In 2001 the Library and Information Services Council (Northern Ireland) was awarded a grant of in excess of £250,000 from the New Opportunities Fund Digitisation Programme to create a digital library of material relating to the 1800 Act of Union between Britain and Ireland. The Act of Union Virtual Library Project comprises a partnership of Belfast Public Libraries, the Centre for Data Digitisation and Analysis at Queen's University, Belfast, the Linen Hall Library, the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI), Information Services at Queen's University, the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum and the Ulster Museum.

Work started on the project in January 2002. The Centre for Data Digitisation and Analysis has established a digitisation team to image scan paper-based material relating to the Act, and process the material through an advanced optical character recognition system where possible to create a machine-readable version of the original text. Manuscript material and poor quality typeface material are being image scanned and the text keyed.

The aims of the project are twofold. The first is to offer those interested in the history of the Act of Union easier access to invaluable archive material that is held in specialist collections. While digitisation will never render obsolete the need to consult original documents, it can provide a research tool for those who might find it more feasible to view material at home and in their own time. Secondly, digitisation can also aid conservation in that there is no need to photocopy or handle fragile material when an electronic copy can easily be secured.

The following types of material are available on the website: pamphlets, parliamentary papers and statutes. In time, these will be augmented by manuscript material, primarily from the papers of landed estates, from PRONI and contemporary newspapers. The material has a free text search facility and, like library cataloguing systems, is also searchable by bibliographic elements. There are also links to the institutions that hold the original versions of the archives.

The pamphlet material will eventually comprise the bulk of the pamphlets written from 1797 to 1800 during the `Pamphlet War'. It should be noted that the imperative to avoid duplication, allied with the decision only to publish one edition of each pamphlet, means that complete lists of holdings can only be accessed via each individual institution's website. Parliamentary debates and journals cover the period from 1797 to 1804 and hence can help scholars to place the Act of Union within its historical context. Details of the coverage for newspapers, statutes and manuscript material will appear at a later date.

Further information about the project can be obtained from the Centre for Data Digitisation and Analysis (see contacts page for contact details).