digital humanities

Cork City Council Libraries 2015-2020

I was tempted by the following data set, which relates both to my home city of Cork, and my interest in the Arts: the Cork City Council Libraries Key Metrics which was found on Ireland’s Open Data Portal at, which had been released on January 25th 2021 with data for the years 2018-2020, and was updated on March 1st to include the years 2015-2017. This is how the data set looked:

Three significant notes accompanied the data set:

  • Up until 30 May 2019, Cork City Council Libraries consisted of seven library locations. Following boundary revision on 31 May 2019, Cork City Council Libraries now comprises ten library locations 1
  • Douglas Library was closed following fire between 1 September 2019 and 17 December 2020 2
  • PC bookings were suspended on 10 March 2020 due to coronavirus pandemic.

Firstly I renamed the following categories, for legibility: Visits to our libraries became Visitor Numbers; items borrowed (physical) became Physical Items; items borrowed (ebooks and audiobooks) became E-Items. I reordered the columns on the table so that the years read 2015-2020 as we read left to right. Then I removed the ‘Stock Items’ and ‘Book Fund €’ categories, as I would not be concerned with them for this project. I inputted the set into Flourish, and created the line graph below:

Made with Flourish

The first thing that struck me looking at the graph was the effect that Covid-19 had on Visitor Numbers. I was also interested in the correlation between that and Enquiries.

Made with Flourish

What I can surmise from the graph above is:

  • Covid-19 in 2020 had a devastating effect on Visitor Numbers – a drop of well over half from the high of 2019. However, learning of the conditions under which the libraries were operating, I am surprised that the libraries still managed to attract the numbers they did. The libraries managed to remain open for almost 7 months during 2020, but even during these months (from March on), they had to restrict visitor numbers. I would imagine that a further consequence for the libraries was one they shared with other enclosed spaces: the reluctance of visitors to enter them, and furthermore to even touch the books and other physical items. It was through the admirable introductions of systems like the call-and-collect 3, and the quarantining of books 4, that the libraries managed to provide a base level service that I would imagine members acknowledged and appreciated over the course of the year, and began to avail of, as their confidence grew.
  • On a more general note over the years, Enquiries are related to Visitor Numbers – numerically and graphically they make ‘fine bedfellows’.  Enquiries are any question a visitor wants to make to a member of staff: it can be about a book at the desk, it can be help with locating a magazine article on the computer, a question relating to opening hours, and it can even be a phone call or email. It is obvious that not every visitor makes an enquiry, some visitors know what they want and how to get it, or are content to browse; and certainly not every enquiry has to be related to a physical visitor in the building, but I like the correlation between them.
  • It is curious, while we look at it, that Enquiries didn’t increase in 2019 with the addition of the 3 libraries. In 2018 however, there was an increased emphasis on members to ‘self-service’ 5 – where members can borrow a book without ever approaching the desk, or interacting with any staff. I would speculate that the reason for the increase in enquiries in 2018 was due to members of the 4 ‘new’ libraries approaching the desk or staff to receive guidance on how to use the new Self-service Kiosk system – and this need for assistance would have decreased the next year. In other words, there is a relatively new policy of encouraging ‘self sufficiency’ amongst the members – and that this self sufficiency displays itself in reduced interaction with the staff, and therefore enquiries.

The next aspect I wanted to look at was items borrowed from the libraries. Physical items would include books, magazines, CDs, DVDs etc.; whereas E-Items included downloaded e-books (an e-book can be downloaded only to one person), audiobooks and other E-services.6 I created a bar graph to appreciate the discrepancy in scale between the two catagories:

Made with Flourish

This graph is interesting for a number of reasons. It tells a story simply yet effectively. There is the obvious, expected severe drop in Physical Items borrowed in 2020 compared to 2019, and there is a doubling of E-items borrowed in the same time period.

However, looking at the bars as we progress year to year, it shows a deeper picture – almost a roadmap of the future. The amount of physical items borrowed has been steadily declining for years, despite the addition of the new libraries in 2019. There is a corresponding unfaltering rise in E-items borrowed since the infancy days in 2015. The contrast between the years 2o15 and 2019 is telling – and this before the consequences of the pandemic. The advantages bestowed by the BorrowBox system 7 has made online borrowing a couple-of-clicks process, and would have continued to convert users, despite the pandemic. Covid-19 did accelerate the process, but I feel this trend is a harbinger of a future where the foundations were laid years ago. There is going to come a time when the numbers for Physical Items and E-items will match, and if trends continue the way they are going, then the one will overtake the other within a decade.

