More Search
We help universities engage with the public

Accessing our National Heritage

< Back to all case studies


Who: University College Dublin (UCD) in partnership with National Library of Ireland to engage with adult learners

What: Series of courses incorporating access to exhibitions and archives

Why: Open access to educational resources and cultural heritage

Where: National Library

When: Ongoing

Project description

This public engagement collaboration between UCD Adult Education Centre and the National Library of Ireland has developed a series of courses for adult learners which incorporate access to the exhibitions and archives of a significant national cultural institution with inter-disciplinary academic course content.  This enables both institutions to extend their remit in opening access to educational resources and to our national cultural heritage. 

The first eight week course on WB Yeats was held in the National Library in 2008, and since then further courses on Yeats have evolved as well as new courses on the Literature of Edwardian Ireland, the Literature of Victorian Ireland, Dublin: City of Literature, Uncovering 1916 and the Irish War of Independence. Each class involves a mix of lecture/seminar, multi-media presentation, exhibition tour and access to the archives of the National Library. To date there have been 232 registrations across these courses and the opportunity to engage with a topic in this way has been well received by students. 

The National Library benefits through having more adults engage with their resources, both as students and also as members of the library who utilise resources and attend events, sometimes bringing friends and family. UCD Adult Education Centre benefits from enhanced course provision and the opportunity to offer multidimensional courses in a beautiful city centre location. 


This collaboration aims to:

  1. Leverage the expertise and resources of two major Dublin institutions for the benefit of adult learners. 
  2. Provide adult learning within a cultural institution.  Adult learners are offered an opportunity to engage with the National Library of Ireland, a city centre cultural institution, in a more sustained way than was previously possible.  Rather than attend an exhibition or talk on a once-off basis, adult learners attend a course on a topic related to the library’s archives and holdings.  There is an academic dimension, with lectures and seminars, followed by guided tours and archival research.
  3. Query the boundaries between learning in educational settings and cultural institutions to propose new models of learning and collaboration between the formal education sector and cultural and civic institutions.
  4. Generate a broader awareness of the cultural and social learning that occurs in museums, libraries, etc.  Rather than defining lifelong learning narrowly as learning for work, which is the prevailing tendency in the lifelong learning discourse, this collaboration advocates for a broader understanding of lifelong and lifewide learning. Such learning is vital for an informed and engaged citizenry.

Results and outcomes

What worked well

This collaboration has benefitted both institutions and fulfilled a number of goals. The range of course offerings has enhanced both the UCD Adult Education programme and the education programme of the National Library. Such collaborations are, as yet, not common in the Republic of Ireland, so this model has been informativDemonstrations in the museume in showing how to combine the resources of two institutions to expand and revitalise their programmes. The courses were held in the National Library and the scheduling of the courses during the morning in this beautiful and historical building was a significant draw for students. In addition, both institutions have benefitted from exposure in broader domains.

This collaboration drew on the strengths of both institutions: UCD Adult Education drew on their experience of designing and delivering courses for adult learners to put together a range of programmes that incorporated a sound academic basis with participative and engaged teaching methodologies; the National Library enabled adult learners access archives, resources and facilities which have a central role in our national heritage.  The collaboration opened cultural resources which are not ordinarily on open access to students. The courses are interdisciplinary in nature, drawing on literary, historical and political materials and archives to illuminate key figures or times in Irish life. 

Students access newspaper collections, manuscripts, prints and drawings, photos, and historical posters. Students also become familiar with online resources and the Yeats Exhibition. Through this students learn that the National Library is about more than just books as it has a vast and rich collection which is both significant for and vital to our national heritage.

Image: From Learner to Guide. National Library of Ireland

"The course provided a wonderful insight into the 1916 Rising (and events preceding and following it). It also provided an excellent opportunity to experience the many facilities and resources of the National Library. Stimulating and inspiring." Adult Student

The mix of seminars, tours and archival access has been widely praised by students who appreciate the opportunity to get behind the scenes and observe documents, photos, and records not typically on display or available in an adult education course. The Yeats exhibition has won a number of awards (e.g. Association of Heritage Interpretation, Irish Digital Media Awards, and Institute of Irish Designers Awards) for the use of innovative technologies in displaying valuable manuscripts and personal artefacts. Students have not only had access to these materials but also witnessed how technology can be used to create dynamic interactive multidimensional exhibits.

