Since the publication of Judith Panitch’s Exploring Hidden Collections in 1998 special collections and rare books have become an increasingly important focus for libraries. This publication prompted the ARL to set up a Special Collections Working Group and has publicised many of the issues surrounding rare books. The issues identified by the ARL bring into question the survival of historic records that are crucial in accurately understanding and interpreting our past. Limited research has been carried out in Irish libraries to determine the depth and scope of the issues identified by the ARL and for this reason the current research will attempt to address this area. This thesis surveys Irish rare book librarians with a selection of follow-up interviews to analyse the issues that challenge the preservation of rare books for current and future generations.
The aim is to identify the issues facing rare books that have been identified in the literature and to determine whether these exist to the same extent in Irish libraries. This study has found, for example that there are no coherent collection policies for rare books in Irish libraries and that no common definition of rare books exists. It identifies that, particularly as a result of digitisation, budgets are less focused on the preservation of rare books and the role of the librarian as custodian of the cultural heritage of Ireland is being called into question. Finally, it establishes that there are cataloguing backlogs in the majority of institutions in Ireland and that the problem is actually increasing as budgets are reduced. These findings highlight some of the dangers facing rare book librarianship in Ireland today that need to be addressed to ensure the safeguarding of our past and present so that the next generations can learn from these experiences. Author keywords: Library, rare books, speciall collections, Ireland