This year Library Ireland Week, organised by the Library Association of Ireland, took place between 28 November – 4 December. Sophie Evans, Assistant Librarian at the Royal Irish Academy, visited Maynooth University Library as part of the Library Staff Exchange Scheme. Here is Sophie’s account of the experience…
One of the many initiatives of Library Ireland Week is the Library Staff Exchange Scheme. The scheme promotes job swap schemes between libraries and is a great opportunity to experience how other libraries operate and learn about the services they provide. When Helen Fallon of Maynooth University Library approached the Royal Irish Academy Library with a view to participating I jumped at the chance. And so, on 14 November Barbara McCormack of the Russell Library spent the day with us at Academy House and in turn I made a trip to Maynooth on 23 November.
It was a bright and cold November day when I arrived at Maynooth University campus and made my way through the cloisters of St. Patrick’s College to the Russell Library. Named after Charles William Russell (1812-80), former president of Maynooth College, the Library houses the historical collections of St. Patrick’s College. I was greeted by Barbara McCormack, Special Collections Librarian and Audrey Kinch, Special Collections Library Assistant. Audrey gave me a tour of the library. As we walked through the historic Reading Room, with its tall wood beamed ceilings and rows of books, Audrey told me the history of the building and the collections.
Designed by Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812-1853) the library was opened in 1861. Theology makes up a large part of the collection as would be expected but it is also rich in works on science, mathematics, history, geography and the classics. The c.18th-19th pamphlet collection runs to c.1200 items and covers a range of subjects. The Hibernian Bible Society collection is significant; with up to 2,000 works in nearly 600 languages.
I was lucky to visit on this particular day as Barbara and Audrey had put out on display some beautiful treasures – an early bible printed in 1482 with hand illustrated initials and decorations and three wonderfully illustrated c.14th Books of Hours.
John Paul II Library
After spending time in the Russell Library we headed across campus to the John Paul II Library. The Russell Library works closely with the John Paul II Library and the Special Collections staff split their time between the two buildings. The work of cataloguing the collections is a collaborative enterprise between the two libraries. I met with Deputy University Librarian Helen Fallon, who kindly spent some time talking with me about her role and the staffing structure of the library. We also spoke about ways of promoting and marketing library collections, Helen told me about the Ken Saro-Wiwa collection as an example.
Ken Saro-Wiwa Archive
Ken Saro-Wiwa was a Nigerian writer and social activist who was executed in 1995. Whilst awaiting execution at Port Harcourt, Saro-Wiwa was in correspondence with a nun from the Congregation of Our Lady of Apostles, Sister Majella McCarron. These 30 handwritten letters were smuggled out of Port Harcourt detention centre in bread baskets over the duration of his incarceration.
After a busy morning it was time for lunch and we headed to the wonderful Pugin Dining Hall – I was certainly getting the full Maynooth University experience!
On our way back to the Library Barbara introduced me to Rev Dr John Paul Sheridan, who, very hospitably offered to give us a tour of the fabulous neo-gothic College Chapel. This was an unexpected and enjoyable detour from our itinerary.
We headed back to the John Paul II Library and to the Special Collections Reading Room where I was introduced to Susan Durack. Susan and Barbara showed me the Otway-Maurice Collection from St. Canice’s Cathedral Library, Kilkenny. This is a unique and important collection of early printed books, mostly but not exclusively ecclesiastical. There are many treasures to be found including a Shakespearean Fourth Folio (1685) and a Sarum Missal printed for Wynken de Worde at Fleet Street.
Earlier this year Barbara, Susan and Yvette Campbell wrote a post for the MU Library Treasures blog looking at the collection and the ongoing work ‘St Canice’s Library: The Otway-Maurice Collection’.
Pearse Hutchinson Seminar
My day at Maynooth ended with the Pearse Hutchinson Seminar organised by the library and chaired by writer, poet and broadcaster, Vincent Woods. Cathal McCauley, University Librarian opened the seminar. Pearse Hutchinson was an Irish poet and translator whose archive is now housed at MU Library.
As the day grew dark it was time to head back to Dublin. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at MU and the only downside being that there wasn’t enough time to see everything.
I would like to thank Barbara McCormack, Audrey Kinch, Helen Fallon, Susan Durack, Elaine Bean, Hugh Murphy, Cathal McCauley, Rev Dr John Paul Sheridan and all the staff at MU Library who made me feel so welcome.
Royal Irish Academy