For 15 years Eneclann has been publishing genealogical and historical content in an electronic format, starting with CD-ROMs, then moving to online delivery and more recently digital downloads. For nearly 10 years we have been doing our own digitisation of unique sources to either make available to the wider world, or to aid in preservation for future generations, we have worked with many libraries, cultural institutions, societies, private groups and individuals along the way.
Despite the massive changes in technology and content delivery over the last 10 to 15 years, the fundamentals of digitisation and publication have not changed. It all begins with the source, that unique record of the past. Ultimately, everyone wants to be able to see that primary source for themselves. Without the efforts, knowledge and skill of those libraries, cultural institutions, societies, private groups and individuals I mentioned above there would be little or no material surviving, it is because of them we are able to examine our past, discover where our ancestors came from, what life was like for them, and how our country changed over hundreds of years.
When it comes to digitising or imaging these unique resources our first task is to create a truthful digital representation of the document, manuscript, book or collection. If the original is ever lost or destroyed then these master digital images can at least be used to accurately recreate the content of that document, as well as its look. These master images need to be looked after, just like the original, in order to guarantee their survival for future generations. The availability of large capacity hard drives makes this task much eager. Planned migration of the master images to new drives or other future storage devices guarantee the survival of that digital record. Another advantage of the digital copy of the record is that it then allows the original source to be preserved correctly and stored away, thereby extending its own lifespan. It is also crucial that during the imaging process no damage is done to the original source. To accomplish this, only the most suitable equipment is used. Each source is unique and requires its own custom method of imaging. This is done by highly skilled and experienced people, using the very latest equipment available, from specialised book scanners, to custom made lighting, to high end digital cameras.
Once the source has been correctly imaged then the options of making it more available to a world wide audience greatly increase. Many people now enjoy the luxury of being able to sit in their own homes and examine records and documents that would only have been previously available in far away archives, libraries and inaccessible private collections. They are able to search these records in a matter of seconds thanks to transcriptions and indexing work carried out. The lives of our ancestors, and the day to day history of Ireland, is being laid bare in front of us, for better or for worse.
Of course, the current situation is not the perfect one. Too many records have already been lost and money to digitise and make records available is very scarce. But we will continue to work with the record holders and with the records to make sure new sources are continually becoming available. Maybe not always as quickly as we would like, getting those records from the shelf to the word at large requires a lot of effort, time and considerable resources.
However, we are living in a golden age of access to Irish records. Never before have so many been able to enjoy such access to so many records. That is only going to continue and grow.
By Paul Manzor,
Eneclann Publications Manager