Last week the National Library of Ireland published its Annual Review of 2016. It was a busy year for the institution, which, in addition to its traditional role of collecting and conserving material, launched an ambitious five-year strategy, digitally archived more than 880 Irish websites, saw 170,000 visitors attend its five exhibitions and some 35,000 more made their way to 455 tours, talks, workshops and performances.
I took the opportunity of the latest review to compare figures with those of the last four years, in particular looking at the number of visitors taking advantage of the Library's online and offline facilities and services. Overall, the number of visitors through the Library's doors has fallen slightly. The graph, right, makes this fall appear dramatic. In fact, the drop was less than 4%.
A genuinely dramatic reduction in numbers was witnessed in the Family History Room. From roughly 60,000 visits in each of 2013 and 2014, the number fell by 59% to less than 25,000 in 2016.
If there weren't a very good reason for this fall, there would be concern, but the simple explanation is that the National Library released images of its Roman Catholic registers collection in summer 2015. Previously, family historians had to attend the Library for the dubious pleasure of whirring through microfilmed copies of these images; now they could do this research from their own homes. The subsequent indexing and linking to the images by Ancestry, FindMyPast and RootsIreland made the task even easier. For many researchers, there is now no need for regular visits to Kildare Street.
The Library is to be congratulated for its success in making up for the loss of visiting family historians; the numbers attending tours, lectures and workshops more than doubled between 2015 and 2016.
While the numbers attending Library premises overall is steady, the Library's online presence has grown hugely. It is particulary strong on the two main social media outlets of Twitter and Facebook, where it has enormous followings, but its level of interaction with online visitors via its main website (excluding the RC Registers 'channel') and Flickr (for its photo collections), is also impressive.
Launching the Annual Review, Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys TD said: “The Annual Review 2016 highlights the remarkable achievements of the Library last year. Nearly a quarter of a million visitors walked through the doors of the Library over the course of the year, and more than 22 million interacted with the Library online. This astounding figure demonstrates the need for libraries to provide access to information in new and innovative ways, and, through its ambitious digitisation and web archiving programme, the National Library has claimed a leadership role in the digital arena."