Next, I wanted to look at members, and examine the trend over the  years. Looking at the Members graph on the left hand side below, we can see that member numbers have risen dramatically over the last couple of years. As we know however, there was a change in the city boundaries in 2019 that led to the addition of 3 new libraries. I learned from my interviews with Ann Riordan 8 that the addition of the new libraries accounted for approximately 8,800 new members. So I reordered 8,800 members in the 2019-2020 numbers, to create the graph on the right, below:  

I would imagine that in this graph (Reordered Members) the purple area is more representative of the ‘true’ trend of member numbers over the years. While the trend is not as spectacular as in Total Members, there is still a reassuring rise in member numbers for 2020 (despite only a tiny increase in 2019). I would speculate that this rise was generated by conditions imposed by the pandemic: people became members to enable online borrowing. This increase in online interest, I would imagine, was a direct result of the twin factors of library closure, and also the reluctance to enter library spaces when they were open. However, if we look at the years up to 2019, then membership would have only shown a significant increase in the year 2016, before dropping down again for 2017.

This is a interesting pattern that I noticed replicated in other catagories: something happened in 2016 that increased numbers in that year relative to the other years surrounding it.

Thinking about it, I realised that the question may not so much be what happened in 2016, but rather what happened a hundred years before that, in 1916? The 1916 centenary initiated many cultural events across the country, and Cork City Libraries celebrated in its turn this seminal moment with many events that utilised their spaces and reached outwards into the communities. So it comes as no surprise that 2016 would show significantly to other years, especially in Events, and I would speculate that these events had a direct influence on the other categories outlined in the graphs.

So, what does all of this mean? What does this data set and these graphs tell us about the story of the Cork City Libraries and their journey onwards through the years? I see the increasing emphasis on the Self service Kiosk system, in parallel with the utilisation of BorrowBox, as a consequence of the digital age we all live in. This can have major benefits in several areas: the freeing up of staff to perform other duties, particularly staff manning the desks. But what does it mean for the libraries - the spaces - themselves? The Digital Age has brought many concerns for the GLAMs, not least how they are to survive if their physical space seems to be in any way redundant. If we can borrow online and read at home, and if we order online and collect our order at an unmanned desk, will the need for the spaces decrease? If the spaces are not fulfilling a major function of their presence - the interaction, the hub of community, the comfort of being in a space where we can take an hour to read a good book, will the thought occur to cash-strapped councils: "We actually don't need this expensive building at all" ? The next decade will, like all good books, surely tell a tale.


I would like to express my thanks to Ann Riordan, Librarian, whose willingness to give her time for interviews over Zoom is very much appreciated.

I would also like to thank Sinéad Donnelly for providing valuable information that I used when first exploring the data set.


Central Statistics Office. “Data.Gov.Ie.” Accessed March 5, 2021.

Cork City Council. “Cork City Council Libraries Key Metrics - Data.Gov.Ie.” Accessed March 5, 2021.

Cork City Libraries. “Home.” Cork City Libraries. Accessed March 11, 2021. https:/ “Creative Ireland.” Creative Ireland Programme. Accessed March 12, 2021.

Meeks, Elijah. “2019 Was the Year Data Visualization Hit the Mainstream.” Medium, December 30, 2019.

digital humanities

3D Model Test

This 3D model was created and displayed with help and tuition provided by Netcher EU Project Training

Butter Box

Butter Box
This photograph of a butter box was part of a series of 36, used to build a 3D model. The 3D reconstruction was made possible by training provided by the H2020 Netcher Project for 3D Reconstruction of Cultural Heritage at Risk
digital humanities

Digital Artefact

Dominic Moore – 80088945

Timeline: “The Year the World went Online

Oliver Plunkett Street, Cork; Noon, 14th January 2021. photo: Dominic Moore

Click Here to view the Timeline

Thoughts on the Artefact Process:

