern Ireland. The terminals (see below for a pic of the area where they are located) have been quite popular, particularly for those seeking post-Partition Northern Ireland records, which are not available on the free Irish Genealogy ( site, as well earlier pre-1922 records not yet available on the southern hosted platform. There are no plans to increase the number of terminals - not only has the IrishGenealogy site making many records available for free taken some pressure off expected demand, the new GRONI search room at Stranmillis is also now up and running. Four seems to be a good number at PRONI, so everyone's happy!

Stephen Scarth also updated us on the latest communications developments, the biggest development being PRONI's new Facebook site (see The plan is to try to put out posts at least a couple of times a day, on a range of things from news to interesting features from the archive. One other change which some may already have been advised of by email is that those who subscribe to the PRONI Express, the archive's newsletter, will have to re-subscribe, due to an update of the system. The plan is for this to become a monthly newsletter, and not so ad hoc - though Janet also advised that they weren't averse to still throwing in the occasional ad hoc edition!

Some other changes include a desire to try to produce four main 'headline events' per year at the archive, such as the current series of lectures commemorating the Messines in the First World War. If attending events at the archive, from now on you will need to book via Eventbrite.

Finally, we were taken on a tour behind the scenes of the archive's reprographics department, where we were told how some items were digitally enhanced or restored (and catalogued as a new item), as well as some of the work the department does to produce promotional materials for exhibitions, and projects such as the then and now photographic image mixes of key locations across time.

And below is a wee sneaky glimpse of the conservation area, which I snapped as I passed it...!

A great day in Belfast - topped off by my finally finding a record in the Registry of Deeds that actually concerns my family!

Visit Belfast - ye'll love it! :)

(With thanks to Stephen and the staff at PRONI)


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