Tuesday, 22 September 2009

PRONI to close for move to Titanic Quarter

A MAJOR announcement from the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland, which will be closing to public access between September 2010 and May 2011 for the move from Balmoral Avenue to its new purpose built premises at Titanic Quarter:

Customers of the Public Record Office NI (PRONI) are advised of a temporary change to service delivery between September 2010 and May 2011.

The construction of the new PRONI headquarters at Titanic Quarter is progressing well, with the building scheduled to open to the public in May/June 2011. To ensure that services in the new building will be operational and that records will be available and will be preserved during this move, the Public Record Office will have to change how it carries out its business next year. The Public Record Office is providing 12 months' notice of changes to ensure that overseas visitors in particular have good time to make alternative plans.

Keeper of the Records, Minister Nelson McCausland said: “Records stored within PRONI are priceless, some of which contain vital historical information which, if lost or damaged, would be a massive blow to the general public, both in Northern Ireland and also worldwide.

“Staff at PRONI are currently working hard to produce appropriate and secure storage containers which will enable records to be moved to the new building safely and securely. A complete stock-take of all the records will then be carried out before they are securely packed, bar-coded and transported to the new building. This mammoth task does not end there, as staff then have to carry out a further stock-take to ensure that all records arrived safely."

The Minister continued: “Access to public records is a core function of the Department and to minimise disruption to customers, PRONI is increasing the amount and range of material which will be available online. In the coming weeks I will be marking the launch of the 1819 to 1900 street directories going on-line, which will make the contents of 27 street directories for Belfast and provincial towns available to a worldwide audience.

"Discussions are also taking place with partner organisations to make arrangements to allow customers to have alternative sources to draw upon during this time.

"Whilst the public will not be able to physically access the Balmoral Avenue site during the move, PRONI will continue to provide a limited correspondence and telephone enquiry service and will address FOI and urgent legal enquiries.”

The Minister concluded by saying that interest in personal and local history is on the increase and the new state of the art offices will encourage wider community involvement in accessing the unique assets that it holds.

PRONI has also advised the following:

To help alleviate the inconvenience to customers during a period of on-site closure the amount and range of material available on-line will be extended. This will include the Belfast Street Directories (pre 1901) going on-line in September 2009 and additional databases scheduled for completion in 2009/10 financial year including 1766 Religious Census Returns, 1775 Dissenters Petitions and the pre-1910 Coroners’ Inquests.


Discussions are taking place with partner bodies about the possibility of providing an off-site self-service facility for limited microfilmed records.

There is no indication yet as to which records may be made available for public access by microfilm, or where this may be, but obviously once I hear anything you'll be the first to know!

Clearly this is going to be a major disruption to those wishing to do research at the institution, though perhaps somewhat understandable considering the size of the move. The closure for eight or nine months will be frustrating for many I am sure, but from my POV here in Scotland, the fact that at the end of it I will be able to step off from a ferry and literally walk into the new PRONI office is going to be of huge benefit.


Professional genealogical problem solving and research


Ulster Ancestry said...

As you say The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland {PRONI} has just announced that it will close all public access to the archives for a period of 9 months from September 2010 to May 2011 to facilitate a move across Belfast to new headquarters presently being built.

This means in effect that no genealogical research of any kind can take place in Northern Ireland for almost 1 year.

This decision is outrageous. The closure time is totally disappropriate to the work involved. Other Archives in London and Dublin has moved with only minimal disruption to services.

We in Northern Ireland are launching a campaign to have this closure stopped or curtailed.
With the administrator’s permission can I ask each list member to send a letter of protest to both
The Minister of Culture Arts and Leisure, Nelson McCausland and
the head of PRONI Aileen McClintock, at the following e mail addresses.
Nelson McCausland MLA Nelson.McCausland@niassembly.gov.uk
Aileen McClintock proni@dcalni.gov.uk
If this closure is to be stopped we need not only local, but Worldwide support.

Many thanks
Robert Williams

Chris Paton said...

I guess there are always people willing to try and stop progress. I couldn't disagree more with these sentiments.

PRONI is adapting to the challenges of a new interest in family history research, with better premises, better location and increasing online content. At best this is a disruption of service for 9 months, and PRONI has already signalled that it will try to produce some surrogate material through partners. It is not true to say that no research can be done in Northern Ireland. PRONI is one organisation, there are plenty of others.

There are also many archives moving in Britain that have been equally as disruptive, and much smaller in size. If a job is worth doing, it is worth doing right, and I wish PRONI, perhaps the most forward thinking archive on the whole island of Ireland, the very best of luck with its move.


Ulster Ancestry said...

Hello Chris,

I dont think you understand the full implications of the proposed closure. PRONI is our ONLY Public Record Office. It is our National Archives, Our Genealogy Office, everything rolled into one. It is used on a daily basis by visitors travelling from all around the world to trace their roots and their family history, students studying for Masters and Doctorates, Solicitors from every part of Northern Ireland to check wills, deeds and leases , surveyors and others to check old maps. The list is endless. it affects so many people in some many different ways.

The move is not taking 9 months although that might seem bad enough it is taking 2 years and 9 months.
Since 2008 many of the collections have been closed in rotation to be prepared for this move. This disruption will be ongoing until September 2010 when they propose a total closure for 9 months which will in all likelihood run to a year. The move will, when it is completed have taken 3 years in its planning and execution.

If you think that is effecient and forward thinking Chris, well what can I say!


Chris Paton said...

And PRONI will be all the better for it!

