Libraries gave us power, sang the Manic Street Preachers, but what really happens behind the bookshelves at Wales’ own cultural powerhouse, the National Library of Wales?
From novelists to genealogists, PhD students and poets, we spoke to some of the many and varied readers of the National Library of Wales to find out what they are up to behind the bookshelves.
“There is nothing better than getting a box of documents from the archive and reading through people’s letters and diaries.”
Calista Williams, Open University PhD student.“I am studying for a PhD in history at the Open University in collaboration with the National Library of Wales (NLW). My thesis explores the development of the NLW and examines how it was established, organised and managed in the late Victorian and early Edwardian era. The thesis also evaluates the impact of the library’s services and explores the connection between the NLW and Welsh national identity during this period.
I grew up in Hampshire and Buckinghamshire and then at 18 I came to Aberystwyth University to study Drama. After finishing my degree, I worked at Aberystwyth University Bookshop but I suppose I still wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do. On a whim I decided to start volunteering with the National Trust as a gardener which I loved, and I was given the opportunity to run children’s workshops and help plan events. The staff at Llanerchaeron were so supportive and they encouraged me to apply to do a Masters in History and Heritage at Aberystwyth University. It started from there really. I began the MA part-time and loved it and, at the same time, I also started to volunteer at the NLW. I worked on a volunteer project entitled ‘Corporate Records’ which involved sorting through some of the library’s own archival material and transcribing it – looking at acquisition records to sheep grazing rights! This was when my interest in the library’s history was piqued and I began to develop a PhD proposal. I was then lucky enough to secure a studentship at the OU in 2013.
Luckily, I only live 10 minutes’ walk from the NLW – the downside is it’s up a steep hill, so I usually arrive red-faced and out of breath! I spilt my time between my desk, which the library has kindly provided for me and the public reading rooms. A couple of days a week I work with a group of library volunteers who have been helping me enter information into a database on the first subscribers to the library building fund and the early readers. I often have lunch in the library café with friends or, if it’s warm, sit outside and enjoy the beautiful views. During the first half of my PhD I spent a lot of time working in the reading rooms looking at archival documents but now I spend more time writing up my thesis. There is really nothing better than getting a box of documents from the archive and reading through people’s letters and diaries – history really comes alive in those moments.
I love the fact that this huge building and archival resource – usually situated in a city – sits above a Victorian seaside town looking out on the Welsh countryside – it is very much unique in that respect. It is special to me personally as it’s where I discovered a real passion for history and since then I have uncovered so many interesting things about the library and its history.
This post is also available in: Welsh