The Archives and Records Association UK & Ireland (ARA) Annual Conference was this year held in Belfast from the 30 August to 1 September. During the conference two members of National Library of Wales staff received recognition for their hard work in the Archives sector.
The Distinguished Service in Archives Award was presented to Sally McInnes, Head of Unique and Contemporary Content. Sally qualified as an archivist in 1988 and came to work at the Library in 1989, and has been here ever since! Sally has worked at all levels to help facilitate archives preservation and access, becoming Head of Collection Care in 2010 and Head of Unique and Contemporary Content in 2015. Sally saw the Library’s archives and special collections through significant challenges, including a fire in 2013 and more recently the Covid-19 pandemic, in addition to securing Archive Service Accreditation for the Library and championing Digital Preservation.
Sally has made an amazing contribution to both the collection and preservation of archives here at the Library and also across the wider archives profession, and we’re sure you will join us in wishing her congratulations.
Congratulations are also in order for Conservation Assistant Julian Evans, who received his Certificate in Archive Conservation. Julian began his ARA Archive Conservation Training at NLW in 2019, working on many different techniques and collections including bookbinding, paper conservation, cleaning, and repair. Julian now begins his career as a fully qualified Archives Conservator, helping to preserve essential skills for archives conservation in the future.
Recent work carried out on the legacy data of the National Library’s fiction collection unearthed several publications from the Romanian born author Hymen Kaner. These publications were flagged due to being published in Llandudno. With very few full catalogue records available for Kaner’s publications, it fell on one of our librarians to ensure that these records were fully catalogued and included within the National Bibliography of Wales.
Through compiling this process, an interesting story arose, of an immigrant Romanian family arriving in Great Britain, firstly to London, then subsequently to Llandudno. At some point Kaner set up a book publishing press in Llandudno, predominantly to publish Kaner’s own work, although works by other authors were also published there. It is unclear how successful this venture became, but the fact that several short story collections, including ‘Ordeal by moonlight’, ‘Hot Swag!’, and ‘Fire watchers night’, were all published commercially and are now within the Library’s collection shows that Kaner had some success.
For a more in-depth look at the author’s history, this website is recommended, which was written by Laurence Worms of Ash Rare Books:
Last week the National Health Service celebrated its 75th anniversary. It is interesting to note that a rare first edition of the book ‘Diseases of the Hip, Knee and Ankle Joint and their treatment by a new and efficient method’ authored by the surgeon Hugh Owen Thomas and published in 1875, was bought by the Library last year. The book was published by T. Dobb of Liverpool and bears the author’s signature on the title page.
Hugh Owen Thomas was born in Anglesey in 1834. He first trained as a surgeon with his uncle, Dr Owen Roberts at St. Asaph in North Wales for four years, then studied medicine at Edinburgh and University College, London. He developed into a successful orthopaedic surgeon and brace-maker in Liverpool and wrote widely on the treatment of fractures using the pioneering methods that he developed. This is one of Thomas’s earliest publications, most of which were printed in very small numbers for the purpose of presentation to his friends. He made no effort to promote or publicise the book and it is believed that he destroyed all undistributed copies.
At least three of the basic scientific precepts of fracture therapy are due to Thomas. First is the importance of enforced and uninterrupted rest for the patient. Secondly is the adverse effect of forcing a contracted joint and thirdly is the importance of stimulating the circulation within the immobilized limb during the healing period.
The surgical methods described in the book are still used today and this has enabled many more patients to be treated successfully, avoiding defective healing of limbs after fractures, and succeeding in significantly reducing the number of amputations.
This book was published seventy-three years before the founding of the NHS. It offers a glimpse to the availability of medical care to the general population before state provision. There are regular references to the cost of treatments and that their availability depends on the wealth of the patient.
It is interesting to note that Thomas reports treatment methods used by surgeons throughout the world. He evaluates these different approaches critically and seeks to improve on them when devising his own techniques. He also includes a number of case studies which shows that he carefully considers the successes and failures of his techniques when educating other surgeons.
