Report on the British Association of Friends of Museums visit to
the National Library of Wales on Saturday 3rd April 2004

The Friends of Carmarthen County Museum were represented at this yearly regional gathering of BAfM in the Principality by Jill Davies, Diana Pazienti and Trevor Lloyd. In excess of 60 delegates were welcomed by Dr Nesta Lloyd, Chairman of The Friends of The National Library of Wales. The outgoing Chairman of BAfM, Dr Elizabeth Mackenzie, reminded delegates of the continuing importance of Friends organisations who actively support their chosen museums. She went on briefly to thank the NLW and their Friends for the warm welcome she had been afforded and for the excellent organisation surrounding this event.

The opening speaker was Andrew Green of the NLW whose topic was The Digital Library. He reminded delegates that 1907 was the year the NLW and the National Museum of Wales (now the National Museums and Galleries of Wales) were established. He said the NLW was a worldwide resource but had recognised that Aberystwyth was geographically isolated. Although people could visit the NLW and gain physical access to its vast archive there was also a need for a facility where the information was also available by electronic means i.e. the Internet. Digitisation of data means it can be made available to a very wide audience, but it also has the advantage of preserving material electronically that may be physically deteriorating. The Digital Library is a resource aimed at educational bodies, researchers and tourists. At present the on-going work encompasses pictures and photographs. A future project includes wills and Welsh biography and there are even plans for the digitisation of newspapers. Additionally in partnership with other museums the NLW has an ongoing programme entitled Gathering the Jewels which is planned to be a comprehensive package for users to learn about Welsh culture.

The morning session ended with a presentation from Linda Tomos, the Director of the newly formed Welsh Assembly Government advisory group called CyMAL (Museums, Archives and Libraries of Wales). CyMAL came into being on 1st April 2004 with 6 staff and this number is to rise to 25, with its offices in Aberystwyth. The purpose of CyMAL is to advise the appropriate WAG Minister on matters pertaining to Museums, Archives and Libraries in Wales by way of an Advisory Council. Mrs Tomos said that CyMAL was reviewing the legacy of three well established bodies: the Archive Council for Wales, Council of Museums in Wales and Library Information Service Cymru. CyMAL would be reviewing existing partnerships and forming new ones as a part of its brief and would be producing its own prospectus in May 2004. The organisation would be responsible for the ongoing Museum Grant Programme which would be enjoying increased funding this year. CyMAL would be implementing the Strategies formulated by WAG for cultural services in the Principality. The composition of the Advisory Council was not as yet finalised and it was not known if a member of a Friends organisation would be allotted a place at the table. Mrs Tomas offered her E-mail address to anybody wishing to raise any issues with her concerning this new organisation (linda.tomos@wales.gsi.gov.uk).

The afternoon session began with a presentation by Dr Rhidian Griffiths, Director of Public Services at NLW, entitled The Open Library. Following a consultation exercise concerning needs of the NLW and the requirements of the public in the 21st century there has been a restructuring of the management of the NLW and a commitment to greater public accessibility to both the building and to the records it keeps. There are now three specific departments, namely Collection Services, Corporate Services and Public Services. This was considered the correct structure to address such matters as life long learning, social inclusion (embracing new audiences) and equality of opportunity (removing barriers). These are all elements of the cultural agenda of WAG. The project which is to make these changes is entitled The Visitor Experience and the first phase which involves the immediate public interface with the library is complete. This includes an improved entrance for visitors, the Pen Dinas restaurant, shop, Peniarth display area of themed exhibitions and a multipurpose education room capable of seating 30 people. Phase two is almost complete and includes a 100 seat auditorium known as Y Drwm (the Drum) providing a conference facility as well as a place to show material from the vast new National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales. Future phases include the training of teachers in the use of the NLW resources through an education service, development of a web site, introducing points of presence in other museums and promoting the concept open access. The Open Library aims to encourage access, attract audiences and sustain interest and the ongoing project is seen as the means of achieving these goals.

The last session of the afternoon was taken up with an informative tour of the Library, looking at the new developments for the public as well as a behind the scenes snapshot of the many treasures preserved within this prestigious institution.

As a footnote it is worth saying that any trip to Aberystwyth would be greatly enhanced by a visit to The National Library of Wales to enjoy the magnificent building that houses Wales' national collection. Failing that a visit to the Library's website allows online access to an increasing amount of the collection, information about events and exhibitions, an opportunity for on-line shopping, as well as keeping abreast of future developments.

By logging on to http://www.llgc.org.uk users of the Electronic Museum can access all the facilities offered by the NLW.

Trevor Lloyd