I am aware of what PRONI is, I've been there on many occasions, as a Carrickfergus man with lots of Ulster based ancestry. It is as much Northern Ireland's National Archives as Kew is for England and the UK, and the NAS in Edinburgh is for Scotland.

I disagree with your analysis, Robert, but am happy to air your opinion. Ultimately it is up to those who use the service to see what they think and to act accordingly!


Janet Clarke said...

Re the PRONI closure: No one is trying to halt progress or deny that once the move has taken place PRONI will be a vast improvement on what we have already. What we are asking is for a way to be found to maintain access to the records for as long as possible.

Yes there are other archives available in Northern Ireland and PRONI is going to put limited information online. However, it is not possible to do a proper family search without using many of the records held exclusively at the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland.

If the archive is closed for a full academic year Masters/PHD students will find it almost impossible to carry out research.

We are all for progress too but this disruption IS out of proportion to that of other comparable Institutions who have made similar moves.

Regards Janet Clarke

Chris Paton said...

Hi Janet,

I disagree with Robert's analysis that 'no genealogical research of any kind can take place in Northern Ireland for almost 1 year'. This is a majorly inconvenient disruption of service, but it is not a total permanent closure to the facilities, though I can understand how it can have an impact for professional genealogists like Robert or for academics. I agree with you that it would be advisable to seek a way for masters students etc to have some form of access. Perhaps this could be done through some form of negotiation via the academic bodies involved. I'm sure a year is plenty of time to try and sort something out.

As I say, Robert has provided the details for those at PRONI to whom representations should be made if you wish to do so.

Kind regards,


Anonymous said...


I have been passed on a copy of your email issued in relation to the proposed extended closure of PRONI which is clearly unacceptable and I support your campaign. You might therefore be interested in the experience I had yesterday (Friday) when I visited PRONI to do some research -

When I turned into the car park the security man greeted me with a "its full". This despite the car park being half empty. He clearly saw the look of disbelief on my face and added that "those cars are all staff and they need the rest of the space for trucks arriving to remove archive in preparation for the move to new premises". My understanding is that the new building is not yet complete - so what are they doing with the records if they are starting to remove now? Is this another great "clear-out" of records that we will never see again? So, never mind the September 2010 date I suspect and have a concern that we will gradually find records are increasingly not available in the run up to the move.

If this is correct the early removal of archive (or worse still "cleansing" of archive) might also need to be challenged as part of your excellent campaign.

Good luck with the campaign.


Ian Alexander

Anonymous said...

Hello from Canada. Ian was telling you of his experience in the Car park on Thursday. On top of everything else what scares me is wondering where that truck was going. Surely PRONI is the safest repository in terms of fire/flood/theft/temperature, etc. So where is that truck going to put all that “stuff” for the next year or more? How many more trucks will be moved out, to where, and why?

I am a professional genealogist and I have been to Ireland 6 times. This past May and June I spent 6 weeks in Belfast, much of it at PRONI. Each year I have become more and more annoyed and frustrated by the inefficiency of PRONI, based on my observations and experience from a number of repositories around the world over many years. So this year, when they were asking for feedback, I responded. I wrote to Aileen McClintock and requested a meeting which was quickly granted. I met for an hour with her and with Gail ((?), who is responsible for the Civil staff (who are none too civil, I might add). I outlined all my concerns regarding service levels and made a number of suggestions. They were gracious and quite open, and saw some areas in which they could address concerns (such as having the service desk actually “serviced” at all times), including those endless “tea breaks”. They also hoped that other issues would be addressed by the move.

I was able to tell them that the Archives of Ontario had just completed an entire move to a new facility, and had done so in less than a week! So I am afraid that PRONI is going to be an object of ridicule over this episode. What is also strange is that while I was there last fall (2008) there were certain “stores” which were closed to researchers “because of the move”, and again this time I heard them telling people that the maps were closed at certain times for the same reasons. So with all the “preparation” – what is the 9 months all about?

In addition to my own letters I will send off your notice to Dick Eastman as soon as I figure out his email address (I’m sure you’ve heard of him and his huge following on his daily newsletter) and have already written to other bloggers and local groups here in Canada. I also wrote to NIFHS and inquired as to what they are doing since there is nothing on their web site (I’m a long time member). I’ll drum up all the response I can. We need a strong letter writing campaign and lots of noise. Maybe when we pushy North Americans get into the act they will take some notice – after all – we “foreign researchers” spend a lot of money in Ireland every time we come over. I think the Dept. of Tourism needs an alert as well.

Seems like here we go – another fight for what should just be common sense. I will be glad to be kept posted about your activities.

Warmest wishes, and good luck,

Chris Paton said...

The last post was received prior to the previous one being published on the blog, so I am suspecting a degree of co-ordination here!

If you agree with Robert Williams, please feel free to make known your feelings to PRONI via the details as given by Robert.

However, I would like to state clearly that this is not my 'campaign', and I do not endorse it in any way, shape or form. Whilst it is regrettable that there will be disruption, I personally believe that the end result will be worth the hassle.

Others will of course disagree! In the meantime, I'll just keep bringing you the news...!


Anonymous said...

I live in the Carrickfergus area and do not drive so I would like to know just how I am supposed to access the new Public Record Ofice in the Titanic Quarter.
I don't know of any railway station which is convenient to the site nor can I think of a bus route which would be convenient either. Not everyone has a car.

Chris Paton said...

I'm a Carrick man myself (living previously in Joymount, then Castlemara) and used to get the train from Carrick to Belfast's York Road station as a student many years ago. The docks was not that far away, I worked there for the summer as a security guard when I was 19 - it's certainly much, much closer than PRONI's current location at Balmoral Avenue!!!