RASCAL is an electronic gateway to research resources relating to Ireland. The site can be used to search or browse information about a wide range of research and special collections held in libraries, museums and archives in Ireland and abroad.

The Directory consists of summary descriptions of collections available to researchers in the Humanities and Social Sciences recording details of content, location, format, and access. Links to institutional catalogues and other digital resources are provided where available.

This resource is maintained by Queen’s University Belfast with records contributed and updated by participating institutions on the island of Ireland and partners in the United States. We aim to provide access to hidden collections as well as the more well-known and familiar for researchers and the general public. RASCAL is a free online resource. There are no fees associated with participation and contributing collection level details about your Ireland related collections.

Collection Level Description (cld):

This is a summary of the collection as a whole, it describes the scope and content and often identifies particular strengths. A Collection Level Description is not an itemised listing of the contents of a collection, however it may include a link to a listing or a detailed catalogue. The location, current and former owners as well as information on how to access the collection e.g. opening times, registration requirements or restrictions will also be detailed in a collection level description.

Principal Aim

The principal aim of RASCAL is the creation of a central resource (database) that identifies, describes and locates research and special collections relating to Ireland of particular interest to researchers in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Collection level descriptions conform to a standardised template for collection description and provide links to on-line catalogues and digital resources where available.



RASCAL (Research And Special Collections Available Locally) developed from a two year mapping project with funding from the Research Support Libraries Programme (RSLP) to create and develop a new electronic portal to research and special collections in Northern Ireland. Initiated in December 2000, the aim of the Project was to create a fully searchable, web-based directory of research and special collections in Northern Ireland providing, for the first time, an electronic gateway to collections held in libraries, archives, museums and other information resource centres across the region. Involving an extensive mapping exercise and collaborative working among both the academic and public information sectors and across professional domains, the resultant RASCAL resource was officially launched to the research community in September 2002.

Arising out of an identified need to improve access to collections in the region, RASCAL represented a collaborative initiative to enhance awareness among researchers regarding resources available in Northern Ireland and to make more efficient use of local resources.

The original RASCAL partnership included:


In 2008 the original project based resource was expanded to include collections throughout Ireland in association with the Committee on Library Co-operation in Ireland (COLICO). RASCAL continued to be administered and managed by Information Services at Queen's University Belfast. As host institution, Queen's University is committed to maintaining long term access to the RASCAL Directory and to ensure that the information contained in it remains current. New collection descriptions are added regularly, some of the more recent additions include those of the Royal Irish Academy, University College Cork and Trinity College Dublin. The RASCAL website was updated in August 2010 and the database was upgraded in 2013.


Challenges associated with the research environment for Irish Studies remain, documentation on collections can be fragmented, identification of and locating collections and associated collections continues to frustrate researchers.

Catalogues, listings, calendars, finding aids, local files and knowledge are of varying quality, where they exist at all. Researchers, expert and novice often find it difficult to gauge the extent of a collection from these intermediate surrogates, a line in a listing might represent 1 archive box or 20 boxes; a series of letters might be 6 or 6,000. In addition to locating collections, some further challenges include

  • locating sub-collections or items within larger collections
  • information about collections (custodial history and provenance)
  • access mechanisms
  • holding institution information e.g. opening times, restrictions on access, rights issues.

Following discussions with colleagues in a number of US institutions it was decided to pilot expanding the geographic range of collections described in the RASCAL database and include collection level descriptions for a number of key Ireland related collections in their own holdings. In 2016 Boston college, Kansas State and Notre Dame started to prepare collection descriptions for relevant holdings and upload them to RASCAL.

RASCAL has been subject to a digital transformation project during summer 2017 to ensure a robust search functionality, enhanced record content with the potential to include digital images from collections, improved filtering of results and compatibility with mobile technology.