Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Visit to PRONI

The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland in the Titanic Quarter of Belfast is certainly housed in an impressive spacious facility. On entry there's a security person who directs the newcomer to a registration desk where you show photo ID, fill in a form, have a photo taken and are issued a researcher card good for five years. There are lockers, an exhibition area, washrooms, an education area and restaurant. The restaurant isn't the only thing PRONI has that Library and Archives Canada lacks; they also have a sensible policy that allows you to wear a light windbreaker type jacket to the research area.
One floor up are the two research areas. One to the right as you ascend the stairs has seperate internet and catalogue computers, a help desk, a small collection of publications and a microform reading area. Original  material is ordered from the catalogue and, I was told, typically arrives within 15 minutes or so. That beats TNA by a 10 - 30 minutes and LAC by a couple of days. There are displays to tell you when your material is available.
What should be the role of the help desk? Is it to help the user access the institution holdings? Or is it to help the client achieve their research goal? Those are not always the same thing. During my visit I was directed to microform holdings by an advisor who didn't seem to know that a significant quantity of the Catholic parish records have been indexed by Ancestry and Findmypast, and did not seem to be aware of the Irish resources on the commercial sites.

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