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My time as an intern in the RIA Library

From the Reading Room Our Library Assistant (Intern) Sinead Noonan reflects on her time working with us.

When I was thirteen years of age I read J. J. Lee’s Ireland, 1912-1985. This was the book that sparked my love of history and politics. Reading this book brought to life history in a way nothing else had. It made me realise that Irish history wasn’t an abstract notion but a tangible link to the present day. The only other time I have felt that link as strongly was during my first weeks in the Royal Irish Academy Library. Now I could view manuscripts daily that opened up the Irish past in a way that I had never experienced before. During the annual closure I had the privilege of cleaning and checking the Haliday pamphlets, which allowed me to see daily life as it was being lived out during the 18th and 19th centuries. I have never had access to material like this before. I found it both a humbling yet exhilarating experience. This is the reason I love interning as a Library Assistant in the RIA Library. Looking around the Reading Room I get to see the best of Ireland both through its history and its scholars. Not many people can say they experience that daily!

My day to day tasks have been varied and interesting. Being a Library Assistant in the Reading Room is like being on the front line. You are the first point of contact with anyone who comes to the library. This has been a very rewarding experience. Some days I could be helping a Reader source a journal article for their thesis, other days I could be recounting the history of the Meeting Room to visitors from Utah.

My favourite part of working in the Reading Room was the time I spent with the collections, particularly the W.T Cosgrave collection. This is a new collection to the Library and one I was fortunate to work on, helping number items individually and amending the online catalogue. My favourite piece from this collection is RIA/P285/384, which is a photograph of two priests and an ‘in disguise’ W.T. Cosgrave. On first inspection it is a completely unremarkable photo. It shows what seem to be three priests posing for a photograph. But it is the story behind it that makes it fascinating.

After the 1st Dáil, which had been a revolutionary parliament, was banned in September 1919 by the British – members of the ‘rebel’ government had to go underground. W.T. Cosgrave was forced to go on the run as there was a price of £3,500 on his head. A priest from The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate brought W.T. to their monastery in Co. Wicklow and it was there that W.T. hid out under the name Br. Doyle. He stayed there for some time, with only two members of the community knowing his true identity. It was during this period when W.T. was on the run that the photograph was taken.[1]

The reason this photo captivates my interest is because I think it is remarkable that less than 100 years ago a future leader of this country was forced to go on the run to avoid arrest by the British Forces. To me, this photograph highlights the huge change that has occurred in the country over the past century. This is why collections like the W.T. Cosgrave papers are so important to preserve. They showcase a side of history that makes major events more relatable to the modern reader.

Another project that I loved working on was the setting up of this Library Blog. I am truly passionate that libraries today need to be active on Social Media to engage their readers and help new readers find our collections. If we do not promote ourselves and the importance of the collections we hold, we are doomed to be labelled as irrelevant. In an institution such as the Library of the Royal Irish Academy, it is our duty to promote the historical and literary treasures that we are so fortunate to have. It also gives our patrons a glimpse into the daily workings of the library and gives us, the staff of the library, a platform to show our passion for the library.

My time interning in the Library has been wonderful. I have had the opportunity to work on various projects such as the digitizing of our Members Certificates, cataloguing Marriage Referendum literature, welcoming over 1,200 members of the public on Culture Night and helping set up various exhibitions that the library had during my internship. I also learned a great deal about the day to day running of a library. Accessioning books and pamphlets, cataloguing and updating records, retrieval of books and materials and making sure that everything was where it was supposed to be. All of this work helped me appreciate how varied the job of Library Assistant is. Overall I have loved every day of my internship and I know the experience I have gained from the RIA Library will stay with me for the rest of my working life.

Sinead Noonan
Library Assistant

[1] Laffan, Michael, Judging W.T. Cosgrave (Royal Irish Academy Press, Dublin 2014)