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2 minutes to read Posted on Tuesday August 28, 2018

portrait of Elen Jones

Elen Jones

Digital Access Projects Officer , National Library of Wales

portrait of Dafydd Tudur

Dafydd Tudur

Head of Digital Access Section , National Library of Wales

The Rise of Literacy: Digital transformation and The National Library of Wales

Libraries have been cultural hubs for centuries. However, with the shift towards the digital, the conversation has shifted to their contemporary relevance and societal role. Elen Haf Jones and Dafydd Tudur from the National Library of Wales tell us how the Library has evolved to maintain its place as a ‘valued cultural institution that serves as the memory of a nation’.

Views in north Wales taken in the summer of 1808 | Smith, National Library of Wales, CC BY-SA

By 1907, when the National Library of Wales was founded, Wales had gained a great reputation for its active printing press. In a sense, the Library was a culmination of the most proactive publishing period Wales has ever seen. It also provided an appropriate space for keeping an impressive collection of early Welsh manuscripts, stored at Aberystwyth University before the Library was founded.

Originally, the institution’s main focus was to manage documentation and information, rather than understand or interpret sources. However, the establishment of a National Library in Wales emphasised the crucial role of the written word within the national cultural landscape.

The Library continues to acknowledge Wales as a singular entity, with its own unique heritage and culture. As stated in the institution’s Royal Charter; the Library is ‘to collect, preserve and give access to all kinds and forms of recorded knowledge, especially relating to Wales and the Welsh people.’. It is, therefore, a valued cultural institution that serves as the memory of a nation. The National Library of Wales unquestionably enhances the notion of Welsh identity, both through its collections and its very existence.

Changing role of the National Library of Wales with regards to national literacy

Today, it may be argued that the role of the library in promoting literacy is as important as ever before.

As digital technologies make information more accessible, literacy skills, both traditional (reading, writing, etc.) and new (data analysis, coding, etc.), are needed to manage and interpret collections. Literacy, when defined in broader contemporary terms, are the sets of skills needed to create, manage and interpret information in the digital age.

In a society where information is ‘universally’ accessible, does the role of a Library (rather than the information it holds) define its value to society?

The National Library of Wales is taking the initiative to embrace participatory technologies and movements that create opportunities to develop and exercise literacy skills, while also enabling deeper engagement with its collections.

Sketches in Wales | John Louis Petit, 1801-1868, The National Library of Wales, United Kingdom, CC BY-SA
Sketches in Wales | John Louis Petit, 1801-1868, The National Library of Wales, United Kingdom, CC BY-SA

Promoting digital transformations that instil traditional values: community, truth and knowledge

Wikimedia projects and activities, for example, stimulate discussion around truth, fact and bias, as well as developing research and information literacy skills. Likewise, crowdsourcing projects such as Cynefin and the transcription of the Cardiganshire War Tribunal Records have introduced participatory digital technologies to participants and created a space for further discussion regarding historical information. It is vital that libraries are at the forefront of innovation when promoting literacy in its many forms.

True to its founding principles, the National Library of Wales continues to collect, preserve and give access to knowledge in all forms, which now includes born-digital as well as audiovisual and graphical works. Through digitisation, the Library’s collections are made more accessible both for viewing and re-use.

Committing to widening access to knowledge and supporting individuals and communities in their interpretation and engagement with its collections, the Library has a dynamic role in lifelong learning, social cohesion and the ongoing evolution of Wales’s collective identity as a nation.

You can find 145,000 objects from the National Library of Wales on Europeana Collections. This contribution forms part of the Rise of Literacy Project which aims to demonstrate the power of the written word and the impact literacy has had on Europe’s people and societies. Find out more about the project and its contributors online. 

Written by Elen Haf Jones and Dafydd Tudur from the National Library of Wales.