The Northern Ireland Political Literature: Periodicals collection is a microfiche set produced by the Linen Hall Library in Belfast from its own Northern Ireland Political Collection. This renowned collection had its beginnings in 1968, when Jimmy Vitty, the then Librarian at the Linen Hall, was handed a civil rights leaflet in a city centre bar. His response was not to throw it away, but to take it back to the Library and to seek volunteers from among the staff to go out and collect everything they could find relating to those first murmurings of the 'Troubles'. By 1994, the collection amounted to over 75,000 items and it forms a definitive archive of over 25 years of the conflict in Northern Ireland. It is particularly appropriate that the collection was built up in the Linen Hall Library: it is one of Belfast's oldest libraries, traditionally celebrated for its Irish and local studies collections, and with a 200-year tradition of independence and cross-community support.
The starting date for the collection is 1st January 1966, the year of the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising and the formation of the modern Ulster Volunteer Force, as well as the launch of both the Revd Ian Paisley's Protestant Telegraph and the Campaign for Social Justice's Campaign Newsletter. In the 1960s, small-scale publishing was greatly facilitated by the invention of the off-set litho press and other developments. More recently, the advent of desktop publishing has helped to account for the steady increase in this type of publication. The Linen Hall Library felt that periodicals - local newspapers, newsletter, bulletins, and magazines - were the most important part of this vast publishing output, and it has therefore made the most diligent efforts to collect and preserve periodicals.
Further information about the history of the collection is available in: Robert Bell, 'Postcard from Belfast: A Catalogue of Troubled Times', The Independent (6 November 1993): 31.
By the end of 1992, the political periodicals collection in the Linen Hall Library consisted of 1,404 titles, published by 659 different organisations. More than half of the titles in the collection are, as is to be expected, published in Northern Ireland; and about one third of the collection consists of titles published in Belfast alone. Titles published in the Republic of Ireland make up about one quarter of the collection, most of which were published in Dublin. Titles published outside of Ireland are included if they specifically or regularly address the subject of Irish politics.
The collection includes a substantial amount of material published in Britain: 154 titles from England, 22 from Scotland, although none from Wales. 136 titles from outside the British Isles are also held, mostly from countries of the Irish diaspora, and especially from the United States of America. The collection includes the publications of political parties and organisations, paramilitary groups, the security forces, government, quangos, pressure groups, and campaigns around single issues.
In 1985, the Linen Hall Library, in conjunction with European Micropublishing Services of Dublin, began the comprehensive microfilming of the entire collection, both for preservation purposes and in order to make the materials more widely available to researchers across the world. Periodicals covering the period 1966 to 1989 have been filmed, and British Library Newspapers has a full set of these. The collection includes 924 titles on 3,179 microfiches, and is held together at the shelfmark M.Fiche.4.
Items from the collection are not listed in the online or printed newspaper catalogues; they are recorded in a separate, published catalogue to the collection:
- Northern Ireland Political Literature on Microfiche: Catalogue and Indexes: Phase 1 - Periodicals 1966-1989 (Belfast: Linen Hall Library/European Micropublishing Services, 1993).
In order to identify and order materials required, readers must consult this published catalogue, which is shelved in the Main Reading Room at Colindale, below the Place Sequence Catalogue (guardbooks). It lists the titles and their respective fiche numbers, and these details must then be quoted on requisitions slips, to enable staff to retrieve the items.
The published catalogue also contains three indexes:
- index to publishers;
- index to places of publication; and
- index to publications available for each year.
A more recent bibliography relating to the collection, without microfiche numbers, is also held in the open-access reference collection of the Main Reading Room at Colindale. Titles included in the microfiche set, though, are marked by '[M]' following the title entry:
- Robert Bell, Northern Ireland Political Periodicals 1966-1992: A Bibliography of the Holdings of the Linen Hall Library (Belfast: Linen Hall Library, 1994). BIB/IRE
A copy of the microfiche set is also available for readers in the main British Library at St Pancras. It is shelved there at Mic.F.853 and can be consulted in the Rare Books and Music Reading Room.
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