Hugh Owen Thomas certainly made a significant contribution to the advancement of surgical methods over many decades.
I recently had a very pleasant task as a volunteer, which was to listen to records of Ben Bach singing folk songs and try to transcribe them. Ben was a native of Mathry in Pembrokeshire – Ben Phillips to give him his real name, but he was known as ‘Ben Bach’. He had a lovely and clear voice and sang in the Pembrokeshire dialect and was famous, apparently, for having a bit of fun with his audience.
It was necessary to preserve the dialect when transcribing, which was a challenge at times – a few ‘dishgled o dê’ and ‘dwêd da thre‘. About thirty songs – a lovely little one about the cuckoo that was long in coming – “oerwynt y gaeaf a’m cadwodd yn ôl” (“the cold of winter that kept me back”); a Welsh version of ‘Deuddeg Dydd o’r Gwyliau‘ (‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’); some sad songs, some funny, love songs and some ballads. I was in fits of laughter while listening to ‘Y Ladi Fowr Benfelen’ with its very suspicious double entendres!
My favorite song was ‘Pentre Mathri Lân’ Ben sang to the tune ‘Johnny Comes Marching Home’, which describes many Mathry residents in a humorous way, for example:
“Ma Jo siop ardderchog yn i le, hwrê, hwrê,
Yn gwerthu shwgwr, sebon a thê, hwrê, hwrê,
Sim raid i chi dalu am fîsh ne ddou
Ond diwedd i gân yw ‘pei yp mei boi’.
Hip hip hwrê-i, pentre Mathri lân.”
Apparently the intention of the transcription was for school children in Pembrokeshire to learn some of the songs – so that the words and the dialect are memorized and kept by the next generation – an excellent idea! I’m sure Ben Bach would love it.
The Mabinogion are a collection of twelve Middle Welsh tales. They were translated into English in the 19th century by Lady Charlotte Guest, daughter of the ninth Earl of Lindsey, who was born in Lincolnshire but became interested in the literature and traditions of Wales after marrying Sir Josiah John Guest, master of the Dowlais ironworks.
Eleven of the tales are taken from the Red Book of Hergest, one of the most important mediaeval Welsh manuscripts. They consist of the four branches of the Mabinogi, namely Pwyll Pendefig Dyfed, Branwen ferch Llŷr, Manawydan fab Llŷr, and Math fab Mathonwy, as well as three Arthurian romances and four independent tales. Charlotte Guest was helped in the translation by John Jones (Tegid) and Thomas Price (Carnhuanawc). The Welsh texts were printed with the translations, and the volumes include facsimiles of parts of the original manuscripts.
The translation was published in seven parts between 1838 and 1849, to be bound in three volumes. The Library has recently purchased a very rare copy of the seven original parts; only one other copy is known in an institutional library. The set purchased is the author’s own copy, with her bookplate inside the covers, showing her coat of arms and her name after marrying for the second time, Lady Charlotte Schreiber.
These rare volumes are an important addition to the National Library’s extensive collection of Arthurian books.
Paul Robeson will always be closely associated to Wales. Even in modern times, there have been several books written about his ties, covering his meetings with Aneurin Bevan, his frequent appearances at Welsh festivals, to his political activities and support for the Welsh miners. Music has also been influenced, with Welsh rockers the Manic Street Preachers singing about his political exile from America in their song ‘Let Robeson Sing’ from their 2001 album ‘Know your Enemy’.
Robeson’s connection can be felt most deeply in the 1940s movie ‘The Proud Valley’, which saw Robeson’s character David Goliath visit Wales for employment. The villagers initial had misgivings, but David was soon welcomed into their community through song and his heroic endeavors.
To fully explore Robeson’s connections to Wales would require months of in-depth research, but even with a brief synopsis, the overall outcome will always be the same. To remember Paul Robeson.
Over the last decade the National Library of Wales has developed an award-winning volunteer program, with hundreds of volunteers working to enrich data and our understanding of our collections through a range of tasks, from transcription and indexing to the tagging of photographs.
