My name is Eilís Ní Raghallaigh and I completed a Masters in Library and Information Studies in UCD in 2012. Once qualified my main goal was to gain library experience and I have been fortunate to achieve that working as a library assistant in the Irish Film Institute’s (IFI) Tiernan MacBride library over the last eight months. This library is part of the IFI Irish Film Archive which works to acquire, preserve and make accessible Ireland’s moving image heritage in forms including newsreels, feature films, home movies, documentaries and advertisements. The remit of the Tiernan MacBride library is to manage and make available the document and image collections of the archive and to provide resources for those who wish to research Irish moving image history.
I was excited about working in this environment not only because I am a film-lover but because of the fascinating history behind the archive and the IFI. It’s surprising to learn that the IFI, or National Film Institute as it was then, was established in the 1940s under the patronage of Archbishop John Charles McQuaid to counter what Pope Pius XI termed ‘the school of corruption’ of the motion picture industry! The library’s link to Ireland’s film heritage is made tangible with its display of this 1920s 35mm Kamm projector from the Horgan Picture Palace, established in Youghal in 1917.
The library is mainly used by film students, educators, journalists and those working in the film industry. The library building houses over 2,000 books about Irish and International cinema, film journals which include issues that date back to the 1930s, a clippings archive which contains media, journal and book coverage of topics relating to Irish film and access is available to various online databases such as The Irish Times digital archive and FIAF Index to Film Periodicals. The library’s document collection, which contains over 20,000 files and items relating to the Irish film industry , is housed in a climate controlled vault within the archive. This collection includes stills, posters, production notes, scripts, press material and film memorabilia.
My day-to-day library duties include those common to most libraries such as answering e-mail and phone queries, shelving and tidying books, making library appointments for readers, instructing researchers in the use of the collection and library resources and preparing material for researchers. Cataloguing various materials also forms a core part of my role and these materials range from new or donated film-related books which are added to the shelved collection, to documents donated from private owners which are archived in the vaults once catalogued. These donations can be remarkable, such as a recent donation of documents relating to James Smyth, who acted in important Irish films such as Irish Destiny under the name Brian Magowan, is documented as being ‘often on the run’ as a member of the Irish Volunteer force and of the IRB and was cameraman for many Irish films including the Republican loan film featuring Michael Collins.
One of the projects I have enjoyed most was the digitisation of photographs and documents from the Neil Jordan collection, to be included in an online exhibition of his work on the IFI website. While examining collections related to his films we uncovered head shots of Brad Pitt trying out his vampire teeth for ‘Interview with the Vampire,’ and of Julia Roberts looking nonplussed in various Kitty Kiernan costumes for ‘Michael Collins.’ My favourite discovery was a list of ‘non-obscene obscenities’ offered by the novelist Patrick McCabe in response to a request for alternatives to the expletives he had used in his script for ‘The Butcher Boy.’
As with most libraries, the biggest challenge currently facing the Tiernan MacBride library is in providing awareness of and access to the library’s collections and resources. We have been working to ensure that fully-described catalogue records exist for every item, to aid discoverability of the various collections by researchers who visit the library. I have undertaken a project to chronologically sort, list and catalogue the clippings archive, which contains approximately 5,000 individual files, many of which contain hundreds of articles. The long-term goal of the library staff is to make all of the library’s catalogue records for the document, clippings and book collections available through the IFI’s website. Online users can currently search the library’s book holdings through the IFI website.
Check out the IFI Library and Archives Blog here.