Launch of Chester Beatty Library Website/Digital Collections
“A dhaoine uaisle, is mór an onóir dom a bheith anseo inniu chun suíomh idirlín Leabharlann Chester Beatty agus an chéad chéim den bhailiúchán digiteach ar líne a láinseáil.”
I was last here back in January, on the 50th anniversary of the death of Chester Beatty, to launch commemorative stamps featuring works from the collection housed here. I remember saying at the time that the stamps were a fitting tribute to Chester Beatty because his passion for collecting began when he started gathering stamps as a child. Now his collection will be available for the world to see.
One of the main goals of my role as Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht is ‘enhancing access to arts and culture’. The investment in projects such as the digitisation of collections supports these goals.
The Chester Beatty Library, like many libraries and museums the world over cannot exhibit its entire collection at any one time. Digitisation provides a means for greater access to whole collections, not just those currently on display. This is an enormous benefit to both the scholar and the school child alike. Digitisation of the Chester Beatty collection will grant access to objects that reflect different global cultures and religions.
The Chester Beatty Library moved to its current location from a relatively small premises on Shrewsbury Road in 2000 and, because of this move, the Library’s impact has grown significantly in recent years. It is often described as one of the best tourist attractions in Dublin and now more than 350,000 visitors come here each year.
I believe that the digitisation of the Chester Beatty Library collection will, in time, be seen as a similar scale of step as that physical move taken in 2000. By supporting the Chester Beatty Library to develop its Digital Collection, I have no doubt that there will be a further expansion of the footprint and impact of the Chester Beatty Library.
Just recently, Uachtarán na hÉireann Michael D. Higgins opened the wonderful ‘Gift of a Lifetime – Treasures from Chester Beatty’s Collection’ exhibition here at the Library. He spoke of the items in the collections “They are not just beautiful in their own right but they also offer a portal into the past, capturing singular moments of revelation and charting the changing landscape and new patterns of a constantly changing world.”
How wonderful it is to be able to build a portal for the future of this wonderful digital collection, which will offer an insight into the past through the works displayed, accessible and conserved for future generations. The study, by a global audience, of a collection held in trust here on behalf of the Irish people, of global cultures, truly shows the wondrous possibilities that technology can bring to the cultural sector as a whole. By opening up the collection, I believe that the Chester Beatty Library can further its position as a pre-eminent international centre for the understanding of world cultures
Of course, the Chester Beatty Library is not the only beneficiary of my Department’s digitisation scheme. A range of digitisation projects in our national cultural institutions and organisations with collections of national significance have received funding support.
These organisations include the National Gallery, National Museum National Library, IMMA, the National Archives, the Crawford Art Gallery, Cork, the Irish Traditional Music Archive, the Contemporary Music Centre and the Church of Ireland, Representative Church Body Library.
The funding is provided to enable the cultural organisation to preserve, conserve and safeguard collections, provide online searchable access to their collections, facilitate the reuse of digital content, and potentially secure revenue streams for collections.
The digitisation of our national and other cultural collections will enable Ireland’s cultural guardians to showcase our cultural wealth. It will enable them to attract more visitors both physical and virtual.
When I see the progress the Chester Beatty Library has made thus far on its project, it gives me great satisfaction that these aims are being achieved. I am confident that the other beneficiaries of the scheme will follow suit.
I would like to thank the Director, Fionnuala Croke, as well as the Library’s Board of Trustees, chaired by Dr Catherine Day, for their invitation to share with you the launch of an inspiring resource which will benefit scholars worldwide, and the Irish public alike.
Before I finish, I should note that 2018 has been a remarkable year for the Library. Just recently it marked the 50th anniversary of the bequeathing of the Chester Beatty collection to the nation with the launch of a special exhibition aptly entitled ‘Gift of a Lifetime’. That exhibition showcased key pieces of the collection and included rare printed books, illuminated manuscripts, paintings and decorative arts. The collection is considered to be one of the greatest gifts ever given to a nation. Ireland is exceedingly fortunate to have been the beneficiary of such a gift and it is truly a national treasure.
My Department and I look forward to continuing to work with the Chester Beatty Library in furtherance of its mission. I would like to acknowledge and thank the Board of Trustees and the Director and the staff of the Library for their valuable work.
In a press interview in 1956, describing how he obtained so many great works, Beatty said; and I quote “It was all a great adventure”
Now finally, I would now like to share this “great adventure” with the world by taking the opportunity to formally launch the Chester Beatty Library’s wonderful new website and the first phase of its digital collections.