The library also has a long-standing partnership with Wikimedia, the organisation behind Wikipedia and Wikidata – a huge linked open database of people, places and all manner of things. During Covid Lockdowns we trialed the use of Wikidata and IIIF to add descriptive tags to images using open-source software developed by the Wiki community, before embedding this process into our own digital crowdsourcing platform.
An example of an image tagged by remote volunteers during lockdown
Whilst the use of the IIIF image standard has long been established at the National Library, the use of Wikidata to describe our collections is still more experimental. The main advantages we see of this approach are multilingualism and enriched data.
Wikidata allows users to add labels to items in multiple languages. For example, there is only one item in the dataset for a tree, with a unique identifier, but it can be labelled and described in hundreds of languages, including Welsh. This means our volunteers can work in English or Welsh and we can capture and present that data in any language we choose. It also gives us access to a rich array of additional data about the places, people and things tagged in our collections.
Tagging images using Wikidata was integrated into our crowdsourcing platform
Whilst using a set vocabulary like Wikidata means we can create structured data, as opposed to just collection strings of text where one item might be described in multiple different ways by different volunteers, there are still challenges with our methodology.
Wikidata contains over 100 million items of data on all sorts of things and much of this is irrelevant to our users, meaning there is the risk of tagging the wrong thing. This might be accidental. For example, in one image a boy could be seen kneeling and our volunteers used the Wikidata item for ‘Kneeling Boy’ to tag the image. However ‘Kneeling Boy’ was actually the title of a painting. And so the wrong tag was applied.
It may also be that tags are applied in good faith, but the complex nature of Wikidata’s ontology means that the wrong tag was applied, such as using ‘male’ (gender) instead of ‘man’ (male human) to tag a man in a photograph.
The goal of the photo tagging project is to add tags to a large collection of 19th-century photo albums, providing more detailed data than held in our catalogue. Over the last 12 months over 100 volunteers have taken part in the tagging task on our crowd-sourcing platform with a total of 900 hours spent on the platform. The most active volunteers are those who are part of the library’s in-house volunteer team although the project is open for anyone to participate.
More than 20,000 tags have been added to the photograph collection to date.
Some of the most commonly tagged things in the 19th century photo collection
So, when a Masters Student in Library and Information Science at the University of Maryland enquired about a field placement, we saw a fantastic opportunity to review the standard of tagging by our volunteers so far. Amelia Eldridge, our Masters Student, had visited the National Library while on a visit to Wales as part of an artist residency in 2020. She felt that a field placement with the Library would be an amazing way to combine her interest in Welsh culture with a graduation requirement.
Amelia set about reviewing a random sample of over 3000 tags. She was looking for the incorrect use of tags and the absence of useful tags, where perhaps volunteers missed an opportunity to add useful data.
Out of 3315 tags reviewed 191 were marked as incorrect which is a failure rate of just 5%. 671 new tags were added to albums considered ‘complete’ (a 20% increase) suggesting that volunteers sometimes missed opportunities to tag certain things.
Amelia explains that;
“The most added missing tag was “caption” – lines of text used to explain or elaborate an illustration, figure, table, or photograph. With 155 tags added. I added this tag when images/illustrations had descriptive captions within the photo or illustration itself, not handwritten in graphite below it. The second most added was “Victorian fashions”; fashions and trends in British culture during the Victorian era, with 45 tags added. I added this tag to portrait style photos, where it seemed to me that the fashions the people were sporting were important to the description of the image.
I did not add this to images where people were clearly wearing “victorian fashions” but not done in portrait style. I would however, not mark it incorrect if another volunteer did. This is an example of ‘tagger bias’, where I found it interesting to see how different people would describe a photo. In most instances I didn’t tag these differences as wrong, rather they caused me to engage in self-reflection.”
One of the images tagged by Amelia as ‘Victorian Fashion’
The observed ‘tagger bias’ is a reminder that crowdsourcing descriptive data, whatever the methodology, is likely to lack consistency as people will tend to tag the things that interest them, or that they notice more prominently when examining an image. The ability to see tags added by others on the platform, however, does allow users to reflect on their own tagging.