There is a fee for these eight week courses (€175) but concessions are offered to those on Social Welfare or Health Board benefit.

Wishes for the cloth of heaven manuscriptThe collaboration has had a legacy effect as many students have gone on to attend further UCD courses and have recommended these courses to friends and colleagues. Students who register to the courses acquire a National Library Reader’s Ticket so that they can access the library on a more regular basis. Subsequent to these courses some students have also trained as library volunteers and become actively engaged in the work of the library. A number of students have taken part in the library’s involvement with the Bealtaine Festival, the Irish arts festival celebrating creativity in older age. These students acted as volunteers and guides during this festival highlighting what they had gained from the course, both in terms of knowledge and through becoming sufficiently confident to share this knowledge with others.

The existence of the courses formed through this collaboration makes a strong statement about the importance of multiple modes and formats of adult learning. Such collaborations play both a practical and symbolic role in highlighting the value of adult learning in sites other than formal education settings.

Image: Wishes for the cloth of heaven manuscript National Library of Ireland

What didn't work well

The courses are presently held in the morning. While this has been welcomed by those participating who enjoy the timing and city centre location, this time slot is also a constraint as many others who may be interested in attending are not in a position to attend during the day.

Both institutions have a remit to broader their demographic participation and diversifying the student body accessing such courses and cultural institutions remains an ongoing challenge. The 1916 course in particular has significant potential to attract a broader constituency of participants. In the run up to the 1916 anniversary the challenge of communicating the message about this course more widely is one that needs to be addressed.

Resources required

  • This collaboration used existing resources, with staff time in both institutions being the main requirement. One staff member in each institution has been responsible for liaising on course development and provision. 
  • The National Library provides a Seminar Room for an 8 week period each term. Library staff assist students to become members of the library and with accessing the library resources. Library Guides and Archivists lead tours and introduce students to the various archives and resources. The Yeats course centres on the Yeats Exhibition while the other courses incorporate archives and online exhibitions.  Each week the library staff prepare the relevant materials for viewing.
  • UCD Adult Education recruits the tutor and works with him/her to develop the course outline and submit it through the academic course approvals process. UCD Adult Education is responsible for marketing the course, recruiting students, processing registrations, dealing with queries, paying the tutor, evaluating the course and providing feedback to both the library and tutor. As these processes were already in place for the broader adult education programme, the new courses form part of the standard day to day work of the centre.

Top Tips

  1. Leverage expertise and resources of both organisations and institutions: In this instance, UCD provided the academic expertise through provision of the course tutor and course approvals mechanism. The Adult Education Centre also provided a large data base of students and the facility to register students. The National Library provided access to their exhibitions and archives, as well as a seminar room.  Their guides and archivists were involved in giving tours and describing the holdings of the library.
  2. Have a champion: There was a person in each institution identified with this collaboration who took responsibility for developing and sustaining the programmes.  These two people were the point of contact for coordinating the courses and communicating around students, tutors, logistics and marketing. Also, they advocated for the collaboration and worked to promote the evolving programme.
  3. Pilot: This collaboration commenced with one course, and then evolved to a range of courses each term.  Running the initial course ensured the format was workable and of interest to students.  Student feedback informed the design and delivery of the subsequent courses.
  4. Build on success: This model of course provision is now being utilised in other settings. UCD Adult Education has adopted learning from this collaboration to form a partnership with the Hugh Lane Gallery, to develop a course around their exhibition on Sir John and Lady Hazel Lavery and their Contemporaries. The National Library works with the UCD tutor to run a Yeats immersion course annually as part of their Yeats celebrations. This course has been very popular over the past number of years.
  5. Consider the potential legacy effect: This collaboration has had a legacy effect which was not foreseen at the time of planning. In addition to both institutions benefitting from the collaboration and from enhanced student numbers, the tutors working on these courses are all final phase doctoral, or post-doctoral, research students who have noted how the experience of teaching in the library has been valuable to their own research and for their professional identities. The students who have become library volunteers act as ambassadors for both the library and adult learning. Not only have they gained in knowledge but they have also shared this knowledge with visitors to the library in their role as volunteer exhibition guides.


Name: Dr Rhonda Wynne

Name of organisation: UCD Adult Education Centre, Library Building, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4


Telephone: 353-1-7167581