The National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, is one of the most illustrious libraries worldwide. It is an enormous library, housing over 6.5 million books and has the largest collection of maps, portraits, archives, Welsh manuscripts, art and photographic images in Wales.

Right from the conception of the building, its mission was to collect and preserve all the source materials related to Wales and the life of the Welsh, which could be taken advantage of by the local people of Welsh for their research and study. Even though the library tries to inculcate the ethics of inclusivity, the main focus remains on Welsh.

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The National Library of Wales _©Ross Evans
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The National Library of Wales _©Wales Online

History | National Library of Wales

There were copious amounts of locals and experts concerned about crucial Wales art and archives being in danger of being dispersed. Several years of struggle, protests and campaigning, during the 18th and 19th centuries, by many groups and individuals finally proved fruitful when in 1905 budget announcement of financial provision mentions the establishment of the National Library and Museum of Wales was made. The ones who were demanding such a building saw the National Library and Museum of Wales as a way to treasure such artefacts and keep them in Wales.

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Library once construction was completed_©Wales Online(Chris Pyke)


Scaled architectural drawings of buildings and other structures, mostly in mid- and south-wales, are included in the National Library of Wales collection, along with some examples for locations outside Wales.

Although most of these scaled architectural drawings are technical draughts for civil construction, some of them also have pictorial or geographical elements, including perspective drawings of structures in their surroundings. Most of the works originate from Wales’ significant urban and industrial boom in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and are residences and civic and religious structures. Simple pencil sketches on tracing paper to exquisite watercolours are among the works. While some plans were never realised, others are prized for depicting structures that no longer exist.

The architectural drawings’ core collection houses the majority of the material. There are also other collections named for architects and artefacts held in other collections. More information about the collections, including digitised photographs of some of the material, can be seen on the Library’s Digital Mirror in the online exhibition The Architecture of Wales. This is an electronic reproduction of a real exhibition held by the Library in 1999.

Strategic Location | National Library of Wales

Ensuring the announcement of the intention to construct the National Library of Wales, a tight race began on where the building could be situated. The stiff competition between Aberystwyth and Cardiff began when Aberystwyth stated that the National Library should be located there, while Cardiff wanted to house both the library and the museum. Following the argument, a detailed study was prepared by the two towns. In June 1905, it was declared that the National Library would be located in Aberystwyth and the National Museum would be in Cardiff

One of the many reasons for Aberystwyth’s success in housing the library, besides the geographical location of the town, support from University College and fundraising of £20,000 by the town, was the conditions that Lord Rendel and Sir John Williams kept forth that were to capitulate his land and give away his collection of invaluable, respectively.

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Lord Rendel, who gave land for library’s construction_©wales.library
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Sir John Williams, who gave his collection for library’s display_©wales.library

Construction & Design 

The building work commenced after the foundation stone was laid off in 1911. Only to stand up for the morals of the building, the reading rooms were the first space of the building to be built and finally opened for the public in 1916. Following the reading rooms, the administrative block in 1937 and the technical block in 1955 for the conservation department, binders, photographs and printers. The completion of the first phase of the building was in 1965, the second phase in 1982 and the final stack in 1996.

The National Library of Wales was founded by King George V and Queen Mary. The building in Grogythan, off Penglais Hill, was designed by architect Sidney Greenslade, who won the competition to construct the building in 1909. It was ready for occupation in August 1915, but transferring the collections was completed on 1 March 1916, St David’s Day. Charles Holden added the middle block, or corps de logis, to a modified version of Greenslade’s design. It was finished in 1937 and is a Phase 2 listed structure.

Art | National Library of Wales

The collection here in the National Library includes works on paper and canvas: 8000 wall-mounted items, 4000 framed items and over 500 drawing volumes. There are certain masters whose paintings have been omnipresent in the collection, for instance, J M W Turner (a constant visitor to Wales due to his career), Thomas Gainsborough (a well-renowned landscape artist and portrait artist from the 18th century), James Ward (a romantic artist from England), etc.

Children and women protest painting_©Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru

This is one example of the finest artwork in the National Library of Wales. This is an oil on-board work. It denotes a bunch of females and children who assembled around a fire during the nighttime during the Greenham protests in 1984. The protests were originally against the deployment of nuclear cruise missiles that were at the RAF Greenham Common airbase located in Newbury.



Deepshikha Chatterjee is a final year student of architecture studying in Raman Bhakta School of Architecture (UTU). Besides from her architectural background, she keeps keen interest in critic writing or writing in general. Her nerdiness is one of her special talents.