When it came to the incorrect use of tags there was a clear pattern, as Amelia explains;
“I did mark certain tags as incorrect. The top three relate to gender. The most marked incorrect tag was ‘man’ (male adult human) with 74 tags marked incorrect. I would mark this tag as incorrect when there were multiple male presenting people being tagged as only one man. I felt that the correct tag for these images, because there were multiple men depicted, was ‘group of men’. Then came ‘male’ which is intended only to be used to describe “sex or gender”. 45 tags of this kind were marked. I would either correct these to ‘man’ or ‘group of men’ depending on how many male presenting people were in the actual image. The third most corrected tag was ‘woman’ with 18 incorrectly tagged. I would correct this tag if, like with the men, multiple female presenting people were tagged as only one. They would be changed to ‘group of women’. ‘Female’ was also used incorrectly to describe a female person, but only 2 times. ‘female’ and ‘male’ were used in early albums I evaluated, and the volunteers corrected themselves quite quickly it seems.”
The fact that so many of the incorrect tags result from an honest misunderstanding of the data suggests that providing greater guidance and training resources for volunteers could easily reduce the error rate significantly.
There were also a few issues regarding ethnicity, where individuals were tagged as Italian, Chinese or Native American. As Amelia was keen to stress, “we cannot assume identity”. Wikidata does have data items for identifying residence of a place regardless of ethnicity and Amelia suggests that the use of these items would be less problematic, although assuming people in a photograph taken in Italy are definitely Italian is still difficult to assert with any authority. For example, Amelia suggests that when “ ‘Native Americans in the United States’ was tagged within an image, changing it to ‘Indigenous Peoples of the Americas’ may be more inclusive and accurate.” Again, providing clear guidance for volunteers may help reduce examples of this problem.
An image incorrectly tagged with ethnicity
I asked Amelia what her recommendations would be for reducing the number of errors.
“It is my feeling that many of the tags marked as incorrect, could be avoided by training the volunteers to not add them. For example-avoid tagging ethnicity, or the gendered tag when describing a male or female. I would hesitate to have a specific set of predefined vocabulary tags, just because I wouldn’t want to limit the volunteers. As I’ve mentioned, something interesting about this project for me was seeing how there are different approaches to describing an image. And, as I’ve also mentioned, by and large the volunteers are already doing a good job at deciphering and tagging what is within the photo albums.
Another suggestion- do the volunteers learn any background on the photo albums before they begin their tagging work? Maybe a short talk with the curator in charge of them? Or a pre-recorded video for remote workers? I think some would find this interesting, and provide an opportunity to see another side of the library (curatorial).”
Amelia’s work to review the tagged albums and to identify patterns in user behavior will be incredibly valuable as we look to develop and progress our crowd-sourcing opportunities. Her perspective as someone who also contributed to the tagging as a volunteer will help us improve our service moving forward. The overwhelming conclusion here is that actually, the volunteers have done a great job at tagging the albums with impressive accuracy. Amelia’s suggestions for training resources and asking curators to give some history and context for the collections being tagged are incredibly useful and something I hope we can develop for our next tagging project.
Amelia presenting her findings to NLW staff with Jason Evans, her supervisor at NLW.
So a massive thank you to Amelia for this work. We wish her all the best with her Masters and hope she got as much out of her field placement as we did!
The Hay Festival starts this week, and I thought I’d look into how a small, quiet town in Powys ended up hosting one of the biggest literary festivals in the world.
Back in the 60s, local business man Richard Booth opened a second-hand book shop in Hay-on-Wye, a decision that would forever change the history of the town. Within a few years, he had six book shops, and their popularity attracted even more booksellers to the town. This in turn led to Hay-on-Wye being labelled “The Town of Books”. Booth was well known for his eccentricities, as can be seen when he famously declared independence for the town, and made himself its King. This 1983 article from The Daily Telegraph shows us an example of his political pursuits, and his entry in The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography gives further insight into his life:
The festival itself was the brainchild of Peter Florence, a local actor who supposedly staged the first festival in 1988 with his winnings from a game of poker. He managed to convince the playwright Arthur Miller to attend, and as this article in the World Literature Journal points out, Miller initially thought Hay-on-Wye was a sandwich!
