Everyone enjoys a good story, whether it’s in a book, newspaper, cartoon, video, TV programme, film or word of mouth.
The desire to hear a story is deep in all of us. Storytelling is part of our fabric. We tell stories when meeting friends and family we haven’t seen for a while. Storytelling has existed since the dawn of time. This is the “oral tradition” which was the source content of the earliest manuscripts held here at the National Library.
Among the 15 million newspaper articles digitized by the National Library is the history of The Wild Bull of Llangian. A farmer brought a young bull on foot to Pwllheli town without a lead rein. The bull took fright and ran wild through the town. Following the incident, the farmer was taken to court. The newspaper report paints a vivid picture of the event.
This story is not an iconic story in Welsh history but rather a snapshot of life in Wales in the early 20th century. The Story of Wales is a patchwork of stories, with some events more significant than others but all valid. This story has personal significance for me because my grandfather was a neighbour of the wild bull’s owner!
Collecting, preserving and sharing the Story of Wales in the world is a key part of the National Library’s work. The challenge for the Library, and for us as a nation, is to do so in the way that benefits us most today and for future generations. The Library is the “memory of the nation” and continues to collect, manage and protect over 20 million books, manuscripts, archives, maps, photographs, newspapers, audio, video and film.
This is a job that requires expertise and collaboration and we are very fortunate to have experienced staff, dedicated volunteers, engaged communities and partners to do it. The world has changed, and continues to change rapidly. With this change come opportunities as well as challenges. Digitization has become a natural part of the Library’s work over the past decades and has enabled us to share the stories throughout Wales and with the world.
Another challenge is to make original digital material available to future generations. To do this requires the Library to collaborate with organizations around the world. Digital material offers us exciting opportunities to improve our understanding of the “story” of Wales. One simple example of this would be to analyse the frequency of word usage over decades in newspaper articles. The development of artificial intelligence will undoubtedly expand these possibilities further than we can imagine. You can copy the imperfect Welsh OCR text of the The Wild Bull of Llangian article into Google Translate (a tool powered by Artificial neural networks (ANN)) and get a feel for how far this type of technology has progressed in facilitating access for non-Welsh speakers to Welsh texts.
Despite all the technological advances the power of a good story remains. A good story lives long in our memory, entertaining, educating and inspiring us. The patchwork that is the Story of Wales continues to grow and the Library has a key role in safeguarding and ensuring that it continues to inspire and enrich lives now and far into the future.
Dr Owain Rhys Roberts
Deputy Chief Executive and Librarian (Collections and Public Programmes)
This post is also available in: Welsh