Initially when thinking about my group’s Digital Artefact, I thought it might be a good idea for us to submit a not-a-map image in a StoryMap. The image would be head-and-shoulder photographs of the group members, and embedded in each photograph would be video files (as you clicked on the eyes of the members), audio files (on the mouths) and text – marked up – (on the hands). The concern in the group however, was because these files would be created by ourselves – I had put suggested ‘our pandemic reflections’ as a topic – the artefact would not be sufficiently scholarly. By the time some clarifications as to what we were doing were received, the Storymap idea had also morphed into a Timeline. This necessitated a change in my own thinking. A Timeline is an historical document; so contributions are now factually based on a date. The thinking has to go from the ‘subjective and personal’ to the ‘objective and general’. The contributions, instead of being our own, could be the contributions of others (no less scholarly?). As I have a (vastly overdeveloped) anxiety regarding open access and copyright, I decided to make many of my contributions those that I had created myself. We each picked different subject matter relating to our different interests, and the title, The Year the World went Online, kept us rooted. The result is pleasing – the Timeline definitely works as an artefact, and successfully has an element of originality, this being the first year of the pandemic. The topic works well – the media is varied, and the contributions are well chosen. The pandemic certainly brought an additional complication to group meetings; ideas took longer to express – the ‘mood of the room’ couldn’t be judged while ideas were being tossed around; connectivity is directly interlinked with communicability. Overall though, I found the ability of the group to adapt to the conditions inspiring.

digital humanities videography

Digital Transformation and the Butter Museum  

Click HERE to watch Digital Transformation and the Butter Museum

This video describes the first steps the Butter Museum in Cork, Ireland has taken towards Digital Transformation. It takes the example of a butter box in the museum’s collection, and outlines how various levels of digitalisation can be applied to reach forward into the digital world and to begin conversations that will serve as a constantly developing informational exchange.

digital humanities

Concepts in Digital Humanities

Overcoming the Monster

In his book Free Culture, Larry Lessig describes non-commercial culture (as opposed to commercial culture) as: “…the ordinary ways in which ordinary individuals shared and transformed their culture – telling stories, re-enacting stories, scenes from plays or tv…” (Lessig, 2018). This retelling of favourite stories and folktales brings to mind the seven archetypes that are the basic building blocks of storytelling – the seven classic stories that, with variations, are retold again and again. Of these, the Overcoming the Monster archetype is echoed in The Internet’s Own Boy. JSTOR, of course, is the Monster, and Aaron Swartz the hero who must overcome it. But, like all stories, this is a metaphor for something that is happening on a much deeper level. The Monster is also the new application of law that serves not to enhance the culture but rather restrict it, and Aaron represents us, the commons, that both create the culture and should benefit fully from it. And even though Aaron is dead, the story is far from over, for it is stressed time and time again, in the saved recordings of Aaron and in the writings of Larry, that the power for change lies with us: the people.  

The strong relationship between creativity and the ‘old open culture’ – the Rip, Mix and Burn – was acknowledged deeply by Larry and he used this relationship to forward his idea of Creative Commons, bringing Aaron in with him. They saw the immense value of the New Creatives standing on the shoulders of the Old Giants and realised that for true creativity, this relationship had to thrive: “…we…exaggerate the new, and forget that a great deal of the ‘creative’ is actually old. The new builds on the old, and hence depends to a degree on access to the old.” (Lessig, 2002)

This dependence of access became a huge focal point for Aaron, who saw himself centered in the collision of the old and the new on the one hand, and the non-commercial and the commercial on the other. He saw himself as someone in the right place at the right time, having not just the brain power, but more importantly, the morality to do something about it: “Sharing isn’t immoral – it’s a moral imperative…There is no justice in following unjust laws. It’s time to come into the light and…declare our opposition to this private theft…will you join us?” (Aaron Swartz, 2013.) As Tim Berners Lee reflects in The Internet’s Own Boy: “Aaron was trying to make the world work. He was trying to fix it.”

The obvious temptation here of course, is to question and even ridicule the idealistic nature of Aaron’s goals. But Aaron was very aware of the constant need for self-regulation: he saw this as not a battle between the good (the ideal of open and free sharing) and the bad (the laws that restrict this), but rather as an acknowledgement that the two will have to live together, an acknowledgement of their future omnipresence, and that the real battle was to find a balance between the two. This balancing was not to be orchestrated by governments, but by the commons; he emphasises this to his interviewer: ‘It’s up to YOU! – they are both there and they are always going to be there…” (The Internet’s Own Boy). This compares with the importance for balance also stressed by Larry Lessig: “A free culture is not a culture without property; it is not a culture in which artist’s don’t get paid…(but) a free culture can be queered by extremism in the property rights that define it. That’s what I fear about our culture today.” (Lessig, 2018)

Inherent in this balancing act is the recognition that we the people, the commons, are the ones who should have the weights in our hands, not the regulators and not the institutions. In the 1980 film The Verdict, a film which falls beautifully in to the Overcoming the Monster archetype, Paul Newman’s lawyer character stands before a jury at the final summing up. He is destined – most certainly – to lose the case on a point of law. He reminds the jury that today, they are the ‘law’ – not some law book, not some statute. He asks the jury before him – us – to disregard this ‘law’, and like Aaron echoing these words later in time, asks them to apply justice instead. He says: ‘In my religion, they say: act as if you had Faith – and Faith will be given to you. If we are to have faith in justice, we need only to believe in ourselves, and act with justice. And I believe there is justice in our hearts” (Mamet, 1981). Of course, he wins the case. 