The first festival was a big success, which resulted in the Sunday Times sponsoring the event in its second year. As this announcement in the newspaper shows, they were proud to sponsor this festival, which according to them, was in a “living bookshop”. The event itself managed to attract a stellar list of authors, such as Ruth Rendell, John Mortimer, Ian McEwan and Benjamin Zephaniah.
Over the years, the festival has attracted some of the biggest names in literature, and as it grew, celebrities from other fields were invited to participate. There was much excitement when Bill Clinton attended in 2001, branding the festival “the Woodstock of the mind”. However, as this article at the time shows, there were some initial fears that these celebrities were drawing attention away from writers.
Making Hay – The Guardian, 31 May 2001 (ProQuest Historical Newspapers (Guardian & The Observer)
Luckily, this has not been the case, and the festival has continued to champion authors and their works. Now in its 35th year, it contributes to a number of educational and environmental projects, as well as holding overseas festivals in Europe and South America. Here’s a quick insight into what can be expected in this years’ festival
If you aren’t able to make it to this years’ festival, why not visit the Library, and read Ellen Wiles’ experience of the festival, in “The Hay Festival: The Remote Welsh Field That Stages the Global Publishing Industry”, available in our reading room via electronic legal deposit:
Graham Charles Gordon Thomas was born in Cardiff in 1941. After school and graduating with First Class Honours he went on to study at Trinity College Dublin. Graham spent a number of years in Dublin, as an MA student under the auspices of the Welsh Language Department at University College in Cardiff. He was researching the subject of ‘Tri Thlws ar Ddeg Ynys Prydain’ (‘The Thirteen Treasures of the British Isles’), a series of items in late-medieval Welsh tradition. That meant doing a lot of research on folklore and he spent most of his time at the Irish Folklore Commission. Graham’s time in Ireland during the 1960s furnished him with many anecdotes, many involving nuns. He later studied here in Aberystwyth at the College of Librarianship before embarking on his first job at Liverpool University Library. He worked in a department where the medical journals were kept. Doctors from some Liverpool hospitals used to call him to ask him to look at the journals to see what the appropriate ‘dosages’ of some of the drugs were to give to their patients! This was very risky, as Graham’s eyesight was by his own admission not good at all at the time. Later he worked for the Board of Celtic Studies before joining the National Library of Wales as Research Assistant in 1974.
Graham’s scholarly contribution was very significant. His great work (which he had been working on since around 1974) of indexing all the Welsh prose texts in manuscripts was a huge project. The work he carried out on it was incredibly detailed. It would be fair to say that Graham knew more about the Welsh prose of the manuscripts than anyone else, ever. Fortunately his work is to be carried on by Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru.
He retired as Assistant Archivist in 2001 having written numerous articles for academic journals on charters and other medieval manuscripts. He published his magnum opus on ‘The Charters of the Abbey of Ystrad Marchell’ in 1997. After retirement in 2001 he continued to write and in 2014 published a translation of Bewnans Ke, a play in Cornish from c.1500 about the life of St Kea.
Graham was erudite, knowledgeable and an inspiring colleague. In retirement he continued to work on his prose index and other academic projects, often to the accompaniment of Handel. I was fortunate to meet Graham in 1992 when I started work in the National Library of Wales and struck up an immediate friendship and like many others benefitted greatly from his knowledge and especially his enthusiasm for the Library’s collections.
A blog about the work and collections of the National Library of Wales.
Due to the more personal nature of blogs it is the Library's policy to publish postings in the original language only. An equal number of blog posts are published in both Welsh and English, but they are not the same postings. For a translation of the blog readers may wish to try facilities such as Google Translate.