“Ar arferion Cymry gynt
Newid ddaeth o rod i rod;
Mae cenhedlaeth wedi mynd
A chenhedlaeth wedi dod.
Wedi oes dymhestlog hir
Alun Mabon mwy nid yw,
Ond mae’r hen iaeth yn y tir
A’r alawon hen yn fyw.”
– Aros Mae’r Mynyddau Mawr (Ceiriog)
The aboriginal peoples of Australia are known to have mapped their continent, not via what many other cultures would recognise as cartography, but using songs and stories, creating a ‘songline’ which forms a map of their country based on the travels of their Dreaming ancestors.
The moral of this, and the point of Ceiriog’s poem, is that songs and stories are important, not just as entertainment but as means of carrying information, from narrator to listener, but also from one generation to the next.
I had the good fortune to grow up two streets away from my local library in Rhiwbina. When I was a boy, it was one of the first places I was allowed to visit on my own, and I remember to this day the sense of wonder and excitement at the doorways of the imagination opened by the books there, and the stories they contained. When I was older, it was also where I began to explore the music that would ultimately become the all-consuming passion of my professional life.
Young people, then as now, are as a rule time-rich and cash-poor. So if we want to encourage them towards activities we view as being positive and constructive, we need to make those activities free and readily accessible. Local libraries are the perfect example.
As part of their latest draft budget proposal, Cardiff Council is considering the future of seven smaller library branches in Cardiff, with the serious threat that some or all of them will be closed.
It’s very easy for older generations to criticise the behaviour of the young, to find fault in their attitude to social responsibility, their knowledge of their own artistic and literary history, their connections to their ancestry and cultural inheritance. But such judgements are utter hypocrisy when at the same time, by closing libraries, removing funding for music at school and county level, cutting support for youth theatres, drama societies, sports clubs – and so on and so on – we are pulling the ladder from under their feet at every opportunity. At the same time we are constantly increasing the pressure on them to jump through the hoops of exams, tests and assessments at school. This would be a harsh way to train animals, let alone develop and nurture human beings. Youngsters have no votes, no voice. Easy to pick on the little guys.
Even if we had no altruistic inclination towards the younger generation, try considering it from a selfish point of view: in thirty or forty years, when we the middle-aged adults of today need that same generation to make decisions, individually and collectively, about provision for our welfare, could they be blamed for remembering how little concern we showed for them when we were in a position to nurture their childhoods? Or for not having had the opportunity to develop the empathy and compassion to care?
If we keep pulling up the drawbridge, we shouldn’t be surprised if those left outside the walls end up wanting to pull down the castle.
Because of my childhood connections, I’ve been focusing on the library’s importance to the young; but that’s not forgetting what a crucial facility a local library is for many of our senior citizens and others who are less mobile, for whom a visit can be a life-enhancing joy. They too deserve our thought and consideration.
Let me be clear that, despite my personal emotional attachment to Rhiwbina Library, I don’t consider it a special case. If Rhiwbina were to be spared at the expense of any of the other libraries under threat, it would be no victory at all. Libraries are an investment in all of our futures; if anything we should be expanding and developing their role, not closing them down. Let’s learn to love and value all libraries, from the biggest to the smallest.
Saving this one would be a good start.
Find out more about the campaign to save Rhiwbina Library at: