PRONI Records on CAIN
Since first being made available on-line in 1997 CAIN (Conflict Archive on the INternet) has sought to provide information and source material on the ‘troubles’ and politics in Northern Ireland from 1968 to the present day. Over the last decade CAIN has proven itself to be an accessible and widely-used resource for scholars and others working in the area of conflict resolution, peace-studies, historical, cultural and Irish studies as well as researchers engaged with issues arising in post-conflict societies. The site has an international appeal and the majority of CAIN users are based outside the UK and Ireland.
From the outset CAIN has sought to encourage contributions to the site and as a consequence the vast majority of the material it holds has been produced by people who do not work directly on the site. Thus CAIN has encouraged and worked with individuals, groups or organizations with relevant information in order to make digital versions of their materials available to a wider audience on-line. An obvious example of this are those contributors with significant collections of material on CAIN who have been given ‘Associated Site’ status.
The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI), under its ‘Annual Release’ scheme, each year selects and brings forward for release to the general public, departmental records relating to Northern Ireland as they approach 30 years of age. In addition other records exceeding 30 years of age may also be released. These are records which may have missed their proper review date for a number of reasons. The Freedom of Information Act (2000) has permitted greater public access to items which had previously been closed.
These records, charting as they do developments in the governance of Northern Ireland from the early 1920s to the present day, are a valuable source of information for researchers.
In 2009 CAIN approached PRONI with a proposal that a seletion of the public records be digitised and made available on the CAIN Web site. Of particular interest to CAIN were those items covered under the ‘Annual Release’ scheme which relate to the ‘troubles’ and politics of Northern Ireland post-1968. Not only would these add to and supplement existing resources on CAIN, but would also fit into its aim to work with others to ensure material is accessible to a wider audience.
From PRONI’s perspective such a proposal also had some advantages:
- Firstly, given CAIN’s standing and reputation, this would be an opportunity to promote an important source of material held by PRONI which was not currently being fully utilized; and
- Secondly PRONI is committed to working in partnership with other interested organisations to widen access to the material it holds.
An agreement was therefore reached between both parties to work together to make available a selection of material released under the ‘Annual Release’ scheme on CAIN. PRONI was thereby offered and accepted ‘Associated Site’ status on CAIN where this collection would be located.
Early in 2009 CAIN and PRONI began to work together on a small-scale pilot project aimed at making a limited selection of material from its ‘Annual Release’ scheme available on-line. In terms of quantity this was to amount to just over 500 documents and totaling 1900 pages. The items themselves were largely drawn from the period 1968 to 1979. (In 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 documents from the 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986 and 1987 Annual Release scheme were added to the CAIN site.)
Selection and Preparation of Material
In terms of selecting material the initial focus was on items made available under the ‘Annual Release’ scheme and also Freedom of Information requests covering the period from 1968 to 1979. This effectively meant that the information they contained had been released to the general public during the period 1999 to 2010. To meet a specific request for assistance for documents relating to the controversy relating to the location of a second university in Northern Ireland in the 1960s, a brief search of files from 1964 and 1965 was also carried out. A small selection of items from this was also made available.
Identification of Material
A huge amount of material is released each year, so given the limited amount of resources CAIN and PRONI could devote to this project, it was never the intention to look at every file or to scan every item. Instead the focus in this small-scale pilot project was on identifying a limited selection of items which could provide users of CAIN with a further insight into some of the key developments in Northern Ireland after 1968. Thus a couple of sources were used to assist in this process. To begin with reference was made to some of the most important sections on CAIN itself – such as Key Events, Key Issues and CAIN Chronology.
Secondly, the release of Northern Ireland government files each year attracts the attention of sections of the media for a few days, most notably in newspapers such as the Irish Times, Irish News, Belfast Telegraph and Belfast Newsletter as well as the BBC. Although many of these reports fail to directly indicate the file they come from, they still provide a good reference point in terms of what may be of interest.
Finally, to assist people in searching the annual releases for any given year, since 2005 PRONI has produced a ‘Highlight List’. This was therefore used for the years covering 1975 -1979. Then for those years where no ‘Highlight List’ was available, material was identified by working through PRONI’s ‘Full Catalogue of Releases’ for the period from 1968-1974 along with the other resources mentioned above.
By using all of these resources it proved possible to work through a huge volume of files relatively quickly and to select some 500 individual items for particular attention.
Schedule of Work
In terms of the work involved with the project, an agreement was reached between CAIN and PRONI in terms of the workload. A member of the CAIN team, Dr Brendan Lynn, would visit PRONI one day per week in order to identify items to be scanned. These visits began in April 2009 and were completed in January 2010. For each document to be scanned Dr Lynn completed the standard PRONI photocopy request form recording his name and address, visitor number, the unique document reference number and the number of pages to be scanned. In addition the pages to be copied from a particular file were clearly marked using a slip of paper.
The scanning of the original documents was carried out by an experienced member of the PRONI staff, Ms Carrie Green. Each week's requests were processed alongside those from the general public and in line with PRONI’s own targets were available for collection within 7-10 working days. It was agreed that the cost of scanning all the material would be absorbed by PRONI. CAIN would therefore like to acknowledge and thank PRONI for this particular contribution.
Preparation of Documents
CAIN was then to be responsible for preparing all the individual documents to be put on-line. This process began by working through the items which had been scanned in JPEG format (at 300dpi) and saved to CD-ROMs. The first step was to add to every single page of every document a PRONI copyright symbol along with the correct PRONI catalogue number. For instance: © PRONI COM/58/3/15. The next stage was to produce PDF files of all the documents using Adobe Acrobat Pro, then to try to ensure all were converted using OCR text recognition, and finally the file size of each individual document was reduced to make them compatible with Adobe Acrobat 4.0 and later versions.
All the items copied from PRONI files were then added to the existing CAIN Bibliography and tagged in such a way as to identify their origin. In addition key words were also added to individual items to help people to identify and search for material they were interested in.