Digital Transformation and the GLAMs

The debate regarding digital transformation in GLAMs has been brought into sharp focus recently because of the pandemic. It has raised the idea of what a GLAM is for today, what it can be in the future, and how digital transformation can help achieve its remit, if at all.

  • Digital Transformation makes material from an institution accessible to a wide range of users, including users that would not have had the chance to visit the institution ever in their lives, for reasons including geography or finances. Furthermore, material can extend beyond the physical confines of the GLAM and create interest and debate that would have been impossible if the material had remained offline, thus ‘extending the reach’ of the institution. Also, since GLAMs can close their doors at ‘reasonable hours’, staff and resources can be diverted or utilised in other ways. Users, for their part, can access the material at any time and from the comfort of their own homes, thus enabling learning and entertainment in an environment that is suitable to the user, and re-visitable at any time of their choosing.
  • Digital Transformation raises the possibility of making ALL the material in a GLAM collection accessible. Much of GLAM collections remain in storage – I enjoyed reading this article from the New York Times: “The Good Stuff in the Back Room” – most museums show only between 2 and 4 percent of their collections! Digital Transformation can reduce the physical limitations of an institution’s space, and thus the institution can devote space and showcase exhibits that it feels is worth highlighting.
  • Digital Transformation, while not preserving the material, can enable its preservation. In order to fulfil their remit, GLAMs exhibit material. The very act of doing this compromises preservation, since the best way to preserve material is to metaphorically ‘put it in a box in a dark room and lock the door’. Sarah Kenderdine takes this concept further: digital transformation also removes the dangers that threaten cultural heritage on a broader level: iconoclasm, natural disasters such as fire, and climate change.

GLAMs have a number of concerns. I have long had the feeling that some GLAMs see themselves more as repositories of knowledge rather then sharing/educational bodies, and this knowledge is to be kept safe and held – ‘preserved‘? The age of the digital brings with it many challenges…

  • How are they going to survive? Much of Cultural Heritage is seen as part of the tourism industry. This emphasises the huge importance of visitor numbers: ‘the tyranny of the footfall’. Paying customers finance the GLAM to a certain degree and so the existing business model has to be continued. But it is interesting to see the success of the Tate in their incorporation of digitisation into their model, and to see that the online numbers and revenue increased the years after the implementations of the After Dark project and the Tate Time Machine. As a little experiment, I went onto the Tate’s website to look at a Turner painting, but the experience deflated me a little. The painting is kept at low-resolution unless you want to ‘buy’ a higher resolution version, and Turner’s biography was accompanied by an article on his life from Wikipedia! This may be the reason the Tate are doing well in this new digital world – they know how to ‘exploit’ the user while moderating value…
  • For GLAMs to embrace digital transformation, the highest standards of digital transformation need to be incorporated. There is a very real fear that digitialising will create an ‘inauthentic link’ and will offer copies of material that is unrepresentative – error strewn, or altered to provide an educational context. I was reminded of this in Sarah Kenderdine’s TEDx talk (referring to her work with the Yungang Grottoes): “Using pigment studies we recoloured the buddhas to give an impression of what they would have originally looked like” ( Sarah Kenderdine, TEDx Gateway 2013) – I really hope they didn’t get the colour wrong! And this brings us to the question of where to draw the line between what is ‘ideal’ (original), and what is desired/achievable (imaginatively restored – albeit in a scholarly fashion)? If we are to preserve the authenticity of the original material, then do we only read Chaucer in Middle English, with no translations? Surely the line can be drawn up by applying scholarly standards, best equipment, latest technology, and competent archival experience?

GLAMs would find it tempting to keep upholding the gold standard: visiting the site physically and having your own interaction with the material. But if the material is stuck in a glass case or hung on a wall behind a ‘do not cross’ line, then are the possibilities raised by technologies such as 3D imaging, where users can virtually turn objects upside down/examine them closely, such a bad thing? And doesn’t it behold us to apply the highest standards of digital transformation to this and apply them for the future?

