‘Now this is the important part…’

Yesterday (November 28th 2013), John Griffiths AM, Welsh Government Minister for Culture and Sport, formally launched “The Welsh Experience of the First World War”, at an event hosted at the College Merthyr Tydfil. By complete coincidence yesterday was also the US Thanksgiving holiday, an occasion to pause, reflect, celebrate and to give thanks. So this is an auspicious point to note all of the “thanks” that are due, and to acknowledge the hard work and generosity of so many people who made this project possible.

First and foremost, I’d like to thank all the partner organisations (and their hardworking representatives) who took part in the project, contributing their time and energy to its development and most of all, their content to the digital archive: Bangor University (Einion Thomas in the Archives and Special Collections and Delyth Prys in the Language Technology Unit for the translation tools); Cardiff University (Peter Keelan); Aberystwyth University (Elgan Davies); Swansea University (Sian Williams representing the South Wales Miners Library and Elisabeth Bennett representing the Richard Burton Archive)  University of Wales Trinity Saint David (Peter Hopkins), BBC Cymru Wales (Edith Hughes), as well as five archives and local records offices that are members of Archives and Records Council Wales: Conway, Flintshire, Glamorgan, Gwynedd and Gwent.  The People’s Collection, Wales ran several exciting community digitization events, which led to the discovery of some amazing material hidden in family collections.

Jisc contributed the bulk of funding (£500,000) through their e-Content programme, and without this there would have been no project. But Jisc always contribute vastly more than money (although don’t get me wrong, the money is Very Important): they provide the support of knowledgeable and helpful programme officers (in our case Paula Marchionni) and the overall reinforcement that comes form being part a large portfolio of other digitization projects. I’d also like to thanks Alastair Dunning, who was at Jisc when the project was developed and who was so encouraging at that crucial early stage.

The National Library of Wales led the project, and I often joke that the entire Library was involved at one point to another. However, to single out a few people who helped deliver this digital archive on time and on budget Avril Jones chaired the internal project steering committee and kept us on track at all times. Glen Robson and the Systems team built the technical architecture for the project, leaving a lasting legacy of a sustainable open architecture that we can build on in the future. Illtud Daniel and the computer section ensured that all the technology and the front end worked. Lyn Lewis Dafis and Rhys Davies and many of the collections staff worked on all aspects of metadata and representing the content. Scott Waby’s digitization staff expertly digitisied all the original material. Rob Phillips was project manager, Morfudd Nia Jones provided much needed administrative help throughout, and Dafydd Roberts resolved all our rights issues. The staff of the research programme in digital collections, Paul McCann and Owain Roberts did amazing work on many aspects of the project, and Paul managed to bring it all together technically.

We’ve been very fortunate to have the full support of two National Librarians of Wales. Andrew Green oversaw all aspects of the development and establishment of the project, and Aled Jones (who started as Chief Executive and Librarian in August 2013) helped complete the project’s launch.

It meant a lot to have John Griffiths launch the project, as the Welsh Government has been involved and helpful throughout. Special thanks go to Linda Tomos and Huw Evans, and to the First Minister’s Programme Board for the Commemoration of the First World War, Chaired by Deian Hokpin, has been an important stakeholder group to work with on identifying communities that can use the content created by the project for education, research, and commemoration. Thanks to Deian and this Board we are already well ahead on community engagement around the content.

Last but not least, we were assisted by a knowledgeable group of academics who helped shape the project and advised on content selection. Particular thanks to Gerwyn Williams, Gethin Matthews, and Paul O’Leary who has already used the resource to create an online exhibition on the impact of the war on South Wales and the industrial valleys. I’m delighted to have their assurance that the digital resource will be a “game changer’ for the study of the First World War.

We faced a lot of challenges completing this project – many of them foreseeable, some unforeseeable. The biggest shock was the fire at the National Library of Wales on April 26th. Although this slowed us down, the Library’s resilience and collective determination got us back to ‘business as usual’ within a short time. The fire was also a sharp reminder of the importance and vulnerability of our priceless documentary heritage, and the need to not only protect it but make it available to cast light on the lessons of history. The collections that are now available in “The Welsh Experience of the First World War” are a just a fragment of the vast cultural heritage of Wales, but they open a window onto an important part of our shared past.

I feel very thankful to have been part of this wonderful project.

Lorna Hughes, National Library of Wales

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