December 4, 2012
The Battle over preserving Welsh literature
by Nick Davies
The BBC is reporting that literary circles in Wales have become divided over the issue of whether to continue supporting the Library of Wales, a program whose goal is to keep classic Welsh literature alive by publishing out-of-print books.
The Library of Wales launched in 2006 and costs £50,000 to run. Thus far, it’s published 34 classic Welsh titles that had gone out of print, and sold 50,000 copies. Jon Gower, the winner of Wales Book of the Year for his book Y Storïwr, argues that the Library preserves a vital service to the country by preserving its cultural artifacts. Drawing comparisons to the castles that are looked after, and museums that protect Welsh heritage, he says, “Books are dead artifacts unless they’re read.” While the scheme’s critics argue that taxpayer money should be going to more pressing causes, Gower insists, “In a Wales which has problems with literacy, having good books and encouragement to read such books is a good thing … There is this deeply philistine argument that says … books versus hospitals. Well, in a grown-up country, and as Wales matures politically, there has to be room for all of that.”
On the other side of the equation, novelist Julian Ruck has strongly criticized the public funding that goes to the Library. While he does support giving taxpayer money to the arts, and the publication of Welsh-language books, he does not think that money should go to books written in English. He particularly takes issue with a lack of oversight and direction to what the Library is doing: “Where’s the scrutiny? Where’s the accountability? Where is somebody independently going in and saying, ‘What the hell are you doing?’”
A group of students at Swansea University interviewed by the BBC voiced their support for the Library, as it’s allowed them access to books that had previously been difficult to find, calling it a “treasure” and “a worthwhile expense.” The Welsh government continues to stand by the program as well, describing it as “an excellent way of selling our nation to the world through literature, as well as keeping our literary heritage alive for future generations.”
It may prove difficult for them to continue to provide funding, however, as the government budgets tighten and cultural programs like the Library of Wales come under close scrutiny.
Nick Davies is a publicist at Melville House.