The National Library of Ireland in your Classroom

Since it was founded in 1877, the mission of the National Library of Ireland (NLI) has been to collect, preserve, promote and make accessible the documentary and intellectual record of the life of Ireland. Digitization of the Library’s collections has been an important part of the National Library’s role in recent years and has allowed us to make accessible our materials on a much wider scale; we can now count among our ‘readers’ online visitors from places as far afield and diverse as Fiji and Uzbekistan.

Closer to home, digital proximity to the NLI has many benefits for teachers and students across Ireland. While nothing can compare to visiting the Library in person and seeing the collections ‘in the flesh’, organized and thoughtful use of digitized documents can do much to supplement and complement a ‘real’ visit. What follows is a brief outline of some of our online resources – and some suggestions for their use – to help you to bring the Library to your learners.

Online Exhibitions

The NLI has an active exhibitions programme through which our collections are displayed and interpreted. Increasingly, our exhibitions include a virtual arm and remain online as a digital record after the physical exhibition has finished; we have also produced one ‘born digital’ exhibition without any physical counterpart. Currently we offer three online exhibitions. These are described briefly below along with some ideas for their use in the classroom.

1. Yeats: the Life and Works of William Butler Yeats (

This virtual exhibition employs its real counterpart’s layout as its user interface, making it straightforward and logical to navigate, even if the user has never visited in person.


This content-rich website reproduces digitally the 300+ artifacts contained in the physical exhibition as well as the caption and timeline information that supports the exhibits in-house on the touch screen computers.

A guide to navigating and using the website, and to its curricular links, can be downloaded at or by clicking here.

How to use the website in class
If you have booked a tour of the exhibition for your class, you may find it useful to use the website as an ‘advance organiser’ to orientate the group ahead of its visit. Why not get the class to customize their own guided tour by marking in objects of interest on the floorplan template, available on our education pages or by clicking here? Conversely, the website can be used after a visit to reinforce learning done in the Library. You will find suggestions for post-visit (primary school) activities on our education pages or by clicking here.

Primary groups who are unable to visit the exhibition might enjoy drawing up their own Yeats timeline based on the website – you can download the lesson plan on the same page or by clicking here.

2. Discover Your National Library: Explore, Reflect, Connect (

The NLI’s most recent exhibition, Discover Your National Library, opened in January of this year. Two of the exhibition’s highlights are its ‘Discovery’ touch tables which use Microsoft Silverlight technology to bring together thousands of images from the Library’s collections. Visitors to the exhibition can physically select and manipulate images on the tables, using the Silverlight’s deep zoom technology to examine images in minute detail. The bank of images used in the touch tables is now available online at and will be added to over the next two years as the physical exhibition grows. Online visitors (having first downloaded a small plug in) can use a scrolling mouse to explore the database according to geographic location, chronology and collection type and examine the images in very fine detail. The level of detail afforded by the Silverlight technology gives visitors the opportunity to explore the detail and nuances of the local and social history recorded in the documents. See, for example, the difference between the two versions of the same image below, which reveals much about the living standards of young children in Connemara in the 1870s.

Discover Image
Discover Image using Deep Zoom

Every county in Ireland is represented in Discover, making the exhibition and its website an excellent resource for local history studies also.

3. The 1916 Rising: Personalities and Perspectives (

The 1916 Rising: Personalities and Perspectives is a born-digital exhibition which was launched by the NLI during the ninetieth anniversary of the Easter Rising in 2006. It brings together several key documents, an image gallery and expert narrative and analysis, making it an important resource for students of Leaving Certificate History (and their teachers!). A zoom feature allows photographs and manuscripts to be examined in close detail while typed transcripts supplement powerful, though sometimes difficult to read, images of original documents. A high quality pdf download is also available for each of the individuals and topics covered in the exhibition. Access it at

NLI Ms. 15,453 (Record of decision to surrender)
Transcript of NLI Ms. 15,453

 Digitised photographs


The NLI holds the world’s largest collection of photographs relating to Ireland. Over the past three years, we have been engaged in a major digitisation project to increase online access to this resource and to date nearly 34,000 photographic glass plates have been digitised from amongst our core photographic collections. Previously only available in their fragile negative form, these images are now available to search online at

The images span the period 1860 to 1954 and cover a wide range of themes from politics to social and local history. These images constitute a great resource for teachers of SESE at primary level and History and Geography at second level.


Hurling Team, per Mr Murphy, St. Ursula’s Tce.

 Sources (

Sources: A National Library of Ireland database for Irish research, contains over 180,000 catalogue records for Irish manuscripts, and for articles in Irish periodicals. It is an extremely useful online resource which, at second level, might assist History students undertaking the special research study in identifying primary and secondary source material for their project. A downloadable pdf guide to researching such a study at the NLI is available at



Feedback and Queries

These are just a few pointers for getting started – we are very keen to hear from teachers as to the other ways they have brought the National Library into their classrooms. Feedback and queries about the Library’s exhibitions and online resources can be emailed to For information about our latest releases and events, keep an eye on our website (, follow us on Twitter (@NLIreland) or become a fan of the NLI on Facebook.

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