Bringing the Jewels of Wales to Your Living Room; NET GAIN: New Research Website Will Give People Access to the Nation's Historical and Cultural Treasures

Article excerpt

SOON you will be able to go to the library without leaving home.

And it won't just be your local library. Each of Wales's 190 main libraries, archives and museums will have a place in a national learning and research website project called Gathering the Jewels.

The pounds 1m project is a consortium based at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth that aims to copy and display 20,000 of the cultural and historical treasures of Wales on an online database.

There will be photographs, manuscripts and virtual books on a vast range of themes, time periods and areas, says project director Gordon Reid, a historian and former archivist in Powys.

"We call it an archive without walls, a library you use sitting at home, " said Mr Reid.

"In 20 to 30 years time everything may be available like this but this is the first step, and the first time libraries, museums and archives have joined to achieve something in a co-ordinated way."

Mr Reid said the project team of 12, including three officers travelling around Wales, envisaged two strands to the project.

"The core part is like a heritage and history juke box where you can call up something like a picture of mussel fishermen at Conwy.

"But the other thing is to describe and interpret the material, like in a museum exhibition, because not everybody accessing the site will be historians."

Some of the material will be the icons of Welsh culture - like Owain Glyndwr relics.

Others will be objects and books that bring the past to life - little gems like the school log book that tells of a child's life during the General Strike, Roman coins that illustrate the reach of the Empire within Wales, the letters home of a Montgomeryshire village boy from the WWI trenches of Flanders, a Victorian tour that offers one person's view of 19th Century Wales.

"There is so much good stuff scattered around Wales and we're really excited about bringing it all together, " said Mr Reid.

"History is a subject whose time has come. It's a living presence in a country like Wales and it's nice to bring it closer to the people."

Funded by the New Opportunities Fund, the project is expected to be complete by May 2003.

The Gathering the Jewels consortium comprises the following partners (representing 172 separate institutions): National Library of Wales; Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments (Wales); National Museums and Galleries of Wales; Archives Council Wales; Society of Chief Librarians (Wales); Welsh County Archivists Group; Council of Museums in Wales; Welsh Museums Federation; Wales Higher Education Libraries Forum Mr Reid said: "We want to represent everyone and everything in a common way so anybody interested in the culture and history of Wales can find their way around. …