New digital era for Island’s Public Record Office

01 February 2024

The Isle of Man Public Record Office (PRO) has reached an exciting new phase in its history with the twin launch of a digital repository and dedicated online catalogue.

The new website provides the opportunity for people to search both paper and digital catalogues, making the collections widely accessible to enquirers. The digital repository enables the Record Office to accept digital records from public bodies and carry out preservation actions to ensure that these records survive as part of the national archives.

The move to a new digital era aligns with the ambition outlined in the Department Plan to explore ways to increase digital working across the Central Registry.

The PRO, which is part of Central Registry, preserves the historically and culturally significant records created by Isle of Man public bodies, chiefly Tynwald, Government departments, Courts and local authorities.

The work of the PRO is defined by statute (the Public Records Act 1999 and the Public Records Order 2015) and selection is carried out by a team of qualified and experienced archivists.

At present, the PRO collections consist largely of paper, photographic and microfilm records, which are held in climate-controlled conditions in the PRO’s storerooms on the Spring Valley Industrial Estate. These records date predominantly from the late 19th and 20th Centuries, although some reach back to the 1700s. 

Creation of a digital repository brings to fruition a three-year project to establish a preservation solution for ‘born digital’ records.

Digital preservation specialist David Heelas, who has steered the project from the outset, commented, ‘One of the greatest challenges facing archive institutions today is the preservation of digital records.

‘Digital records – which the Isle of Man Government began to create in the mid-1980s - are vulnerable for a number of factors, including the rapid pace of technological change and obsolescence of formats. The PRO is responsible for ensuring that these digital records are preserved alongside their analogue counterparts. We now have a solution in place which will safeguard digital records and make them accessible to future generations’.

The PRO’s new website enables people to explore 300 years of history through a fast-growing number of catalogues covering multiple aspects of Island life, including infrastructure, environment, wartime, healthcare, industry, and tourism. It also provides a detailed guide to the PRO’s services and activities, from research assistance to guided tours of the archives.