Friday, 8 April 2011

£30m Public Record Office opens in Belfast

(from the Belfast Telegraph)

More than 800 years of history can now be viewed at Belfast’s dockland with the opening of the new £30m Public Record Office.

The state-of-the-art building, which holds the millions of papers forming Northern Ireland’s official archives, opened its doors yesterday, two months ahead of schedule.
Situated in the city’s Titanic Quarter, the new building is twice the size of the former site at Balmoral Avenue and comprises four huge vaults holding papers dating back to the 13th century.

Construction work on the purpose-built premises began in November 2008, and the relocation process involved the transfer of some 40km of documents.
Those papers cover every facet of public life, and range from Cabinet minutes to the records of a local corner shop.

And Stephen Scarth, head of public services at PRONI, is hoping the new facilities will help to attract more visitors in the coming months and tap into the public’s quest for knowledge of their family history.

“This isn’t just a facility for historians — there really is something for everyone,” he said.
“With programmes like Who Do You Think You Are? more and more people are interested in tracing their family history.

“We have records which go back hundreds of years, for example church records, school records, even records from the old workhouses, so it’s possible for people to trace their histories over quite a long period.”

The building has a public search room holding 52 computer desks and a reading room that seats 78.  “The biggest change is the scale of the operation — this building is much bigger than our old premises at Balmoral Avenue,” he added.  “We are able to offer more modern resources and services, including an exhibition covering the last 100 years which opens next month.”  Mr Scarth said new technology has brought different challenges for the office, with more and more records being held digitally.  “This is probably the last decade where we will have original records to display,” he added.  “Everything is being born digital and that has changed the landscape of how archiving works.”

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