by Seán Cafferkey, Library Assistant
The Glucksman Library at the University of Limerick holds the Shannon Development Archive. Formerly known as the Shannon Free Airport Development Company Limited (SFADCo), Shannon Development was established by the Irish Government in 1959 as an agency to promote Shannon Airport and region. Some the agency’s key achievements include the building of Shannon Town, the creation of the Shannon Free Zone and the development of a National Technology Park, located adjacent to the University of Limerick today.
The archive comprises a photographic collection, press clippings and other documentation spanning over a fifty-year period. Together, these constitute a valuable record of Shannon Development activities particularly in relation to industrial development, the advancement of the airport and tourism activities in the Shannon region. In 2014 Shannon Development became part of the Shannon Group and it was around this time that the collection was donated to UL by the Shannon Airport Authority.
The importance of the collection
The photographic collection is especially significant because of its unique visual representation of the Shannon Development story. It predominantly comprises of approximately 80,000 black and white acetate negatives, with smaller quantities of transparencies, contact sheets, prints and slides.
The photographs include, but are not limited to, images of the many people of renown that passed through Shannon Airport, coverage of the world’s first duty free zone and images of newly acquired aircraft. The early construction days of Shannon Town and people at work in associated industrial settings are also captured. There are many photos of events at Bunratty Castle which provide a valuable insight into the development of new tourist attractions in the region during the 1960s.
Besides offering a visual account of the development of the airport and its environs, the collection offers unique opportunities to consider a range of topics including life, culture, dress, and some of the social norms of Ireland in the latter half of the twentieth century.
The challenges associated with accessing film-based collections are well documented. Archival photographic collections are often arranged by their original creators and consequently many collections may lack proper indexing and item level descriptions, which impedes discovery. Records are sometimes lost or separated from collections. Accessing the visual content of negatives with traditional tools such as a hand lens or a light box is far from ideal. 1 Old acid paper sleeves are often used to house material which becomes fragile over time and hinders retrieval. 2
Digitisation is well recognised as an effective solution to overcome the challenges outlined above. To improve access to the collection, the decision was taken to digitise the Shannon Development Archive.
A cross-departmental team from Special Collections & Archives and Technical and Digital Services was established to begin the digitisation project. Under the direction of Department Heads, the team consists of the Digital Services Librarian, a Library Assistant from Digital Services and a Library Assistant from Special Collections & Archives. Digitisation commenced with the black and white negative collection. Training and advice was provided regarding the end-to-end process including: careful handling of the material and the need to wear gloves to reduce the risk of damage; the use of respiratory masks to protect against inhalation of gases/odours emitted from acetate negatives; operation of scanning equipment and labelling and storing of digitised images to a specified server.
A searchable catalogue (Adlib) is updated with metadata, as negatives are scanned. Features of Adlib’s user interface such as browse by thumbnail image to access detailed records further enhances user experience. Images can be uploaded to a digital library platform which allows sharing of the archive with a global audience.
Two Microtek Scanmaker 1000XLPlus flatbed scanners with Microtek ScanWizard Pro software are used to scan the negatives. Calibration is set to convert images to positive film as follows:
- Large Format: 4” x 5” (9cm x 12cm), Grayscale (16-bit), resolution at 1200 ppi
- Medium Format: 2.5” x 2.5” (6cm x 6cm), Grayscale (16-bit), resolution at 1500 ppi
- Small Format: 0.85” x 1.3” (24mm x 35mm) Grayscale (16-bit), resolution at 3200 ppi
Adobe Photoshop is used for editing, adding metadata and copyright information.
High quality master copies of resultant images are saved as TIFF files from which JPEG copies can be made available to researchers as required. ID numbers matching the original ID numbers recorded by the donors on envelopes are assigned to corresponding digital copies.
The digitisation process is time consuming. To date approximately 10% of the negative collection has been digitised. However, the benefits of even limited improved access are already obvious. Researchers from home and abroad have sought and accessed digital copies of images from the collection which would not have been possible prior to digitisation. Digitised images for the archive have been used in a recent RTÉ documentary series ‘Building Ireland’.
click each image below to zoom
The future of the collection
Future developments will include the combination of digitised images with a searchable online catalogue and a digital library platform. This will not only improve access, but, will ensure that the collection is much more widely disseminated. These additional services will help raise awareness of these unique primary sources to researchers and members of the public alike.
Digitisation also provides an opportunity to preserve archival photographic collections. This digitisation initiative is thus paving the way for long term preservation of the Shannon Development Archive.
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- Matusiak, K. K. and Johnson, T.K. (2014) ‘Digitization for Preservation and Access: the Usefulness of the Nitrate Negatives Collections at the American Geographical Society Library’, The American Archivist 77(1), 241–269.
- Capell, L. (2010) ‘Digitization as a Preservation Method for Damaged Acetate Negatives: A case Study’, The American Archivist 73(1), 235–249.