Irish Railway Record Society


The Members' Library, Its History, Progress and Operation

T. Moriarty, Honorary Librarian

"Of all inventions, the alphabet and the printing press alone excepted, those which abridge distance have done most for the civilisation of the species". (Lord Macaulay)"

Railways have abridged distance, libraries bridge the distance of time. The story of the Society's Library is inextricably linked with that of the premises it occupied.

The first years of the Society's existence were marked by considerable progress and many of its objectives had already been achieved. The Journal was published, meetings and outings were being held and the membership was increasing. But there was no premises and consequently no permanent home for the Library, Museum or Archives.

Today, housed in the former goods offices of the Great Southern & Western Railway at Heuston Station (formerly Kingsbridge) is a members' Library of some 16,000 books and pamphlets including 600 magazine titles, 5,500 timetables, 450 volumes of Railway Law literature, financial reports and statistics, accident reports and a large General Reading Section. It is a lasting monument to the Society, its members and benefactors.

The Early Years

The idea of a members' Library had existed in the minds of the founder members almost from the beginning. In 1947, the year following the Society's foundation, it was recorded: "In time we hope to have a first class collection of books, photographs, documents and other interesting articles to be preserved for all time, but at present there is no permanent premises".

In common with all railway enthusiasts and historians the founder members of this society were collectors of railway literature. As the society progresses, the collections of deceased members and friends were donated. These the committee members carefully held in trust for the society. We read in 1953 that the books of the late John McCartney Robbins and R.L.D. Maunsell had been presented to the Society. In 1954, with the donation of the books of the late Mr. Cullimore and Mr. George Wild, it was recorded that "the cataloguing and housing of the society's growing collection of books continues to engage the committee". It was at this stage that the problem was partially and temporarily solved with the provision of storage space in the Point Depot at the North Wall complex. This building was later to become the Point Theatre.

By 1957 the late Sam Carse relinquished his post as Honorary Secretary to become the Society's first Honorary Librarian. With regard to the North Wall he said "The mere cataloguing of our possessions will be a task of some length but it is not possible to provide access". But by 1959 considerable progress had been made in cataloguing the items in the North Wall and a limited amount of material might be borrowed by arrangement with the Librarian.

Drumcondra Station

In June 1969 an agreement to occupy the old railway station at Drumcondra, which had lain derelict for many years, was concluded with Córas Iompair Éireann. In October the contractor moved in and the work of renovation began.

The Dewey Classification

The year 1971 saw the production of the first Library Directory and was followed in the following year, 1972, by the introduction of the well known Dewey Decimal Classification System of relative location. The 18th. edition was then current and the Library has stayed with it ever since. Our original classification system was simple, suitable for the small collection of books and it reflected the genius of its designers. Books were divided into groups designated by code letters. There was a corresponding series for pamphlets. Because, however, the next book to be added was simply given the next number in the series and shelved accordingly, subject arrangement on the shelves was not possible.

The introduction of the Dewey system changed all. The old classification numbers were retained as accession numbers and subject numbers from the system were added to both cards and books. Cards were arranged in subject number order and the books were reshelved in the same order - books and pamphlets continuing to be shelved separately.

To coincide with the introduction of the new classification system, Library information sheets were published so that the members could be informed of progress. In 1974 a leaflet on the writing of school projects was produced as the Society was receiving many queries from young people wishing to write projects on our railways and transport. This role of the Society's library in the field of education has continued. Every year students including, may it be said, young ladies visit our library for transport research.

At this time also, the library was opened on some Saturdays for the benefit of our Provincial members but this was little availed of. By 1974 also, any remaining Archival material had been transferred to the Archives, which area of the Society's activities was now under the professional direction of the Honorary Archivist, Mr. Joseph Leckey, where it was to develop and prosper. His outstanding work is described elsewhere in this publication.

By 1975 the premises was already becoming too small for the growing collection and by 1980 the Library had expanded into the photographic gallery to accommodate the Bradshaw timetables, the bequest of the late Dr. Ralph Cox, extra shelving being provided. These shelves were themselves of historic interest as they originally belonged to the Chivers family and were donated by the late Mr. Currivan who bought them at an auction for his business; they still even bore the auction labels. In 1981 a new fire escape was provided, using the original station access stairs. This now served as the library entrance and provided direct access to the Issue desk and library.

