The National Library of Wales: Guardian of a Nation's Heritage
Jenkins, Gwyn, Contemporary Review
Countries tend to set up institutions to proclaim their nationhood, and this is true even of those nations which exist within a larger state. Next summer the National Assembly for Wales will meet for the first time, following elections to be held in May. In many ways the establishment of this important new institution will be the culmination of a gradual movement, which began in the nineteenth century, towards the recognition of Wales as a nation. Whereas the National Assembly will provide a much-needed democratic expression of Welsh nationhood, the nation's cultural heritage will continue to be guarded by a much older institution, Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cyrnru, the National Library of Wales, which first opened its doors nearly ninety years ago.
The establishment of the National Library was a direct consequence of the flowering of a Welsh national consciousness which had manifested itself during the second half of the nineteenth century. This had led, in 1872, to the foundation at Aberystwyth of the first college of what was to become, in 1893, part of a federal University of Wales. At the same time there were moves to establish cultural institutions: a museum to exhibit archaeological artefacts discovered in Wales, a record office to keep the manuscripts and historical archives of the nation, as well as a national library to hold Welsh books, both ancient and modern.
There was little consensus as to how such institutions should be set up and where they should be located and in any case efforts by Welsh MPs to claim a share of the annual museum grants distributed by the government between institutions in England, Scotland and Ireland were rebuffed on the grounds that the British Museum, it was said, served both England and Wales. Furthermore there was a clear presumption by the government that Wales was not a nation, despite its separate language and distinctive culture. However, Wales was fortunate in possessing a number of talented and committed Members of Parliament during the 1890s and they were able to enlighten the government on its gross misconception on this point.
During the early years of the new century, …
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Publication information: Article title: The National Library of Wales: Guardian of a Nation's Heritage. Contributors: Jenkins, Gwyn - Author. Magazine title: Contemporary Review. Volume: 273. Issue: 1592 Publication date: September 1998. Page number: 140+. © 1999 Contemporary Review Company Ltd. COPYRIGHT 1998 Gale Group.
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