We need to reassure custodians of heritage that not only is digital transformation the way of the future, but also the ‘right’ way of the future (as shown by Sarah Kendrine when she emphasises the democratisation of future material) and that standards would be upheld throughout the process…

“If we treat the past as a dynamic entity, its future is vital, and I believe that sensory, social and democratic experiences of heritage allow us to imagine the future better”- Sarah Kenderdine, TEDx Gateway 2013.

Sundering Text

Like Jerome McGann’s readings of The Innocence, as referenced in Marking Texts of many Dimensions, it’ll take me many more ‘passes’ through his text before it starts to ‘talk back’. I’ve only done three, but keeping in the spirit of things, I’ve heard some of the outer ripples of his ‘big splash’, and this is what they say…

I like the way he interprets what we are talking about (‘text’ for what of a better word) as a living thing, not as something that exists on a platform such as a page, but on (in) another level that creates meaning.

His contrasting of a library and a poem are fascinating  – one is a machine of memory and information, the other a machine of creation and reflection; he treats the poem as an organism that creates new life whenever it is ‘read’ or ‘understood’ –  a poem, therefore, lives as something other than a text. This has parallels with Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria: Coleridge stresses that the inimitable (best, highest) form of creation can exist only in the mind, and as soon as we start to write, our work is immediately diminished.

Turning to his Ivanhoe Project, I found his description of what the game attempted revealing; to McGann, great works of the imagination carry, by definition, multiple versions of themselves – not just many meanings, but ‘many lines of possibility and development that can appear to us later’ (in dreams, perhaps, like Coldridge’s Kubla Khan?) And the aim of the Ivanhoe Project was to develop those lines: it was an exercise in “revealing, through deformance (I couldn’t find this word in the dictionary ☺️) the multi-valent narratives embedded in Ivanhoe” (Ivanhoe Group, 2005)  – one of the threads of the game was to imagine someone was now inhabiting Mary Shelly’s cottage on the shores of Lake Leman, and discovers a trunk of letters from someone named ‘Mary Shelley’!! (The reason I don’t play video games is because I would never stop, and games like this would be the cause.)

I would absolutely love to listen – and I stress listen – to McGann, because I sense that he has himself found, in the act of writing, that ‘text’ is a very blunt instrument for what he is trying to say. He feels that games like the Ivanhoe Project are the best way to convey/express/teach/appreciate great works of the imagination –  once the works are on ‘paper’, they have lost one ‘pass’; and any further ‘passes’ in attempted interpretation will further damage the beauty of the original work – i.e. the work from inside the creator’s mind. D

An addition:

 Since writing the above a month ago, I became interested in exploring further what McGann means by ‘deformance’, and here I feel McGann has his finger on the pulse of remarkable insights as to what creativity is/means, and especially the notion of a shared creativity; a common creativity, supported by universal understandings that are held by us all and while for the most part are unseen, unheard and unfelt.

By ‘deformance’, the “disrupting or re-organising (of) a text’s original order (so as to)…bring to our attention possibilities of meaning that we might not have seen otherwise” (Schacht, 2012), McGann seems to me to be exploring a form of ‘quantum physics’ of creative impulse that can be buried in ‘clumsy’ text, removing the ugly foundations of what was thought to be sound, reliable structures of meaning and uncovering the previously hidden mosaics that lie underneath. He references typesetting errors (which are unintended and ‘outside’ occurrences) as methods to discover new meaning in text, and forgery as another important type of de-formation (reminescent of the ‘Rip, Mix and Burn’?). But with the advent of the digital machine, many more varied and imaginative passes of deformance can be attempted/trialled/expanded upon; the sundering and re-stitching of texts to create new interpretations. His genius lies in the approach of these issues from a standpoint that encompasses literature, philosophy and science, and therefore in the recognition that they are all intrinsically linked, in much the same way he sees the creative impulse linked in us all.


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McGann, J., 2004. Marking Texts of many Dimensions: A Companion to Digital Humanities. Blackwell Pub., Malden, Mass. Section II, Chapter 16

Mikulec, S., 2017. ‘The Verdict’: David Mamet Screenplay. Cinephilia & Beyond. URL (accessed 11.10.20).

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Portela, M., 2004. Jerome McGann, Radiant Textuality: Literature after the World Wide Web. Comparative Critical Studies 1, 371–376.

Schacht, P., 2012. Interpretation, Performance, Deformance – Practicing Criticism – Geneseo Wiki [WWW Document]. URL (accessed 1.13.21).

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