Heuston Station

In the summer of 1983, again through the good offices of Córas Iompair Éireann, we moved to Heuston station. The library service was disrupted for some time but members were however free to attend for social conversation. By the end of the year, the library was fully operational again, the books were back on shelves and plans for expansion were already being drawn up. The file room at the Inchicore end of the building was divided by a mezzanine floor to accommodate the time tables, Serial Literature collection and library work area. Part of the original grand staircase from Drumcondra was incorporated into the alterations. A sorting and storage area was provided in 1985, to be supervised by Mr. Tony O'Shaughnessy. As provision of light refreshments at meetings and library nights was a tradition in the Society, a small kitchen was fitted out.

A new library directory was published in 1984, giving information about the library, its classification, contents and borrowing procedures. The Reverend Dr. Gamble now took on the roll of issue desk supervisor with responsibility for book charging, information and the attendance book. In 1987 the Society joined the newly formed Railway Librarians' Association, an organisation for fostering co-operation between railway and transport societies in these islands. In the October of that year the Librarian was in London for an inaugural meeting to explain the role of this Society.

The early years at Heuston brought a continuous influx of books. Some members of long standing passed on and bequests were numerous, including those of the late George Mahon, J.R.L.Currie, Jim O'Dea and Robin Clements. Our chairman, Kevin Murray, continued his life-long habit of donating railway books, while railwaymen of all grades continued to favour us with their treasures.

The Computerised Catalogues

In 1992, a review of our cataloguing procedure was undertaken. Our card catalogues had served us well but had not been updated for some time. A decision was taken to go over to computerised catalogues. The librarian was fortunate in enlisting the services of our member Mr. Tony Byrne to oversee this work. Suitable equipment was purchased and the mammoth task of compiling the databases commenced with the help of a number of members.

Our in-house database management software programme (LYBSIS) is run on a Commodore Amiga A3000/20 and incorporates the features of the traditional Subject On-line Catalogue and Dewey On-line Catalogue systems. The inclusion of relevant subject data from Dewey 18 schedules, tables and relative index, will produce the optimum in finding aids.

To date, in addition to the computerised book borrowing system introduced in January 1994, three catalogues in the Definitive Computerised Catalogue Series have been produced. The catalogue of Periodic and Serial Literature appeared in the Summer of 1994 followed by the Publishers' Catalogue of Timetables and Related Literature in 1995. This year saw the production of the Short Title Catalogue of Railway Law Literature. Phase two of the computerisation programme scheduled for early next year will allow direct access by members to all databases for research.

Conservation And Binding

Conservation of the collection has always been high on the list of priorities. Irrespective of whatever changes take place in information technology, storage and retrieval systems, ours is a scholar's library and books will always be our raw material. In common with other libraries we hold a number of books bound at the turn of the century when changes in the method of leather tanning were to have disastrous effects on the bound book. The tanners had found that the use of Sulphuric acid shortened traditional methods. However, no matter how well the hides were washed the acid residue remained and with the passage of time rotted the leather bindings. The results are all too plainly visible on our shelves.

In the Drumcondra days the society operated its own bookbinding workshop for the binding and repair of books. Although the workshop is no longer on the premises, the work continues and concentrates on the restoration rather than rebinding of the old books so that the craftsmanship and "trade bindings" of other days may be preserved. A dehumidifier and hygrometer were installed in 1994 to help monitor the optimum conditions for the long term preservation of the collection. An annual "spring cleaning" takes place and our leather bindings are regularly treated with leather dressing.

And so the first fifty years of the Society premises and library have been set down. What changes the next half century will bring cannot be foretold. Neither too can the future developments by those who succeed to the management of the Society. It is my earnest hope that posterity, future generations of railway enthusiasts and historians will judge us aright

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Copyright © 2001 by Irish Railway Record Society Limited
Revised: January 04, 2016 .