National Library of Wales copyright Caroline Ramsden
My brother who is currently a student at Aberystwyth University (my old uni) text me earlier today to tell me there was a fire at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth. I have a joint honours in English Literature and Welsh, and as a part of my Welsh language studies we visited a lot of important Welsh cultural institutions to talk to the staff about the role of the Welsh language there. The National Library of Wales was one of these, and I remember being terrified at the idea of being there when a fire broke out because of the tour behind the scenes.
The National Library of Wales is a copyright library which means that it holds a copy of every book or newspaper published in the UK. There are miles and miles of shelves behind the scenes and because many of the documents are very rare, they would be damaged by water sprinklers in the event of the fire, so they have air tight steel walls which come down before the room is pumped full of carbon dioxide to prevent the materials stored becoming fire damaged. I think a special alarm sounded to let you know that the steel curtains were coming down and you had a minute to get out. Really scary. At least you’d stand a chance of getting out of a burning building.
It’s taken me nearly a year to sign up to our local library after moving house, but I’ve finally gotten around to it. Check out my snazzy new library card, key ring card and book mark. Thank you Abingdon Library!
I’m sure that any keen readers out there are following the campaigns against library closures which are going on across Britain, as library users desperately try to highlight the vital role their libraries play in their communities before it is too late. I live in Oxfordshire where the closure of 20 public libraries is threatened, and have been following the UK wide proceedings with some interest. I think my favourite campaign so far has been the library in Stony Stratford, outside of Milton Keynes, which simply invited the users of the library to take out their entitled allocation of books in protest – with over 24 hours to go to the date of the protest the entire library had been emptied. Not that it’s just books that libraries provide.
Have a look at what the author Phillip Pullman and Nicky Wire of The Manic Street Preachers had to say on the subject, they say it better than I can, but I think we should all be vocal about this important subject.
I watched The Beauty of Books on BBC 4 last night. There were copies of ancient bibles which had been safely held in churches and libraries for over a thousand years. Image that, a thousand years. Empires have risen and fallen, worlds been discovered, space travel invented and these books have quietly existed alongside all of that telling the story explicitly or implicitly of the people who made them. Who will look after these resources and this knowledge if we close our libraries?
What will happen to the millions of books they contain?