The National Library of Wales and National Identity, c.1840-1916

Williams, Calista (2017). The National Library of Wales and National Identity, c.1840-1916. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis evaluates the National Library of Wales (NLW) from conception to realisation. It adds to the limited existing work on the library by positioning it within the political and cultural environment from which it emerged, posing new questions about its relationship with Welsh national identity. Although there is some work which looks at national identity in relation to national library projects, nothing of this type and depth has been done before, and not in relation to Wales.

The first section investigates the early calls for a NLW and explores why the campaign made significant progress from the 1890s. The focus then shifts to an interrogation of the British government’s decision to locate the library in Aberystwyth, challenging the important role previously assigned to the campaign group’s application. Chapter three analyses the library building fund’s subscription drive and argues that the campaign was not the result of a mass movement, but orchestrated by a group of elites. It evaluates the decision made by the library campaign committee to evoke momentary patriotic sympathies among potential subscribers, rather than extolling the virtues of the library as a long-term educational resource.

Chapter four is an analysis of the library’s buying policy and argues that an overrepresentation from key academic disciplines on the committees may have created a bias towards certain subjects. The final chapter compares this vision with how the library’s services were utilised by three user groups: reading room users, tutorial class attendees and Ruhleben camp internees. Reading room usage generally concurred with the founders’ overall vision for the library. In contrast, remote users attending tutorial classes were given the opportunity to curate their own reading which resulted in a more wide-ranging collection. The thesis concludes with an assessment of the library’s development and role as a key element of Welsh nation-building at the beginning of the twentieth century.

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