A qualitative analysis of the issue of discoverability of Irish digital collections; with a specific focus on medieval Irish manuscripts

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Smith, Barry
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MSc Information and Library Management
Dublin Business School
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The artistic output of the monasteries of medieval Ireland is often identified as the high point of Irish artistic achievement, with the spectacular illuminated manuscripts such as the Book of Kells regarded as among the most significant works of medieval art ever produced. With the church acting as the most significant patron of the arts at this time in Ireland, the majority of manuscripts are unsurprisingly religious in nature, but there are also many works, such as the Annals of the Four Masters, which contain substantial amounts of historical information, and in many cases, are the sole surviving historical records of a period. In addition to their obvious artistic importance, medieval Irish manuscripts are objects of immense historic and cultural significance. Their value, therefore, is undisputed and when considered in relation to their age and the fragility of the material, they are ideal candidates to be converted into digital collections. Indeed, extensive institutional resources and expertise have already been spent on the creation of digital collections to house many of these manuscripts. However, in spite of their importance and the time, effort and outlay that goes into the creation of these collections, they are frustratingly difficult to locate online and, more often than not, arduous to use and exploit. This dissertation seeks to understand why medieval Irish manuscripts, and digital collections in general, are so difficult to discover on-line by way of search engines and propose possible solutions. In light of an absence of literature on this topic in an Irish context, this research will look establish it own core data by conducting in-depth interviews with current practitioners and experts in Ireland to establish its own conclusions and recommendations, which will be then contextualised within international scholarship on the subject. As a result of these interviews: key issues will be identified that contribute to issue of the discoverability of digital collections, with a focus on medieval Irish manuscripts. The major contribution of the research will be the establishment a base level of data in an Irish context in the field of Irish digital collections concerning medieval manuscripts in response to the dearth of a pre-existing corpus of literature. This dissertation endeavours to start an important conversation in the area of digital humanities in Ireland over the challenges facing digital collections projects – especially those concerned with medieval Irish manuscripts – and to propose practical and achievable solutions.