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The National Library of Wales (NLW) is based in Aberystwyth on the west coast of Wales and is the national legal deposit library for Wales. Established in 1907, it is home to over six million printed books and journals, as well as many rare and historically significant manuscripts and varied archive collections relating to Wales and its people, including photographic, map and art collections. The National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales is also based at the Library. Since its establishment, the Library’s primary objective has been to develop and maintain the documentary heritage of Wales. As reflected in its Charter, the Library’s ‘mission’ is ‘to collect, preserve and give access to all kinds of forms of recorded knowledge, especially relating to Wales and the Welsh and Celtic peoples, for the benefit of the public, including those engaged in research and learning’. This commitment to collection, preservation and access is reflected in the Library’s enthusiastic adoption of digitization as a means of facilitating the broad dissemination of Welsh culture and heritage and delivering its strategic aim of providing ‘Knowledge for All’ (NLW Strategic Plan 2014–2017). 

NLW Research Programme

To address the challenges of delivering effective, usable and sustainable digital resources the Library established its own Research Programme in Digital Collections in 2011. The Programme’s main areas of focus include developing an understanding of the use, value and impact of the Library’s existing digital content; identifying ways of enhancing this content; and developing new collaborative digital projects that address specific research and educational needs. Research is undertaken on existing and emerging digital content through the application of interdisciplinary tools and methods. This work is further enhanced through collaboration with partner libraries, museums and archives, universities, and cultural heritage organisations that cross institutions, collections and disciplinary traditions. 

Underlying all of this work is NLW’s commitment to providing free and open access to its digital resources. The Library has embraced open standards allowing for data to be shared, used and re-used in multiple ways for research, teaching and community engagement purposes. This commitment to openness raises awareness of Welsh history and culture in Wales and beyond and reaffirms the Library’s position as ‘one of the great libraries of the world’.

In keeping with the open access initiative, NLW is in the early stages of opening up some of its raw data for others to download and interrogate for their own research purposes.  These data sets will come from some of our biggest collections and will be available during 2015 at http://data.llgc.org.uk

Among the Library’s most significant current digital resources are:

Welsh Newspapers Online (http://bit.ly/1rF1vmk)

In 2013, the Library launched Welsh Newspapers Online, a free, searchable digital archive of the historic newspapers of Wales dating from 1804 to 1919. The resource provides access to a wide range of over 100 Welsh newspapers in the Library’s holdings, both in English and Welsh, enabling researchers to examine this rich collection in ways that were not previously possible. Over one million pages have been scanned and processed using Optical Character Recognition to allow free-text searching of the entire corpus. 

Cymru1914 (http://bit.ly/1vpAoL6)

Cymru1914 is a JISC-funded project to digitize primary sources relating to the Welsh experience of the First World War and its impact on all aspects of Welsh life, language and culture. The project has brought together fragmented and often difficult to access materials from the libraries, archives, museums and special collections of Wales to form a consolidated digital collection of interest to researchers, students and the public on life in Wales during this significant period of change. The collection includes relevant newspapers, archives and manuscripts, photographs, journals and sound recordings.

Welsh Journals Online (http://bit.ly/1Bw6MgM)

Welsh Journals Online provides free access to a selection of nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first century Welsh and Wales-related journals held at NLW and partner institutions. Researchers are able to browse and keyword-search the corpus, which covers a wide range of humanities, science and social-science subject areas.


Other collections of interest include the Library’s digitised wills and probate collection (http://bit.ly/1DRzVXZ). The collection includes over 190,000 wills and associated records that were proved in the Welsh ecclesiastical courts dating from the mid-sixteenth century to the introduction of civil probate in England and Wales on 12 January 1858. Researchers are able to view and search the collection for free using specific criteria. A variety of other digitised collections and manuscripts are also available via the NLW website. [Will of Thomas Johnes] 

Happy searching!

Paul McCann and Rhian James (both NLW).

All images provided by NLW.

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