The Linen Hall Library is Belfast’s oldest library and was founded in 1788. It maintains and preserves an extensive catalogue of historical documents, periodicals, postcards, posters, and other memorabilia.
Since 1788, the mission of the library has been to preserve and promote knowledge, as part of The Linen Hall’s ongoing strategy, they wanted to enhance and build upon their existing digital assets to boost the visibility, accessibility and relevance of the library, bringing collections, events, and materials to a global and more richly diverse audience, whilst also generating subscription revenue.
The aim was also to be able to centralise their existing digital assets which are currently spread in an ad-hoc fashion across various micro-sites including: Northern Ireland Political Collection, the Northern Ireland Theatre and Performing Arts Collection, and the Northern Ireland Literary Archive.
The main goals were:
- Create a unified central digital collection
- Generate subscription revenue
- Provide access to researchers and members
- Allow for future collections to be published and promoted without recourse to new funding or website builds.
- Rebuild the existing promotional site
The digital platform is a means of curating and displaying the library’s Collections. It was built alongside their third party hosting platform, Collection Index Plus, which Linen Hall have used for some time to host digitised materials. Linen Halls tech stack consists of the latest typescript for both the digital collection site and the servers that run it. It uses some of the most popular typescript frameworks including React and NestJS; For processing the data it makes use of MySQL database engine. All of this is hosted on a secure server provided by AWS.
Key features include:
- Organising the library’s Items into appropriate digital collections, each with their own distinctive look and feel
- Locking content as ‘member only’, to encourage membership and create ongoing library/member relationship, as well as opening a new revenue stream
- Displaying Items in a way suitable for casual browsers to discover more of the value within the Library’s collections
- Giving researchers the tools to powerfully search collections/items
- Allowing the collections to be accessed by researchers working anywhere in the world
The project has placed The Linen Hall ahead of many of its competitors in the heritage sector in Ireland and the United Kingdom. Bringing their collections to a global audience will impact not only on those who wish to search or browse the archives without access to the museum, but will also boost the library by attracting more visitors and members outside of those who visit their physical space.
Plans are already afoot to work in some interesting collaborative areas with local authors and other organisations meaning the strengths of the digital platform will not only reap benefits for The Linen Hall but across the wider heritage and literary community.
At launch, the system contains many items from the Northern Ireland Political Collection, and the Northern Ireland Literary Archive but this will expand with the first phase to include:
- 1,175 items in the Northern Ireland Literary Archive
- 2,540 items in the Digital Theatre Archive
- 3,470 items in the Troubled Images Collection
- 7,769 items in the Postcards Ireland Collection
Once they’re available through the custom digital platform, work will continue in adding fresh content, preserving interesting works, and making rare items available to the world.
With over 350,000 items in the Northern Ireland Political Collection alone, the scope of this project is huge.