Visiting Aberystwyth, Wales, with its National Library of Wales Main Building
A commanding, cultural presence
The word 'impressive' applies to the National Library of Wales (Welsh: Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru), Aberystwyth, in various ways. Included in these is its main building, built on Penglais Hill on the outskirts of the town, giving a striking visibility to the structure in which this institution is housed.
The building was opened in 1916; the Library itself was founded in 1907, initially occupying the Old Assembly Rooms. One of the Library's leading early supporters was prominent physician Sir John Williams (1840-1926), who donated a large collection of manuscripts.
The main architect for the building was Sidney Greenslade (1867-1955), with supplementary work by Charles Holden (1875-1960), also well known for London University's Senate House, and many other significant buildings. The Neo-Classical lines of this conspicuous building thus overlook Cardigan Bay (Welsh: Bae Ceredigion). The structure is executed in a combination of Cornish granite and Portland stone (2). A further building was opened in 1996 for storage purposes.
Within the United Kingdom, the National Library of Wales is one of the few Copyright libraries, entitled to a copy of every book issued in the country.
The founding National Librarian of Wales was Sir John Ballinger (1860-1933). The Library possesses a number of valuable, Medieval manuscripts, including the Book of Taliesin. A significant part of the Library's collections is the theses section, which comprises copies of higher degree theses obtained in Wales
There is a strong emphasis on services in Welsh at the Library, while the institution maintains itself as bilingual in Welsh and English. Over 5 million books, plus a very large quantity of other items such as manuscripts, periodicals and maps, are housed at the Library (3).
The City of Cardiff (Welsh: Caerdydd) was declared Wales's Capital in 1955 and some readers might wonder why it, rather than Aberystwyth, was chosen as the site for the National Library of Wales. But such was the strength of local initiative — added to the fact that Aberystwyth is centrally located in Wales — that the Aberystwyth site was chosen in preference to Cardiff (4).
Family history research
The Library describes itself also as 'the main repository for family history research in Wales holding a vast number of records useful to the family historian - census returns, probate records, nonconformist records and tithe maps, to name but a few...' (5).
Given the huge Welsh diaspora, especially in North America, the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth thus serves as an especially significant resource for many expatriate Welsh people seeking to learn more about their family roots in Wales.
December 27, 2014
(1) The other Copyright libraries under United Kingdom law are: the British Library, London; the Bodleian Library, Oxford; Cambridge University Library; the National Library of Scotland and — interestingly, since it is not in the United Kingdom but in the Republic of Ireland — Trinity College Library, Dublin.
(2) See also: http://www.llgc.org.uk/ardd/pensaeri/arch007.htm
(3) One of the less significant theses housed at the Library happens to be my own, dating from 1989.
(4) In any case, Cardiff was indeed selected as the site for the National Museum (Welsh: Amgueddfa Genedlaethol Caerdydd).
(5) See also: http://www.llgc.org.uk/visit/family-history/help/
(Some sourcing: Wikipedia)
Also worth seeing
In Aberystwyth itself, both the Old College (Welsh: Yr Hen Goleg) of Aberystwyth University (Welsh: Prifysgol Aberystwyth) and the Medieval Castle (Welsh: Castell Aberystwyth) are situated a short distance from the seafront, at Cardigan Bay (Welsh: Bae Ceredigion).
How to get there: United Airlines flies to London Heathrow Airport, from where car rental is available. London Heathrow is 360 kilometres from Aberystwyth. A rail service exists between London Euston and Aberystwyth, with a change at Birmingham. Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. It is advisable to check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada
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